(Recasts; adds conference call details, analyst comments' updates share movement)
By Nachiket Kelkar
BANGALORE, May 5 (Reuters) - Tidewater Inc (TDW.N), the world's largest provider of offshore supply vessels to the energy industry, reported fourth-quarter profit below analysts' estimates, hurt by higher costs and lower utilization of vessels, sending its shares down as much as 12 percent.
Jefferies & Co analyst Judson Bailey said by phone that lower-than-expected deployment of vessels in the international deep-water segment and higher operating costs pinched the company's profit.
In a conference call with analysts, Tidewater's Chief Executive Dean Taylor said the company's higher revenue-generating vessels were dry docked for more number of days, due to heavy work load at the yards, affecting their utilization.
For the fourth quarter, Tidewater earned $85.4 million, or $1.63 a share, compared with $87.6 million, or $1.56 a share, a year ago.
Results for the year-ago quarter included a gain of 37 cents a share related to the sale of 14 offshore tugs, and a pre-tax charge of $3.5 million related to Tidewater's share of a deficit in a pension fund.
Revenue rose nearly 13 percent to $331.4 million.
Analysts expected Tidewater to earn $1.71 a share, excluding special items, on revenue of $323.3 million, according to Reuters Estimates.
Tidewater's total vessel operating costs rose 17 percent to $155.1 million
Chief Financial Officer Keith Lousteau said operating costs could go as high as $166 million to $167 million in the first quarter.
Lousteau sees exceptionally high dry-dockings in the current quarter and expects related costs to be about $5 million more than in the fourth quarter.
Jefferies' Bailey said that fundamentals in the company's core businesses remain strong and growth should continue in the next two years.
Shares of the New Orleans-based company were down $6.98 at $58.01 in morning trade on the New York Stock Exchange. They touched a low of $57.08 earlier in the day. (Editing by Himani Sarkar, Anil D'Silva)