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UPDATE 1-Holcim operating profit rises as cost cuts bear fruit

* Q1 sales fall 5.4 pct to 4.09 bln Sfr, negative FX weighs

* Excluding adverse currencies, sales rose 7.8 pct

* Operating profit up 9.3 pct at 295 mln Sfr

* Net profit down 57.5 pct on tough comparison

* Year ago figure boosted by Cement Australia sale

(Adds details)

ZURICH, April 28 (Reuters) - Swiss cement maker Holcim Ltd posted a 9 percent rise in first-quarter operating profit on Monday, bearing the fruits of a cost-cutting programme as it prepares to merge with French rival Lafarge SA.

The results come three weeks after Holcim unveiled a deal to buy France's Lafarge and create the world's biggest cement maker with $44 billion in annual sales.

The move is designed to optimise the companies' use of assets to help slash costs to better cope with the soaring energy prices, tougher competition and weak demand that have mired the sector since the 2008 economic crisis.

Holcim is pushing ahead with its own savings programme to cut costs and expand in faster-growing emerging markets with the aim of adding 1.5 billion Swiss francs ($1.70 billion) to operating profit by the end of this year.

The Jona-based company said that strict cost control had paid off as it reported operating profit of 295 million Swiss francs ($335 million) compared with 270 million francs a year earlier, also helped by higher cement volumes.

First-quarter sales fell 5.4 percent to 4.09 billion francs as swings in foreign currencies wiped out the benefit of stronger volumes, particularly in Europe, where a mild winter buoyed construction work.

Excluding the impact of currencies, sales were up 7.8 percent.

Net profit after minorities dropped 57.5 percent to 80 million francs compared to the previous year when figures were boosted by the sale of its stake in Cement Australia.

Holcim confirmed its outlook for rising cement volumes across all regions and organic growth in operating profit, as well as better operating margins this year.

($1 = 0.8810 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Matt Driskill)

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