CRH said on Wednesday that its full-year pre-tax profits were likely to break the ?1bn ($1.3bn) mark for the first time as the Irish building materials group benefited from acquisitions and better weather in its core markets.

The group, which in 2003 reported full-year profits of ?864m, said in a trading update that it had seen strong organic growth in the first half, when profits rose 71 per cent. However, this compared with a tough first half in 2003, when poor weather affected building activity in its European and North American markets.

It said that in the second half of 2004 - while markets were showing signs of improvement - higher energy prices, rising raw-material costs and the weakness of the dollar had affected results. Despite this CRH still sees pre-tax profits for the second half showing a ?mid-single-digit? percentage rise from its 2003 level of ?703m.

During the year CRH invested ?1bn on acquisitions and development projects. This included ?333m for a 49 per cent stake in Secil, the Portuguese cement and concrete company, which CRH bought last June.

CRH said that ?subject to continuing uncertainties in economies and currency markets?, it was facing 2005 with confidence.

In early morning trade, the shares were down 1.5 per cent at ?19.80.

CRH?s 2004 full-year results are due to be released on March 1.

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