February 5, 2015 / 1:07 PM / 3 years ago

UPDATE 4-Mexico's Cemex plans asset sales, cost cuts to boost debt rating

(Adds assets sale plans, cost-cutting plans, changes headline)

MEXICO CITY, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Mexican cement-maker Cemex on Thursday posted a narrower fourth-quarter loss and said it was stepping up efforts to regain its investment-grade debt rating by cutting costs and selling up to $1.5 billion in assets over the next 18 months.

Cemex, burdened with a heavy debt load from expensive acquisitions before the financial crisis, has been focusing on reducing debt to regain an investment-grade rating.

Chief Executive Officer Fernando Gonzalez disclosed the planned asset sales during an earnings conference call. Cemex expects to reduce costs and spending by $300 million while paying down $500 million in outstanding debt in 2015.

Cemex said capital spending will reach $800 million this year, up 4.6 percent from $765 million in 2014 while cement volumes are forecast to grow by the mid-single digits in percentage terms in 2015.

Cemex stock rose 8.6 percent to 14.20 pesos.

Cemex reported its quarterly loss narrowed to $178 million from $255 million a year earlier, but was bigger than expectations, hurt by a drop in asset values and a loss related to a derivative instrument tied to the company’s share price. Analysts looked for a fourth-quarter loss of $15 million.

Revenue fell 1 percent to $3.84 billion as currency fluctuations offset higher prices in Cemex’s key markets in Mexico and the Americas.

In an investor note, Credit Suisse said volumes in Mexico and the United States were surprisingly high but sounded a note of caution about 2015, saying “... we believe the market is underestimating the impact that lower oil prices will have on the Texas jobs market and construction activity.”

Cemex has hiked prices to combat weak revenue in Mexico, where a package of government infrastructure projects has been slow to launch, and in other sluggish markets.

Core profit, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, was $701 million, in line with expectations.

The company reported a loss of $182 million on financial instruments, mostly tied to a derivative that pays out when Cemex’s shares rise. (Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter and Gabriela Lopez; Editing by W Simon, Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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