With the annual results for 2012 in from Lafarge, Holcim and CRH we now return to look at how the European markets coped.
Holcim summed up the mood perfectly in its media release on its annual results for 2012. First it pushed the big positive (net sales up overall) but then finished its first (!) sentence with: '...despite the difficult economic environment in Europe.'
Overall in Europe, Lafarge saw its cement volumes fall by 9% to 29.6Mt from 32.5Mt. Notably sales volumes fell significantly in Spain and Greece, by 26% and 37% respectively.
Holcim saw its cement volumes fall by 2% in Europe to 26.3Mt from 26.8Mt. There were specific country figures from Holcim but it did comment that the 'severe crisis' in southern Europe had 'contaminated' economies further north such as a France, Benelux, Germany and Switzerland.
CRH was less candid about its cement business in Europe although it did report that its sales revenues fell by 10% to Euro2.69bn in 2012 from Euro2.99bn in 2011. Notable losses occurred in Poland (11% volume decline), Ireland (17% decline) and Spain (30% decline).
These figures compare against a 4% decline in volumes in Western and Northern Europe to 22.1Mt from 21.3Mt by HeidelbergCement, a 13% drop in overall net sales to Euro3.05bn in Cemex's Northern Europe section and a 16% drop in volumes to 16Mt from Italcementi in its Central Western Europe region.
The question to ask at this point is how HeidelbergCement and Holcim managed to suffer smaller losses compared to everybody else. Less exposure to southern Europe is one answer. Depressingly though they both suffered similar drops in profit indicators such as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) to the others (20% and 33% respectively).
Both Holcim and CRH are expecting continued tough conditions in Europe in 2013. However, both companies are mildly optimistic that the worst has passed, with talk of the work of the European Central Bank supporting peripheral Eurozone economies showing some effect. Lafarge doesn't even mention Europe in its outlook.
As mentioned in Global Cement Weekly #87 on 13 February 2013, EU regional GDP growth is forecast to become positive in 2013. Everybody is going to be watching the European quarterly results for the cement majors in 2013 very carefully indeed. In the meantime all every cement producer with a presence in Europe can do is to carry on cutting costs.