Update on Indonesia, July 2023

Update on Indonesia, July 2023

The government in Indonesia made building new cement capacity harder this week. The new rules are intended to strengthen the local sector in the face of a utilisation rate of only 53%. A moratorium policy and/or new investment arrangements have been placed on new cement plant projects. Instead, companies have been asked to focus on the regions of Papua, West Papua, Maluku and North Maluku instead, where demand for cement is higher than what the local production base can produce. Ignatius Warsito, the Director General of the Chemical, Pharmaceutical and Textile Industry at the Ministry of Industry, said that the new rules would be reconsidered once the capacity utilisation rate reaches 85%.

Other measures the government is also looking at include increasing exports of cement, changing regulations related to the coal Public Service Agency (BLU) and improving overland transport. On that last point the authorities and the cement producers are looking at how logistics costs can avoid rising in the face of the impending Zero Over Dimension Over Load (ODOL) policy. Proposals the sector has submitted include implementing a multi-axle policy for trucks and improving the quality of certain roads to allow for higher capacity vehicles.

As one of the government’s focus areas – coal – suggests, fuel prices have been a headache for the cement sector in recent years. Warsito noted that international coal prices started to rise in late 2020. This was likely due to the logistical mess that the coronavirus pandemic caused to the global economy. Higher coal prices caused a “significant” effect on the cement industry through both higher production costs and restrictions on supplies. One irony to note here is that Indonesia is one of the world’s leading coal producers. Donny Arsal, the head of Semen Indonesia, told the government in 2022 that the war in Ukraine had enticed local coal companies to export more coal due to the rising international price. At this time he lobbied the administration to use its local domestic market obligation (DMO) subsidy to better serve the cement sector by giving it more coal at a fixed price.

Graph 1: Cement demand and capacity in Indonesia. Source: Semen Indonesia and Indonesia Cement Association.

Graph 1: Cement demand and capacity in Indonesia. Source: Semen Indonesia and Indonesia Cement Association.

Overcapacity has been a recurring feature of the Indonesian cement market since at least the 1990s as the demand and capacity have grown sometimes out of step. The capacity utilisation rate reached 90% in the early 1990s only to fall to 50% by the end of that decade due to the Asian financial crisis. More recently Holcim left the market in 2019 when it sold its business to the Semen Indonesia. The state-owned company consolidated more than half of the country’s cement production capacity at the time. According to its data for the first quarter of 2023 it has a 51% market share and a 46% production capacity share. It also said that 92% of local demand was catered for from four of the country’s 14 producers, namely: Semen Indonesia; Indocement; Conch; and Merah Putih.

A recent study by the Jakarta Post newspaper suggested that after a poor first half in 2023, cement demand was expected to rebound and create modest overall annual growth by the end of the year. The key reasons for this outlook are increased government infrastructure spending, ongoing work on the new capital city Nusantara and anticipated price stability. The new city project, for example, is expected to require 1.6Mt of cement in the 2022 – 2024 period. Risk factors, of course, abound such as a global economic slowdown, financial problems at some of the government-owned construction companies like Waskita Karya and new capacity. A new 8Mt/yr (!) plant owned by local company Kobexindo and China-based Honshi Cement, for instance, is scheduled to start operation in the second half of 2023 in East Kalimantan. Even though the government says that the new unit will export 90% of its production, it will place pressure on other existing sites hoping to increase exports.

The country’s largest cement producer being majority owned by the government is a pertinent feature here given that the same government has also effectively banned new capacity. Semen Indonesia’s earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) have fallen each year consecutively since 2020. As mentioned above overcapacity has long been present in the local sector and recent events have made it worse. Yet, the companies that are likely to benefit the most from a block on newer, competitive cement plants are likely to be the established players. That said, though, with the utilisation just above 50% and new projects like the Kobexindo-Honshi plant on the way, the government likely feels it has to take some form of action. Other tools at its disposal include a national carbon exchange set to launch in September 2023. Power companies will participate from the start with cement producers anticipated to follow at a later stage. Despite the uncertain short-to-medium term outlook the cement sector in Indonesia remains one of the largest in the world with plenty of business to be done. Denmark-based FLSmidth was clearly mindful of this when it opened a new office in Jakarta in April 2023.