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UPDATE 2-Finland's Wartsila quarterly profit below forecasts, cuts dividend

* Q4 EPS 0.10 vs consensus 0.15

* Slashed dividend to 0.20 from 0.48

* Shares fall 9% (Adds shares, analyst, CEO comments)

Jan 28 (Reuters) - Ship technology and power-plant maker Wartsila posted on Thursday a bigger-than-expected fall in quarterly profit, and plans to cut its dividend, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to limit investments in its marine and energy markets.

The Finnish company reported fourth-quarter earnings per share of 0.10 euros, down from 0.17 euros a year earlier, missing the 0.15 euros expected by analysts according to Refinitiv data.

Its shares fell 9% in mid-day trading.

Wartsila proposed to slash its dividend to 0.20 euros per share from 0.48 euros last year, missing analysts forecasts of a 0.27 euros payout.

“We think Wartsila is in a darkest before dawn situation with orders and earnings still reflecting a rear mirror view,” analysts from UBS said in a note to clients.

Wartsila said it was hoping to see some improvement in vessel contracting from very low levels in 2020, and some cruise shipping activity starting from the second quarter as vaccinations spread, but noted the market was ‘shaky’.

“Visibility is really, really bad,” outgoing Chief Executive Officer Jaakko Eskola told analysts.

Eskola said progress with vaccinations would help 2021.

“We expect to see this having a positive effect on our business during the course of 2021, as country level vaccination programmes are implemented on a global scale,” he said.

Eskola said the pandemic had made it impossible for him to report better numbers to wrap his five-year tenure at the helm of the company before retiring.

Volvo’s Hakon Agnevall succeeds him on Feb. 1.

“The pandemic continues to impact everything in 2021. The new CEO starts on Monday and he cannot meet the clients in person,” Eskola said. (Reporting by Tarmo Virki in Tallinn; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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