Update on Oman, April 2023

Huaxin Cement completed its acquisition of a majority stake in Oman Cement this week. The China-based company estimated that the purchase price was around US$193m. Following the transaction with a subsidiary of the Oman Investment Authority, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, the cement producer now controls just under a 60% share in Oman Cement.

A key part of the deal includes Oman Cement’s integrated plant at Ruwi in the north of the country. The three-line unit has clinker and cement production capacities of 2.6Mt/yr and 3.6Mt/yr respectively. With the partial ownership share of 60% taken into account, this places the capacity purchase price at around US$124/t, a lower figure for capacity compared to other international acquisitions.

Oman Cement has a couple of new projects in the pipeline that have been mentioned on and off previously over the last year or so. These include the construction of a new 10,000t/day fourth production line, an upgrade to line 3 to 4000t/day from 3000t/day at present and plans for a new plant at the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) at Duqm. The company said it was looking for a contractor to carry out the upgrades at the Ruwi plant. However, Rashid bin Sultan al Hashmi, the chair of Oman Cement, said in the company’s annual results for 2022 that the Duqm project, operating under the name Al Sahawa Cement, had run into problems with the supply of gas for the proposed unit. Another recent development was the signing of a deal between Omani Environment Services Holding Company (Be’ah) and Oman Cement for the supply of refuse-derived fuel (RDF). As an aside, that last one may also have received a boost this week with the news that the local Environment Authority has suspended licenses for the export of used tyres from the country.

How these existing projects will fare under the new ownership remains to be seen, but Huaxin Cement has a track record for developing new cement production capacity outside of China. The cement producer describes itself as de-facto controlled by Switzerland-based Holcim although Holcim said in its annual report for 2022 that Huaxin Cement is a joint-venture. It currently operates plants in Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Nepal, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uzbekistan and Zambia and says that it has 10 additional projects in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere in preparation for future business expansion. In 2022 it started operating a 3000t/day production line at Nepal Narayani and commenced the second stage of a project to build a 4000t/day clinker line at Maweni in Tanzania. Plus, as mentioned in our recent roundup of China-based producers, 13% of the group’s operating revenue derived from business outside of China in 2022 compared to 8% in 2021.

Other producers from outside of Oman have also been active locally in 2023. In late January 2023 India-based UltraTech Cement agreed a deal to buy a 70% stake in Duqm Cement Project International from Seven Seas for US$2.25m. The agreement covered a limestone mining lease that UltraTech Cement said was important for “raw material security.”

The other big development in the Oman cement market since we last covered the country in September 2021 was an intervention by the Capital Market Authority (CMA) on Raysut Cement. Trouble at the cement company appeared to start publicly in August 2022 when it commented upon news circulating on social media about its then chief executive officer (CEO) Ghose Jotirmoy Pratul Krishna, who resigned shortly thereafter. The chief financial officer resigned in November 2022 before the CMA questioned the company’s financial results for the second quarter of 2022. The CMA then replaced the board of Raysut Cement in December 2022 saying it had detected ‘material misrepresentation’ in the company’s third quarter results.

The last four months or so have marked a turning point for the local cement sector with a change in leadership for the two largest producers. Oman Cement reported strong growth in 2022 although it warned of “low priced cement being supplied by competitors.” Raysut Cement, unsurprisingly, recorded a loss in 2022. The construction market in the country is expected to grow as the economy leaves the coronavirus period behind, mounting energy prices boost national revenue and potentially some of this heads into infrastructure development. This puts the new management at both producers in a good position going forward.