June 12, 2018 / 6:43 AM / 4 months ago

UPDATE 2-HeidelbergCement to spend up to $3 bln on dividends, buybacks

* Sees free cash flow at 6 bln euros 2018-20 vs 3.6 bln 2015-17

* Eyes 1-1.5 bln eur in proceeds from disposals

* Aims to cut net debt to below 7 bln euros (Recasts, adds detail on strategy, context)

By Christoph Steitz

FRANKFURT, June 12 (Reuters) - HeidelbergCement, the world's No.2 cement maker, could use up to 2.5 billion euros ($3 billion) to cut debt, buy back shares or raise dividends, as part of a more rigorous focus on shareholder returns after its takeover of Italcementi.

The company could spend 1.0-2.5 billion euros between 2018 and 2020 and will also seek to divest and buy smaller assets, it said at its capital markets day.

The shift in focus follows its integration of Italcementi, which HeidelbergCement bought for $4 billion to expand in growth markets and keep up with larger Swiss rival LafargeHolcim .

"We have grown the company with the successful integration of Italcementi and increased shareholder returns by raising our dividend to new record levels," Chief Executive Bernd Scheifele said in a statement.

"Over the next three years, we intend to significantly increase our free cash flow with the clear commitment to building shareholder value."

The group said it would aim to nearly double its free cash flow after maintenance and before growth capex to about 6 billion euros in the 2018-2020 period, up from 3.6 billion in 2015-2017.

HeidelbergCement is also planning to cut its debt pile to below 7 billion euros, from 9.9 billion at the end of March, to achieve a BBB/Baa2 credit rating, it said. Currently, Moody's holds a Baa3 long-term rating on the group, while Fitch has a BBB- rating.

The group said it is eying 1-1.5 billion euros in proceeds from disposals in the three-year period which will be used to fund 1.5-2 billion in growth investments, adding it expects 200 million of savings by the end of 2020.

Organic core earnings (EBITDA) are expected to grow by around 5 percent annually between 2018 and 2020, down from an average 6 percent in the previous three-year period.

Under Scheifele's leadership, which has included a number of acquisitions, HeidelbergCement shares have gained 70 percent since February 2005, compared with a rise of 94 percent of the STOXX Europe 600 Construction & Materials index.

Its shares were up 0.1 percent at 0926 GMT.

$1 = 0.8477 euros Editing by Edward Taylor and Jason Neely

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