Recovery in Europe
2017 was the year that the European cement industry finally had something to shout about after a lost decade since the financial crash of 2007. The good news was led by a revival in cement consumption in 2016 that looks set to have continued in 2017. Prospects in Germany and Spain feel similar and a series of mergers and acquisitions have taken place in Italy suggesting that investors believe that the market is about to recover there too. Sure, Brexit is looming but as contacts have told Global Cement staff throughout the year, if the British want to damage their economy, that’s their business.
Renewal and recrimination at LafargeHolcim
Lafarge’s conduct in Syria during the civil war has cost its successor company LafargeHolcim dear, with the loss of its chief executive officer (CEO) Eric Olsen and potential reputational damage if the on-going investigation in Paris finds fault. At the time of writing Olsen, former Lafarge CEO Bruno Lafont and the former deputy managing director for operations Christian Herraul are all being questioned by the inquiry into the affair as it attempts to determine who knew what and when. LafargeHolcim has drawn a line under the debacle by appointing outsider Jan Jenisch as its new CEO in mid-2017. He has made changes to the group’s management structure that were announced this week but has he done enough? If anything truly ‘explosive’ emerges from the investigation, the question for anyone across the world buying LafargeHolcim’s products may be whether or not they want to finance extremism through their purchase.
US doesn’t build wall but does okay anyway
The US Portland Cement Association (PCA) may keep downgrading its forecasts of cement consumption growth but the local industry is doing fairly well anyway. All sorts of cement producers with a presence in the US have benefited from the market, despite extreme weather events like Hurricane Irma. President Donald Trump may not have delivered on his infrastructure development promises or built his fabled wall yet but his recently-approved tax reforms are likely to benefit the profits of cement producers. The decision by Ireland’s CRH to buy Ash Grove Cement in September 2017 may remove the largest domestically-owned producer from US hands but it shows confidence in the market and heralds the continued creeping growth of the building materials company into an international empire.
South America shows promise… just don’t mention Brazil
Countries like Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela may not be performing to expectations but other countries south of the Darian Gap, have been growing their respective cement industries. The leader here is Argentina that is riding a full-scale construction boom with capital investment chasing it from the producers. Bolivia is following a decade of growth although this may be starting to slow somewhat. Chile appears to be realigning itself to take in more exports. And finally, Brazil may also be starting to return to growth too. Although cement sales were continuing to fall year-on-year in the first nine months of 2017 the rate has been slowing. Local producer Votorantim also reported improved market conditions at home.
India stares into the demand gap
UltraTech Cement finally managed to buy six cement plants and five grinding plants from Jaiprakash Associates for US$2.5bn in 2017. The acquisition marked the end of the long-running deal between the companies and what may be a new phase in further integration in the Indian industry. In September 2017 the Cement Manufacturers Association (CMA) complained that the sector had 100Mt/yr of excess production capacity out of a total 425Mt/yr. The government’s demonetisation policy sank cement production growth in late 2016 and production has struggled to improve since then. Some estimates expect growth to return in around 2020 as the demand gap shrivels. Further merger and acquisition activity can only help until then, although the current government flip-flopping over a petcoke ban and import duties may get in the way.
China restructures with an eye on overseas market
As discussed last week the mind-bogglingly massive merger between China National Building Material (CNBM) and China National Materials (Sinoma) is proceeding with the press equivalent of radio silence. If one trusts the company figures then the largest cement producer in the world will get even bigger following completion. Once the big Chinese producers start building lots of overseas plants then the implications of combining a major producer with a major plant builder may become clear outside of China. Alongside this the buzzword on the Chinese cement company balance sheets this year have been a major rollout of co-processing at plants and a policy of ‘peak shifting’ or simply shutting off production at selected plants in the winter months. Somehow despite all of this the official figures suggest that cement production is still growing in China.
The African mega deal that wasn’t
The prospective bidding war for South Africa’s PPC has turned out to be a bust. A low offer was made in September 2017 by a Canadian investment firm with the aim of merging PPC with local rival AfriSam. Vague expressions of interest from the usual suspects followed over the following months before everything fizzled out. What the dickens was going on? A difference of opinion between the board and shareholders? A poor market in South Africa giving everyone the jitters? If any readers know, please get in touch. PPC’s poor showing at home mirrors Dangote Cement’s travails. Both companies have suffered domestically whilst going full tilt elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Indonesia about to pick up?
And finally, a report from Fitch Ratings this week suggests that growth in Indonesia is set to pick up once again. The market dragged down HeidelbergCement’s mid-year financial results as cement consumption dropped in the same period. Like India, Indonesia faces a consumption-capacity mismatch. However, with annual consumption poised to grow at over 6%, the time to close that gap will narrow. Some good news to end the year with.
Global Cement Weekly will return on 3 January 2018. In the meantime Merry Christmas and a have Happy New Year!