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(Corrects final paragraph to show operating earnings before other expenses hit $358 million, not operating EBITDA)
MEXICO CITY, 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, thanks to a lower tax bill and "better results from financial instruments."
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.
The company, which has been selling assets to cut debt and regain its investment-grade credit rating, reported a 3 percent like-for-like rise in sales to $3.2 billion.
Cemex said 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.
It expected 2016 total capital expenditure to reach $650 million. Cemex said it expected to raise its free cash flow for the year to $400-$450 million, up from a previous estimate of $350 million.
Cemex said its quarterly profit was propped up by its best quarterly operating earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) since 2009.
Cemex said operating earnings before other expenses was $358 million, up 19 percent compared with the same period in 2015. (Reporting by Parikshit Mishra in Bengaluru and Gabriel Stargardter in Mexico City; Editing by Bernadette Baum)