Lots of fascinating information has been emerging in recent weeks about changes in the Chinese cement industry as the larger producers have published their annual financial results. One example is the focus on using alternative fuels to fire up kilns. As explained below, the spotlight on co-processing is state-mandated and this is why the producers are now keen to promote their adherence. Even so, as ever with China, the scale of the change is staggering.
For example, Anhui Conch reported that it had completed 15 waste treatment projects and one sludge treatment project in 2016. In addition it had three projects still undergoing construction at the year-end. The group said that it co-processed 600,000t of domestic waste in its cement kilns in 2016. All of this was achieved by a company that says it only started co-processing municipal waste from its first project in 2010. China Resources Cement’s (CRC) progress was slower but it managed to start a co-processing project at its plant in Binyang County, Guangxi in December 2015 and a sludge project in Nanning City, Guangxi in July 2016. New projects at Tianyang County, Guangxi and Midu County, Yunnan are being built at present, with completion expected by the end of 2017.
Long held rumours about production overcapacity in China came to head in 2015 with the National Bureau of Statistics in China (NBSC) reporting that sales dropped in 2015 following a decade of steady growth. Then the results of most of major producers followed this by falling in 2015. CRC presented a good history of what happened next in the Chinese cement industry in its results report [LINK]. In brief, in 2016 the Chinese government implemented supply-side structural reforms focusing on production efficiency, reiterating attempts to stop new production capacity being built and pushing environmental reforms. Throughout the year various government offices released guidelines to encourage market consolidation, cut obsolete production capacity, increase co-processing rates and decrease the energy needed to produce each tonne of clinker.
Graph 1: Cement sales in China, 2012 – 2016. Source: National Bureau of Statistics in China.
Whether or not any of this has helped the Chinese cement industry to overcome the problems it faced in 2015 is unclear. As Graph 1 shows, Chinese cement sales started to rise again slightly to 2.35Bnt in 2016 from 2.31Bnt in 2015. Sales revenue from some of the major cement producers presents a more varied picture as can be seen in Graph 2. Anhui Conch’s revenue rose by 9.7% year-on-year to US$8.12bn in 2016, China National Building Material Company’s (CNBM) revenue rose by 1% to US$14.8bn and CRC’s revenue fell by 4.2% to US$3.3bn. CRC may have suffered here from its relative business concentration in southeast China. Both Anhui Conch’s and CNBM’s results seemed to look patchy in mid-2016 when they released their half-year reports, but both sales and profits seemed to pick up sharply in the second half of the year.
Graph 2: Sales revenue from selected major Chinese cement producers. Source: Company annual reports.
As the current set of structural reforms kick in within the Chinese cement industry it will be interesting to see what happens next. From plans to cut 10% of local clinker production capacity by 2020 to ambitious environmental aims the sector barely has time to catch its breath. The question is whether the major producers balance sheets are being helped more by a recovering local market or by the reforms. Either way the uptake of alternative fuels is encouraging.