Analysts look for higher earnings from Holcim

Analysts look for higher earnings from Holcim
10 May 2006

Holcim could report higher first-quarter profits after the purchase of its third-largest competitor in India and an increased stake in a Chinese partner. Net income may have risen by 32 per cent to SwFr168.5m (US$137m) from SwFr128m a year earlier, according to the median estimate of six analysts in a Bloomberg survey. Sales could have gained 49 per cent to SwFR4.08bn. Holcim reports results tomorrow.

Earlier Holcim took control of Gujarat Ambuja Cement, a year after buying a sizeable stake in Associated Cement Company, India’s biggest cement maker. Chief Executive Officer Markus Akermann also boosted an investment in China’s Huaxin Cement Co. to tap demand in Asia, whose economies are growing four times as fast as those in Western Europe.

“The driver for Holcim is its presence in high population, high growth areas,’’ said Orun Palit, who helps manage US$1.2bn at AIG Private Bank in Zurich, including Holcim stock.

Shares of the Swiss company have gained 21 per cent this year, compared with a 30 per cent gain at Lafarge SA, the market leader. Of 21 analysts who cover Holcim, 12 recommend buying the stock, eight have a ``hold’’ rating and one says ``sell,’’ according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Holcim has 70 percent of its production capacity in emerging markets, according to Remo Rosenau, an analyst at Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch & Cie. in Zurich who describes India as “a great engagement’’

Holcim last year got 36 per cent of its sales from outside Europe and North America, compared with 32 per cent at Lafarge. The Swiss company was the first Western cement maker to invest in Vietnam and in January last year paid US$800m for the stake in Mumbai-based Associated Cement to establish itself in the world’s second-biggest market for the building material.

Holcim also paid US$477m for control of Gujarat Ambuja and will spend about US$125m on taking charge of Huaxin as it turns its attention to China, the largest cement market.

Holcim has funded its purchases in part with a 1.7 billion swiss franc share sale. The new stock will probably dilute earnings per share by 4 per cent to 5 per cent, according to Alejandra Pereda, an analyst at Morgan Stanley.

Akermann, 59, has raised selling prices to help combat a 9.2 percent increase in the cost of oil during the quarter. The company is also cutting energy costs by burning alternative fuels such as car tires and cattle carcasses in its kilns. “The thing that might be a bit of a concern is the energy prices,’’ Palit said. “They are very dependent on coal.’’

Akermann became chief executive in 2002 after 24 years in other positions at Holcim, which was known as Holderbank Financiere Glarus AG until 2001. He was paid 4.12 million swiss francs in cash, shares and options for his work in 2005, including salary, bonus and other benefits, the company’s annual report says.

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