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Profits down at Holcim

Profits at Swiss cement giant Holcim dropped by six per cent to SFr77 million ($49 million) in the first quarter of 2002, falling below analysts' expectations.

The world's second largest cement group cited a production problem at its new Portland plant in the United States and the economic crisis in Argentina as the main reasons for its disappointing figures.

Sales were flat at SFr2.8 billion ($1.78 billion), with revenue increases offset by currency losses, said the company in its first-ever quarterly report.

Some analysts had predicted net profit of between SFr110 and SFr128 million, but they struggled to make accurate forecasts because of a lack of comparative figures.

Holcim's Portland plant in Colorado was forced to stop production to carry out reinforcing work on a pre-heater tower, but is due to resume operations by the middle of this year.

In Argentina, construction activity all but stopped in the first quarter of 2002, resulting in a 40 per cent drop in cement deliveries. The company said it expects the situation to remain difficult.

Holcim, formerly called Holderbank, shipped 19.1 million tonnes of cement and clinker during the quarter - an increase of 5.5 per cent over the same period last year.

The company said it expects demand in Europe, with the exception of Germany, to pick up and full year profit to match or exceed the SFr812 million level achieved in 2001.

Most analysts rate Holcim stock a "hold", with price targets ranging from SFr350 to SFr460. Current market levels are at around SFr 378.

swissinfo with agencies

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