US first quarter update 2016


Updated Fri, 20 May 2016 15:09:10 GMT

Delegates at the IEEE-IAS/PCA Cement Industry Technical Conference in Dallas, Texas this week may have smiles upon their faces if the following data is correct. The US cement industry has rocketed into 2016 with solid sales growth. Multinational cement producer balance sheets are being propped up by the good news and data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) backs it up.

LafargeHolcim led the pack with an 18.9% bounce in its cement sales volumes to 3.4Mt in the first quarter of 2016. Most of this rise was driven by high demand for building materials in the US supported by a ‘vigorous’ housing market and positive infrastructure spending. HeidelbergCement followed this up with a 13.8% in its cement sales volumes to 2.5Mt in North America. Cemex reported a 8% rise, Buzzi Unicem reported a 16.3% rise, Martin Marietta reported a 13.8% rise and Cementos Argos reported a 47.3% rise.

Graph 1: Portland and blended cement shipments by US Census Bureau region for 2016 to February 2016. Source: USGS

USGS data shows this ‘bounce’ in cement sales shipments at the start of 2016 quite well. Although the publicly released preliminary data only goes as far as February 2016 you can clearly see an up-tick at the start of the year. By comparison shipments in each of the main US census regions fell from January to February 2015 before picking up as the spring started. The main reason for this was the harsh winter in 2015. Overall, cement volumes rose by 11.6% year-on-year for the mainland US in January and February 2016. These were led by Maine, New York and Illinois in the Northeast and Midwest, presumably recovering from the previous winter, before a load of southern states, including Northern Texas and South Carolina, kicked in with growth of above 20%. As an aside it is also worth pointing out the seasonal variation between the Midwest and the West. The Midwest has a more pronounced summer production peak most likely due to the colder winters the region endures.

The reason for that bounce at the start of 2016 is important because it determines whether the US cement party will continue or not. A few of the cement producers in their financial reports mentioned that sales were up due to pent up demand following the harsh winter in 2015. HeidelbergCement gave a much more considered assessment than its rivals. They pointed out that, despite the growth in construction markets, economic growth slowed in the country in the quarter. This fits more in line with the Portland Cement Association’s (PCA) more cautious assessment that the construction industry in the US should be growing but that an uncertain economic outlook is messing with this. It seems that the US cement industry has growth for the moment but that certainty that this will continue is far more elusive. This week’s news that plans have been scrapped to build a third kiln at the Lafarge North America Joppa cement plant just adds to this feeling.