By Sara Webb
VELDHOVEN, The Netherlands (Reuters) - ASML, the world's leading provider of tools for making computer chips, gave an upbeat outlook for the first half of this year thanks to strong demand for tablets, smartphones and other consumer gadgets.
The Dutch firm, regarded as a barometer for the health of Europe's technology sector, beat forecasts for its fourth-quarter results and reiterated its outlook for first-half sales of about 3 billion euros ($4.1 billion).
ASML forecast first-quarter sales of around 1.4 billion euros and said it intended to increase its dividend by 15 percent to 0.61 euros per share for 2013.
It also said it was on track with the development of its new manufacturing technique which uses EUV, or extreme ultraviolet light, to produce smaller chips.
It bought Cymer Inc, a supplier of lithography light sources used to make chips, just over a year ago in order to speed up the development of its EUV technology, which has been prone to numerous delays and setbacks over the years.
ASML said it had already shipped its first EUV scanners and expected to deliver another eight this year.
"Expecting further improvements in system performance during the year, we are preparing for additional ... orders,", Chief Executive Peter Wennink said in a statement.
ASML's strong performance last year was driven by demand from logic customers which make microprocessors used in computers and mobile devices, and from DRAM - or Dynamic Random Access Memory - customers for mobile devices such as tablet computers and smartphones.
It reported fourth-quarter net profit of 481 million euros on sales of 1.85 billion euros. For the full year, net profit was 1.02 billion euros on sales of 5.25 billion euros.
Analysts in a Reuters poll had forecast a fourth-quarter net profit of 422 million euros on sales of 1.81 billion euros. They expect net profit of 1.49 billion euros in 2014 on sales of 6.63 billion euros.
(Reporting by Sara Webb; Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Mark Potter)