(Adds estimate comparison for sales, detail on regional sales)
MEXICO CITY/MONTERREY, April 23 (Reuters) - Mexico's Cemex, one of the world's largest cement companies, on Thursday said its first-quarter loss narrowed from the year-earlier period, but weak sales in Europe and Latin America pushed the loss wider than analysts' estimates.
Cemex reported a loss of $149 million, compared to analysts' expectations of a loss of $111 million. Cemex reported a loss of $293 million in the first quarter a year earlier.
The company said net sales reached $3.4 billion in the first quarter, down 5 percent from $3.6 billion in the year-earlier quarter and below analysts' expectations of $3.5 billion in first-quarter 2015 sales.
Sales increased by 4 percent in Mexico and 10 percent in the United States, where the company has said it is benefitting from a recovery in construction of new homes. Revenue from Latin America, Northern Europe and the Mediterranean fell even as Cemex raised prices, however, as the company sold less cement in volume terms.
Cemex, burdened with a heavy debt load from expensive acquisitions before the financial crisis, has been focusing on reducing debt to regain an investment-grade rating, announcing plans for asset sales at the end of the previous quarter.
Core profit, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization rose 6 percent to $569 million in the first quarter, but the company continues to report negative free cash flow in spite of efforts to trim costs and financial expenses.
Cemex's total debt stood at $16.25 billion at the end of the first quarter, down slightly from $16.69 billion in the first quarter a year earlier.
Reporting by Elinor Comlay in Mexico City and Gabriela Lopez in Monterrey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama