* Sees 2015 core profit $6.5-7.0 bln from $7.2 bln in 2014
* Sees global steel consumption up 1.5-2.0 pct in 2015
* Net debt falls to $15.8 bln, lowest level since 2006 (Adds CFO comments, analyst comments)
By Robert-Jan Bartunek
BRUSSELS, Feb 13 (Reuters) - ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest producer of steel, warned on Friday of lower profits this year but surprised the market by managing to cut its debt to the lowest level since the company was created in 2006.
The company, which produces about 6 percent of the world’s steel, said it expected core profits to drop to between $6.5 and $7 billion in 2015, from $7.2 billion in 2014, as iron ore prices sapped earnings in its mining business and steel market growth cooled from last year.
A Reuters poll of 11 analysts had on average expected its core profit - earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) - to grow to $7.4 billion in 2015.
The shares initially fell as much as 4.4 percent at the open but were up 1.3 percent at 9.24 euros by 0924 GMT.
“People knew about the low iron ore price, but the low debt was a positive surprise,” said ING analyst Jaap Kuin.
The group, which recently was downgraded to BB from BB+ by Standard & Poor‘s, said net debt fell by $2 billion in the final quarter of last year to $15.8 billion.
The company reiterated that it was still aiming for a net debt level of around $15 billion in the medium term.
The group said global steel consumption, including inventory changes, would increase by between 1.5 and 2 percent in 2015, a slowdown from 2.5 percent last year.
ArcelorMittal was especially bearish about the United States, its second-largest market, where it saw steel demand reducing by up to 1 percent.
Chief Financial Officer Aditya Mittal told a conference call that U.S. customers sharply increased stocks last year.
“This has caused our consumers to reduce inventories and when you do that you have a negative impact on demand,” he said.
The company also said EBITDA profits from its mining business more than halved in the fourth quarter to $232 million from $582 million in the same period of 2013.
After falling 47 percent last year, iron ore prices have dropped a further 13 percent so far in 2015 as large low-cost miners lifted output despite steel consumption in China, a key market, shrank last year for the first time since 1981.
While Aditya Mittal said he would not speculate on the future of iron ore prices the company expects a third of the lower iron ore prices can be offset by reduced costs and higher volumes.
However, it also said its low-cost production in Liberia would not hit its expansion target this year of 84 million tonnes a year, due to the ebola crisis. (Editing by Philip Blenkinsop, Greg Mahlich)