BERLIN -- Daimler reported a 39 percent increase in fourth-quarter profit, boosted by demand for the revamped Mercedes-Benz M- and C-class models.
Earnings before interest and taxes gained to 2.18 billion euros ($2.9 billion) from 1.56 billion euros a year ago, the automaker said Thursday.
The figure compared with the 2.17 billion-euro average estimate of 12 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Sales rose 10 percent to 29.1 billion euros.
Daimler proposed a dividend of 2.20 euros for 2011, higher than the previous year's 1.85 euros, after net income for the year advanced 29 percent to 6.03 billion euros.
The company, which is also the world's biggest maker of heavy-duty vehicles, forecast 2012 Ebit "in the magnitude of last year."
Daimler has vowed to retake the luxury-car lead from BMW after slipping last year to third place behind Audi.
In 2011, Mercedes reported brand sales of 1.26 million units, behind Audi with 1.3 million and leader BMW, which sold 1.38 million cars and SUVs.
To outpace its rivals, Mercedes plans to introduce 10 new models by 2015, including compacts and the CLS Shooting Brake, a wagon-like variant of the $71,300 four-door coupe.
Costs to roll out the cars and an overhauled Actros long-haul truck may burden 2012 earnings.
"The dividend is surprisingly good and higher than the market was expecting," said Albrecht Denninghoff, a Frankfurt- based analyst with Silvia Quandt Research. "The figures are in line, while the outlook is cautious. We're staying with our buy recommendation."
The shares have risen 32 percent this year, valuing the company at 47.7 billion euros.
In 2012, Mercedes aims to surpass last year's record deliveries and targets faster growth than the forecast pace of 4 percent for the global auto market on demand for the revamped B-class compact and a new A-class hatchback.
The models are part of a line of five small cars that the brand is developing to win over younger customers. Mercedes also plans to double the variants of the S-class flagship to six after a new version is introduced in 2013.
Mercedes is also spending about 2 billion euros to expand production in China and is investing an additional $2.4 billion in its U.S. plant. The carmaker will also open a new 800 million-euro factory in Hungary this year in a bid to reclaim the top spot in luxury vehicles that it lost in 2005. The brand aims to sell 1.5 million autos by 2014 and 1.6 million by 2015.
Daimler will have "somewhat of a transition year" in 2012 because of spending on the new models, Arndt Ellinghorst, a London-based Credit Suisse analyst, said in a note ahead of the earnings.
Daimler's trucks division, which also makes Freightliner vehicles in the U.S. and Fuso models in Asia, expects sales to increase this year on growth in the U.S. and a recovery in Japan. The unit is targeting an average return on sales of 8 percent across a business cycle starting in 2013.
Source: Bloomberg and Automotive News Europe