UPDATE 1-Eiffage sees cost cuts paying off in 2013
* Sees improved profits, lower debt this year
* CEO Pierre Berger on a drive to boost margins
* 2012 net profit rises 7 pct, in line with forecasts (Adds details, background)
PARIS, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Eiffage said it expects to further improve profits and lower its debt load in 2013 by keeping up cost-cutting efforts that helped it post a rise in earnings last year.
France's third-largest construction and concessions company has been on a drive to boost efficiency and productivity under Chief Executive Pierre Berger, who took the reins in 2011.
Eiffage expects 2013 sales to also rise to 14.2 billion euros ($18.6 billion) after hitting the 14 billion level in 2012.
"Given continuing efforts to achieve cost efficiencies and improve work site productivity, operating profit ... and net profit can be expected to increase further in 2013, while there should be another decrease in net debt," it said in a statement.
Net debt, the majority of which is directly held by the concessions unit, was 12.5 billion at the end of 2012, a decrease of 176 million over 12 months, Eiffage said.
The company, based in the Paris suburb of Asnieres-sur-Seine, on Wednesday that net profit last year increased 7.3 percent to 220 million euros, compared with an average of 221.88 million from a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S consensus.
Operating profit rose 8.6 percent to 1.2 billion, while operating margin improved to 8.5 percent from 8 percent last year.
The restoration of the group's margins - particularly those of the construction business, which have lagged those of its peers - is one of the key priorities of CEO Berger.
Eiffage said on Feb. 8 it had met it sales goal of 14 billion euros last year as growth at its construction and public works businesses in France, its largest market, offset a slowdown in the rest of Europe.
Eiffage is paying an unchanged dividend of 1.2 euros per share in 2012.
Its shares, which have risen around 15 percent in the last twelve months, closed up 6.3 percent at 33.9 euros before the publication of the results.
Shares in larger rival Bouygues closed 13.2 percent higher on Wednesday after the construction-to-telecom group predicted improving margins in 2013. ($1 = 0.7628 euros) (Reporting by Elena Berton and Gilles Guillaume)
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