More details from HeidelbergCement this week on its divestment strategy. It has sold its half-share in Ciment Québec in Canada and a minority share in a company in Syria. A closed cement plant in Egypt is being sold and it is working on divesting its business in Ukraine. Altogether these four sales will generate Euro150m for the group. Chairman Bernd Scheifele said that the company expects to rake in Euro500m from asset sales in 2018. It has a target of Euro1.5bn by the end of 2020.
In purely cement terms that is something like seven integrated plants. So the usual game follows of considering what assets HeidelbergCement might consider selling. The group offered a few clues in a presentation that Scheifele was due to give earlier this week at the Commerzbank German Investment Seminar in New York.
First of all the producer said that it was hopeful for 2019 due to limited energy cost inflation, better weather in the US, the Indonesian market turning, general margin improvement actions and sustained price rises in Europe. It then said that its divestments would focus on three main categories: non-core business, weak market positions and idle assets. The first covers sectors outside of the trio of cement, aggregates and ready-mix concrete. Things like white cement plants or sand lime brick production. Countries or areas it identified it had already executed divestments in included Saudi Arabia, Georgia, Syria and Quebec in Canada. Idle assets included depleted quarries and land.
The first obvious candidate for divestment could be the company’s two majority owned integrated plants in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These might be considered targets due to the political instability in the country. However, this is balanced by the potential long-term gains once that country stabilises. Alternatively, some of the plants in Italy seem like a target. The company had seven integrated plants, eight grinding plants and one terminal in 2018.
The presentation also pointed out the sharp rise in European Union (EU) Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) CO2 emissions allowances, from around Euro5/t in 2017 to up to Euro20/t by the end of 2018. In late 2018 Cementa, a subsidiary of HeidelbergCement in Sweden, said it was considering closing Degerhamn plant due to mounting environmental costs. The group reckons it can fight a high carbon price through consolidation, capacity closure, higher utilisation, limited exports and pricing. It also pointed out that it is a technology leader in carbon reduction projects. It will be interesting to see how environmental costs play into HeidelbergCement’s divestment decisions.
Finally, a tweet by Sasja Beslik, the head of sustainable finance at Nordea, flagged up a few cement companies as being the worst companies for increasing CO2 emissions between 2011 and 2016. HeidelbergCement was 19th on the list after LafargeHolcim and CRH. Sure, cement production makes CO2 but it’s far from clear whether the data from MSCI took into account that each of these companies had expanded heavily during this time. In HeidelbergCement’s case it bought Italcementi in 2016. Cement companies aren’t perfect but sometimes there’s just no justice.