HeidelbergCement favours debt cut over dividend hike -report

FRANKFURT Sat Jan 19, 2013 9:25am EST

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FRANKFURT Jan 19 (Reuters) - HeidelbergCement's chief executive said investors hoping for big dividend hikes will have to wait while the German cement maker focuses on further trimming its debt pile, a German newspaper reported.

Bernd Scheifele said the company would move slowly toward its target of paying out 30-35 percent of net profit as a dividend.

"Big increases are not in the cards for the time being," he said in an interview with Euro am Sonntag newspaper, published on Saturday.

HeidelbergCement paid 0.35 euro per share for a payout ratio of 19 percent for 2011, a move criticised as a "mini-dividend" by shareholders.

Analysts had hoped over the course of 2012 for an increase to 0.60 euros per share but Reuters data show those expectations have since been scaled back to now stand at around 0.53 euros.

"Cutting debt has priority," Scheifele said.

The company managed to slash its debt to around 7.8 billion euros ($10.4 billion) by the end of 2011, from nearly 15 billion in 2007.

"We want to get down to 6.5 billion euros," Scheifele said.

He said he was confident the company's net debt to EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) ratio would be below three at the end of 2012.

HeidelbergCement is an intensive energy user but Scheifele said he expected only a moderate energy price increase of about 1 percent this year.

"In operating terms, things should be better in 2013 than in 2012," he said.

He said he expected volumes to rise in the core growth markets of Asia and Africa and sees a continuing recovery in America, along with improved product prices in Europe and the United States. ($1 = 0.7524 euros) (Reporting by Jonathan Gould; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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