The world’s quietest cement mega-merger

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A member of the Global Cement LinkedIn Group commented this week on the merger between China National Building Material (CNBM) and China National Materials (Sinoma).

“Has the cement world got used to gigantic mergers or have we failed to understand how big this thing is locally, regionally and globally? It is shocking to see how little publicity and media attention is paid to this merger in comparison to the past ones. I find this to be potentially a game changer for the industry. This time, the game will be drawn from a single corner with less integration pains and much more alignment. A big wave coming…”

The comment was posted by Pavel Cech, a managing director of ResourceCo Asia based in Kuala Lumpur. This company is a waste recycling and waste management concern that specialises in alternative fuels for the cement industry. So a focus on the potentially massive drive for co-processing by the Chinese industry is understandable compared to, say, other companies in other continents. However, Cech’s point is valid: why isn’t this merger being talked about more?

CNBM is the largest cement company in the country with a reported total production capacity of around 406Mt/yr. Sinoma is a cement engineering company and the fourth largest cement producer in China with a total production capacity of approximately 112Mt/yr. The companies formally agreed to merge in September 2017 as part of a state-mandated industry consolidation. If these figures are taken at face value then the merger should increase the lead of the self-declared world’s biggest cement producer.

In non-Chinese terms this would be like HeidelbergCement merging with a major equipment manufacturer like ThyssenKrupp or FLSmidth. For these kind of companies, industry commentators and press, such as a Global Cement Magazine, would spend many column inches discussing the twists and turns of the merger as it played out. Just compare the Chinese merger to the debacle that has played out with the proposed acquisition of South Africa’s PPC by Fairfax, where seemingly every development was expounded upon both by PPC and the press.

For Global Cement’s reporting and coverage on China, problems arise from language difficulties, differences with the way Chinese media covers industry, the state-controlled aspect of many of the larger producers, issues obtaining accurate industry data and the sheer size of the sector. All of these impediments make it harder to cover the Chinese market. Add the relative insularity of the sector and it’s often easy to give the Chinese cement industry a special label, separating it out when talking about the global cement industry as a whole.

All this may be about to change as Chinese cement producers start firing up their own kilns outside of the motherland as part of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative, making it easier to see what Chinese companies are doing. Except that Sinoma has already been out there in the rest of world building cement plants in many developing markets and creating competition for the Europe-based equipment manufacturers.

There has been little attention from competition bodies outside of China about the merger. The South Korean Fair Trade Commission approved the deal in November 2017 and that’s been about it. Combining a cement plant builder with a cement producer is a clear example of vertical integration in the cement industry. There is nothing necessarily anti-competitive about this but it could change the market dynamic where non-Chinese multinational and Chinese cement producers compete. If both CNBM and a rival wanted to open build a plant in the same area, then the competitor to CNBM might have less choice when it came to picking their equipment supplier. In addition, news stories such as the alleged pressure by the Chinese embassy in Sri Lanka to try and force a local development agency to choose Sinoma to build a grinding plant doesn’t instil confidence that a merged CNBM-Sinoma would play nice. Although, as today’s fine by the Colombian competition body to Cementos Argos, Cemex and Holcim for price fixing shows, non-Chinese cement producers are just as prone to malpractice.

The merger of CNBM and Sinoma is undeniably big news in the industry. Both within and outside China it is likely to have a pronounced effect. As explained above, for various reasons, the western press can’t cover China in the same way it does other countries. Once the Chinese producers start building more plants outside of China then this is likely to change significantly. Until then we’ll do our best to keep track of this and other Chinese news stories.

Last modified on 13 December 2017

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