UPDATE 3-Holcim seen stronger than Lafarge in merger run-up

Mon Feb 23, 2015 1:52pm EST
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* Q4 operating EBITDA up 6 pct to 1.01 bln Sfr

* Sees 2015 cement volumes growing everywhere except Europe

* Possibility of change to merger terms seen increasing (Adds details on progress of merger)

By Oliver Hirt and Georgina Prodhan

ZURICH/FRANKFURT, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Swiss cement maker Holcim said its merger with Lafarge was on track to complete in the first half of the year as it reported a 6 percent rise in fourth-quarter core operating profit on Monday, outpacing growth at its French peer.

Holcim's fourth-quarter operating profit (EBITDA) rose to 1.01 billion Swiss francs ($1.06 billion), helped by faster-than-expected cost-cutting and strong cement sales in North America, slightly above analysts' estimates.

Lafarge last week reported a 1 percent like-for-like decline in fourth-quarter operating EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation).

The merger, if approved, will create the world's biggest cement maker with $44 billion in sales. The companies hope it will help them cope better with overcapacity and sluggish demand that have dogged the construction industry since the 2008 economic crisis.

Analysts have seen a potential divergence in earnings outlooks between the two companies as opening the possibility of a renegotiation of the terms of the deal, which foresees each Lafarge share being swapped for one Holcim share.   Continued...