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NEWS

Holcim takes ‘rock star’ North American business to Wall Street

By John Revill

ZURICH (Reuters) – Holcim Chief Executive Jan Jenisch on Monday described his company’s North American operation, which the Swiss building materials firm plans to spin off next year, as a “rock star business.”

Although he would hardly say much else about a business he wants to list in New York next year, with a potential $30 billion valuation, he may be right, analysts and investors said.

Holcim on Sunday announced it was spinning off 100% of its North American business in the biggest shake-up at the cement maker since it bought French rival Lafarge in 2015.

Its biggest shareholder, Thomas Schmidheiny – a member of the company’s founding family and a former chairman, said the transaction followed “industrial logic.”

The division, which now has sales of $11 billion has been a star performer for Holcim in recent years, increasing its sales by an average of 20% per year.

Helped by a string of big ticket acquisitions particularly in roofing, operating profit has also sharply increased.

The business, which also supplies cement and aggregates, now wants to increase annual sales to $20 billion by 2030, mainly through organic growth and small acquisitions.

Doing deals in dollars will be an advantage, Jenisch said.

With 850 sites and 16,000 staff, Holcim has the scale to succeed in the vast U.S. building materials market where a constantly growing population – unlike in China where the population is declining – will provide market opportunities, analysts said.

The company has already identified a potential market of $175 billion for its products in North America.

Accelerated growth with President Joe Biden’s signature Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act will unleash spending to help rebuild America’s crumbling airports, bridges and roads, as well as support U.S. manufacturing as the re-shoring trend continues.

More than 100 infrastructure projects have already been secured, while Jenisch brushed off concerns these programmes could be derailed if Biden lost this year’s presidential election.

Jenisch did not expect any change, whoever occupied The White House, saying Biden and his likely challenger Donald Trump both had similar economic policies.

“This re-industrialization of the U.S. was started with the previous president, and while the current president and the previous one appear to be a different people, their economic policy is very consistent,” he said.

U.S. single-family homebuilding surged to more than a 1-1/2-year high in November and could gain further momentum, with declining mortgage rates and incentives from builders likely to draw potential buyers back into the housing market.

Analysts say the long term prospects for the business look good.

“Holcim’s North American operations were successful in the past years and as a stand-alone business it has the chance to become even more agile and more successful, especially with an American management and American Board of Directors,” said Bank Vontobel analyst Mark Diethelm.

Jenisch, who is due to step down as CEO at the end of April but remain chairman of Holcim, has been tasked by the board to steer the planned U.S. listing in the coming months.

Zuercher Kantonalbank’s Martin Huesler said Jenisch’s track record and the company’s strong recent performance in North America bode well for the standalone business.

“No doubt the expectations of Holcim are ambitious, but so far CEO Jan Jenisch has never disappointed,” he said.

 

(This story has been refiled to remove an extraneous word in paragraph 8)

 

(Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)

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