LafargeHolcim (LFRGY) , the U.S.'s largest cement supplier, cut its 2018 earnings targets but promised to increase returns to investors and heralded "significant" opportunities if Donald Trump delivers on his election promise of a massive increase in infrastructure spending.
The Jonas, Switzerland-based company told an investor day conference Friday that Ebitda for 2018 is likely to be about Sfr7 billion ($6.94 billion), down from a previous forecast of Sfr8 billion, largely due to the effects of asset disposals.
"Our 2018 targets have been adjusted to accurately reflect the adjusted scope of the group and to take into account the evolution of exchange rates," the company said. "We will propose a dividend per share of Sfr2, up from Sfr1.50. We also intent to buy back up to Sfr1 billion of our shares over the next two years."
Shares fell 2% in early trading on Friday to Sfr53.80, continuing a disappointing run that has left the stock down about 25% since the formative $50 billion merger of Switzerland's Holcim with France's Lafarge in July 2015.
LafargeHolcim has been selling assets across the world in the wake of the merger as it focuses on profitability over sales volumes in a bid to improve its fortunes. CEO Eric Olsen said Friday that the company had already exceeded its target Sfr3.5 billion of asset sales for 2016 and reiterated plans to sell a further Sfr1.5 billion of assets in 2017.
LafargeHolcim earlier this month reported third quarter Ebitda Sfr1.69 billion, up 1% on the same period in 2015, as a 3 basis points improvement in profit margins offset a 3% decline in sales.
The company made about Sfr1.8 billion of sales in the U.S. over the quarter, and Ebitda of Sfr574 million, making the U.S. operations its largest earnings contributor ahead of Europe, which accounted for Sfr418 million of earnings.
Olsen told analysts that President-elect Trump's promise of a $1 trillion infrastructure investment program "is a significant positive" for his company. "It is clear that years of underinvestment in infrastructure (in the U.S.) needs to be addressed. It is also clear that an ambitious plan is now on the table," said the CEO. "We are ideally placed to benefit."
LafargeHolcim has the capacity to increase U.S. cement production by five million tons following recent investment to upgrade its U.S. production and remove bottlenecks, Olsen said.
The comments reflect analysts hopes that building products suppliers will see an uptick in sales and earnings from a boom in U.S. construction under a Trump administration.
"US (cement) volumes have been weak recently and could remain under pressure during the next couple of quarters but there is substantial upside potential long-term if Trump finds a way to finance part of his large infrastructure plan," Exane BNP analysts wrote in a note earlier this month.