American focus shifts back north

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This week we heard news of two potential bidders for Lafarge and Holcim divestments. However, for a change it was where they will not be bidding that was of interest: Brazil. India's UltraTech Cement and Colombia's Cementos Argos now seem to have no interest in developing their positions in South America's largest cement market, having both previously stated their interest.

The Brazilian assets to be sold are three integrated cement plants and two grinding plants that share a capacity of 3.6Mt/yr (as well as a one ready-mix plant). Cementos Argos came out and said that it would not be bidding. UltraTech's position is more of a rumour, given by 'a source close to the company' that was not revealed by local media. However, both stories suggest that Brazil is currently not a good place for cement producers to buy up assets.

The reasons for these decisions are related to the state of the Brazilian economy, which has seen sub 2% growth in the last 11 quarters. The economy actually contracted by 0.9% in the second quarter of 2014 and by 0.25% in the third quarter of 2014. A 0.2% rise in the fourth quarter will be negated by a fall of 0.28% in the first quarter of 2015. Over the course of 2015 the IMF forecasts growth of 1.4%.

Although Brazilian cement production has risen from around 40Mt/yr in 2006 to around 70Mt/yr in 2013, it has been growing by lower and lower amounts each year. In 2013, it rose by 1.5% year-on-year, down from a 6.7% rise in 2012, an 8.3% rise in 2011 and a near 16% rise in 2010. Taken along with the IMF's GDP growth forecast, there is a genuine chance that Brazilian cement sales could plateau in 2014 or 2015. There will certainly be better places to try to sell cement over the next couple of years, hence the eagerness with which Cementos Argos declared its position.

One country that Cementos Argos has said it's looking at Lafarge and Holcim assets in is Mexico. Its economy is anticipated to grow by 3.5% in 2015, more than twice as quickly as Brazil and far more than the Americas as a whole (2.2%). Another anticipated strong performer in 2015 will be the US (3.1%), where Cementos Argos acquired assets in 2013. This week also saw the news that the Portland Cement Association's 8.1% cement consumption forecast for 2014 will be met.

Taking this all together, it appears that economic growth, and hence cement demand growth, will return to North America in earnest in 2015. Meanwhile South America's largest market is starting to lag behind. How will the rest of the two continents fare in 2015 and beyond?

Last modified on 10 June 2015


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