* Q4 sales, operating results beat forecasts
* CEO to step down in Feb 2020, deputy to succeed
* CEO upbeat about cement demand in 2019
* Shares rise almost 5 pct to 4-month high (Adds details on proposed management changes)
By Caroline Copley and Ilona Wissenbach
BERLIN, Feb 19 (Reuters) - HeidelbergCement’s long-standing CEO will step down next year before potentially moving to head the supervisory board in 2022, the German company said on Tuesday, as it forecast a rise in demand and margins this year following a tough 2018.
Bernd Scheifele, who has been at the helm for 15 years, will be replaced in February 2020 by Dominik von Achten, currently deputy CEO and responsible for western and southern Europe.
Scheifele led the debt-financed 8 billion pound ($10 billion) purchase of UK rival Hanson in 2007, which threatened to push HeidelbergCement under during the financial crisis as repayments became difficult when the business slumped.
But he got Europe’s second-biggest cement maker back on a firm footing, helped in part by a massive capital increase, and steered it into Germany’s blue-chip index, and later embarked on the 6.7 billion euro ($7.6 billion) acquisition of Italcementi.
He will be proposed as chairman of the supervisory board from 2022, after a two-year cooling off period.
HeidelbergCement shares rose almost 5 percent to a 4-month high after the company beat fourth-quarter sales and operating result forecasts and predicted an easier 2019.
The company, like bigger rival LafargeHolcim, was hit last year by higher energy costs, a key expense for cement makers, and bad weather in the United States, prompting it to unveil fresh cost and investment cuts in November.
Scheifele said those cutbacks should help improve margins this year. “Considering the overall positive outlook for the global economy, we are confident about the future,” he said, while noting risks such as trade conflicts and Brexit.
He told analysts that expectations for a 5.5 percent rise in core earnings (EBITDA) this year were achievable. The company plans to publish guidance on March 21.
HeidelbergCement, which also extended the contract of Chief Financial Officer Lorenz Naeger to May 2022, said it expected demand for cement to rise in Indonesia, India, parts of Africa and North America, in particular.
“2018 was a year to forget for HeidelbergCement, but 2019 has the potential to be better,” Davy analyst Robert Gardiner said in a note.
HeidelbergCement’s fourth-quarter sales jumped 10.3 percent to 4.7 billion euros, ahead of analysts’ average forecast in a Reuters poll for 4.4 billion euros, as growth in North America and Western and Southern Europe offset declines elsewhere.
The preliminary result from current operations before depreciation (RCOBD) fell 5 percent to 847 million euros, also beating the consensus forecast.
Franco-Swiss LafargeHolcim expects its sales growth to slow this year to 3-5 percent from the 4-6 percent targeted for 2018.
($1 = 0.8852 euros)
$1 = 0.7699 pounds Additional reporting by Arno Schuetze, Tassilo Hummel and Christoph Steitz; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Mark Potter