2023 roundup for the cement multinationals

2023 roundup for the cement multinationals

Cement producers appear to have doubled down on the lessons they learned in 2022 by seeking profits wherever they could in 2023, despite stagnant markets in certain key places. Even with sales volumes of cement going down for most of the multinational cement companies covered here, revenues and earnings rose through price rises or business realignment.

Heidelberg Materials can often be relied upon to sprinkle a bit less sugar on its financial commentary compared to some of its competitors. Thus it is always worth reflecting on what it says. In its view, “In 2023, high inflation rates across the globe, increased financing costs, and persistently high energy and raw material prices significantly impaired construction activity and thus demand for our building materials. The decline in demand in private residential construction, which was massive in some cases, could not be offset by a solid development in industrial commercial construction and infrastructure projects.” Other opinions are available.

Graph 1: Sales revenue from selected cement producers in 2022 and 2023. Source: Company reports. Note: Figures calculated for UltraTech Cement.

Graph 1: Sales revenue from selected cement producers in 2022 and 2023. Source: Company reports. Note: Figures calculated for UltraTech Cement.

Heidelberg Materials is notably missing in Graph 2 (below), though as the company is likely to be holding back its cement sales volume numbers until it releases its full annual report for 2023 towards the end of March 2024. However, Holcim and Heidelberg Materials reached similar sales volumes of cement in 2022 and this looks likely to have continued in 2023, or even gone further. Holcim divested its India-based and Brazil-based operations in 2022 and Africa-based ones in South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda in 2023. Heidelberg Materials has also slimmed down, albeit at a slower pace, with the sale of its businesses in Southern Spain in 2022 and The Gambia in 2023. Note that CRH and Holcim have swapped places in terms of sales revenue from 2022 to 2023. 65% of CRH’s sales came from its Americas divisions.

The outlier here is UltraTech Cement. It increased its sales volumes as the India-based market continues to push forward. Dangote Cement, meanwhile, delivered a surprise with a fall in volumes, due to poor trading at home in Nigeria. Sales outside of Nigeria grew significantly though. A real key moment for the evolution of Dangote Cement as a multinational player will be when its sales, volumes and earnings outside of Nigeria surpass those from back home. It’s not there yet but it looks likely to happen in the next few years.

Graph 2: Cement sales volumes from selected cement producers in 2022 and 2023. Source: Company reports. Note: Figures calculated for CRH and UltraTech Cement.

Graph 2: Cement sales volumes from selected cement producers in 2022 and 2023. Source: Company reports. Note: Figures calculated for CRH and UltraTech Cement.

The progress of the construction market in the US compared to elsewhere has wielded an outsized effect on balance sheets for companies. Signs of this have been apparent for several years but it really picked up in 2023 with CRH switching its primary listing to the US in September 2023 and then Holcim announcing that it is planning to spin-off its North American business (for more on this see GCW 645). Heidelberg Materials was asked during its analysts’ conference call for its 2023 financial results what its plans were for the US. Chair Dominik von Achten said he was against splitting the business off from the rest of the group but that all other options were on the table. Various media outlets have interpreted this to mean that an initial public offering in the US is a likely possibility.

What Cemex does with this situation, if anything, might be worth watching. The company is already North America-focused. Its key markets are in Mexico, the US and Europe, and it is already listed in Mexico and the US. Subsequently in 2023 the market in Mexico bounced back and operating earnings rose sharply in both Mexico and the US. Finally on this theme, Buzzi, the fifth largest cement producer in the US by capacity, may also face a similar dilemma to its peers about what to do with its largest earning business area.

The increasing dominance of the US market for western-based multinational cement producers may be accelerating a trend towards large regional companies everywhere. China-based cement players already dominate the top 10 list of the world’s largest cement producers by capacity. Companies from India and elsewhere are on the way to do likewise as they grow and concentrate on one geographic area. The situation in the US meanwhile is persuading the multinationals to do the same thing in reverse as they reconfigure themselves based on market demand. In financial terms, this may mean chasing growth in the US, learning to cope with high carbon prices in Europe or diversifying away from heavy building materials. Elsewhere, despite the proliferation of regional giants, such as the China-based cement companies, few seem keen to become truly multinational in a hurry, although opportunities, such as the ongoing sale of InterCement in Brazil or CRH’s acquisition of AdBri in Australia, are still present.