Mexico: The Mexican cement multinational Cemex has announced that is planning a new round of asset sales and debt reduction in a bid to speed up its growth and return to an investment-grade rating. It will reposition its portfolio to focus on markets with the greatest long-term growth potential.
By January 2021 Cemex aims to sell US$1.5 - 2.0bn in assets and reduce its total debt by US$3.5bn, while finding further cost savings of US$150m. It also plans to pay annual cash dividends starting with US$150m in 2019. Cemex has given a lot of money back to bond investors and banks in recent years and now is in a position to compensate shareholders with dividends, in addition to recently approved buyback funds, according to Chief Executive Fernando González.
Cemex lost its investment-grade ratings in 2009 during the global financial crisis, when its earnings fell after the company had taken on large amounts of debt to expand through acquisitions. The company returned to profitability following major asset sales and debt reduction. In early 2018 it announced that it was thinking about expanding into growing markets, apparently indicating an end to asset sales. However, it abandoned these plans after a number of shareholders objected.
Debt reduction, cost cutting and asset sales of recent years were successful, but earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), a measure of cash flow, didn’t grow as much as expected, according to González. In addition to lower earnings in Colombia, Egypt and the Philippines, Cemex also faced rising fuel costs.
In the second quarter of 2018, Cemex’s net profit increased by 32% compared to the same period of 2017 to US$382m. Sales grew by 7% to US$3.8bn, and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation, (EBITDA) were up by 4% to US$714m. Cement sales in the same period increased by 4% to 18.6Mt.