Now Hugo's Taking On Cemex

Hugo Chavez is at it again. Last year, it was a group of major oil companies that were pushed aside by his nationalization program for Venezuela. Now, it looks like a trio of big international cement producers will be treated similarly.

On Thursday, Chavez announced that rather than permit a trio of cement producers -- Mexico's Cemex (NYSE: CX  ) , France's Lafarge, and Swiss producer Holcim -- to export cement manufactured in his country, the companies' plants will be nationalized. In so doing, he'll be able to retain their output for use in dealing with a domestic housing shortage.

The affected companies are the world's three largest cement producers. In Venezuela, Cemex operates three plants with a combined capacity of about 4.6 million tons a year. Its Venezuelan operations currently account for just 2% of its worldwide revenues, and its three plants there are part of a 67-plant global total for the company. The combined capacity of all those facilities is about 96.7 million tons annually.

Just about a year ago Chavez similarly expropriated the Orinoco River basin operations of half a dozen major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM  ) , Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) , ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) , and France's Total (NYSE: TOT  ) . Four of the companies accepted the nation's buyout terms, Conoco is attempting to negotiate a settlement, and Exxon is pursuing international arbitration. Chavez has also nationalized his nation's electricity and telecommunications industries.

It's too early to know what will happen to the cement plants. During a television address, Chavez claimed that they're polluting excessively. He said, "We are going to prepare a plan to modernize these cement plants."

I'm not inclined to alter my investment stance on Cemex based on Hugo's shenanigans. Cemex remains well positioned to benefit from a recovery in U.S. housing and also to grow nicely on the basis of industrialization and expansion across much of the planet.

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