Consolidation gathering pace in India

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India’s Economic Times (ET) has run a story today that really illustrates the heart of the current oversupply issues surrounding the cement sector in India. It reports that Binani Cement, one of the country’s many medium-sized domestic players, is circling the drain ahead of full bankruptcy proceedings. According to ‘senior officials,’ who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the company has already attracted interest from LafargeHolcim, HeidelbergCement and CRH, as well as a plethora of domestic players. There are a total of 15 interested parties so far: the three multinationals, nine domestic cement producers and three investment firms.

With 11.3Mt/yr of capacity, Binani Cement is not a small player by international standards. Unusually for an Indian producer, it even has capacity elsewhere, in China and Dubai. It is part of the larger BRAJ Binani Group, which is involved in glass fibre, energy, IT and more. The fact that the cement company is now up for sale really underscores the extent to which India doesn’t need the 100Mt/yr of extra capacity that was highlighted by the Cement Manufacturers Association in September 2017. India could lose 10 Binani Cements overnight and still have enough capacity to meet domestic demand!

Binani’s issues are, at least in part, geographic. It has assets exclusively in the north of India, which has seen weakened homebuilding and infrastructure activities since the implementation of the government’s demonetisation policy, as well as the highest impacts from rising imported fossil fuel prices. The implementation of India’s new Goods and Services Tax (GST), which has increased cement prices, has not helped. The bulk of Binani’s operations are in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, both states far from the coast. When even UltraTech Cement’s profit is down, the squeeze for some smaller producers is becoming too much. On its own Binani cannot handle the heat, but its assets would certainly make a nice addition for a larger player.

In this way, the consolidating Indian cement sector represents a microcosm of the global situation. Binani’s troubles highlight how much better large companies are at spreading the risks of operating in different markets. As discussed in our forthcoming December 2017 issue, the advantages of being a multinational player with a large number of geographical markets appears to be gradually returning once again, with smaller regional players once again suffering from geographical disadvantages.

Of course, in an environment ripe for consolidation it is very interesting to note that CRH is among the international players linked to Binani. It clearly wants the benefits of being a fully-fledged multinational and is going full-steam ahead to get there. It has spent Euro1.34bn on 27 acquisitions of various sizes in 2017, most notably the on-going purchase of Ash Grove Cement in the US. It is making a strong case to purchase PPC in Africa and a larger Indian base makes sense for the company in the longer term. It lost out on Lafarge India’s assets to Nirma in 2016.

We can be sure that the pace of mergers and acquisitions will continue to grow in the rest of 2017 and into 2018 in India and elsewhere. Would you bet against CRH pulling off an Ash Grove, PPC and Binani ‘triple?’ With the group finance director Senan Murphy stating that there was additional room for expansion in 2018, its intent certainly can’t be faulted.


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