Holcim, the world's second largest cement maker, which owns Midlands-based Aggregate Industries, posted a four per cent rise in first quarter net profit and said it will again reach its long-term growth goals in 2008.

Net profit for the group rose to 370 million Swiss francs (£178 million), ahead of estimates.

Holcim said it was aiming to reach its long-term growth target of five per cent in internal operating earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) this year, despite dearer energy, by cutting costs and raising prices though uncertainty about the global economy remained high.

"However, thanks to the group's global presence and foothold in emerging markets, Holcim is very well positioned," the company said.

Both Holcim and Lafarge are benefiting from strong demand in countries such as India and China as a result of rapidly growing cities, housing shortages and infrastructure expansion.

EBITDA fell 14 per cent to 1.15 billion francs (£552 million), though it was 0.6 per cent higher when adjusted for the divestment of units in South Africa and Egypt.

Net sales were down four per cent at 5.51 billion francs (£2.65 billion) but 7.4 per cent higher on like-for-likes.

Holcim is trading at nearly 10 times expected 2008 earnings, at a slight discount to Lafarge, trading at 10.63 times.

Bank Wegelin said the group's operating result contained "cracks", showing the impact of rising energy costs and a globally cooling economy.

However, the negative impact should be limited reflecting Holcim's global diversification, strong positioning in growth markets and cost cuts.

Another Zurich-based analyst said Holcim's result was "satisfying" particularly when taking into account this year's early Easter break and difficult weather conditions in construction.

Group-wide deliveries of cement decreased 1.2 per cent to 34.2 million tonnes and consolidated sales of aggregates by 9.7 per cent to 32.7 million tonnes. Volumes of ready-mix concrete increased 11.7 per cent to 10.5 million cubic metres while sales of asphalt fell 9.5 per cent to 1.9 million tonnes.

Europe enjoyed a good start with many of the group companies increasing sales of construction materials despite the early Easter, which fell in the first quarter, Holcim said.

In North America, the US real estate crisis persisted without let-up and was exacerbated by the turmoil in credit markets. A significant decline in construction activity in the States was only partially offset by strong activity in Canada.

In Latin America the construction sector remained robust while Africa Middle East showed solid economic performance.

Asia Pacific saw growth with cement consumption rising across the board, with activity brisk in India, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia.

In February Holcim reported a forecastbeating full-year net profit of 3.86 billion Swiss francs (£1.8 billion), up from 2.1 billion Swiss francs (£1 billion), citing across-the board growth.

Group sales climbed to 27.05 billion Swiss francs (£12.6 billion) from 23.97 billion (£11.2 billion), with cement sales rising to 149.6 million tonnes from 140.7 million, due to the state of construction markets and first-time consolidation of Indian operations.

It said then that Europe had seen strong growth driven primarily by Aggregate Industries.