Here's one way for a building materials company to negotiate a U.S. housing collapse and look solid in the process: Simply buy a competitor with big assets in North America, thereby sending your year-over-year comparisons through the roof.
That clearly wasn't Mexico-based Cemex's (NYSE: CX ) intention, but the company nevertheless benefited from its acquisition last year of Australia's Rinker Materials. Thanks heavily to the new Rinker contributions and despite a continuing train wreck in the U.S. housing market, Cemex was able to report a net sales increase of 43% in the U.S. Overall net income increased by 18%, to $470 million, from last year's $400 million. A significant amount of the quarter's improvement resulted from the $257 million brought in through its unloading of a 9.5% stake in Mexican telephone company Axtel.
Cemex improved its operating results in most of its widespread geographic locations. Its net sales were up slightly in Mexico and Spain, hit double-digit growth across most of its other locations, and -- drumroll please -- were up 386% year over year in Asia and Australia. But lest you assume the last-named area must be undergoing an unbelievable building boom, keep in mind the bulk of that increase is largely attributable to the newly acquired Rinker operations.
During the conference call following the company's release, Hector Medina, Cemex's EVP for planning and finance, predicted, "For the full year 2008 we expect EBITDA of about $5.6 billion ... This represents an increase of approximately $525 million over pro forma 2007 EBITDA ..."
Nevertheless, the management of Cemex expects the U.S. residential sector to continue to decline throughout this year. According to the company, the result could be a nearly 24% drop in housing-related demand for cement. The negative sentiment was echoed by wallboard giant USG (NYSE: USG ) yesterday morning, and we'll get more of an inkling about the nation's housing's health with impending results from Ryland (NYSE: RYL ) and Pulte (NYSE: PHM ) .
All in all, however, I can't for the life of me justify a forward 2008 P/E of just 11 for Cemex. I rarely suggest that Fools back up a truck and haul away a load of any stock, but I'll make an exception here.