Fitch affirms Central Asia Cement rating revises Outlook upward, Kazakhstan

Fitch affirms Central Asia Cement rating revises Outlook upward, Kazakhstan

Fitch Ratings has affirmed Central Asia Cement's (CAC) National Long-Term Rating at 'BB-(kaz)' and revised the joint stock company's Outlook to Positive from Stable. The agency has also affirmed CAC's senior unsecured KZT1.5bn bond rating at 'B(kaz)'.

"The completion of Steppe Cement's capital increae reinforces CAC's financial structure and should allow financing of the investment in the Line 5 refurbishment, while reducing leverage," Fitch said in a statement, adding: "The group is still exposed to high operational risk due to its concentration on the volatile Kazakh cement market."

Key drivers

Investment plan financed

CAC's parent company successfully completed of its GBP10m (US$16m) capital increase to fund its latest modernisation project. The proceeds will be transferred to the operating companies via an intra-group loan and used to finance the completion of the Line 5 refurbishment. The capital increase proceeds and CAC's KZT1.5bn (US$9.5m) unsecured bond issue completed in November mean that the group r aised most of the US$30m needed to complete its investment in Line 5. The residual US$5m will be financed from the internal cash generation.

Stronger financial structure

The capital increase significantly improves the group's financial structure. Fitch expects FFO net leverage to decline to below 2.0x at end-2012 (from 2.6x at end-2011). The revision of the Outlook to Positive reflects the agency's expectation that gross leverage will materially improve from 2013, when Steppe Cement will repay part of its long-term bank facilities. The agency's forecasts FFO gross leverage will fall below 2.0x in 2013 and 2014.

High operational risk

CAC's ratings reflect the high operational risk, as the group is present exclusively in the Kazakh cement market that has been extremely volatile in terms of both volumes and prices in recent years. The potential realisation of additional capacity from a number of competitors could cause a demand/supply imbalance in the next few years, which could put pressure on cement prices and on industry margins. Moreover, Steppe Cement operates a single cement production plant, thus increasing the operational risk. Lastly, the completion of the Line 5 projects is still subject to execution risk.

Solid market positioning

The ratings reflect Steppe Cement's leading position in the Kazakh cement market, with a share of 20 per cent, and its cost advantage over its competitors, thanks to the favourable location of its Karaganda plant, which has been partially renovated to use dry-process technology. The rating and Positive Outlook also reflect the current positive market trend, with double-digit growth in both cement volume and prices in 2012, and the healthy long-term prospects for cement demand in Kazakhstan, backed by solid GDP growth, strong potential for residential demand, and by the upgrading of infrastructure.