(Adds investor and analyst comments, adds stock price)
By Jessica Toonkel
Feb 11 (Reuters) - Thomson Reuters Corp reported higher-than-expected quarterly profit on Thursday, benefiting from lower costs and tax savings, and said it expects its revenue to grow by low single digits in 2016.
Despite volatile markets, the news and financial information provider said it expects 2 to 3 percent revenue growth this year, assuming constant currency rates.
“There is a lot to be worried about there,” Chief Executive Jim Smith said in an interview about global markets. “But when I spoke to our largest customers this year and when I spoke to major regulators this year, no one believes that ... the fundamentals are anywhere near where they were in 2008 and 2009.”
Adjusted for special items, Thomson Reuters’ fourth-quarter net earnings were 65 cents per share, up from 43 cents per share a year ago.
Analysts, on average, were looking for 58 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The beat came from cost controls and lower-than-expected tax rates, said Sanford Bernstein analyst Claudio Aspesi.
Quarterly revenue was slightly below estimates, down 2 percent to $3.15 billion, but would have been up 2 percent when factoring out currency. Analysts had forecast $3.17 billion.
Shares fell about 3 percent in both New York and Toronto.
Volatile currencies, falling oil prices and worries about slowing growth in China have put pressure on financial services firms, the core customers of Thomson Reuters Financial & Risk business. U.S. financial shares have lagged the broader U.S. market this year.
Thomson Reuters, parent of Reuters News, competes for financial customers with Bloomberg LP and News Corp’s Dow Jones unit.
Smith noted the fourth quarter is key for Thomson Reuters’ Financial & Risk division, which generates about half of the company’s revenue.
“It’s generally when the big banks tend to adjust their seat count for the coming year,” Smith said.
The division, which provides news and analytics, showed sales outpacing cancellations for the seventh straight quarter - a key indicator of future growth. Segment revenue was $1.53 billion, down 4 percent from the year earlier, but flat excluding currency.
Given market volatility, investors and analysts said they would watch the Financial & Risk division’s sales next quarter.
“This is going to be the story going forward,” Aspesi said.
A key question is whether the company can grow market share, said Michael Formuziewich, portfolio manager with Toronto-based Leon Frazer & Associates, which owns Thomson Reuters shares.
“Taking costs out of the system has worked for them but at some point you have to grow revenues to grow the bottom line,” he said.
The company’s 2016 forecast excludes revenue from its Intellectual Property & Sciences business, which it expects to sell in the second half of this year. Thomson Reuters said in November it was exploring strategic options for the business. .
Smith said he would favor using sale proceeds to buy back shares and said he has no plans for major acquisitions in 2016.
The company plans to buy back about $1.5 billion in shares.
Reporting By Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Nick Zieminski