News has been dripping out slowly over the last few months about which assets HeidelbergCement is planning to divest. This week reporting from Bloomberg suggested that the German-based building materials producer might be seriously considering selling one or more integrated plants in Spain. The idea is reportedly part of a wider review of its portfolio in the country with the possible inclusion of cement plants at San Sebastian and Bilbao at a future date also. A proposed price of Euro300m for the national business was put forward by the sources to the reporters but it is unclear how many cement plants that figure includes.
HeidelbergCement announced in July 2020 that it had reduced the value of its total assets by Euro3.4bn following a review. It blamed this on reduced demand for building materials due to the coronavirus pandemic and the devaluation of its Hanson subsidiary in the UK, in part related to the UK’s exit from the European Union. A divestment plan followed at its Capital Markets Day event in September 2020 when it said it was simplifying its country portfolio and prioritising the strongest market positions. To this end it said it was setting up a watch list of underperforming assets to keep an eye on.
Over the next few months a number of corporate reorganisations and actual confirmed divestments occurred as well as plenty of speculation. HeidelbergCement-controlled Suez Cement started to acquire a 100% stake in its own subsidiary, Tourah Portland Cement, in September 2020. Suez Cement then sold its majority stake in Kuwait-based Hilal Cement in late January 2021. This week HeidelbergCement Bangladesh informed the local stock exchange that it is planning to amalgamate its subsidiary Emirates Cement.
Signs that European reviews had taken place could be seen later in the autumn of 2020. In November 2020 the Italian press picked up on rumours that HeidelbergCement was planning to move subsidiary Italcementi’s research centre from Bergamo, Lombardy, to Heidelberg in Baden Württemberg. Whether this was ever a serious proposition or not, this appeared to have been avoided in early February 2021 when an Italian union said it had agreed with Italcementi to keep the research centre in Italy as well as a preserving jobs generally. Meanwhile, also in November 2020, France-based subsidiary Ciments Calcia announced a major upgrade at its integrated Airvault cement plant but along with the conversion of two other integrated plants into a grinding unit and a terminal respectively, and changes at the French headquarters at Guervill.
Just before Christmas the bigger speculations started to appear in the press, with a story suggesting that HeidelbergCement was considering selling assets in California, US, with a target price of US$1.5bn for three integrated plants and associated concrete and aggregate units. That story is particularly beguiling given Cemex’s decision this month to reopen a kiln in Mexico to supply cement to the southwest US to meet shortages (See GCW 493)! Incidentally, readers should also note the story this week about a shortage of natural gas exports from Texas, US, that has caused cement plants in northern Mexico to shut down. This week, as mentioned at the start, has seen Spain added to the list of places that HeidelbergCement might be considering selling up in. The Spanish market like Italy has been rationalising heavily over the last decade particularly as export markets have dwindled. Oficemen, the Spanish cement association, reported that domestic cement consumption fell by 10% year-on-year to 13.3Mt in 2020 from 14.7Mt in 2019. On top of this Oficemen has repeatedly warned of the threat that CO2 emissions prices pose for its members’ exports.
Group chairman Dominik von Achten told Reuters this month that the company plans to sell the first of the five assets in early-to-mid 2021. Of course he wouldn’t say where, except for adding that the company would stay in ‘rock solid’ markets like Northern Europe. Indonesia has been seen as a candidate for disposal by analysts, likely due to local production overcapacity levels and LafargeHolcim’s own departure in Indonesia 2018. All Von Achten would say on the matter was that Indonesia was an ‘important’ market for the group. Whether it’s seen as important for reducing company debt or building value remains to be seen. HeidelbergCement hasn’t exactly been shy about saying what they are doing over the last half year or so but they are only going so far and they won’t comment on speculation. So in the meantime we must wait to find out more.