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Volvo Q1 results beat expectations on strong demand

But it cautions that its supply chain is coming under pressure

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Volvo is enjoying brisk business as fleet buyers step up purchases during what many analysts expect to be the peak year of the current demand cycle.

Stockholm

LORRY maker Volvo beat first-quarter expectations with strong demand for lorries and construction equipment across most markets but cautioned that its supply chain was coming under pressure.

Sweden's Volvo and German competitors Daimler and Volkswagen are enjoying brisk business as fleet buyers step up purchases during what many analysts expect to be the peak year of the current demand cycle.

The first major European major lorry maker to report on the quarter, Volvo raised its guidance for the North American and Indian heavy-duty lorry market as well as for construction equipment in nearly all markets.

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Operating profit at the group, which makes lorries, construction equipment, buses and engines, rose to 8.30 billion Swedish kronor (S$1.3 billion) from 6.83 billion kronor and topped the 8.17 billion kronor expected by analysts in a Reuters poll.

"The operating profit is better than expected; but if you look for weaknesses, the margin is below forecast," Handelsbanken Capital Markets analyst Hampus Engellau said.

"This should be weighed against an extremely strong order intake, and they also raised their outlook for lorries in North America, and for all construction gear markets save Europe."

Bolstered by a completed 10 billion krona cost-cutting scheme, Volvo has seen its profitability and share price climb over the past year, raising market expectations.

Its operating margin rose to 9.3 per cent from 8.9 per cent, but fell shy of the 9.5 per cent seen by analysts as costs to cope with a stretched supply chain dented profitability in its lorry business.

"Looking ahead, the strong order intake means that the supply chain constraints and associated higher costs will remain in the near term," chief executive Martin Lundstedt said in a statement.

A spokesman declined to specify which components were affected by supply chain bottlenecks.

The Gothenburg-based manufacturer said that the order intake of lorries, which sells under brands Volvo, Mack, Renault and UD Trucks, grew 29 per cent, beating the 21 per cent rise seen by analysts.

While the demand outlook could hardly be rosier, Volvo's future ownership and strategy is in greater doubt.

Chinese carmaker Geely's purchase of shares in Daimler and a yet-to-be closed deal for a stake in AB Volvo has left the rivals facing the unsettling prospect of having the same major owner.

For Geely chairman Li Shufu, whose Zhejiang Geely Holding already owns Swedish carmaker Volvo Car Group, the deals seem intended to drive cooperation between companies in which it is an owner, though what it means in practice remains in doubt.

"Our view is that potential partnerships that fulfil all legal and regulatory requirements, and which are mutually beneficial, should always be discussed," Mr Li wrote in a rare article published in Swedish and German media this month.

AB Volvo's top executive and chairman at the group's annual shareholders' meeting this month voiced cautious optimism regarding the likely Geely ownership, but also showed some surprise at the deal to buy activist fund Cevian's stake. REUTERS

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