Mergers and acquisitions aplenty… but what about Cemex?

Byjirong

Updated Fri, 21 Aug 2015 17:40:08 GMT

In early 2014 the top of the global cement producer charts looked very different to how it does today. The big four multinationals, Lafarge, Holcim, HeidelbergCement and Cemex, were clearly out in front and ahead of the rest of the global top 10. While there was discrepancy in their sizes, the largest, Lafarge (224Mt/yr) had just over twice the cement capacity of fourth-placed Cemex (95Mt/yr), with Holcim (218Mt/yr) and HeidelbergCement (122Mt/yr) between these extremes.1 With an impressive 659Mt/yr of capacity between them, these four accounted for just shy of half of global cement capacity outside of China.

However, as those with even a passing interest in the cement sector will know, this is no longer the case. The merger between Lafarge and Holcim and the subsequent acquisition of Italcementi by HeidelbergCement has stretched out the range of the top producers significantly. Today LafargeHolcim has around 340Mt/yr of installed capacity and HeidelbergCement 200Mt/yr. Meanwhile Cemex is still 'stuck in the 90s,' with a capacity of around 92Mt/yr following the sale of its Croatian cement assets last week. The Mexican 'giant' is now almost a quarter of the size of LafargeHolcim. What does this mean for the world's number three (excluding Chinese producers) and what might the future hold?

Well... the old adage goes that you have to move forward to stand still. However, Cemex has not moved forward over the past two years, meaning that is hasn't kept up the pace with its immediate rivals. It hasn't been able to, hemmed in by the debt that it took on from its poorly-timed acquisition of Rinker in 2007. Indeed, Cemex is looking to contract further, with aims to shed a further Euro600 - 1100m of non-core assets in 2015.2 Against improved positions at LafargeHolcim and HeidelbergCement, Cemex increasingly looks like an 'Americas specialist' rather than a full-blown multinational. A stake in Cemex LatAm Holdings is up for sale, but the sale of more cement plants may also be on the way. This is all being done to improve Cemex's investment grade rating from B-plus, four grades below investment grade.

If Cemex does have to shed further physical assets on the ground, it is very unlikely that it would chose to do so in the Americas, where it is a very major player. It is number one in Mexico, third in the US and well-postitioned in numerous growth markets in Central America. If push comes to shove, it is far more likely that it would sell assets that are further from home. These are in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East.

Cemex has 43% of its production capacity outside the Americas. Certain assets, such as those in Thailand, Bangladesh and the Philippines, may be appealing to CRH, which is already set to acquire LafargeHolcim divestments there and is known to be considering other purchases in the region.3 Cemex also owns several cement plants in better-performing EU economies like Germany and the UK. In Germany, the company has already completed a small downsizing exercise by selling its Kollenbach plant to Holcim (LafargeHolcim). Meanwhile, Cemex UK is a major player in the UK, where the Competition Commission has recently been very keen to increase the number of producers. Elsewhere, Cemex's share in Assuit Cement in Egypt could provide much needed revenue, as could its small stake in the Emirati markets.

Thinking more radically, and in keeping with the current trend of mega-mergers and large-scale acquisitions, could Cemex find itself the target of the next global cement mega-merger / acquisition? Certainly, its strength in Central and South America completely complements HeidelbergCement's lack of coverage here, making a future 'HeidelbergCemex' a potential winner.

The other option, if/when Cemex regains its investment rating, would be for Cemex to acquire or merge with a company further down the list of global cement produers. Africa is an obvious target, with rapid growth and a lack of Cemex assets at present. A foreigner buying up Dangote is probably out of the question, but PPC would be an interesting target, as would increasingly isolated Brazilian producers that could help shore up Cemex's South American position.

If the past 18 months in the global cement industry have shown anything, it is that we should expect the unexpected. It will be very interesting to see how all players, both large and small, will react to the recent goings on in the rest of 2015 and beyond.