cement

Cemex, the Mexican cement giant, is breathing a little sigh of relief.

It had been biting its nails ahead of a ruling from an Egyptian appeals court on whether its 1999 purchase, in a privatisation, of Assiut Cement Company (ACC), should stand. 

So much for cementing a recovery. Cemex, the Mexican cement company that is one of the biggest in the industry in the world, disappointed with another loss in the third quarter that was significantly bigger than the market had been expecting. Bloomberg said it was the 16th straight quarterly loss.

Cutting its coat according to its cloth, it also announced a reduction in capex to $620m this year from expectations of $700m. 

Shares in Ambuja Cements, a Mumbai-listed company controlled by Holcim, a Swiss cement maker, dropped a whopping 15 per cent on Thursday before see-sawing wildly. It was about 12 per cent down in afternoon trading.

The stock took a beating as investors digested new from Holcim that it would increase its stake in Ambuja from 50.5 per cent to 61.4 per cent, while a merger of Holcim India with Ambuja would result in the Indian company gaining a majority stake in Holcim’s other subsidiary, ACC. 

Concrete returns are hard to come by in these troubles times, so Cementos Argos’s $1bn share offering is shaping up to be popular.

Colombia’s leading cement producer increased its profits last year by 5.9 per cent, to $218m, on the back of strong investments in Panama, the United States and Colombia. 

According to its vice-president of finance, Fernando González, “2012 was a year of recovery for Cemex”.

It was, but the recovery still faces a long slog, judging by the fourth quarter results reported on Thursday by the Mexican cement and building materials giant. 

Carlos Slim is not one to waste any time.

Having only announced three months ago that Elementia, his building materials conglomerate, would enter the cement-making business, the world’s richest man on Wednesday announced plans to scale up the unit by teaming up with Lafarge, the world’s largest cement maker. 

Cemex, one of the world’s largest cement producers, on Thursday obtained an important green light along the road back to financial health: regulatory approval to sell a minority stake in its Central and South American assets.

The signal, given by authorities in Colombia, where the Mexican-based cement producer intends to list the assets, should significantly help Cemex to continue paying down debt after coming unstuck in 2008. 

Take one look at Mexico’s corporate landscape, and one of the first conclusions is that each of the business sectors is dominated by one or, more commonly, two groups.

The resulting lack of competition is a constant theme in discussions on why the economy has not performed better during the last decade or more. But Tuesday brought a small but important sign that things may slowly be changing: Elementia, an industrial conglomerate partly owned by Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire, announced that it would enter the country’s cement market

By Pan Kwan Yuk and Andres Schipani

Of all the places in the world to find a cheerleader for the US economy, Colombia is probably not the first country that comes to mind.

And yet, a US bull is exactly what you will find in the Andean country – in the form of Cementos Argos, Colombia’s leading cement producer. 

Africa’s not big enough for Aliko Dangote, Nigeria’s richest man. Dangote is planning to take Dangote Cement, his flagship company, into the rest of the world – starting with Iraq and Myanmar, where plant construction could begin next year.

After that, Indonesia, Brazil and Chile are all on the list, with Dangote planning to reach 60m tonnes of annual production outside Africa, on top of 40m within the continent – and so achieve a target of 100m tonnes of annual output “in the next five years”. If that sounds ambitious, it’s no more remarkable than what the Nigerian billionaire has already done. 

Stick a pin on a world map, and you’re fairly sure to hit one of the 50 countries where Cemex has operations and more than 100 with which it trades.

Which is why it is almost anyone’s guess where the Mexico-based cement maker is likely to wield the axe under a new asset sale announced Monday in tandem with a debt restructuring. 

It’s been quite a week for Cemex. Just one day after the company announced that creditors holding 91.5 per cent of a US$7.3bn loan had accepted a refinancing offer that includes extending maturities by three years, the Mexican cement manufacturer said it planned to sell a minority stake in its Latin America operations.

Both pieces of news went down well: Cemex shares on Mexico’s stock exchange have jumped more than 4.5 per cent in the past five days and are now trading at levels about 50 per cent higher than at the start of the year. 

India’s biggest cement manufacturers began the new fiscal year by reporting upbeat quarterly profits this week, breezing along in spite of continuing gloom in the rest of the economy and an unprecedented penalty from the country’s competition watchdog.

Shares in UltraTech, Ambuja Cements, and ACC were mixed as the cement-makers posted an average 25 per cent rise in net profit for the previous quarter compared with the same period last year. Notwithstanding high fuel costs and a supply glut, the companies’ performance got a boost from high prices for the grey stuff. 

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) late on Thursday announced a whopping $1bn fine on 11 major cement companies, by far the largest such penalty it has ever imposed (and nearly twice the amount previously reported).

The increasingly-aggressive watchdog ordered the companies, which include majors such as Ultratech, ACC, and Binani, to hand over half the profits made in the past two years, with an additional penalty on the industry body, the Cement Manufacturers Association. Cement stocks are bound to feel the effects when trading opens in Mumbai on Friday. 

India’s competition watchdog is expected to fine some of the country’s biggest cement manufacturers for price collusion, in a move likely to dampen the industry’s recent profit-making spree.

The  Competition Commission of India (CCI) is expected to announce on Thursday a collective penalty of $536m on 11 companies for restricting production and inflating prices. If confirmed, it will be the largest penalty ever imposed on companies by the commission. Bad news for the shareholders but good news for the construction industry.