By John Revill
MUNICH (Reuters) - Siemens cheered investors on Wednesday by saying it would spin off its faltering 30 billion euro (25.8 billion pounds) gas-turbines business and posting better-than-expected quarterly earnings.
The German engineering company said it would hand over to existing investors shares in the Gas and Power unit that has suffered from collapsing demand and cut-throat price competition as customers abandon fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy.
That announcement and a 7 percent rise in industrial profit for January to March helped Siemens shares rise nearly 4 percent in early trading.
The separation is the latest overhaul by Siemens Chief Executive Joe Kaeser who floated Siemens's Healthineers business last year and its wind power business in 2017.
Siemens has been divesting its businesses one by one, avoiding the attention of activist investors who have sought the break up of other conglomerates, particularly in German-speaking nations where employees and customers traditionally receive equal consideration to shareholders.
"The spin-off of the Gas and Power division announced for 2020 and the savings and return targets announced in the run-up to today's capital markets day are the measures we have long been asking for to make Siemens more competitive," Union Investment fund manager Christoph Niesel said.
Kaeser, who has led Siemens since 2013, has also spun off its healthcare business, merged its wind-power operations with Spain's Gamesa and sold the group's remaining home-appliance business to joint-venture partner Bosch.
"It is about further developing a company which is changing fundamentally," Kaeser said. "Our maximum priority is to stabilise a company which is sound and strong in its core.
"Many companies dream of being in the situation Siemens is in," he told a news conference in Munich.
The move comes as activist investors have been stepping up their efforts to break up conglomerates, whose shares often suffer from a discount because they span many different sectors and are more complex to run than single-industry companies.
Submarines-to-elevators group Thyssenkrupp bowed to shareholder pressure this year and said it would scrap its multi-layered structure, which has long been criticised by investors for adding costs and slowing down decision-making.
Swiss industrial robot maker ABB has also agreed to sell its power grids decision which was seen as a drag on the rest of its operations.
Kaeser said the decision to separate Gas and Power was not taken easily, but he was convinced it was right.
"We know we cannot stand still," Kaeser said. "This is simply the best solution from a Siemens investor viewpoint."
"If you take a business which earns underproportionally and retains an overproportional amount of capital, and you take that out of the capital equation, then the numbers will be very different," he said.
The company also reported on Wednesday that its industrial profit rose 7 percent to 2.4 billion euros in the three months that ended on March 31, beating estimates of 2.24 billion euros in an Infront data poll.
Revenue rose 4 percent to 20.9 billion euros, matching estimates, while orders rose 6 percent to 23.6 billion euros.
The listing of Gas and Power in Germany, which is due to be completed by September 2020, will create a company with sales of 30 billion euros and more than 80,000 workers.
Following the overhaul Siemens's industrial core would be its Digital Industries unit, which offers industrial software and automation solutions for factories, and Smart Infrastructure, which makes fire safety and security products, grid control or energy storage systems for buildings.
By ditching the lower-margin Gas and Power operations and focussing on these areas, Siemens would be able to raise the target for its industrial business to 14 to 18 percent from the current goal of 11 to 15 percent, the company said.
"Synergies do not create growth, focus does," Kaeser said.
(Reporting by John Revill; Additional reporting by Hans Seidenstuecker; Editing by Georgina Prodhan and Edmund Blair)