(Adds CEO comment)
By John Revill
ZURICH, May 15 (Reuters) - LafargeHolcim's first-quarter operating profit rose nearly 16%, the world's largest cement maker said on Wednesday, helped by a strong performance in Europe.
The company reported core operating profit of 809 million Swiss francs ($802 million) under traditional IFRS accounting standards during the three months to the end of March, up from 700 million francs a year earlier and better than market expectations of 754 million francs.
Sales increased 2.2% to 5.96 billion francs, slightly ahead of expectations for 5.92 billion francs.
The performance was led by Europe, where price increases help increase sales by nearly 16% and core operating profit rose 77%. The Swiss company was also boosted by higher efficiency at its cement plants and an early start to the construction season.
LafargeHolcim's North America and Asia Pacific regions also did well, although Latin America and Middle East and Africa struggled.
Chief Executive Jan Jenisch has been concentrating on North America and Europe as LafargeHolcim's main markets and cutting costs, closing offices in Miami and Paris.
"We had a very strong start of the year and I am especially pleased to see our strong sales growth and an over-proportional increase in profitability," he said.
The company confirmed its 2019 targets for sales growth of 3-5 percent on a like-for-like basis and recurring core operating profit growth of at least 5 percent. ($1 = 1.0087 Swiss francs) (Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Michael Shields)