Steel giant ArceclorMittal surpasses profit forecast

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ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel maker, on Thursday reported a first quarter net profit of 679 million dollars (515 million euros) and forecast further gains in light of increased demand.

The company suffered a loss in the first quarter of 2009 at the height of the global finance crisis.

The first quarter 2010 earnings performance eclipsed a profit projection of 479 million dollars from analysts questioned by Dow Jones Newswires.

Sales in the first three months of the year jumped 23 percent from first quarter 2009 to 18.65 billion dollars while operating earnings came to 1.88 billion dollars. Sales were flat compared with the fourth quarter last year.

The group foresees an operating profit of between 2.8 and 3.2 billion dollars in the second quarter.

"The economic recovery is continuing in line with our expectations and 2010 is set to be a stronger year for ArcelorMittal," chairman Lakshmi Mittal said in a statement.

"The year has started with improved demand in all main markets, which will have a positive impact in the second quarter."

Finance director Aditya Mittal said global steel demand was likely to rise by at least 10 percent this year, hitting levels reached before the start of the financial crisis in late 2008.

Ahead of the expected spurt in demand, ArcelorMittal has stepped up its production pace to about 72 percent of capacity from 70 percent late last year and 50 percent during the crisis.

As a result of investment and acquisitions, group debt grew to 20.7 billion dollars, up by 1.9 billion dollars from 2009. The company said its debt was likely to expand in the second quarter.

ArcelorMittal shed 34,000 jobs in 2009 thanks to voluntary departures. Its workforce of 282,000 was stable in the first quarter.

© 2010 AFP

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