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CASABLANCA, April 15 (Reuters) - Moroccan cement producer Ciments du Maroc (SCM.CS) expects its net profit to grow in 2008 as dividends from an Egyptian affiliate and lower taxes offset higher energy and raw material costs, its chairman said.
Morocco's cement market has grown at 8 percent a year since the start of the decade and Ciments du Maroc, a unit a of Italcementi ITAI.MI, has struggled to keep output growing as fast as demand.
The company has been forced to buy in clinker from competitors to assure supply, denting profitability. Margins have shrunk further as the cost of energy grew.
External purchases of clinker, as well as rising costs of solid fuel, cut profits by 218 million dirhams last year, Chairman Mohamed Chaibi told reporters and analysts in Casablanca on Tuesday.
"That 218 million risks worsening in 2008 but should stay stable in 2009 ... and largely disappear in 2010," he said.
"We can have a strong increase in sales, a worsening in variable costs and stagnation of fixed costs but we will still have an improvement in terms of net profit nonetheless."
Ciments du Maroc and its main competitors Lafarge Ciments LAC.CS and Holcim HOL.CS are investing heavily to meet surging demand for cement in Morocco due to ambitious transport infrastructure and housing projects and a boom in tourism developments.
The company has increased capacity at existing plants but part of the expansion was delayed after authorities blocked a planned extension of its Agadir factory.
Now it is building a new 3.1 billion dirham cement factory at Ait Baha in the south which can to produce 1.6 million tonnes of clinker and 2.2 million tonnes of cement. The plant's first cement crushing unit will come on line in March 2009.
At its Marrakesh installation, an increase in crushing capacity and clinker production will become effective by the end of the first half of this year, the company said.
Ciments du Maroc's net profit grew 17 percent last year to 612.5 million dirhams but operating profit climbed just 4.3 percent to 900 million.
The net figure was boosted by 50 million dirhams in dividends from Egyptian affiliate Suez Cement Co.
Chaibi said he expected double-digit percentage growth in the Moroccan cement market again this year after a 12.6 percent increase in 2007.
The market could eventually reach over 20 million tonnes, up from 12.8 million last year, before growth flattens out, as consumption of cement per inhabitant in Morocco is still below countries such as Turkey or Tunisia, company executives said. (Reporting by Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Paul Bolding)