HeidelbergCement expand presence in Sub-Saharan Africa… and other stories


Updated Thu, 12 Mar 2015 13:36:16 GMT

HeidelbergCement has been reportedly showing interest in South Africa and Mozambique this week following the opening of new production capacity in West Africa. The Germany-based cement producer has beefed up its presence in the region with the inauguration of a 1.5Mt/yr clinker plant in in Togo and a 0.7Mt/yr grinding plant in neighbouring Burkina Faso. An additional 0.25Mt/yr grinding plant in the north of Togo is also planned for commissioning in late 2016. Other new projects in Africa include a new 0.8Mt/yr grinding plant in Tanzania that was commissioned in October 2014 and a new 0.8Mt/yr grinding mill at the Takoradi grinding plant in Ghana.

HeidelbergCement has repeatedly stated that it is considering production capacity expansions in other African countries. It currently operates in Ghana, Benin, Liberia, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Togo, Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mostly it's a network of grinding plants with actual clinker producing plants in Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Togo. Its presence covers a band across central sub-Saharan Africa. Moving out of this zone into southern Africa would start to give HeidelbergCement a truly continental presence. However, from Dangote to PPC to Lafarge Africa other players are hard at work building their own cement empires.

The wild card here is how involved Chinese firms are in this process. Chinese companies like Jidong Development are building their own cement plants like the Mamba Cement plant in South Africa or Gweru in Zimbabwe, where upgrades are currently taking place. More commonly though Chinese companies like Sinoma are building new African cement plants such as a new PPC cement plant in the Democratic Republic of Congo or a new United Cement Company of Nigeria Limited (Unicem) cement line in Nigeria or several Dangote projects.

As part of the commissioning process for HeidelbergCement's new clinker plant in Togo, the Chengdu Design and Research Institute of Building Materials Industry (CDI, part of Sinoma) has emphasised that it will transfer the maintenance responsibility to local Togolese workers. The fact that the CDI's chairman made a point of saying this underlines tensions about both existing and changing international business influences in the region. Contrast this with the more sympathetic way in which Dangote's expansions in Africa that are portrayed by local media. Or look at this week's announcement by Egypt's ASEC Engineering and Management to help run a cement plant in Ethiopia. There is no need for calming statements from ASEC.

Finally, after all the discussion of the effect of oil prices on alternative fuels usage by cement producers it is worth noting what HeidelbergCement stated in its February 2015 trading statement. Principally, a drop in the price of oil is expected to present a positive impact on costs and market demand for the group. HeidelbergCement generates 86% of group earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) in net oil importing countries. In these places lower oil prices means potentially faster GDP growth and greater infrastructure spending. It is also worth considering the impact lower oil prices might have on the group's total oil and diesel bull of Euro250m/yr.

HeidelbergCement's full annual results for 2014 are due to be published on 19 March 2015. Maybe they will be more forthcoming about its intentions in Africa then.