Cemex loss narrows; eyes asset sales, new fund
* Q4 loss $146 mln vs analysts' view loss $198 mln
* Q4 sales top analyst forecasts
* Says plans $500 mln in asset sales in 2012
(Adds details on asset sale plan, stock performance, byline)
By Cyntia Barrera
MEXICO CITY, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Mexico's Cemex, one of the world's biggest cement companies, posted a narrower fourth-quarter loss on Thursday as asset sales helped trim its debt burden.
The global economic downturn has taken a big toll on Cemex (CX.N) (CMXCPO.MX), slowing its cash generation, which is crucial for it to meet debt servicing costs and comply with creditor agreements.
The Monterrey-based company reported a loss of $146 million in the October-to-December period, compared with a loss of $574 million in the same quarter of 2010.
Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a loss of $198 million. [ID:nL2E8CUALD]
Sales were $3.7 billion, up 6 percent from a year ago, topping market forecasts.
Cemex, one of a small group of Mexican companies with a global presence, expanded from a small family business into more than 50 countries through aggressive acquisitions. But the shopping spree came to a halt when its $16 billion purchase of Australian rival Rinker in 2007 became entangled in the collapse of the U.S. housing market.
Cemex said it sold $225 million of assets last year and plans to sell $500 million more in 2012, which will help it meet pledges to reduce its debt-to-earnings ratio.
In October, when Cemex shares plunged to a 13-year low amid investor concern over its ability to meet debt obligations, the company said it planned to sell $1 billion of assets by the end of 2012 [ID:nN1E79P07C].
But the need to sell assets eased after Cemex received a $240 million cash compensation payout in the fourth quarter from a claim settlement over President Hugo Chavez's 2008 nationalization of its business in Venezuela. [ID:nN1E7B00FX]
"We complied with our December 2011 covenants and would have complied even without the benefit from the compensation for our Venezuelan assets," Fernando Gonzalez, Cemex executive vice president of finance and administration, said in a statement.
"We continue to be confident in our ability to meet all of our financial obligations," Gonzalez said.
The company said total debt plus perpetual notes decreased by $388 million during the fourth quarter.
Cemex shares have risen nearly 80 percent since Oct. 4, when they touched 3.25 pesos, their lowest level since 1998.
(Editing by Daniel Wallis and John Wallace)
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