International tensions reached a new high this week with Russia’s formal recognition of the breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine and its decision to deploy troops accordingly. However, what of the local cement industry in Ukraine going into the current crisis?
Ukrcement, the Ukrainian Cement Association, says that its members reported a record 11Mt of cement production in 2021. Clinker production totalled 8.11Mt during the same period. The cement figure is close to Ukrcement’s forecast in the autumn of 2021 of 11.5Mt, a rise of 17% year-on-year from 9Mt in 2020. At that time association head Pavlo Kachur added that the local cement industry operated at 66% capacity utilisation in the first nine months of 2021.
The big industry story locally was the start of tariffs on cement imports from Turkey that was announced in September 2021. After much complaining by local producers and an investigation the year before in 2020 the Interdepartmental Commission on International Trade (ICIT) introduced anti-dumping duties of 33 - 51% on cement imports from Turkey for five years. Other than this the usual energy preoccupations have been present in Ukraine. In an interview with Interfax in November 2021, Pavlo Kachur expressed alarm that the price of coal had tripled from the start of 2021 to August 2021. At the same time he explained that the biggest driver of cement consumption was infrastructure projects.
CRH, the largest producer locally, rebranded its subsidiary as Cemark in November 2021 with the intention to start shipping cement bags with the new marking from January 2022. It operates three integrated plants at Mykolaiv, Podilsky and Odessa. It reported that its local operating profit grew year-on-year in 2020, despite a “challenging pricing environment” as cost savings initiatives and lower fuel and logistics costs resulted in improved performance. In September 2021 CRH said that sales were up due to growing cement sales volumes resulting from market demand. Although once again it complained about competitive pricing forcing it to lower its prices. Despite this though lower maintenance costs and cost controls had boosted its operating profit.
Buzzi Unicem runs two integrated cement plants in Ukraine, Volyn and Yugcement, as well as terminals at Kiev and Odessa through its Dyckerhoff Ukraine subsidiary. In 2021 it noted recovery in the construction sector, helped by government stimulus and the introduction of tariffs on imports from Turkey. It said that prices fell in the first half of the year before recovering in the second half. Ready-mixed concrete output showed more growth. Dyckerhoff Ukraine’s net sales rose by 9.4% year-on-year to Euro127m in 2021 even despite negative currency exchange effects.
As for the other producers, NEQSOL Holding Ukraine filed an application to the Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine (AMCU) in October 2021 to acquire a stake in Ivano-Frankivskcement. Azerbaijan-based NEQSOL Holding also operates the Norm Cement plant near Baku in Azerbaijan. HeidelbergCement used to operate in Ukraine, including the Amvrosiyivka Plant in the contested part of Donetsk region, but it sold up in 2019 to local investors. Its two former integrated plants now operate under the Kryvyi Rig Cement brand. Finally, Russia-based Eurocement runs two plants in Ukraine, at Balakleya in Kharkiv region and Kramatorsk in Donetsk region, under its Balcem subsidiary, which formed in 2019. However the status of the second plant is currently uncertain. Balcem said that the Balakleya plant resumed full cycle production in March 2021 when it restarted kiln two. Kiln one was restarted in June 2021 after a down period since 2008. The plant currently has a production capacity of around 1Mt/yr.
Ukrcement’s Pavlo Kachur said that the cement market in Ukraine was experiencing a positive period in November 2021. Whether this continues is very much in the balance given events in the east of the country. The wider implications for cement producers in the rest of Europe and Russia are the fallout from the economic warfare between both sides. A number of countries have started to react to Russia’s actions with the US, European Union, UK, Japan and Australia announcing economic sanctions and Germany halting approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. However, Russia supplies a significant share of Europe’s gas supply. All of this could disrupt energy supplies and force input costs up. This has already been reflected in higher oil prices.
Meanwhile, one aspect of the current situation to watch is how multinational cement producers with a presence in Russia will cope. Moving money in or out of the country is likely to become harder. HeidelbergCement told Reuters this week that it did not expect any major impact on its Russian operations, even if the conflict escalated. Its three cement plants supply local markets and do not export outside of Russia, it added. Other companies straddling the potential sanctions divide include Holcim, Buzzi Unicem and Eurocement.
The crisis continues.