MILAN, Feb 24 (Reuters) – Shares in Saipem fell sharply in early trade on Friday after the oil contractor missed fourth-quarter profit expectations and painted a gloomy picture for the industry for the year ahead.

On Thursday, Saipem said it did not see any recovery this year in spite of higher crude prices, with oil companies continuing to delay projects.

The outlook for new awards in 2017 remains the main issue for the sector and for Saipem, Banca IMI said on Friday.

“We do not expect major increases year-on-year as long as the oil price remains within the recent $50-$55/bbl price range,” the broker said.

The outlook for oil service companies around the world is tough as weak crude prices force majors to cut billions of dollars in costs.

In the fourth quarter, Saipem made an adjusted net profit of 26 million euros ($28 million), well below a Thomson Reuters consensus forecast 57 million euros.

At 0827 Saipem shares were down 3.8 percent after earlier being halted for excessive losses.

(Reporting by Stephen Jewkes)

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