Huaxin Cement targets East Africa

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The latest piece of China-based Huaxin Cement’s global ambitions slotted into place this week with the news that it is preparing to buy plants in Zambia and Malawi. Its board of directors has approved plans to spend US$150m towards acquiring a 75% stake in Lafarge Zambia and US$10m on a 100% stake in Lafarge Cement Malawi. The move will gain it two integrated plants with a combined production capacity of 1.5Mt/yr in Zambia, and a 0.25Mt/yr grinding plant in Malawi.

This latest proposed acquisition represents the next step for Huaxin Cement in Africa following its purchase of African Tanzanian Maweni Limestone from ARM Cement in mid-2020. The company has also been busy along the more traditional Belt and Road Initiative land routes in Asia. It started up the kiln at its new 2Mt/yr Jizzakh cement plant in mid-2020. Elsewhere in Central Asia it runs two plants in Tajikistan and one plant in Kyrgyzstan via various indirectly-owned subsidiaries. While in South Asia it runs a plant in Nepal and in South-East Asia it runs one in Cambodia. If the plans in Zambia and Malawi pay off then it will give the Chinese producer a growing presence in East Africa, with plants in three countries.

The China Cement Association ranked Huaxin Cement as the country’s fifth largest clinker producer in 2021 with an integrated capacity base of just under 63Mt/yr. Domestically, the company operates 57 cement plants and most of these are based in the Yangtze River Economic Belt region. In 2020 it reported cement and clinker sales of 76Mt, a small decrease from 2019. Its operating income fell by 6.6% year-on-year to US$4.58bn and profit dropped by 12% to US$1.2bn. This performance was blamed on the emergence of Covid-19 at the start of 2020 and then floods later in the year.

Compared to the other larger Chinese cement producers, Huaxin Cement roughly appears to be holding rank with its overseas expansions. The leaders, CNBM and Anhui Conch, hold subsidiaries with plants in South-East and Central Asia and CNBM’s engineering wing, Sinoma, has a far bigger reach, building plants all over the place. Information has been scarce since mid-2020 on the long heralded 7Mt/yr plant in Tanzania due to be built by Sinoma and local subsidiary Hengya Cement. At that time local residents in Mtimbwani, Mkinga District were reportedly being compensated for their land. Other than this, one of the other big players internationally is Taiwan Cement. In 2018 it invested around US$1.1bn for a 40% stake in Turkey-based Oyak Cement. As well as a presence in Turkey this also gave it a share of plants in Portugal in 2019 when Oyak completed its acquisition of Cimpor.

Elsewhere this week, carrying some of the themes above with expansion in Central Asia, two new integrated cement plant projects were announced in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan respectively. Meanwhile, Italcementi said it will invest Euro5.0m to restart clinker production at its Trentino cement plant in Sarche di Madruzzo, Italy. The unit has been operating as a grinding plant since 2015. This might be viewed as an unexpected decision considering the high local CO2 price but it shows some level of confidence in the local market by Italcementi and its parent company, HeidelbergCement. The next step will be when or if a European producer decides to build a brand new integrated plant in Italy or elsewhere.

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