CRH buying into India – Whatever next…?

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Ireland's CRH this week submitted a binding bid for various Indian assets of LafargeHolcim that will be sold by the newly-formed group as a condition of its formation. CRH will compete for the assets with HeidelbergCement and Barings Private Equity, which sold its stake in the same assets to Lafarge India prior to the merger. According to the Irish Examiner, the scale of the bids is in the region of US$600 - 800m. On the back-burner is another deal that could see CRH snap up a 74% stake in Tongyang Cement and Energy in South Korea.

These moves are consistent with CRH's new-found commitment to rapid expansion into new markets and an apparent desire to become a far bigger player in the global cement industry. It is in line with the sentiment expressed by its CEO Albert Manifold back in February 2015, when he stated in a letter to shareholders that CRH had given 'hell or high water commitments to Lafarge and Holcim' regarding its earlier Euro6.5bn purchase of assets as part of the LafargeHolcim merger. At that point CRH appeared almost 'over committed' to the huge deal, with some analysts asking whether or not CRH had paid too much.

Let's stop a minute to look at where CRH finds itself. Europe, its main cement market, is still under siege from a general lack of investment, both private and public. The UK is likely to perform well, although an ongoing Competition Enquiry at Irish Cement is an unwelcome distraction. CRH's new eastern European ventures are all in fairly small markets. Poland, in which CRH operates Grupa Ozarow, appears to act as the model for these acquisitions, but they remain at risk from the prolonged Eurozone crisis.

In Brazil, another new market, CRH is 'up against it,' with massive competition from Votorantim and InterCement, smaller local players and LafargeHolcim. A decline in cement demand here so far in 2015 year-on-year is not a good omen. Neither is Votorantim's decision this week to turn one of its plants into a distribution centre due to continued low demand.

In Canada CRH will gain 3.1Mt/yr of former Holcim capacity, around 20% of that market's capacity. This, along with its 2.7Mt/yr acquisition in the Philippines, probably represents CRH's best opportunities out of its newly-acquired assets.

However, with the confirmation that it intends to invest in 5Mt/yr of former Lafarge assets in India, a market not exactly enjoying buoyant conditions at present, CRH appears to be further exposing itself to another 'sub-optimal' market. We recently reported on the 100Mt/yr of capacity that is sitting idle in India at present , hardly a situation to instil confidence in a new entrant.

Whether CRH will be forced to leave some of these markets, buy into others or otherwise shuffle its cement assets to better suit the world economy remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aforementioned mega-deal, LafargeHolcim gave the first indications of how it will go about re-branding in various markets this week. While a new brand will be introduced in markets with 'a balanced overlap' of former Lafarge and Holcim assets, countries without overlap will see existing Lafarge or Holcim 'brands' become 'endorsed' by LafargeHolcim. In countries with unbalanced overlap, either Lafarge or Holcim will be the endorsed brand.

Of course, in every market that it has bought a LafargeHolcim asset, CRH will also have to re-brand. So far it has announced that its operations in France will be branded as 'Orsima' from 1 August 2015. No elaboration on how this name was derived has been provided, but let's hope that there are not too many other new names to remember!

Last modified on 29 July 2015

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