Update on the cement industry in Central Asia

Byjirong

Updated Fri, 29 Apr 2016 15:09:34 GMT

A few news stories in recent weeks have emerged concerning falling cement sales in Central Asian countries. Steppe Cement reported in mid-April 2016 that its cement sales had fallen by 12% year-on-year to US$5.98m in the first quarter of 2016 from US$6.79m in the same period in 2015. The cement producer noted an overall drop of 16% in the cement market in Kazakhstan, with a slowing reduction in March 2016 compared to the preceding four months. It forecast that the domestic cement market would contract by 1.1Mt in 2016 to 8.5Mt. The country has a cement production capacity of 11.85Mt/yr according to Global Cement Directory 2016 data. So on average this would see a drop in the capacity utilisation rate to 72% from 81%.

Likewise, Italcementi reported a fall in cement consumption in the fourth quarter of 2015 although overall in 2015 it reported consumption up by 9%. It is currently upgrading its Shymkent cement plant to a dry kiln with testing planned for early 2016. Meanwhile, HeidelbergCement – the other multinational present in the country, reported cement sales growth of over 9% due in part to the ramp-up of its new CaspiCement cement plant. How this will turn out after HeidelbergCement takes control of Italcementi remains to be seen.

Then, Holcim Azerbaijan reported that its sales had fallen by 37% to US$56m in 2015. It blamed the resultant loss it made on not being able to cut its production costs fast enough to match the falling revenue. The parent company LafargeHolcim blamed it on a ‘significant’ decline in public and private construction. Elsewhere, the World Bank reported a 13% drop in the construction sector in the second half of 2015 as the government cut investment.

Tajikistan may have broken this pattern as it reported that its cement production volumes rose by 33% to 373,000t in the first quarter of 2016. Over half of this output came from the 1Mt/yr Huaksin Ghayyur Cement plant that was commissioned in March 2016. The same news source reported government estimates that local demand will be 3.5Mt/yr in 2016. Similarly, Turkmenistan reported growing cement production in 2015 due to the opening of the 1.4Mt/yr Polimeks cement plant in Lebap. Otherwise there has been little reported recently from the cement industries in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan although the World Bank has reported that their economies are in reasonable shape.

The multinational cement producers all noted the economic problems caused by low oil prices in the Central Asian countries in which they operate. In February 2016 this was reinforced by the International Monetary Fund after its latest visit to Azerbaijan. The World Bank also expects little growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in the region in 2016. Low oil prices have followed economic problems in Russia that have also impacted upon the region due to its economic ties with that country and membership of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

This is bad news for the local markets but it is especially bad news for the Chinese cement industry. As China has faced production overcapacity and falling prices at home, its suppliers and producers have sped off down the Silk Road to seek expansion prospects elsewhere. With this route blocked, the Chinese industry faces one fewer opportunity to avoid the crunch at home.