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Auto demand lifts BASF quarterly profit

* Q3 adj EBIT up 15 pct at 1.69 bln eur vs 1.63 poll avg

* CEO: Q3 was robust, confirms goal for FY profit growth

* Strong automotive demand offsets currency drag

* Shares gain 1 pct, vs sector gauge's 0.4 pct increase

By Ludwig Burger

FRANKFURT, Oct 25 (Reuters) - BASF squeezed out faster than expected quarterly profit growth on Friday after carmakers' demand for catalytic converters and high-tech plastics helped offset weak overseas currencies for the world's biggest chemicals company.

BASF, a weather vane for the business cycle as it serves auto, construction, electronics and consumer goods industries, sought to dampen any hopes of a swift global economic recovery and pointed to a weak Japanese yen and Brazilian real eroding the value of overseas revenues.

"The automotive industry is our most important industry. There, we have seen very good growth in Asia, which is an important focus for us. We've seen good growth in coatings, catalysts and plastics," Chief Executive Kurt Bock told Reuters Insider TV, adding that European markets were "okay" only because of German carmakers.

BASF said that despite economic uncertainty and negative currency effects it was still aiming to exceed 2012 levels of sales and adjusted earnings before interest and tax (EBIT).

Third-quarter group earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), adjusted for one-off items, rose 15 percent to 1.69 billion euros ($2.35 billion), more than the 1.63 billion euro average estimate in a Reuters poll of analysts.

The shares advanced 1.2 percent by 1055 GMT on the positive earnings surprise, outperforming the STOXX Europe 600 Chemicals index's 0.5 percent gain.

Dutch sector peer Akzo Nobel also last week surprised by beating market expectations.

Bock said the company was dealing with foreign exchange market swings by concentrating production where it sells. The company had achieved that in the United States, he added, where the firm has 95 percent local production.

On earnings, its unit which makes specialty chemicals and plastics for industrial use posted a particularly strong gain, helped by demand for automotive sound insulation and seats from polyurethane foams.

New car markets in Europe, BASF's most important region, grew 5.4 percent in September, only the third monthly gain in the past two years.

The economic picture remained uncertain, it added.

"We do not anticipate an upturn in the global economy for the fourth quarter of 2013. The environment is likely to remain challenging," it said.

Optimism about the euro zone's economy hit a 2-year high in September, a survey showed, but the private sector in the region's largest economy, Germany, grew only at the slowest pace in three months in October.

While BASF relies on Asia for growth, Europe is its most important market, accounting for more than half of group sales.