The long expected move by a Chinese cement producer outside of East Asia took a step closer this week with the news that Taiwan Cement is negotiating with OYAK Cement over a joint venture in Turkey. Taiwan Cement says it is prepared to invest up to US$1.1bn in the subsidiary that will operate OYAK Cement’s business in Turkey. In its press release Taiwan Cement said, bluntly, that government peak production limits and market saturation in China had forced it to expand internationally.
This isn’t Taiwan Cement’s first flirtation with a Turkish cement producer. Back in June 2018 local press reported that it had signed a memorandum of understanding and a confidentiality clause with Sanko Holding about potential investment. However, the timing is curious this time because almost simultaneously Brazil’s InterCement announced that it was selling its operations in Portugal and Cape Verde to OYAK Cement. This sale alone deserves more attention given that it is the third by a Brazilian producer since September 2018 but that’s a discussion for another week. Back on OYAK Cement, whilst nothing is certain at this stage, a pledge of US$1.1bn from a foreign investor would certainly come in handy helping to raise the money at the Turkish company.
Whoever, if anybody, Taiwan Cement ends up pairing up with, the level of the investment suggests a multi-plant move. Indeed, the suggested OYAK Cement deal involves a 40% share in 13 integrated cement plants in Turkey with a production capacity of around 12Mt/yr or a 16% local market share. This isn’t far off the regular international price of US$200/t for integrated production capacity.
For a Chinese company to choose Turkey is resonant historically because it is towards the western end of the Silk Road. Marco Polo, for example, travelled from Venice to China via the territory of modern-day Turkey. The modern day version, the Belt and Road Initiative, seeks to evoke this trade route as China attempts to expand internationally.
Pertinent to the cement industry, both China and Turkey are both major exporters. Turkey is the bigger exporter by proportion of production, at 10% in 2017. Both countries were in the top five exporters to the US in 2017 with 2Mt from China and 1.4Mt from Turkey. The commonly accepted wisdom is that the Chinese industry faces major hurdles to exporting its overcapacity. Yet its production base is so large, 15 times larger than Turkey’s, that the little clinker and cement it has the infrastructure to export is still significant. It’s interesting that a major Chinese producer seeking to overcome structural and market obstacles to its expansion at home is targeting a major exporting nation. Typically, when a foreign cement producer buys local companies, one strategy is to use the new assets to ‘naturalise’ its clinker imports as ‘local’ product. Given Turkey’s already large export market this seems unlikely in this case.
The highly public nature of Taiwan Cement’s latest attempt to strike it lucky in Turkey smacks of bolstering investor confidence as much as closing the deal. Normally, this kind of thing gets announced once everything has been agreed, possibly bar the regulatory approval. Putting some money up front may make Taiwan Cement seem serious but OYAK Cement also stands to benefit from its acquisition of the former-Cimpor assets in Portugal and Cape Verde, since it gives it a toehold within the European Union (EU). This one could go either way.