Buzzi builds in Brazil

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Buzzi Unicem beefed up its presence in Brazil this week with the announcement that it is buying CRH’s local cement plants through its Companhia Nacional de Cimento (CNC) joint-venture with Grupo Ricardo Brennand. The deal covers CRH Brazil’s three integrated plants at Cantagalo in Rio de Janeiro, and, Arcos and Matozinhos in Minas Gerais. It also throws in two grinding plants including the Santa Luzia Plant in Minas Gerais for a total of US$218m, although the final figure may change depending on conditions such as the net financial situation at the closing date.

The purchase brings up two trends. Firstly, it’s a continuation of CRH’s refocus on safe havens in Europe and North America. The Ireland-based building materials producer originally picked up these plants in the wake of the formation of LafargeHolcim in 2015 as part of a package deal for Euro6.5bn in its ‘bolt-on’ acquisition expansion phase. Most of the assets in that deal were in Europe and North America, although it did see CRH also build a presence in the Philippines.

Since late 2019 reports have emerged in the press about plans to sell up in Brazil and the Philippines. Whether CRH has made any profit on its sale in Brazil is hard to tell given the scale of its purchases from Lafarge and Holcim in 2015. The focus was likely on those key markets closer to home. Yet cement sales in Brazil peaked in 2014 before the national economy were hit by falling commodity and oil prices that contributed to a recession as well as the Petrobras political crisis. Sales bottomed out in 2018 and have been building steam since. Now is certainly the time to consider departure with a good price given the National Cement Industry Union’s (SNIC) glowing data for September 2020.

For Buzzi Unicem, the proposed acquisition represents the next step on its multinational ambitions, pushing Brazil into its fifth biggest territory in terms of cement production capacity after Italy, the US, Mexico and Germany. Its timing was good in September 2018, when it agreed to buy a 50% stake in the Brazilian company BCPAR from Grupo Ricardo Brennand for Euro150m, because local sales were finally starting to pick up. Once again Buzzi Unicem has also picked up cement production assets for a capacity price just below US$100/t. This time it faces a similar balance of uncertainty with the Brazilian cement industry reporting continuing growth but facing an uncertain future from the economic effects, locally and worldwide, from the coronavirus pandemic.

One point to note here is that as part of its deal with Grupo Ricardo Brennand in 2018, Buzzi Unicem had the right to buy the remaining 50% of BCPAR from Grupo Ricardo Brennand until 1 January 2025. Presumably, though, the option to buy Grupo Ricardo Brennand out of BCPA remains valid. This makes it interesting that Buzzi Unicem chose further expansion over consolidation of its existing business. Four years remain for it to buy the rest of BCPAR if it wants to.

Given the concentration of the Brazilian business in the south-east of the country it seems unlikely that the acquisition would be turned down since the enlarged BCPAR will hold a production base behind larger producers like Votorantim or InterCement. However, Cimento Nacional’s Sete Lagoas plant and CRH Brazil’s Matozinhos plant are both close in Belo Horizonte and this may cause concerns. Now it’s over to the Brazilian regulators to approve or decline the deal and the various parties to finalise.

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