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STOCKHOLM, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Swedish steelmaker SSAB missed fourth-quarter operating profit forecasts on Friday, weighed down by weak results in North America, and proposed its first dividend since 2012.
SSAB, one of the largest steel plate producers in the United States, said its Americas division was the biggest reason for the shortfall in earnings, although it said there were signs business there was improving.
The company, which generates most of its profits in Europe, said its quarterly operating profit rose to 843 million Swedish crowns ($107 million) from 107 million a year earlier. That lagged a 1 billion crown forecast in a Reuters poll of analysts.
"The heavy plate market in North America deteriorated during the fall, leading to lower realized prices," SSAB Chief Executive Martin Lindqvist said.
"Nevertheless, demand picked up towards the end of the year and market prices for heavy plate rose sharply".
SSAB said it expected those higher prices to gradually be reflected in earnings, starting in the first quarter.
While SSAB's results were "somewhat disappointing", the miss in the Americas should be looked through as the domestic plate market there has sharply recovered of late, Jefferies said in a research note.
SSAB proposed a dividend of 1 crown per share, its first since 2012, and above the 0.9 crowns forecast by analysts.
The company forecast steel shipments in SSAB Europe and SSAB Americas, which together account for around two thirds of group sales, to be somewhat higher in the current quarter versus the fourth quarter. Shipments in its Special Steels unit, its second largest, were seen stable.
SSAB shares are up 20 percent since the beginning of November, roughly in line with the Thomson Reuters Europe Steel Index.
$1 = 7.8909 Swedish crowns Reporting by Johannes Hellstrom; Editing by Biju Dwarakanath and Mark Potter