ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss dental implant maker Nobel Biocare beat analyst profit expectations on Friday and gave a cautious outlook on the global dental market for 2012, saying growth was expected in the low single digits.
Net profit for the first-quarter amounted to 13.7 million euros, outstripping a 12.5 million euros forecast by analysts in a Reuters' poll. Sales expressed in euros grew by 2.8 percent thanks to a favorable exchange rate impact.
"At constant exchange rates, Nobel Biocare targets modest revenue growth and an absolute profit from operations in line with 2011," the company said.
The economic downturn has battered the company as patients put off non-urgent treatment, which is not generally reimbursed by insurers.
Nobel Biocare has suffered more than rivals as its products are often pitched towards more pricey treatments and it has lost the top spot in the dental implant market to local competitor Straumann.
Straumann's first-quarter sales, announced earlier this week, slipped as double-digit growth in North America failed to completely offset struggling markets in Europe and Asia.
Noble Biocare is often touted as a takeover target and Chairman Rolf Watter fanned speculation the company might be up for sale, saying in a newspaper interview last month that any offer of 17 to 20 francs per share for the company would have to be put to shareholders.
Nobel Biocare shares traded at 10.70 at the close of trading on Thursday.
(Editing by Richard Pullin)