Thailand's KCE Electronics expects to return to profit this year, helped by recovering demand in the global automotive industry, a senior company official said.

The printed circuit board maker, whose major customers include Continental and Sony, was increasing its workforce as clients place more orders, assistant managing director Pithan Ongkosit told Reuters.

The company expects a net profit of more than THB100m (US$3m) this year, above analysts' forecasts, on higher sales and product margins, Pithan said. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters forecast on average a net profit of THB25m for this year.

"Our third-quarter earnings will be a surprise and the fourth-quarter earnings will be increasing. It will turn our full-year earnings into the black," Pithan said.

He said according to conservative projections, the company expects to earn THB100m per quarter in the third and fourth quarters this year, recovering from first-half losses to generate a full-year THB100m profit.

He expects to maintain that momentum of THB100m  per quarter profits over next year, the report added.

Export-oriented KCE sells 60% of its output to the automotive industry, largely to Europe and the United States and its two domestic plants now run at nearly full capacity, Reuters noted.

KCE suffered a net loss of THB399m in 2008 on an 8.3% drop in revenue to THB7.67bn ($230m), squeezed by the global recession and rising costs of raw materials such as copper.

It booked a THB114m net loss in the first half of this year with buyers more cautious on placing new orders.

Pithan expects dollar-based revenues of US$160m this year, rising to $210m next year - 2008 revenue was $230m. Gross margins would over 20% this year and next, in part due to lower costs, he added.

"The auto sector is still attractive. There's no price pressure in this sector even in a downturn. It will continue to be our focus," he said.

Like other electronic exporters, KCE has increased its workforce in recent months to about 4,500, after a cut of more than 800 jobs last year, he told Reuters.