CORRECTED-UPDATE 1-Umicore eyes 2021 profit boost, prepares for CEO succession

(Corrects EBIT figure in paragraph 2)

Feb 11 (Reuters) - Belgian materials technology and recycling group Umicore on Thursday said it expected “substantially” better earnings growth in 2021 after reporting better-than-expected operating profit for 2020.

The maker of catalytic converters and battery materials for carmakers said its adjusted earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) came in at 536 million euros ($650 million) in 2020, up 5% from a year earlier.

Analysts had forecast adjusted EBIT of 527 million euros, according to a company-provided poll.

The company also said it would start preparing for succession of its chief executive, Marc Grynberg, who has been in the post since 2008.

“I will lead Umicore with as much engagement, energy and passion as ever until my successor is in place,” Grynberg said.

The group did not say how long Grynberg would remain in charge.

Umicore, which competes with Britain’s Johnson Matthey and Germany’s BASF, said it expected to increase its earnings in all businesses this year, with also the pandemic-hit battery materials segment set to grow its volumes.

KBC analysts see the growing electric vehicle market as a potential key to Umicore’s long-term growth. However, in late 2020 its battery materials segment suffered from overcapacity and pricing pressures from China.

The market share of electric vehicles based on new car registrations increased to 10.5% in the European Union in 2020 from 3% the previous year, according to data from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.

The pandemic-hit auto industry has shown signs of recovery from the fourth quarter, led by China where car sales surged 30% in January. ($1 = 0.8247 euros) (Reporting by Milla Nissi in Gdansk Editing by Tomasz Janowski)