Three private equity (PE) majors are in the final stages of negotiations with Lafarge India, country arm of the France-based multinational in building materials, to acquire a minority stake.
The three PE entities are the Singapore government-owned Temasek Holdings, Carlyle and Standard Chartered PE. According to sources in the know, these three are in the final stages of talks to invest $250-300 million (Rs 1,358-1,629 crore) in the company. There were other PE entities which were interested at one stage, such as KKR, TPG Capital and Blackstone; these have since withdrawn, it is learnt. Lazard is advising Lafarge India for the fund raising.
Since global PE major Kohlberg Kravis Roberts' buying a 21 per cent stake in an unlisted entity of Dalmia Cement (Bharat)
for Rs 750 crore in 2010, the sector has been an attractive area for investors. When queries, Tan Yong Meng, spokesperson for Temasek, said: "As a company, we are unable to comment on market talk or speculation." A Carlyle spokesperson said the same thing. An email to Lafarge India did not elicit a response till the time of going to press.
Lafarge started its India operations after buying Tata Steel's cement business in 1999. In 2000, Lafarge had acquired Raymond
Ltd's cement division in eastern India for Rs 785 crore. The company entered in the area of ready-mix concrete in 2008 by buying Larsen and Toubro's business. With its Concreto and Duraguard brands, Lafarge now has four cement factories in India, two in Chhattisgarh and grinding units in Jharkhand and West Bengal. It runs 80 plants in the ready-mix concrete business.
The parent company has been struggling to reduce its debt of 12.2 billion and so, is unable to fund the expansion of its subsidiary in India, the reason cited for Lafarge India's plans raise money through equity dilution. Since 2005, the Indian cement sector has witnessed six PE deals worth $248 mn, while 27 mergers and acquisitions worth $1.8 bn took place during the same period.
However, growth in the sector continues to remain slow due to sluggish consumption from the housing & infrastructure segments. A recent HDFC
report said the recent correction (10 per cent in three months) of stocks provides a good opportunity to investors to buy into the segment. "Demand traction worsened post October 2012 due to a number of reasons: inclement weather, lack of funds and drought-like situation in some large markets. While some of these may persist for a while, cement demand will eventually bounce back to its trend rate," the report said.
According to Ravi Sodah, cement analyst, Elara Capital Plc, the capacity utilisation levels of Indian cement makers may bottom out in FY13. "In the long run, cement demand is expected to grow 1.2 times the GDP growth rate, which makes the sector an attractive one for long-term investors such as private equity," he said.
A recent ICICI Securities report said, "Though we expect lowest growth in FY13, we believe the demand/supply scenario will improve on the back of the coming assembly and general elections, pick-up in infra spending by the government and revival in private sector spending on likely reversal of interest rate cycles. The utilisation rate is expected to improve to 77 per cent in FY15, as incremental demand of 21.5 mt is likely to surpass the effective capacity addition of 19 mt."