Acquisitions in the Pacific North-West and Lafarge’s ‘Kodak’ moment

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There have been a couple of acquisitions of note this week in the north-western US and Holcim has picked up another building solutions company. To find out how the latter relates to former photography products producer Kodak, read on.

Starting with the north-western US, HeildelbergCement announced that it finalised the acquisition of Corliss Resources, a large family-owned aggregates and ready-mixed concrete company, for an undisclosed sum. The purchase includes major aggregate operations with sales volumes of about 2Mt/yr and reserves and resources of about 170Mt and four ready-mixed concrete (RMX) plants selling about 0.3Mm3/yr in the Greater Seattle area.

Global Cement normally sticks to cement but Holcim did something similar last week. It completed the acquisition of Cowden, another ready-mixed concrete and aggregate producer based in Bellingham in Washington state. This sale includes two RMX plants, eight aggregate facilities and a hauling fleet. Again, there was no word of the price.

Both the HeildelbergCement and Holcim purchases in the north-western US fit the selective bolt-on approach both companies have favoured in recent years. Looking specifically at the US, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported that estimated production for consumption of construction sand and gravel grew by 7% year-on-year to 753Mt in the first nine months of 2021. Estimated total construction aggregate production rose by 5% to 1.9Gt. Within the country, Washington’s sales of construction aggregates increased by 16% to 33Mt, the third largest rate by state nationally. Meanwhile, cement shipments for the country grew by 4% to 79.9Mt although they actually fell by 3% in Washington. This compares to annual growth of 2.8% in cement consumption in 2021 that the Portland Cement Association (PCA) was forecasting for the Pacific region of the US in the middle of 2021.

Holcim has been snapping up aggregates or RMX assets in established markets throughout 2021. These include US-based Marshall Concrete Products in December 2021, US-based Utelite Corporation in September 2021, Germany-based Heinrich Teufel in July 2021, the aggregates business and two RMX plants from Greece-based Halyps in May 2021 and Edile Commerciale and Cemex Rhone Alpes in Italy and France in February 2021. At the same time HeidelbergCement was mainly divesting itself of aggregates and RMX assets. It sold Halyps to Holcim and later in the same month agreed to sell its US West region to Martin Marietta Materials for US$2.3bn. The deal included cement, aggregates, RMX and asphalt businesses in California, Arizona, Oregon and Nevada. This covered two of its cement plants, with the exception of the 1.5Mt/yr Permanente cement plant in California, related distribution terminals, 17 active aggregates sites and several downstream operations. This makes the acquisition of new aggregate and RMX assets in Washington by HeildelbergCement interesting as we can see the company adjusting to its new market position. Although subsidiary Lehigh Hanson does not have a cement plant in the state it does operate a terminal in Seattle as well as other aggregate and RMX operations. North across the border in Canada though it still runs the integrated Delta Cement plant and terminal near Vancouver.

Returning to Holcim’s other acquisition this week brings us to Holcim’s target to expand the net sales of its Solutions & Products division to 30% of the group total by 2025 as part of its plans to decarbonise. This week it took one more step towards this goal with an agreement to buy France-based PRB Group, a manufacturer of coatings, insulations, adhesives and flooring systems. Global Cement Weekly has covered this topic a few times but, to recap, it started in January 2021 when Holcim announced it was buying roofing and building envelope producer Firestone Building Products for US$3.4bn. Various other related acquisitions have followed including an agreement to buy US-based Malarkey Roofing Products in December 2021.

How any of this relates to Kodak is as follows. Holcim’s predecessor Lafarge previously owned a major business away from cement, concrete and aggregates, namely gypsum. The gypsum wallboard business, like roofing, emits far less carbon than clinker production. In 2010 Lafarge’s gypsum business constituted nearly 9% of group revenue and it described itself as the third largest company in the sector worldwide. This was divested in the early 2010s in response to debts accrued by Lafarge’s acquisition of Orascom Cement in 2008. A decade later this decision appears to be the opposite of Holcim’s current strategy and indeed much of the cement sector’s current attempts to lower its carbon risk.

Kodak infamously filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after failing to move from analogue photography products to the digital market. The question cement company strategists should be asking themselves is whether their sector faces the same kind of disruption from the government and investment response to climate change. Lafarge apparently didn’t think so 10 years ago. Its successor Holcim does.

Last modified on 12 January 2022

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