Holcim's first quarter turnover improved by 4.8% to SFr4,741m (€3,247m), which represents a 3.3% decline on a comparable basis. The operating EBITDA rose by 19.1% to SFr909m (€623m), which represents a 12.7% advance on an underlying basis. In spite of another harsh winter and the recession in North America and Europe, the trading profit rose by 34.1% to SFr460m (€315m), but at the net attributable level there was a loss of SFr68m (€47m) compared with a SFr74m (€491m) profit. Net debt at the end of March amounted to SFr14,487m (€10,131m), a reduction of 13.0%, to give a gearing of 63.7%. Capital expenditure in the period dropped by 43.6% to SFr307m (€201m) and acquisition expenditure was reduced by 79.0% to SFr70m (€102m). Group cement deliveries increased by 4.4% to 31.0Mt, or by 3.4% on a comparable basis, with mineral components volumes being unchanged at 0.6Mt. The aggregates volume rose by 17.5% to 29.5Mt, with all of that increase coming from acquisitions, principally of the Australian arm of Cemex. That acquisition also helped boost ready-mixed concrete deliveries by 9.2% to 9.5m m³, while sales of asphalt mix were unchanged at 1.6Mt.

Holcim's European turnover declined by 11.7% to SFr1,334m (€914m), but the EBITDA improved by 15.1% to SFr137m (€94m), helped by a SFr65m (€44.5m) credit from the sale of emission rights, which limited the negative effects of difficult weather conditions and the recessionary effects. Mature markets performed better than the emerging markets of eastern Europe, with turnover in established markets declining by 8.9% compared with a 30.9% drop in emerging markets, while at the EBITDA level mature markets showed a 44.9% improvement to SFr101m (€69m). Consolidated cement deliveries declined by 17.6% to 4.3Mt, with mature markets being down by 14.7% compared with a 23.5% drop for emerging markets. Bulgaria showed the weakest performance in the quarter, with volumes falling by 64.2% and prices by 21.7%. Domestic cement deliveries showed the next sharpest falls in Croatia, Romania, Germany, Serbia and Russia, but rose in Slovakia and Belgium, in spite of weaker prices. Elsewhere, Italy showed the weakest price performance, while in Serbia prices in local currency rose in double digits. Domestic shipments of aggregates declined by 3.1% to 15.7Mt, with volumes declining by 32% or more in Bulgaria, Romania, France and Spain, while rising by 39.7% in Switzerland and also advancing in Great Britain and in Belgium. Average prices weakened in most markets, with the notable exceptions of Romania and France. Deliveries of ready-mixed concrete declined by 16.2% to 3.1m m³, but asphalt shipments improved by 7.7% to 1.4Mt.

In the Asia Pacific area, turnover was boosted in particular by the downstream operations in Australia and the full consolidation of Cement Australia, leading to sales growth of 31.9%, to SFr2,004m (€1,373m), but the underlying turnover rose by a more modest 5.1%. The EBITDA improved by 21.0% to SFr507m (€347m), or by a comparable 8.4%. Cement deliveries increased by 8.3% to 18.2Mt, with the strongest increases coming from Sir Lanka, Indonesia and Bangladesh, while underlying volumes fell in New Zealand and Australia. In the big Indian group companies, Ambuja Cements increased shipments by 4.3% to 5.27Mt, while ACC Limited reported a 2.6% volume reduction to 5.58Mt. The strength of domestic demand in the Philippines led to a reduction in exports, while Thailand was able to increase exports. Although underlying shipments of aggregates declined by 9.1%, the actual volume jumped from 1.1Mt to 6.1Mt, thanks to the initial consolidation of the former Cemex Australia. That Australian deal also boosted ready-mixed concrete deliveries by 81.3% to 2.0m m³.

The Latin American turnover edged ahead by 0.2% to SFr822m (€563m), but the EBITDA was off by 2.0% to SFr248m (€170m). Cement deliveries were unchanged overall at 5.5Mt. Mexico remains weak in the short term, with limited export opportunities, hence lower volumes and prices. Brazilian volumes were strong, with a 22.2% increase in the quarter, but a lower average price affected by the mix. Colombian cement volumes have been good, but prices have weakened under competitive pressure. Chile suffers from the earthquake damage to the transport infrastructure, but little damage to Polpaico's cement works. Argentina remains on a positive trend. Aggregates shipments declined by 3.4% to 2.8Mt, with ready-mixed concrete deliveries stable at 2.4m m³.

Turnover in North America declined by 12.3% to SFr454m (€311m) and the seasonal loss at the EBITDA level narrowed by 46.3% to SFr29m (€20m). Cement deliveries declined by a further 5.6% to 1.7Mt, but Canada suffered less from the weather than last year and Canadian volumes improved by 32.9%, while US volumes fell by 14.7%. US cement sales were weak across all regions, not helped by heavy snowfall in the North-East and plenty of rain in Texas. Domestic cement prices fell by 3.4% in the USA, but improved by 1% in Canada. The US$5/t price increase introduced at the beginning of April in the US did not stick, indicating that markets remain weak. Sales of aggregates declined by 2.2% to 4.4Mt, with Canadian volumes being well ahead as government stimulus programmes worked better north of the border. Ready-mixed concrete deliveries, influenced by Canada, rose by 12.5% to 0.9m m³, but the asphalt volume dropped by one-third to 0.2Mt.

Although turnover in Africa and the Middle East declined by 8.1% to SFr276m (€186m), there was an underlying improvement of 9.5%, taking earlier de-consolidations into account. The EBITDA still improved by 16.7% to SFr91m (€62m). Cement volumes were unchanged overall at 2.1Mt, with a 7.6% advance in Morocco and a 15.4% rise in Lebanese cement deliveries being offset by lower deliveries on La Réunion and elsewhere. The aggregates tonnage rose by a quarter to 0.5Mt, thanks to higher Moroccan volumes, while ready-mixed concrete shipments were stable at 0.2m m³.

ACC Limited, one of Holcim's two main subsidiaries in India, reported a 2.7% reduction in cement production during April, giving a 1.5% reduction for the first four months to 7.33Mt, while cement deliveries were 1.3% lower at 7.34Mt. Ambuja Cements, on the other hand, reported a 15.5% increase in cement production to 1.90Mt and a 15.9% rise in despatches in April, though for the four months production was unchanged at 7.24Mt and domestic deliveries were off by 0.4% to 6.61Mt. Production in May is expected to be 16.4% up at 1.90Mt.