HeidelbergCement buys Italcementi
Undeniably the big story of the year, HeidelbergCement has gradually acquired Italcementi throughout 2016. Notably, unlike the merger of Lafarge and Holcim, the cement producer has not held a party to mark the occasion. Instead each major step of the process has been reported upon incrementally in press releases and other sources throughout the year. The enlarged HeidelbergCement appears to be in a better market position than LafargeHolcim but it will be watched carefully in 2017 for signs of weakness.
LafargeHolcim faces accusations over conduct in Syria
The general theme for LafargeHolcim in 2016 has been one of divestments to shore up its balance sheet. However, one news story could potentially sum up its decline for the wider public. In June 2016 French newspaper Le Monde alleged that Lafarge had struck deals with armed groups in Syria, including so-called Islamic State (IS), to protect its assets in 2013 and 2014. LafargeHolcim didn’t deny the claims directly in June. Then in response to a legal challenge on the issue mounted in November 2016 its language tightened to statements condoning terrorism whilst still allowing some wriggle room. As almost all of the international groups in Syria are opposed to IS, should these allegations prove to be true it will not look good for the world’s largest cement producer.
China and India balance sector restructuring with production growth
Both China and India seem to have turned a corner in 2016 with growing cement production and a generally more upbeat feeling for the industries. Both have also seen some high profile consolidations or mergers underway which will hopefully cut inefficiencies. China’s focus on its ‘One Belt, One Road’ appears to be delivering foreign contracts as CBMI’s recent flurry of orders in Africa attests although Sinoma’s equipment arm was losing money in the first half of 2016. Meanwhile, India may have damaged its own growth in the short term through its demonetisation policy to take high value Indian rupee currency notes out of circulation. In November 2016 cement demand was believed to have dropped by up to half as the real estate sector struggled to adapt. The pain is anticipated to carry on until the end of March 2017.
US industry growth stuck in the slow lane
The US cement industry has failed to take off yet again in 2016 with growth lagging below 5%. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has reported that clinker production has risen by 1% in the first ten months of 2016 and that it fell in the third quarter of the year. In response, the Portland Cement Association (PCA) lowered its forecasts for both 2016 and 2017. One unknown here has been the election of President-elect Donald Trump and the uncertainty over what his policies might bring. If he ‘goes large,’ as he said he wants to, on infrastructure then the cement industry will benefit. Yet, knock-on effects from other potential policies like restricting migrant labour might have unpredictable consequences upon the general construction industry.
African expansion follows the money
International cement producers have prospered at the expense of local ones in 2016. The big shock this year was when Nigeria’s Dangote announced that it was scaling back its expansion plans in response to problems in Nigeria principally with the devaluation of the Naira. Since then it has also faced local problems in Ghana, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Its sub-Saharan competitor PPC has also had problems too. By contrast, foreign investors from outside the continent, led by China, have scented opportunity and opened their wallets.
Changes in store for the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme
A late entry to this roundup is the proposed amendment to the European Union (EU) Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). This may entail the introduction of a Border Adjustment Measure (BAM) with the loss of free allowances for the cement sector in Phase IV. Cembureau, the European Cement Association, has slammed the changes as ‘discriminatory’ and raised concerns over how this would affect competitiveness. In opposition the environmental campaign group Sandbag has defended the changes as ones that could put a stop to the ‘cement sector’s windfall profits from the ETS.’
High growth shifts to Philippines and other territories
Indonesia may be lurching towards production overcapacity, but fear not, the Philippines have arrived on the scene to provide high double-digit growth on the back of the Duterte Infrastructure Plan. The Cement Manufacturers Association of the Philippines (CEMAP) has said that cement sales have risen by 10.1% year-on-year to 20.1Mt in the first three quarters of 2016 and lots of new plants and upgrade projects are underway. The other place drawing attention in the second half of the year has been Pakistan with cement sales jumping in response to projects being built by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Global Cement Weekly will return on 4 January 2016