February 26, 2014 / 7:26 AM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 2-Cement maker Holcim warns on Asia-Pacific construction

* Sees slower growth in Asia-Pacific

* Sees further uncertainty in Latin America

* Confirms sees organic growth in operating profit in 2014

* Q4 sales drop 9 percent, miss consensus

* Q4 operating profit 559 mln Sfr vs Rtrs poll 580 mln (Adds comments from analysts, background)

FRANKFURT, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Holcim expects slower growth in construction markets in the Asia-Pacific region this year while Latin America may see further uncertainty, and the Swiss cement maker posted below-consensus earnings on Wednesday due to weak currencies.

Asia Pacific and Latin American markets are drivers of growth at Holcim and account for about 65 percent of its cement sales, while 80 percent of its aggregates revenues are generated in Europe and North America.

The world’s largest maker of cement by market value said it expects European construction markets to have bottomed out, with slow recovery in sight, and it sees the U.S. market continuing to recover.

Rivals HeidelbergCement and Lafarge saw a pick-up in Europe in the last quarter, due partly to mild winter weather, as well as a bounceback in the U.S. residential market although the strong euro also depressed their results.

Holcim reported a 9 percent drop in fourth-quarter sales to 4.78 billion Swiss francs ($5.38 billion), short of a consensus forecast of 5.13 billion, on adverse movements from currencies including India’s rupee, Indonesia’s rupiah and Brazil’s real.

Currency effects took 369 million francs off quarterly revenues, it said. Quarterly operating profit came in at 559 million francs, missing consensus, but marking an improvement from a loss of 63 million a year earlier.

Earnings in Asia Pacific dropped by 19.1 percent and Europe had the highest growth as restructuring started to bear fruit.

Zuercher Kantonalbank said in a note to clients that the results were “solid” considering the difficult environment and said it expected currency headwinds to weigh on earnings this year, especially in the first half of the year.

Holcim stuck to its forecast of boosting operating profit by at least 1.5 billion francs by the end of 2014 compared to 2011, helped by a cost-cutting programme that contributed almost 1 billion francs to operating profit last year.

It also said it would propose paying shareholders a 2013 dividend of 1.30 Swiss francs per share, up from 1.15 francs the previous year.

Shares in Holcim have lagged behind rivals, rising less than 4 percent in the past six months, compared to Lafarge’s 13 percent, Heidelberg’s 9 percent and a 19 percent gain on STOXX Europe 600 construction and materials sector index.

By 1010 GMT, Holcim shares were up 0.9 percent while the construction index was 0.3 percent lower. ($1 = 0.8882 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Marilyn Gerlach; editing by Maria Sheahan and Jason Neely)

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