Higher price: A labourer works at a construction site in Kuala Lumpur. The average net selling price for cement in Peninsular Malaysia is expected to rise by 8% to RM260 per tonne in 2021. PETALING JAYA: The building material industry is poised for modest growth next year as operating conditions improve and construction activities gradually resume following the easing of movement restrictions. But as the industry looks forward to new property launches and with the rollout of infrastructure projects, analysts remain cautious on the sector given the considerable risk to recovery. AmInvestment Bank maintained its “neutral” stance for the building material sector but noted that the cement sector in Peninsular Malaysia has turned the corner as construction activities and new property launches gradually resumed and as cement players reverted to more rational competition following a shakeout in 2019. “Meanwhile, we expect the recent aluminium price gains to hold, underpinned by the recovery in aluminium consuming industries, particularly the automobile sector in China, ” it said. The research house projected that the average net cement selling price in Peninsular Malaysia will rise by 8% to RM260 per tonne in 2021, compared with an estimated RM240 per tonne this year. It said conditions are conducive for a price hike for cement, given the emergence of a price leader in the market that controlled close to 60% of total industry clinker capacity following YTL Cement Bhd’s acquisition of Malayan Cement in 2019. Additionally, there is an easing of supply pressure on the market after Malayan Cement and Cement Industries of Malaysia Bhd or CIMA put one clinker plant each offline, effectively removing annual clinker capacity totalling 2 million tonnes – equivalent to 8% of industry clinker capacity – from the market. “Meanwhile, we project cement consumption in Peninsular Malaysia to only improve by 5% to 4.4 million tonnes in 2021 from 4.2 million tonnes estimated in 2020, driven by the gradual resumption of construction activities of ongoing projects and new property launches. “We do not foresee the rollout of new mega public infrastructure projects by the government such as the MRT3 (scaled down to RM21bil) and the KL–Singapore High-Speed Rail (scaled down to RM68bil) over the immediate term, given the high national debt, ” AmInvestment said. As for the aluminium segment, it projected a 15% rise in average aluminium price to US$2,050 (RM8,273) per tonne in 2021 compared with US$1,780 estimated for 2020, driven largely by the robust recovery in the automotive market in China. China became a net importer of aluminium in July and Aug 2020, bringing down the aluminium inventory at the London Metal Exchange (LME). China is the largest producer and consumer of aluminium in the world with a global share in excess of 50%. AmInvestment noted that S&P Global projected that China’s light vehicle sales would expand by 4%-6% in 2021 and 2%-4% in 2022. “We believe the numbers are achievable, taking our cue from the fact that China’s auto sales have effectively recovered to pre-pandemic levels. The icing on the cake was the high-end segment (+30% year-on-year) actually outpacing the mass market’s in 2020, ” it said. AmInvestment said it may upgrade its “neutral” call on the sector to “overweight” if prices exceeded its assumptions, whereby demand for cement could get a boost due to the rollout of mega public infrastructure projects and aluminium could benefit from stronger-than-expected recovery in the global economy. On the other hand, the sector may be downgraded to “underweight” if the much anticipated recovery in both local and global economies fails to materialise.
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