Update on China, April 2024

Update on China, April 2024

We turn to look at the Chinese cement sector now that the larger China-based cement producers have released their financial results for 2023. In summary, national output of cement has continued to fall and many of the bigger companies are reporting weakening sales and profits. Yet this trend appears to be slowing, with a few of the producers managing to grow revenue, profits and sales volumes.

Graph 1: Cement output in China, 2018 to 2023. Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China.

Graph 1: Cement output in China, 2018 to 2023. Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics of China shows that cement output fell by 4.5% year-on-year from 2.11Bnt in 2022 to 2.02Bnt in 2023. This is a slower rate of decline than the 10.4% drop reported between 2021 and 2022. However, it is worth noting that the rate of decrease in output on a half-year basis fell strongly in the first half of 2023 but remained similar in the second half of the year. In its commentary, the China Cement Association (CCA) said that the country’s real estate development investment fell by 10% year-on-year to US$1.53tn.

Graph 2: Sales revenue from selected Chinese cement producers. Source: Company financial reports.

Graph 2: Sales revenue from selected Chinese cement producers. Source: Company financial reports.

Graph 3: Sales volumes of cement and clinker from selected Chinese cement producers. Source: Company financial reports.

Graph 3: Sales volumes of cement and clinker from selected Chinese cement producers. Source: Company financial reports.

Unlike in 2022 the two graphs above show that not every cement producer has lost revenue or sales volumes of cement in 2023. CNBM chair Zhou Yuxian used the phrase ‘storms and challenges’ to describe the situation faced by the world’s largest cement company. He left president Wei Rushan to deliver the bad news that the cement industry as a whole faced “insufficient demand, weakening expectations and weakening off-peak season characteristics” along with surpluses and high costs. He said that the cement sector in China saw its profit fall by 50% to US$4.42bn in 2023, its lowest figure since the mid-2000s.

In comparison CNBM Group’s revenue fell by 10% year-on-year to US$29bn and profit by 52% to US$534m. This was principally due to losses from the group’s basic building materials division, the section that makes heavy building materials, including cement. Alongside this, it pushed on with its supply-side structural reforms, implemented staggered peak production and worked on sustainability initiatives. These included preparations for the national carbon emissions trading scheme. Anhui Conch’s results showed that it managed to increase its revenue but its sales volumes of cement dropped and its profits fell by 33% to US$1.48bn. It achieved the boost in revenue by growing its trading business.

Of the smaller companies covered here, only Huaxin Cement managed to grow its revenue in 2023. It appeared to pull this off by growing its concrete and aggregate business domestically whilst growing the business overseas at the same time. The share of its international business grew to 16% in 2023 from 13% in 2022. Major overseas acquisitions in 2023 included Oman Cement and InterCement’s subsidiaries in Mozambique and South Africa. More recently Huaxin Cement has also been reported by local media as the preferential bidder for InterCement’s business in Brazil, although no formal announcement has been made. Of the rest, Tangshan Jidong Cement, CRBMT and China Tianrui all reported declines in sales revenue and profits. Tangshan Jidong Cement did manage to grow its cement sales volumes, but reported heightened competition in the north and north-east of China where most of its plants are located.

With the first quarter results for 2024 on the way soon, the CCA has been bracing itself and the sector for more bad news. It noted that national cement prices during the last week of March 2024 were about 1% lower than during the same week in 2023. Prices were lower in East, Central and South China, although they had increased in Chengdu and Sichuan. The CCA is worried that a price war, either nationally or regionally, will make a bad situation worse. It has called on cement producers to accept that the slowdown of infrastructure development in the country has led to a decline in cement demand and that this is the new normal. Apart from the usual watchwords of ‘self-discipline,’ ‘overcapacity reduction’ and ‘supply-side reforms’ the association has suggested that cement companies look for growth internationally and look to the leadership of associations to help everyone adapt to the new market situation. China’s sales output of cement may be starting to stabilise, but the market has a way to go yet to adapt to the new reality.