Fascinating information came out of LafargeHolcim last week as part of its Capital Markets Day 2018. The building materials company said it is expecting sales growth to slow in 2019 but earnings to grow. Jan Jenisch, the chief executive officer (CEO), said that the group was ‘aggressively’ moving forward in aggregates and ready-mix concrete. Alongside this, its recent divestment of its Indonesian operations was declared a ‘major’ milestone in focusing its portfolio and cutting down on debt.
Graph 1: LafargeHolcim’s major product lines by sales (%), 2015 – 2017. Source: Company reports.
Graph 1, above, gives a good idea of how LafargeHolcim has been changing its business. Cement sales as a percentage of total sales have been cut to 60% in 2017 from 67% in 2015. Ready-mix concrete and other sales (including asphalt) have risen to 26% from 19%. Aggregate sales have stayed at around 14%. If the world is making too much cement then LafargeHolcim is switching to concrete and balancing out its supply chain. Naturally, this was backed up in one of its investor presentations showing a more even split in the world building materials market between cement, concrete and aggregates. This fits with Jenisch’s background as the former head of Sika. That company manufactures a wide range of specialty chemicals for the construction and automotive industries.
That shift in focus could also be seen at the inaugural Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA) event in late November 2018 where concrete was very much the centre of attention from a sustainability angle. The main companies involved with the GCCA are vertically integrated ones and, by switching its product balance, LafargeHolcim seems to be moving in the same direction. In a sense this is a continuation of the synergy-seeking that was promised when Lafarge and Holcim merged in 2015.
Graph 2: Forecast cement demand growth in LafargeHolcim markets. Source: LafargeHolcim investor presentation 2018.
The other interesting question for LafargeHolcim is where next for growth? The graphic above shows a number of promising areas, including India and east Sub-Saharan Africa. Also, note the slowdown forecast for China. That renewed faith in India is timely this week given the expectation by the Indian Cement Manufacturers Association that cement demand growth in the country will rise by at least 10% in the current financial year to March 2019. If the momentum holds up after a strong first half then it will mark the fastest increase for the region since the market slowed down in 2011. LafargeHolcim doesn’t appear to be on course to grow significantly in India anytime soon but it has major ‘skin in the game’ in a promising market.
Another indication of the vibrancy of the Indian market also came this week from the Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI) with the results of a status review from its low carbon technology roadmap (LCTR). The results were fairly good for such a large industry, with falling CO2 emissions intensity, growing co-processing rates and a decreasing clinker factor. This report carried a sad note given that the work that the CSI does will be taken over by the GCCA in January 2019. However, if this is the last we’re going to hear from the CSI, then they’ve left on a high note.
Lastly, leafing through old financial reports may not be everybody’s idea of a good time but it does let one see how LafargeHolcim’s product mix has changed. It also gives one time to catch up with old faces. Like Bruno Lafont and Eric Olsen. Once again those two former executives popped up in the latest twist of the on going Lafarge Syria legal case as a group of Yazidi women have applied to become ‘civil parties’ in the case. Whether the war crimes inflicted upon the Yazidis can be pinned on Lafarge Syria remains to be seen. Yet, for all of the LafargeHolcim’s business reorganisation, its predecessor’s conduct in Syria continues to make headlines. However much progress the company makes in turning around its fortunes, if it can be, this will continue to overshadow everything. Once a line is drawn under the affair then LafargeHolcim can move on properly.