Exports are the theme this week with news that the value of Turkey’s cement exports fell by 26% year-on-year in April 2020. Reporting from the Trend News Agency showed that the export market has been stable so far for the year to date, with some countries, like Kazakhstan, increasing exports and others, like France, decreasing exports. However the change in April may mark the start of a new trend.
As Tamer Saka, the chairman of the Turkish Cement Manufacturers’ Association (TÇMB), said earlier in the year, his country is one of biggest cement exporters in the world and among its most important markets are the US, Israel, Ghana and Ivory Coast. To look at one of these countries, United States Geology Survey (USGS) data shows that cement and clinker imports from Turkey to the US grew by 26% year-on-year to 1Mt for the first quarter of 2020 but that exports fell by 24% year-on-year to 0.11Mt in March 2020. Each of these countries is being affected in different ways by the coronavirus pandemic and at different times. Overall though, Saka’s and the TÇMB’s forecast in February 2020 that exports would rise by 15% year-on-year in 2020 is looking decidedly shaky. Any knock to the export market in Turkey is particularly unwanted given the poor state of the Turkish economy at the moment.
What would be useful to know here is how other major cement exporters are coping with the global situation. Data from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics shows that Pakistan’s cement exports dropped by 31% year-on-year to 0.36Mt in April 2020. Data from the All Pakistan Cement Manufacturers Association (APCMA) for the same month tells a similar story. Its data shows a 57% drop in exports to 0.25Mt in April 2020, with a bigger share lost by plants in the north of the country than those in the south.
The other country to note is Vietnam. Here, data from the General Department of Vietnam Customs shows that cement exports fell by 9.7% year-on-year to 7.73Mt in the first quarter of 2020. This follows the announcement by Vietnam Cement Association (VCA) chair Nguyễn Quang Cung in May 2020 that all cement plant projects scheduled to begin in 2020 would be suspended. Luckily those currently being built avoided this fate. This has included a new line at Thanh Thang Group Cement’s integrated Bong Lang cement plant, which Germany’s Loesche has just sent a pair of clinker mills to this week.
These changes from the major cement exporters are bad for their host countries but the other side of the chain is how their destinations are affected. For example, Australia’s clinker imports nearly doubled between 2010 – 2011 and 2018 – 2019 to 4.1Mt. This compares to local clinker production of 5.6Mt in 2018 – 2019, according to the Cement Industry Federation and the Australian Bureau of Statistics. With this in mind, this week saw the resolution to a legal dispute between Wagners Holdings and Boral over a cement supply contract. Boral found a cheaper source of cement from Cement Australia in early 2019 and the two parties argued over their contract. This dispute may have nothing to do with foreign import levels but Wagners Holdings, Boral and Cement Australia all operate standalone clinker grinding plants and will all be subject to general market pricing trends. Higher international clinker levels may add pressure to pricing issues surrounding cement supply contracts in Australia and elsewhere.
Finally, cement trade flows aren’t the only commodity that has been affected by coronavirus disruption. The mass movement of workers home and then back to work is expected to complicate India’s return to business, as discussed in last week’s column. In this context it’s pleasing to come across one sign of normality. Local press in Hubei, China reported this week that workers from Huaxin Cement finally flew back to Uzbekistan. They were originally meant to commission a new plant in March 2020 but became stranded at home when they returned for the Chinese New Year. Commissioning of the plant is now planned for later in June 2020.
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