Financial crises in emerging markets knocked Blue Circle’s pre-tax profit down 7% to £317.6m before exceptionals in 1998. Sales at the cement behemoth were steady at £2.3bn.

Asia’s contribution to group profit slumped from £32.3m to £10m, although the group has used the market slump as an opportunity to buy in the Philippines and Malaysia.

Chile was also hit by the emerging market blues, and its contribution slipped from £34.6m to £23.6m.

Cement price rises in the UK and the USA were marginally ahead of inflation, and the group expects to achieve a similar rise this year.

City analysts described Blue Circle’s results as unexceptional, and were also unimpressed by a £400m acquisition war chest, for which the company appears to have no particular target.

Analysts were more interested in the hints that Blue Circle will include its boiler and radiator division in any pan-European restructuring of the sector.

Building materials companies are expected to continue to rationalise their operations across the Continent as the impact of the euro on mergers, acquisitions and takeovers continues to take effect.

All materials producers operating within the euro-zone are now benefiting from the elimination of exchange-rate risk in cross-border transactions.