No overarching theme this week but rather four changes of note in different markets. The first is Lehigh Hanson’s agreement to buy the integrated Bath plant in Pennsylvania, US, from Giant Cement, a subsidiary of Mexico’s Elementia.

Lehigh Hanson, a subsidiary of Germany’s HeidelbergCement, plans to pay US$151m for the 1.1Mt/yr unit giving it a cost of US$137/t of cement capacity. That’s a similar price that Elementia paid when it acquired Giant Cement in 2016.

The Mexican conglomerate paid US$220m for a 55% stake in 2016 for three cement plants with a combined production capacity of 2.8Mt/yr or US$143/t.

The purchase by HeidelbergCement draws a line following problems selling its business activities in Ukraine. The group blamed a drop in profit in the first half of 2019 on this. Since then though it has been linked to a takeover of UltraTech’s stake in Emirates Cement, the owner of the 0.5Mt/yr Emirates grinding plant in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Buying a cement plant in North America, its second most lucrative region after Western and Southern Europe, looks set to be a wise investment.

The timing here is interesting given that Elementia, the building materials company partly-owned by ‘Mexico’s richest man,’ Carlos Slim, has been steadily expanding in recent years.

As stated above it only acquired Giant Cement in 2016. However, its net sales and earnings fell in the second quarter of 2019 caused by a market contraction in Mexico affecting all of its businesses. Sales from its cement businesses in the US and Central America grew but they fell by 6% at home in Mexico. Elementia said that proceeds from the sale of the Bath plant will be used for debt repayment and ‘general’ corporate purposes.

Notably, Ricardo Naya Barba, the president of Cemex Mexico, has also described the local market as ‘difficult’ this week, in comments reported upon by local media.

Meanwhile in Africa, China’s Huaxin Cement purchased Maweni Limestone from Athi River Mining (ARM) Cement in Tanzania as part of the latter’s on-going administration process. Local press reported the transaction as costing US$116m and subject to regulatory approval.

This one’s interesting because it shows a major Chinese cement producer buying related assets outside of China. This is likely part of the country’s Belt & Road Initiative to develop industry and infrastructure around the world and to give its overproducing industries new markets. Perhaps the surprise here is that Huaxin Cement hasn’t gone after the rest of Kenya’s ARM Cement… yet.

The other African news story of note this week was the confirmation that Singapore’s International Cement Group (ICG)’s intended purchase of Schwenk Namibia had failed. This deal was announced in March 2019 but it later ran into trouble when the Singapore Exchange blocked the proposed acquisition in June 2019 on the grounds that ICG didn’t appear to have the money to pay for it.

Lastly, Yamama Cement announced that it wants to sell its Production Lines 1-5, which have a daily clinker production capacity of 5600t/day. The producer previously temporarily shut down the lines in 2017 and it has been planning to build a new cement plant. Since then though it has faced shrinking sales and profits in the tough Saudi Arabian market.

The takeaway from all of this is that, despite the doom and gloom of a world producing too much clinker, some cement companies are targeting growth in specific territories. Sometimes these schemes succeed, as in the case of HeidelbergCement and Huaxin Cement, and sometimes they don’t, as ICG has found out. Heavy building materials like cement are costly to move around so a plant or assets in the right place at the right time can make a fortune.