Making predictions is a mug’s game. Mug, if you don’t know already, is British slang for a fool. Although you can also drink tea or coffee out of a mug. Newspapers and magazines love predictions at this time of year and Global Cement is no exception. But before we give you our predictions, let’s see how a real expert got on 36 years ago. The science fiction author Isaac Asimov, of Three Laws of Robotics fame, had a go in 1983 when he was asked by the Toronto Star newspaper to try and guess the state of the world in 2019. You can read his original article here.
First up for a construction audience is where the great writer of fiction set in space gets it wrong: space. Asimov thought we’d be on the moon ‘in force’ by 2019, building a mining station to process minerals to make materials such as a concrete, metals, ceramics and glass. Other projects would include satellite solar farms in low earth orbit, observatories, factories and serious planning towards an off-earth settlement. ‘Mooncrete’ or ‘lunarcrete’ is definitely a theoretical thing that has received academic thought since the mid-1980s. We’re guessing that CO2 emissions for cement and concrete would be less of a problem on the moon! Observatories and probes like the Hubble Space Telescope satellite have enriched astronomy. Factories and extra-terrestrial settlements appear another 36 years away.
As for the rest of the predictions, Asimov starts off with an immediate misstep for us smug citizens of 2019 with a riff on a potential nuclear confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union invalidating everything else he was about to say. Past this opening fumble though he’s not bad. He immediately identifies computers as the source of coming change on the scale of the industrial revolution as they enable some human jobs to be replaced and change the nature of others. Next up he identifies pollution and overpopulation as concerns for society before heading on to the importance of trans-national organisations to tackle these issues. He’s generally on trend although there are plenty of holes. For example, he doesn’t foresee networking effects such as a social media and the political implications of enhanced connectivity.
So, having seen how well a noted science fiction author got on, our first forecast is not to trust our predictions. However, if you really want to hear our thoughts, read on.
Chinese cement companies continue to build plants overseas
The background to this is that Song Zhiping, the former chairman of China National Building Material (CNBM) said in late 2017 that the company was planning to build 100 new plants in 50 countries by 2021. Lots of Chinese companies are backing projects in Central Asia and Africa. Many of these are joint ventures. The question arises as to what will happen if local investors default on their loan repayments…
Indian market heats up
Many of the major cement producers are betting on India in 2019 to hold their finances together. The Cement Manufacturers Association of India has forecast growth of 10% in the 2019 financial year to the end of March 2019, the fastest growth in the sector since it slowed down in 2011. A pledge by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to cut the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on cement to 18% from 28% can only help the market.
A tale of two Africas
By the demographics, investing in Africa should be a no-brainer for cement companies as countries develop. However, northern Africa is rapidly turning into an export market as capacity outstrips local demand. Sub-Saharan Africa is decidedly mixed as the coastal regions potentially get swamped by foreign clinker imports and capacity investments further inland can be risky. The current political instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one example of this. Another, the collapse of Kenya’s ARM Cement in mid-2018 offers a warning to investors of what can happen when things go wrong. Producers like Ngieria’s Dangote Cement are waiting in the wings to snap up a bargain. Expect more of the same in 2019.
Acquisitions to continue in Brazil
After years of poor performance the acquisitions and divestments in the cement industry finally started in Brazil in 2018. A new ‘pro-business’ president and a growing economy suggests that this trend should continue in 2019.
European cement producers test how fast legislators are prepared to meet climate commitments
European cement associations were warning in 2018 that the local industry faces issues balancing competiveness versus tightening climate legislation. In October 2018 three plants – two in Spain and one in Sweden – were targeted for closure proving that the associations were not kidding. More difficult choices are likely to follow in 2019.
Happy New Year from Global Cement!