The Bangladeshi cement industry has been busy over the last month. Both Vietnam and Iran have marked up the country as a major destination for their exports. No change there, but Saudi Arabia has also started to join them as its producers have started announcing clinker export deals to the country. Alongside this there have also been production upgrades announced from MI Cement, Chhatak Cement and a Saudi-led partnership. Also, just before Christmas, Shah Cement inaugurated the world’s largest vertical roller mill (VRM) with a 8.1m grinding table, supplied by Denmark’s FLSmidth, at its Muktarpur plant in Munshiganj.

Md Shahidullah, vice president of the Bangladesh Cement Manufacturers Association (BCMA), described 2018 as a good year for the local industry to local media. Cement sales rose to 33Mt and consumption grew by 12% year-on-year.

The country has an integrated production capacity of 8.4Mt/yr from eight plants according to Global Cement Directory data. The main plants are Chhatak Cement and Lafarge Surma Cement. Locally produced clinker accounts for about 20% of the country’s needs, with the other 80% imported from abroad. Hence, the action is really with the grinding plants and the country has over 30 of them. A market report by EBL Securities in mid-2017 reckoned that local cement production capacity was 40Mt/yr but that actual production was around 32Mt in the 2016 – 2017 reporting year due to problems with power supplies and so on. Given the focus on grinding it’s interesting to note imports of clinker. These rose by 9% year-on-year to a value of US$518m in 2017 – 2018, the highest figure since 2014 – 2015. Not all of this may be consumption related since the local currency, the Taka, depreciated against the US dollar in 2017 and 2018.

Back in 2016 the market leaders were Shah Cement, LafargeHolcim Bangladesh, Bashundhara Group, Seven Rings Cement and HeidelbergCement. They accounted for about half of the market share. Of these LafargeHolcim Bangladesh saw its revenue nearly double year-on-year to US$101m from US$58m in the first half of 2018. Its profit did double to US$6.3m from US$2.7m. The company is a joint venture between LafargeHolcim, Spain’s Cementos Molins and other partners.

Bangladesh suits a grinding-based industry due to its high level of navigable waterways and low levels of limestone. In some respects though the country is a glimpse of what future cement markets might look like. Its lack of raw materials means it focuses on grinding and a clinker-rich world plays right into this. This creates an oversaturated market full of lots of companies due to the lower cost of setting up a grinding business or cement trading. In theory this should be great for end consumers and the general development of the country. After all Bangladesh has a high population, of 164 million, and a low gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, US$4561, and similarly low per capita consumption of cement. The downside though is that reliance on external raw materials. Any changes to exchange rates or material supply puts the entire industry at risk or puts prices in flux. In the meantime though the interest by Saudi exporters adds an interesting dynamic to a crowded market.