(Adds stock's jump to eight-month high, 4th paragraph)
By Gabriela Lopez
MONTERREY, Mexico, April 21 (Reuters) - Mexico's Cemex reported an unexpected $35 million profit in the first quarter of 2016, following a loss of $149 million in the same period a year earlier, helped by increased sales in the United States.
Analysts surveyed by Reuters had expected Cemex, one of the world's largest cement producers, to report a net loss of $30 million in the quarter.
In the United States, its leading market, Cemex said net sales rose 6 percent to $920 million, aided by a pickup in residential and infrastructure construction as well as better weather than a year earlier.
The better-than-expected results helped send Cemex shares to an eight-month intraday high of 13.540 pesos on the Mexican stock exchange. The stock was last trading up 2.4 percent on the day at 13.380 pesos.
The Monterrey-based company, which has been selling assets to cut debt, reported a 3 percent fall in consolidated net sales to $3.2 billion.
Cemex reiterated its guidance in February that it was targeting a total debt reduction of up to $2 billion by 2017. In a presentation, Cemex said it saw asset divestments worth $1 billion to $1.5 billion by 2017.
The company lowered its 2016 total capital expenditure to $650 million from the $700 million seen in February. Cemex added it expected to raise its free cash flow for the year by $400 million to $450 million, up from a previous estimate of a $350 million increase.
Cemex's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization were $583 million, its best such quarterly result since 2009.
It added that on a like-for-like basis, taking into account ongoing operations and foreign exchange fluctuations, its global sales rose 3 percent.
$1 = 17.3947 pesos Additional reporting by Parikshit Mishra in Bengaluru and Gabriel Stargardter in Mexico City; Editing by Bernadette Baum and W Simon