UPDATE 3-Finland's Wartsila shares hit year high after first quarter orders surprise

(Adds CEO comments, share repurchase)

HELSINKI, April 22 (Reuters) - Shares in Finland’s Wartsila soared more than 16% to a 14-month high on Thursday after the marine and energy equipment maker surprised investors with stable orders for the first quarter despite sales and profit that missed forecasts.

The company reported first-quarter order intake flat at 1.2 billion euros ($1.45 billion) from a year ago with the pace of global vaccinations providing cautious optimism about a recovery in its marine markets. It said it expected a rebound in core energy markets to take longer.

Wartsila shares had risen by 16.1% to 10.39 euros at 1006 GMT, after hitting a session high of 10.44 euros, which was the highest level since February 2020.

“The orders were a positive surprise,” Inderes analyst Erkki Vesola said, saying the energy segment was especially promising.

Although the energy segment’s order intake dropped for oil and gas, Wartsila’s reported demand for energy storage in the first quarter rose to 806 megawatts (MW) from 5 MW a year ago.

“That is a significant growth,” Chief Executive Hakan Agnevall told Reuters, adding the firm was seeking to secure an advantage over its rivals by developing its energy management system.

Wartsila’s earnings per share fell to 0.04 euros from 0.05 euros while analysts had expected a rise to 0.06 euros. The company also said it would start repurchasing its own shares starting April 26th at the earliest and ending on May 17.

Operating profit for the quarter fell 30% to 36 million euros, while revenue dropped 19% to 946 million euros, falling short of the 1.03 billion expected by analysts, according to Refinitiv data.

“Visibility into demand development remains low, as the market environment continues to be challenging and unpredictable,” Agnevall said in a statement, adding that near-term demand was expected to be better than a year earlier.

The company pledged to control costs to preserve cash as demand remains low during the pandemic.

In the first quarter, cash flow from operating activities increased to 67 million euros from 42 million.

$1 = 0.8298 euros Reporting by Essi Lehto; Editing by Michael Kahn and Edmund Blair