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Mexico's Cemex: Improving Business Reduces Need For Asset Sales

--Cemex sees $250M-300M in 2012 asset sales vs $500M previously --Operating performance improves, especially in the U.S. --US business, long a burden, nears break-even By Amy Guthrie Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES MEXICO CITY -(Dow Jones)- Mexican cement and building materials company Cemex SAB de CV (CX, CEMEX.MX) said Thursday that an improved operating environment, particularly in the U.S., reduces the company's need to sell assets as it continues to carry a hefty debt load. Fernando Gonzalez, Cemex's executive vice president of finance and administration, told analysts during a conference call that the company could sell between $250 million and $300 million of non-cash flow generating assets, such as land, during 2012. Earlier this year the company predicted $500 million in asset sales, while in September it had targeted $1 billion in asset sales by end-2012. During the first quarter Cemex sold $27 million worth of assets. Cemex owed a total debt of $18.17 billion as of the end of March. The company says it doesn't face any significant debt payments until December 2013. Gonzalez said Cemex expects to see volume sales improve in the mid-single-digits this year in the U.S., combined with a continued increase in pricing for Cemex products. Cemex raised its U.S. cement prices in some geographic areas during the first quarter, with increases in others during April, and it expects to raise prices again during the second half of the year. "We are confident that the recovery in the U.S. construction sector is under way," Gonzalez said. Favorable weather conditions in the U.S. pushed up demand there beyond expectations during the first quarter, leading Cemex to tap product inventories, which carry a higher cost of sale. The company also opted to conduct maintenance during the quarter. Those two temporary factors nudged Cemex's U.S. operations to an operating earnings before interest taxes, depreciation and amortization, or Ebitda, to a loss of $24 million for the period. Excluding the impact of maintenance and drawing down on product inventories, Cemex's U.S. operations would have almost been profitable in the first quarter, said Maher Al-Haffar, Cemex's vice president of corporate communications, public affairs and investor relations. The U.S. performance is especially encouraging given that the first quarter is typically Cemex's weakest, Al-Haffar added. The U.S. accounted for close to 20% of Cemex's $3.5 billion in first-quarter sales. Volume sales in California and Texas increased by more than 20% on the year during the first quarter, whereas improvements in Florida lagged. Nonetheless, Cemex has a positive outlook for Florida going forward given the sharp increase in new housing permits there, Al-Haffar said. Cemex maintained its 2012 sales projections across geographic areas, estimating 2% growth in consolidated cement volumes, 5% growth in ready-mix products and 3% growth for aggregates. The company expects a capital expenditure of $600 million this year. -By Amy Guthrie, Dow Jones Newswires; (5255) 5980-5177;

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