(Adds details of earnings, 2015 outlook)
By Brad Haynes
SAO PAULO, March 4 (Reuters) - Brazil’s Embraer SA said on Wednesday it expects operating profit margins to slip this year as the planemaker makes more of its smaller-cabin E175 regional jets, weighing on profitability despite the boost of a stronger U.S. dollar.
The weaker sales mix started to hit Embraer’s earnings last year, contributing to a sharp drop in fourth-quarter profit.
Embraer’s net income fell 65 percent from a year earlier to $91 million missing an average estimate of $163 million in a Reuters poll of analysts.
Recent orders from U.S. regional carriers have pushed Embraer’s order book to record highs, but those orders have been focused largely on the 76-seat E175, with slimmer profit margins than the big end of the E-Jet lineup.
Embraer is targeting earnings before interest and taxes, or EBIT, equal to 8 percent to 8.5 percent of revenue this year and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA, equal to 12 percent to 13 percent of revenue.
Last year, the company booked an EBIT margin of 8.6 percent and an EBITDA margin of 13.2 percent. EBITDA fell 48 percent in the fourth quarter to $281.3 million, missing an average forecast of $318 million.
Embraer plans to deliver 90-100 aircraft to airlines this year, up from 92 last year, with the E175 making up more of those deliveries.
Sales of smaller executive jets may decline to 80-90 deliveries this year from 92 in 2014, but a growing portfolio of larger executive jets should boost deliveries in that segment to 35-40 jets, from 24 last year.
Revenue from the defense unit, which has signed contracts with Brazil’s armed forces in local currency, may slip 15-25 percent in dollar terms due to the shifting exchange rate.
Overall, around 90 percent of Embraer’s revenue is pegged to the U.S. dollar, while about a quarter of costs are denominated in Brazilian reais.
Late payments from the Brazilian government also triggered negative free cash flow in 2014, as the company warned in January. Embraer said on Wednesday it could see negative free cash flow again this year.
Embraer slightly raised its revenue forecast to $6.1 billion - $6.6 billion this year, up $100 million from its target in 2014, when sales totaled $6.289 billion. The company plans to invest $650 million this year, in line with its 2014 plans.
Embraer initially reported results in Brazilian reais before filing an earnings report in U.S. dollars. (Reporting by Brad Haynes; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)