German carmaker Daimler posted disappointing fourth-quarter earnings, with an upbeat outlook failing to deliver the detail that analysts said was needed to reassure investors.

On balance, a weak fourth quarter 2010 and no specific 2011 outlook, wrote JP Morgan analyst Ranjit Unnithan in a research note.

Shares in the German carmaker had fallen 3 percent by 1225 GMT on Wednesday, despite Daimler surprising markets with a higher-than-anticipated dividend payout for 2010.

Daimler's below-forecast results follow sobering news from lower-margin French mass market players Renault and PSA Peugeot Citroen
, which both underwhelmed markets last week.

The news is mixed. You have good data for free cash flow and a great outlook. But the problem is that the fourth-quarter results, particularly those for the Mercedes-Benz and Financial Services divisions, slightly missed estimates, Aleksej Wunrau, an analyst at BHF Bank, said.

DIVIDEND BACK

Daimler posted fourth-quarter earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) of 1.56 billion euros ($2.1 billion), compared with a forecast for 2.05 billion in a Reuters poll.

The dividend was set at 1.85 euros, compared with a forecast for 1.75 euros.

The question is whether this was due to one-off effects or whether that has to be factored into future earnings too, BHF Bank's Wunrau added.

Daimler, which ditched its dividend last year, predicted a considerable gain in earnings this year on better sales of its Mercedes premium cars and a turnaround at its industry-leading trucks business.

The company said 2011 earnings before interest and tax would be significantly above last year's figure, having previously said 2011 would be a very good year thanks to strong Chinese demand for Mercedes-Benz saloons.

Daimler chief financial officer Bodo Uebber told a news conference he expected global car markets to grow 5-7 percent in 2011.

But analysts were disappointed not to get more detail.

(guidance) ... was light versus the level of detail that the market had wanted to see. We were looking for north of 9 billion euros in terms of full year 2011 EBIT guidance, Credit Suisse analyst David Arnold said.

Daimler raised its outlook three times last year, most recently forecasting in October that group EBIT would top 7 billion euros for 2010.

Group full-year industrial free cash flow doubled to 5.4 billion euros from 2.7 billion euros in 2009.

Bernstein analyst Max Warburton said however that free cash flow of only around 100 million euros in the fourth quarter was disappointing for a 1.5 billion euro EBIT quarter, adding that this may be explained by Mercedes inventory build-up.

Daimler, which recently celebrated the 125th anniversary of Carl Benz inventing the modern automobile, is the first German carmaker to report 2010 results, ahead of BMW and Volkswagen .

The company's research and development spending was almost 15 percent higher in 2010 than a year earlier, with a 400 million euros increase at the Mercedes-Benz Cars division alone.

EADS PROBE

Uebber said Daimler found it hard to understand why French authorities suspected the German carmaker of insider trading in shares of planemaker Airbus' parent company EADS .

EADS shareholder Daimler said last week it had been placed under formal investigation in France over alleged insider dealing in EADS but was confident of being cleared.

We consider the entire process to be extremely unusual and difficult to understand, he said, in the text of a speech distributed at the conference.

Referring to the company's stake in EADS, Uebber said Daimler aimed to retain industrial leadership for Germany in EADS' shareholder structure, without going into detail about what that meant.

(Additional reporting by Christoph Steitz, Ludwig Burger and Helen Massy-Beresford; Writing by Alexander Smith; Editing by Hans Peters and Louise Heavens)

($1 = 0.7406 euro)