CRH goes on €4bn spree after selling its US operation

CRH could spend close to €4 billion acquiring new businesses over the next two years as the building materials group redeploys the proceeds of the sale of its US distribution business.

The Dublin-headquartered company has announced the sale of its American distribution business to Beacon Roofing Supply for $2.63 billion in cash and said that it would use the money for further expansion elsewhere. Some of those funds have already been used to acquire Fels, a German lime and aggregates company, for €600 million and CRH spent a further €630 million on smaller acquisitions in the first six months of the year.

Albert Manifold, chief executive of CRH, said that the deals demonstrated the company’s ability to add value for shareholders. He said that it had decided to sell the US business after a fundamental shift in the industry since the financial crisis began. Some of the larger businesses had started consolidating at prices “we really felt we couldn’t afford to pay”, he said.

“The investment thesis had changed because the [industry] fragmentation was gone, it became very consolidated and very expensive. We decided we would sell at a price of 16 times earnings which is a very strong price. Quite frankly it was a price that we felt . . . would be significantly in excess of what we could generate for our shareholders in the years ahead.

“What we’re going to do now is take that money off the table and reallocate it back across CRH for better opportunities for growth and returns for our shareholders,” he said.

Fels was a business that CRH had looked at buying three or four times over the past 20 years, he said, adding that it fitted “very well” into its existing lime business in Ireland, Britain and Poland. “There are significant synergies for us,” he added.

Senan Murphy, the finance director, said that at the beginning of this year, CRH had expected to spend up to €3 billion on acquisitions over two years. However, once the €2.2 billion US sale and €1.23 billion spend on acquisitions was accounted for, CRH’s acquisition “war chest” had been boosted by another €1 billion, he said.

CRH reported a 27 per cent increase in pre-tax profit from €407 million to €517 million for the first six months of the year. Revenues grew from €12.69 billion to €12.99 billion while its earnings increased by 5 per cent to €1.18 billion.

Mr Manifold said that the company’s performance was satisfactory with sales up 1 per cent and 3 per cent in Europe and the Americas, respectively. It continued to struggle in Asia, where sales fell by 8 per cent.

The company’s basic earnings per share rose by 29 per cent to 43.5 cents while the board increased the interim dividend by 2.1 per cent to 19.2 cents per share. CRH’s London-listed shares rose 103p, or 3.8 per cent, to £27.93.