Update on UltraTech Cement, November 2023

Update on UltraTech Cement, November 2023

UltraTech Cement approved a US$1.5bn capacity expansion plan this week. The initiative intends to add 21.9Mt/yr in production capacity by setting up four new cement plants, four upgrades and four new terminals. It will also add 39MW in waste heat recovery (WHR) units and alternative fuels feeding and handling investments. Commercial production at the new sites is scheduled to start from the 2026 financial year onwards.

The company is India’s largest cement producer by production capacity and the third biggest globally outside of China. Yet it is still growing as this latest announcement shows. Kumar Mangalam Birla, the chair of parent company Aditya Birla Group, revealed the ambition earlier this year, that UltraTech Cement wants to reach a production capacity of 200Mt/yr in the near future. This is likely to be ordinary Portland cement (OPC) capacity from both integrated and grinding plants. It reported a figure of 132Mt/yr in its annual report for the 2023 financial year. This latest capacity investment is its third in recent years. In December 2020 it announced investment of just below US$560m to add 12.8Mt/yr of capacity with commissioning by around the end of the 2023 financial year. It later confirmed that most of this had been completed on schedule. Then another US$1.55bn investment was ordered in June 2022 to add 22.6Mt/yr. This tranche of new plants and terminals is planned to be completed by the end of the 2025 financial year.

Graph 1: UltraTech Cement’s OPC production capacity and utilisation rate, 2017 - 2023 financial years. Source: Company annual reports.

Graph 1: UltraTech Cement’s OPC production capacity and utilisation rate, 2017 – 2023 financial years. Source: Company annual reports.

The graph above shows how the company’s capacity has grown since 2017. This is the year in which it acquired 21Mt/yr of capacity from Jaiprakash Associates for US$2.5bn. These plants then show up in the capacity figure for 2018. The next big bump to capacity arrived in 2019 when UltraTech Cement was able to complete its purchase of Century Textiles & Industries, adding another 15Mt/yr of capacity. Since then though it has mainly been newly built plants or upgrades. It is also worth noting the capacity utilisation figures the company has reported. There has generally been an upward trend since 2017 with a dip during the Covid-19 pandemic years in 2020 and 2021. This has also been happening despite adding more capacity through both acquisitions and building new plants. The other point to note is that the cement company is mostly a wholly India-based one. It has presences in the UAE, Bahrain and Sri Lanka but these are small compared to the operations back home. In the 2023 financial year, 23 of its 24 integrated plants were domestic, 25 out of 29 grinding plants were and seven out of eight terminals were too.

UltraTech Cement’s current nearest rival, Adani Group, appeared on the scene in 2022 when it bought Holcim’s subsidiaries in India. The timing may have been coincidental but, after Holcim agreed to sell to Adani Group in May 2022, UltraTech Cement announced its US$1.55bn capacity drive in June 2022. A year later in June 2023 Adani Group targeted a capacity of 140Mt/yr by 2028. To give an idea of the market both of these companies are competing in, Ratings Agency ICRA’s last forecast in September 2024 predicted that cement volumes would grow by 9 – 10% in the 2024 financial year. Capacity expansion by all cement producers was expected to be driven by “steady demand for housing and increased government investments in infrastructure.”

UltraTech Cement may be the fastest expanding cement company in the world at the moment. India certainly needs the cement as its population overtook China’s in April 2023. The Aditya Birla Group company is not taking any chances with its competitors by maintaining its lead in capacity. One risk it may want to watch out for though is India’s nascent Carbon Credit Trading Scheme. Some form of carbon trading for the petrochemicals, steel, cement and paper sectors looks set to start in the second half of the 2020s. However, any such scheme is likely to favour incumbent manufacturers with newer plants. With the country’s net zero target set at 2070, UltraTech Cement has plenty of room to manoeuvre.