The Brazilian cement industry took a knock last week when the competition watchdog Cade (Administrative Council for Economic Defence) confirmed its intention to issue the sector with fines worth a combined US$1.4bn.
Under the terms of the ruling, Votorantim will have to pay US$672m, Cimpor will pay US$133m, InterCement Brasil will pay US$108m, Itabira will pay US$184m, Holcim will pay US$227m and Itambé will have to pay US$39.4m. The companies involved will be forced on average to sell 24% of their assets. Votorantim, for example, will be compelled to divest 35% of its cement assets or 11Mt/yr of production capacity. In addition a fine of nearly US$2m is to be imposed on the cement associations ABCP and SNIC.
To give these figures some context, Votorantim reported a net profit of US$105m in 2013 across all its business lines including cement, metals, mining and pulp. The fine Cade wants to impose is over six times greater than this! A fine of this size will be a serious setback for Votorantim if it goes through. Votorantim's net revenue for its cement business in 2013 was about US$5.5bn. This places the fine at just over 10% of company annual turnover, a common upper limit for fines imposed by anti-competition authorities around the world. 10% of turnover, for example, is the maximum percentage fine that European Union competition regulators can impose.
Although hard to compare with the other Brazilian cement producers due to differences in financial reporting, the proposed fines seem equally tough on the other companies. Before the acquisition of Cimpor inflated its financial figures, InterCement reported a net revenue of US$1.2bn in 2011. This places its fine at 9% of annual turnover. Holcim's net sales in its Latin American region as a whole, including operations in Brazil, totalled US$3.73bn in 2013.
Both Holcim and Cimpor have issued corporate rebuttals to Cade insisting that they followed and still follow all the necessary competition laws. Both companies intend to fight the decision. Votorantim went further in its response saying that it considering the fine 'unjust and unprecedented' and it warned that the ruling would cripple any investments in the Brazilian cement sector. The ruling also forbids the company from opening new factories within the next five years, places limits on the company taking out new loans and prevents it from consolidating its market share.
Internationally, the Cade fine surpasses the US$1.1bn Competition Commission of India penalty imposed against 11 producers in India in 2013. Other recent anti-trust fines against the cement industry include a Euro80m fine in Poland that was upheld on appeal in 2013 and the US$19.3m Lafarge was charged in South Africa in 2012.
The prosecutors pointed out that work on public roads had been inflated by nearly US$8m. Overall they reckon that the cartel cost the Brazilian economy US$6.3bn. Examples likes this are unlikely to gain sympathy for the accused cement producers from a Brazilian public already angry about the amount of public money spent on building excessive sports stadiums and the like for the Football World Cup later in June 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. In the meantime though – over to the lawyers.