Update on HeidelbergCement acquisition of Italcementi

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HeidelbergCement released more detail on its plans to buy Italcementi last week. The main points were that Italcementi’s operations in Belgium will be sold, the Italcementi brand will be retained, its research and development (R&D) centre will assume responsibilities for the entire group and up to 260 job losses are expected in Bergamo. The integration plan is expected to be complete by 2020.

Following an update in HeidelbergCement’s preliminary financial results for 2015 in February 2016, this was more focused on the practicalities of taking over a company. Sales of assets in Belgium were expected from the moment the deal was announced in July 2015. Between them the two companies operate three of the country’s four cement plants, holding 73% of the market by cement production capacity. Selling up Italcementi’s Belgian subsidiary Compagnie des Ciments Belges will maintain the existing market balance. Once this is done, from a cement sector perspective, interaction from the European Commission on the deal should merely be a formality.

Interestingly, no plans to sell assets in the US were announced. This is more ambitious on HeidelbergCement’s part because the acquisition has far bigger implications in that country. Merging Italcementi’s Essroc subsidiary and HeidelbergCement’s Lehigh Hanson subsidiary will see HeidelbergCement become the new second largest cement producer in the US with around 16.4Mt/yr. LafargeHolcim had a relatively easy ride from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) having to sell two integrated cement plants, two slag grinding plants and a series of terminals. As HeidelbergCement will become the second largest cement producer it seems unlikely that the FTC will be too demanding. However, post-acquisition the cement producer will own cement plants within 75 miles of each other in Pennsylvania and in Maryland and West Virginia. The FTC may take exception to this but perhaps HeidelbergCement is trying their luck to see if it can get away with it.

The decision to retain Italcementi’s i.Lab R&D centre in Bergamo, Italy raises questions about what will happen to the Heidelberg Technology Centre (HTC) in Leimen, Germany. The focus here is on making Bergamo the ‘product’ R&D division for the entire group. i.Lab was opened in early 2012 to fanfare, based in a building designed by architect Richard Meier and it cost Euro40m to build. How this fits with HeidelbergCement’s existing Global R&D team at the HTC remains to be seen.

Job losses of up to 260 personnel at Bergamo are regrettable but hardly unexpected. It may not be much comfort for any staff members facing redundancy but this figure is well below the figures bandied about in the media in late 2015 of first around 1000 and then nearer 500. Another 170 personnel will also be offered relocation packages taking the impact of the reorganisation up to about 400 of Italcementi’s 2500 workforce in Italy.

Looking at the wider situation with the acquisition this week, HeidelbergCement announced a record contract for Norcem, its Norwegian subsidiary, to supply 280,000t of cement over three years for an infrastructure project. Then, Carlo Pesenti, the chief executive officer of Italcementi, was reported making comments about the business’ expansion plans in Thailand and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Projects in Myanmar and Cambodia look likely once the acquisition is complete. Finally, the ratings agency Moody’s was drumming up attention for a market report by pointing out the implications for the multinational cement producers in India if a proposed rise in infrastructure spending gets approved. In summary HeidelbergCement and Italcementi are unlikely to benefit due to their southern Indian spread of assets and local production overcapacity.

HeidelbergCement may not be getting it all its own way but the acquisition of Italcementi remains on track so far. All eyes will be on how the US FTC responds to the deal.

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