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Construction giant brushes off 'exceptional' winter woes

Irish building materials giant CRH saw its sales hammered by tough winter weather at the start of the year, but said yesterday it remains confident about the second half of 2010.

CRH, which owns Northstone and Farrans in Northern Ireland, said group like-for-like sales for January and February were down 23.5% because of "exceptionally harsh" winter weather conditions in Northern Europe and North America.

More normal conditions in March and April meant that sales were down around 14% for the first four months of the year and CRH forecast that for the half year sales will be down 10% on the same period last year.

In its trading statement, the company said: "While news flow relating to European economies continues to be mixed with heightened concerns relating to fiscal deficits in a number of countries, economic growth indicators pertaining to the United States, which accounts for roughly half of CRH's (operating profits), are more positive."

It forecast that as the sale decline improves and cost reduction measures kick in, operating earnings in the seasonally more important second half would be ahead of last year, when it made €1.15bn. CRH, which is the largest company on the Irish Stock Exchange, did not give a profit breakdown for its Northern Ireland subsidiaries.