* Confirms goal to improve operating profit this year
* H1 sales of 20.44 bln, in line with consensus
* Still aims to sell rest of Verallia, no timing details-CEO
(Adds details, recasts)
PARIS, July 30 French building materials
producer and distributor Saint-Gobain reaffirmed its
aim of improving its profitability this year after posting 4.1
percent organic sales growth in the first half, driven by demand
in the United States and Asia.
Revenue was 20.44 billion euros ($27.35 billion) in the six
months, slightly lower than analysts' expectations of 20.69
billion euros, according to a Reuters poll. The strong euro
reduced the value of overseas sales and cut 3.2 percentage
points off revenue growth in the period.
Saint-Gobain, founded in 1665 to make mirrors for the royal
court of Versailles, has since broadened its range and supplies
materials used in roofing and insulation as well as glass panes
for windows and car windscreens as well as competing in the
builders' merchants business with firms such as Britain's
Wolseley and Travis Perkins.
Operating profit rose 3 percent to 1.33 billion euros in the
"After a first quarter boosted by favourable weather
conditions in Europe, the second quarter confirmed the slight
uptrend in our markets first seen in second-half 2013 across all
of our regions. Only France remains down," Chief Executive
Pierre-Andre de Chalendar said in a statement on Wednesday.
Net income in the period more than doubled from a year ago
to 671 million euros because of a boost from the April sale of
the U.S. operations of its Verallia glass packaging unit.
Chalendar said on a call with reporters that the company
still intended to seek a sale of the rest of Verallia. "We still
have it in mind to sell this activity, but a specific decision
has not been made as of today," he said.
Saint-Gobain has long wanted to sell or spin off the unit
but in 2011 cancelled a public share offer just two days before
Verallia's shares were due to start trading, citing adverse
market conditions because of the financial crisis.
Saint-Gobain has since tried to gradually offload the unit,
first selling its U.S. operations to Ardagh, and deciding later
on how to dispose of the European arm.
The group, which makes 70 percent of its sales in Europe,
was hit in recent years by the economic slowdown, which
depressed construction and renovation markets as well as demand
for its products for cars and solar panels.
It is now betting on cost savings, innovation and a recovery
in the United States to lift its operating profit this year.
The company said in November it was aiming for 800 million
euros in cost savings in 2014 and 2015, and would spend 4
billion euros on acquisitions through 2018 to focus on
high-growth, high-margin products.
It renewed the cost-cutting pledge on Wednesday, saying it
aimed for 450 million euros of cuts this year having secured
savings of 240 million euros in the first half.
(1 US dollar = 0.7474 euros)
(Reporting by Leila Abboud and Natalie Huet; Editing by Greg