UPDATE 2-Lafarge to sell N.American gypsum unit for $700 mln
* Agrees to sell North American gypsum unit to Lone Star
Part of drive to sell non-core assets, cut debt
* Deal expected to close "very soon"
By Greg Roumeliotis and Anjuli Davies
NEW YORK/LONDON June 24 (Reuters) - Lafarge, the world's largest cement maker, has agreed to sell its North American gypsum business to U.S. private equity firm Lone Star for $700 million as part of its drive to divest non-core activities and cut debt.
The transaction, which confirms an earlier Reuters story, is expected to close "very soon", Lafarge said on Monday.
The French company has been shedding non-core assets and refocusing on its cement and concrete business after the debt it racked up to buy Middle Eastern cement-maker Orascom in 2007 led to the loss of its investment grade rating in 2011.
Its North American gypsum business, which produces plasterboard, generates earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of about $75 million and attracted bids from other private equity firms, one of two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Lafarge managed close to 900 million euros ($1.2 billion)worth of divestments last year, with further assets expected to go on the block in 2013.
In 2011, the group sold its European and South American gypsum divisions as well as its Australian and Asian gypsum operations.
In January, it sold six U.S. quarries worth $160 million.
Lafarge shares were up 1.1 percent to 46.81 euros at 1407 GMT, the top gainers on Paris' blue-chip CAC 40 index, which was down 1.6 percent.