* Shareholders question Kaeser’s strategy
* Industrials profit 1.82 bln euros, down 4 percent
* Kaeser defends decision to buy Dresser-Rand
* Shares fall 3 percent (Recasts, adds shareholder comments)
By Georgina Prodhan
MUNICH, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Siemens Chief Executive Joe Kaeser faced tough questions on Tuesday about his stewardship of Europe’s biggest engineering group, 18 months after overthrowing his predecessor in a messy boardroom coup.
Hailed as a much-needed “numbers man” when he took over from Peter Loescher after six profit warnings, the former finance chief has proved as keen on grand strategic visions to try to stamp his mark on the German turbines-to-trains group as other recent predecessors.
Kaeser has already agreed the company’s most expensive acquisition, begun hiving off healthcare, formerly the group’s most profitable business, fired a raft of senior managers and announced job cuts expected to run into the thousands.
On Tuesday, the company veteran of more than three decades unveiled results that disappointed the market, blighted by a 39 percent profit drop at the power and gas unit -- the group’s biggest profit contributor a year earlier -- and a 13 percent fall at the healthcare unit.
Siemens shares fell more than 3 percent and Kaeser, 57, faced criticism at the company’s annual meeting in Munich.
“Even if you are the right man at the right time, Mr Kaeser, Siemens is not a one-man show,” said Ingo Speich, fund manager at Union Investment, a top 10 Siemens shareholder.
In September, Kaeser unveiled a $7.6 billion plan to buy U.S. oilfield equipment maker Dresser-Rand, jumping in just before a steep oil price slide began to stifle investments in shale. [ID: nL4N0V23OD]
Critics say the acquisition cements Siemens’ reputation for buying at the top of the cycle. They see parallels with Dade-Behring and Bayer’s diagnostics unit, which Siemens bought for a total of 11 billion euros in 2006 and 2007 and later wrote down by 1.4 billion euros -- one of the factors that led up to Loescher’s ouster.
“Why was the takeover of Dresser so strategically important?” asked Henning Gebhardt, global head of equity at Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management.
“It’s a real shame that the acquisition has again created the impression that Siemens buys too expensively.”
Defending the deal, Kaeser said he was confident the oil price would recover in the medium term.
Siemens has long been under pressure to improve its margins and its valuation versus rivals such as ABB, Schneider Electric and General Electric, but the profit margin of its industrial businesses fell to 10.2 percent in the first quarter from 11.3 percent a year earlier.
That compares with an operational core profit margin of 14.3 percent at ABB last quarter, Schneider Electric’s 13.9 percent in 2013 - which it expects to have improved by 0.4 to 0.8 percentage points in 2014 - and an 18.6 percent operating margin for GE’s industrial segment in the fourth quarter.
Siemens trades at 13.7 times 12-month forward earnings, a 17 percent discount to peers, including Switzerland’s ABB, France’s Schneider Electric and Dutch Philips.
The German company’s results were hurt by price pressure in gas and steam turbines that caused the profit collapse in the power and gas unit. That pressure is set to intensify once GE completes its $16.9 billion takeover of the power assets of France’s Alstom, which it beat out Siemens to buy.
Healthcare, the medical imaging and diagnostics business that was formerly a star performer at Siemens, also disappointed on weaker business in China and Japan.
Kaeser has made changes to top management, making way for new blood and shifting some executives from one division to another.
Late on Monday, Siemens announced that Hermann Requardt would step down as CEO of the healthcare division after leading the business since 2001.
It also said the head of the power and gas division would leave the company by this weekend, handing over in an acting capacity to managing board member Lisa Davis, a Houston-based executive Siemens poached last year from Shell to lead the integration of Dresser-Rand and its U.S. business. ($1 = 0.8843 euros) (Editing by David Clarke and Keith Weir)