First quarter 2020 roundup for the cement multinationals

Manufacturing

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Many of the first quarter financial results are in from the multinational cement producers and a few points are worth discussing.

As usual a few caveats are worth mentioning such as seasonal and geographical variations between companies, such as producers in the northern hemisphere experiencing a generally slower period. It’s also worth noting that this is a selective look at some of the larger cement producers as not all of them release detailed figures at this stage and others have been delayed.

However, the economic effects of the coronavirus lockdowns are clearly showing an effect in a kind of wave as the pandemic has spread.

Graph 1: Sales revenues in the first quarter of 2020 from selected cement producers. Source: Company financial reports.

Graph 1: Sales revenues in the first quarter of 2020 from selected cement producers. Source: Company financial reports.

Graph 1 above shows the effects of the earlier lockdown in China upon the results of the Chinese producers like CNBM, Anhui Conch and China Resources Cement (CRC). What’s interesting with these companies is that they have all suffered revenue hits of 20 – 25%. Huaxin Cement, a producer based in Hubei province near Wuhan where the Chinese lockdown was strictest, is not shown in Graph 1 but its revenue fell by 35% in the first quarter. See GCW452 for more on coronavirus effects on the Chinese cement industry.

Looking more widely, both LafargeHolcim and HeidelbergCement suffered declines of around 10%. This is somewhat misleading as both companies are constantly selling assets making the like-for-like results not quite as bad, particularly in the case of LafargeHolcim with its South-East Asian divestments.

Although note this week that LafargeHolcim’s deal to sell its majority stake in Holcim Philippines lapsed this week due to the local competition regulator not granting permission in time.

Yet, they are also beneficiaries and victims to an extent of their wide geographical spread with worse performance in Asia and better results in North America. For a fuller look at LafargeHolcim’s first quarter results see last week’s column. The rest of the producers featured generally reflect their tighter market spread with Buzzi Unicem particularly benefiting from the relatively untouched market in the US. Shree Cement, an Indian producer, escaped relatively unscathed, possibly as the Indian lockdown only started in late March 2020. All eyes will be on the results of UltraTech Cement, the largest producer in India, when they finally emerge.

Graph 2: Cement sales volumes in the first quarter of 2020 from selected cement producers. Source: Company financial reports.

Graph 2: Cement sales volumes in the first quarter of 2020 from selected cement producers. Source: Company financial reports.

Cement sales volumes tell a similar story, although a few different companies are featured in Graph 2. Note CRC’s year-on-year fall of 26% to 11.2Mt in the first quarter. It’s the only larger Chinese cement producer that we’ve found so far that has released sales volumes. Semen Indonesia is interesting too because its figures jumped in January 2020 as its acquisition of Holcim Indonesia only went on the books in February 2019.

It’s February and March sales volumes have each been 4 – 5% down year-on-year but it’s far from clear whether this is due to general production overcapacity in the country or from the global health crisis. Despite this, its export volumes from both the mainland and its TLCC subsidiary in Vietnam have held up well. Unfortunately though, its performance in Vietnam may be an outlier if data from the General Department of Vietnam Customs is to be believed this week. It indicated that overall cement exports from the country fell by 9.7% year-on-year to 7.73Mt in the first quarter of 2020. Cementos Argos is also worth looking at as it suffered from the government lockdown in Colombia despite having an international presence in the Caribbean and the US.

Most of the world’s largest cement producers are preparing for the economic shockwaves from lockdowns to hit balance sheets in the second quarter of 2020. Many have said exactly this and have paraded their liquidity levels in preparation.

Alongside this the results of the Chinese producers in the next quarter may offer some light on what kind of recovery is possible from easing lockdown measures.

Yet the risk of second waves of infections from coronavirus potentially jeopardises any kind of fast or easy recovery without a vaccine. Today’s news that Cemex is considering mothballing its integrated plant at South Ferriby in the UK has been blamed on an analysis of the company’s European cement supply chain.

The company says it is not related to coronoavirus but it does suggest the company is making savings.

This week has seen international press coverage return to Wuhan, China and South Korea where small numbers of infections have started to build despite being thought mostly eradicated.

No one wants the so-called ‘W’ economic recovery with its rollercoaster ride of crests and dips or indeed the ‘L’ with its slow tail of recovery. Yet, for better or for worse, some form of normality has to return after the lockdowns end.

The UK, for example, the country with the worst death rate from coronanvirus in Europe, has allowed its construction workers to pick up tools this week. If and when they can do so in the UK and everywhere else without causing the basic reproduction number (R0) to rise then the future starts to look a little brighter.

Source: Global Cement 

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