Argentine cement sales set to grow in 2015 despite setbacks

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Cement shortages have been reported again in western Argentina this week. The story has been simmering over the summer in Mendoza and San Juan Provinces with local construction firms becoming irate with delays to their projects.

The cause is reported by local media to be a broken raw mill at Holcim Argentina's Capdeville cement plant north of the city of Mendoza. Production has been reduced by 2400t/month of cement from the 0.66Mt/yr capacity plant. Unfortunately, cement plants in neighbouring states have lowered their deliveries. Subsequently prices are estimated to have risen by 8 – 10% in July and August 2015 alone..

To put some perspective on the cement shortage, the Cuyo region of Argentina (comprising Mendoza, San Juan and San Luis Provinces) consumed just over 1Mt of cement in 2014 compared to 11Mt for the entire country. However all three provinces in the region are above the national mean cement consumption of 271kg/capita.

Despite the bottleneck in the provinces, the Asociacion de Fabricantes de Cemento (AFCP) recently revised its cement sales forecast for 2015 upwards to over 12Mt, the highest level on record. It attributed the rise demand to public infrastructure projects, house building and the Argentina Credit Programme (ProCreAr). Total despatches to the end of August 2015 were 7.99Mt, a rise of 8.73% or 641,664t from 7.35Mt in August 2014.

This followed a poor year in 2014 when national cement consumption fell by 3.5% year-on-year according to local press. The AFCP reported a fall in production by 4.1% to 11.4Mt.

Notably for the current news story, San Juan Province saw one of the biggest sales drops in 2014 at 10.5%. As InterCement (through its subsidiary Loma Negra) commented in its annual report, the country suffered both a gross domestic product (GDP) contraction of 1% in 2014 and instability in its financial markets that adversely affected consumption. Both the other major cement producers, Cementos Avellaneda (a subsidiary of Cementos Molins) and Holcim Argentina, also reported poor sales in 2014. Under these conditions it is unsurprising that consumers have angered due to localised cement shortages. There should be lots of cement available!

Into 2015, Holcim reported increased cement volumes in the first half of 2015 due to high demand in the Cordoba Province that neighbours Mendoza Province. By contrast, InterCement forecast in its 2014 annual report that it expected sales to remain lower than the high set in 2013. However it also expected continued demand for cement to reflect a response to the economic situation in Argentina with private investors moving to real estate for security.

InterCement and the rest will be monitoring Argentina's economy very closely for the remainder of 2015. Presidential elections are due in October that may change the current scenario. For the moment though the country remains in recession but it has managed to bring in foreign investment. Regardless of this though, the quicker Holcim Argentina and the others address the shortage in Mendoza the better. Demand may not last forever.


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