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Manufacturers top Street's profit forecasts

By Scott Malone and Nick Zieminski

(Reuters) - Three major U.S. manufacturers reported better-than-expected profit and stuck to their forecasts of earnings growth this year, with solid emerging market demand and a modest U.S. recovery offsetting weakness in Europe.

Both United Technologies Corp and Rockwell Automation Inc slightly missed Wall Street's revenue forecasts, with their earnings growth reflecting their focus on cost controls.

Textron Inc reported results that easily topped analysts' results and forecast 11 percent revenue growth for 2012, driven by strong growth forecasts at its Cessna corporate jet and Bell helicopter units.

Its shares surged as much as 16 percent to their highest level since July.

United Tech, the world's largest maker of elevators and air conditioners, beat analysts' earnings forecasts by a penny even as revenue grew just 0.6 percent to $14.97 billion, $100 million short of forecasts , according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The shortfall reflected slowing Chinese elevator orders and a sharper-than-expected decline in demand in North America for air conditioning equipment, Chief Financial Officer Greg Hayes said in an interview.

"Overall, it was a very slow-growth fourth quarter," Hayes said.

United Tech reiterated the 2012 profit target it had issued in December, which calls for profit to rise 6 percent to 9 percent excluding the costs of its largest-ever acquisition, a $16.5 billion pending takeover of aircraft components maker Goodrich Corp .

Rockwell, a maker of factory automation systems whose fiscal year ends in September, reiterated its forecast of 5 percent to 13 percent profit growth this year.

The shaky global economy -- and particularly Europe's debt crisis -- is taking a toll on big industrial companies' results. Germany's Siemens AG posted a sharper-than-expected drop in operating profit on Tuesday, and CEO Peter Loescher warned investors that he expected a tough year.

Likewise, General Electric Co on Friday reported a revenue decline that was sharper than Wall Street expected.

TEXTRON TAKES A MULLIGAN

Textron reported a 7-cent-per-share net loss in the quarter after taking a number of charges, including 41 cents per share to write down the value of its golf mortgage portfolio.

That was a legacy of the company's prior efforts to diversify its finance arm into businesses other than providing loans to buyers of Textron-made jets, helicopters and other equipment.

The company now accounts for its golf mortgages as a property it plans to sell, rather than to continue to operate.

"There's not a lot of liquidity going back into the golf mortgage portfolio area," Chief Executive Scott Donnelly said. "Now we're in a position where we can go out and start to market those assets. I don't think it's going to be one big transaction, I don't think it's going to happen in six months . I still think this is more like a two-year time horizon kind of deal."

Factoring out those charges, the maker of Cessna aircraft and Bell helicopters posted a profit of 49 cents per share, topping analysts' expectation of 34 cents. Revenue came to $3.25 billion, modestly above forecasts.

The company set an initial 2012 target of profit from continuing operations of $1.80 to $2.00 per share, up from $1.31 in 2011. It said revenue would rise about 11 percent to $12.5 billion, helped by strong growth at Cessna and Bell.

Textron shares were up $2.99 to $24.60.

"Although the guidance came in ahead of our estimate ... the operating performance was pretty much in line with our forecasts," wrote RBC Capital Markets analyst Robert Stallard, in a note to clients.

Rockwell reported a 22.1 percent rise in first-quarter profit to $183.3 million, or $1.27 per share, compared with $150.1 million, or $1.04 per share a year earlier. Analysts had expected $1.21 per share.

EUROPE STILL A DRAG

Emerson Electric Co and TE Connectivity Ltd reminded investors about Europe's economic weakness.

Emerson posted a slight improvement in trailing three-month orders, blaming Europe for lower orders in the company's network power business, which makes uninterruptible power systems and other products. Orders fell in the climate segment, reflecting weak global air conditioning markets.

Emerson, however, noted strong investment by oil and gas producers and said U.S. commercial construction was improving.

TE Connectivity, the company formerly called Tyco Electronics, said industrial markets were weak in Europe and Japan, as it reported disappointing profit and lowered full-year sales and profit forecasts. Its shares fell 12 percent to $31.50, erasing its gains for the month.

United Tech shares eased 2 percent to $76.15 and Rockwell slid 3.3 percent to $79.08 on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting By Scott Malone in Boston and Nick Zieminski in New York, additional reporting by Lynn Adler in New York; Editing by Derek Caney)

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