A couple of news stories this week from Myanmar present an opportunity to look at the country. Lafarge has opened a cement repacking plant in the Thilawa special economic zone (SEZ). Upcountry meanwhile, Anhui Conch has had a joint venture approved by the government for an upgrade to an existing cement plant in Kyaukse.
Towards the end of 2013 the government announced that 13 companies were to establish joint ventures with the local state-owned cement plants. In addition the Myanmar Investment Commission had approved the construction of nine new cement plants with an aim of a target cement production capacity of 10.53Mt/yr. Following this, Siam Cement Group's on-going investment in a 1.8Mt/yr plant is due for completion in 2016. Semen Indonesia have been pushing for a joint venture since mid-2014 although it was still trying to agree terms in September 2014, according to local media. Italcementi's chief executive Carlo Pesenti also expressed his company's interest in setting up a joint venture in early 2014.
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) investment bank CIMB placed cement demand in Myanmar at 4Mt in 2012 and a local cement production capacity of 3Mt/yr. Cement consumption was placed at 76kg/capita for the country's population of 52.8 million. In contrast, Thai cement engineering supplier LV Technology reported demand of 6Mt in 2012. CIMB recorded Myanmar's capacity utilisation rate at 60%. Cement sales were broken down as 95% by bag and 5% by bulk.
This kind of supply-demand gap excites foreign investors. Neighbouring Thailand has a consumption of 515kg/capita, Myanmar imports cement from Thailand, Indonesia and India and the country's GDP growth rate is currently estimated to be around 8%.
Yet what's notable about Myanmar's industry are the high number of small, low production capacity cement plants. Many of them are wet process plants. Only one plant is reported as being capable of producing over 0.5Mt/yr with the Siam Cement plant project due to significantly bust this record when it is commissioned in 2016. Limited limestone deposits in the country may also make plants larger than 1.5Mt/yr unviable. Fuel is also an issue, with LV Technology advocating a wholesale industry conversion from state-subsidised gas to coal due to power shortages and impending competition issues.
In 2015 Myanmar is set to enact free trade tariffs from its ASEAN membership. Without protection or preparation, its cement plants could face serious consequences from cheaper imports from Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. The move by the government to encourage joint ventures with foreign partners looks like one way to mitigate this. In a market report in 2013 CIMB described the situation for investors as 'high-growth, high-barrier.' This seems to be an apt description given the experiences of Semen Indonesia.