UPDATE 2-Higher sales in Mexico and U.S. propel Cemex to $70 million profit

(Adds information about Cemex Latam Holdings and analysts expectations)

MONTERREY, Mexico, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Mexican cement producer Cemex on Thursday reported net income of $70 million for the fourth quarter, compared with a $238 million loss a year earlier, bolstered by higher sales in the United States and Mexico.

Overall, despite the severe economic disruptions worldwide sparked by the pandemic, Cemex reported a 1% year-on-year increase in net sales on a like-to-like basis.

“2020 was one of the most challenging years we have faced but it also was a remarkable year that tested the strengths of Cemex,” said Chief Executive Officer Fernando Gonzalez.

The Monterrey-based company, which operates in more than 50 countries, reported $3.54 billion in net sales, a 9% increase over the same period last year, beating analysts’ expectations. It was the highest reported sales in a fourth quarter since 2014, the company said.

In the United States, Cemex’s biggest market, net sales increased 8% to $1.0 billion, with growth bolstered by mild weather and higher activity in the residential sector in Cemex’s key states.

In Mexico, government social programs, high levels of remittances, and home improvement projects helped propel a 23% increase in sales to $836 million.

In Cemex’s Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia region, as well as its South, Central America and the Caribbean region, net sales increased by 6%, to $1.2 billion and $410 million, respectively.

Cemex Latam Holdings, a unit of Mexican cement company Cemex, reported a net income of $8 million, compared with a loss of $3 million in the same quarter a year earlier. (Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener in Monterrey and Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Jason Neely and Steve Orlofsky)