(Adds comment from conference call, updates share price)
By Christine Murray
MEXICO CITY, April 30 Mexico's Cemex, one of the world's largest cement companies, on Wednesday reported a first-quarter loss that was slightly better than estimates, helped by higher demand for cement in the U.S.
The Monterrey-based company posted a loss of $293 million, while analysts in a Reuters poll estimated a $305 million loss.
The better-than-expected performance was helped by a bigger contribution from the homebuilding and industrial sectors in the United States, despite unfavorable weather conditions there.
Net sales rose 8 percent to $3.59 billion, in line with estimates.
"Given the strong underlying drivers in Cemex's key regions, we believe the stock's reaction will be positive," Credit Suisse analysts said in a note.
Although the loss beat expectations, it was wider than the same period a year earlier, mostly reflecting higher interest payments on debt.
Cemex, which has struggled with a heavy debt load from expensive acquisitions, said total debt increased 1 percent from a year earlier to $16.69 billion.
Executives on a call said the company may be open to further acquisitions or asset swaps that could come as Cemex competitors Holcim and Lafarge try to win regulatory approval for their planned merger.
"We do believe that in this industry there are economies of scale and Holcim and Lafarge and us and other companies of our level...are always trying to obtain economies of scale," Chief Financial Officer Fernando Gonzalez told analysts on a call.
"We are open to analyze whatever the opportunities," he said, answering a question about whether Cemex will participate in any of the possible divestitures, adding the company cannot be specific until it knows the details of the asset sales.
Infrastructure spending in Mexico, Cemex's biggest market as measured by core profit, began slowly last year after a new government took office. The debt default of the country's three biggest homebuilders compounded Cemex's problems.
But the company said on Wednesday demand for its products in Mexico was fueled by higher activity in both the infrastructure and homebuilding sectors.
Shares in Cemex were up 2.7 percent in morning trading. (Reporting by Christine Murray, additional reporting by Elinor Comlay, Editing by Franklin Paul, Jeffrey Benkoe and Meredith Mazzilli)