* Expects to become debt free over five-year plan period
* New industrial plan completes transition of merged group (Recasts with industrial plan; adds details, quotes)
By Agnieszka Flak
DETROIT, May 8 (Reuters) - Tractor and truck maker CNH Industrial NV expects to raise operating profit for its industrial activities by as much as 60 percent and become debt free over five years by expanding and refreshing its product lineup and growing in Asia.
Chief Executive Richard Tobin, in an investor presentation on Thursday, said he planned to boost the group’s farming equipment portfolio and its geographic reach, return the construction machinery business to profitable growth and introduce new models for its pressured truck unit.
“We will be bold where we have the advantage and we will react quickly and decisively when the markets turn against us,” Tobin said.
The company forecast operating profit for its industrial activities would rise to $3.4 billion by 2018, from $2.1 billion last year, while operating margin is seen reaching 9 percent.
The company said it would invest $11.7 billion over the five years in new product launches and research and development to grow net sales of its construction, agriculture and commercial machinery by 17 percent to $38.3 billion by 2018.
CNH does not plan to pursue any mergers or acquisitions in that period, but will focus “exclusively on organic growth and performance,” Tobin said.
The release of the industrial plan and a change in the reporting of results to U.S. dollars and U.S. GAAP accounting principles ends a period of transition for CNH Industrial, which was created last year from the merger of Fiat Industrial and its U.S. unit CNH.
The merged entity has received a lukewarm welcome since moving its primary listing to New York on Sept. 30, and trading volumes in Milan have been much higher as investors were looking for more clarity on the company’s prospect.
CNH hopes to attract more U.S. investor interest now that the move is completed.
The group said it expects to pay a dividend at 30 percent of net income throughout the plan. Group net income is expected to rise to $2.2 billion by 2018 from $800 million last year.
First-quarter earnings were weaker than expected. Operating profit for industrial activities fell 2 percent to $412 million, while revenues were flat at $7.54 billion.
The results reflected a slowdown in the sales of agricultural equipment in Latin America and Asia and a sharp decline in truck sales in Brazil.
The stock closed down 2.3 percent at $11.35 in New York.
“There are concerns about performance of the agricultural equipment and commercial vehicles units going forward and that is weighing on the stock,” a Milan-based analyst said, adding that the company’s current net industrial debt, at $4 billion, was higher than expected.
Net income fell to $101 million, or 7 cents per share, from $151 million last year.
Though predominantly a maker of farm and construction machinery, about one third of CNH Industrial’s revenue comes from trucks and commercial vehicles and the unit has dragged on earnings in recent quarters.
Europe’s heavy truck makers are emerging from an extended slump, with growing evidence that the need to replace aging fleets is at last prompting truck operators to invest.
Even so, CNH’s commercial vehicles unit posted an operating loss for January-March, dragged down by a major decline in demand in Brazil and in manufacturing activities in Venezuela. (Reporting by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Leslie Adler)