Smurfit Westrock: How could the merger change paper packaging capacity share in Latin America?

The merger will set new paper packaging market leaders in the region, said Fastmarkets’ analyst

The hottest topic in the packaging market in recent times is the mega-merger of Smurfit Kappa and WestRock, which could potentially create one of the biggest packaging companies in the world.

In Latin America, Smurfit Kappa operates paperboard businesses in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia, while WestRock has operations in Brazil and Mexico. How will this potential mega-merger change the packaging capacity share in the region?

Smurfit Kappa and WestRock to become the largest packaging company in Latin America

The mega-merger between the two global packaging producers will end up creating the largest packaging producer company in Latin America with approximately 14.5% of the region’s capacity share, overtaking Brazilian producer Klabin with 13.4% of the capacity share.

This takes into consideration all grades of packaging paper assessed by Fastmarkets, including corrugated board (containerboard), cartonboard and boxboard grades, wrapping papers and other sorts of industrial packaging papers, according to the latest adjusted capacity estimates in our Fastmarkets’ Latin American Pulp & Paper Five-Year Forecast report and in our Latin American Paper Products Monitor.

Before the merger, WestRock was the second-largest packaging producer in the region, owning around 8.4% of the packaging production capacity in Latin America, followed by Smurfit Kappa, which owned around 6.1% of the production capacity.

Other producers, including multi-national groups, account for 62.2% of the region’s capacity share, meaning that initially, despite the fact that the mega-merger is a game changer for Latin American capacity share, more than half of the market capacity is still pulverized among more than 180 different companies across 15 countries.

The two companies would vertically integrate and complement each other well in markets in which one or the other previously had little or no operations. Internalizing via replicating and integrating businesses is the most efficient organizational structure for this kind of multi-national enterprise, which global value chains (GVC) theories predict.

A risk for this outlook is related to the pending approval of the deal by local anti-trust authorities in all countries in which the two companies own assets.

Packaging production to be concentrated in Brazil and Mexico

The integration of Smurfit Kappa and WestRock also aims to explore scale gains across the production chain, from pulp production (not necessarily in Latin America) to the possibility of internal trade using competitive pulp in its own operations. In other words, it also looks to better scale gains in the upstream segment. The deal also aims to explore bigger consumer markets and a comprehensive structure of corrugating plants in downstream segments.

One of the goals of every multinational is to optimize its organizational form to maximize profits, a basic GVC theory principle. In order to do so, one of the economic puzzles companies need to solve is where and how should production be allocated.

The allocation of productive assets in Latin America reflects two GVC principles: factor advantages and distance to downstream segments. This means that producers will try to allocate production either in places where they can explore local factor advantages, i.e., great availability of wood to produce competitive pulp and paper products, or they will try to place production closer to the final consumer market, which means closer to converters and end-users who buy packaging.

If utilizing local factor advantages is not possible, companies will try to allocate production as close as possible to places where they can use this strategy, reducing transport and transaction costs.

It is no surprise that Brazil and Mexico lead the capacity allocation of packaging papers in Latin America, which totaled around 19.1 million tonnes by 2022, according to our latest estimates.

Brazil accounts for 44.3% of the total Latin American packaging capacity, which has much to do with two factors: wood availability and adequate weather for competitive pulp and paper product production. Many producers, including leading packaging producer Klabin, explore those advantages and can export production offshore at very competitive rates. In addition, Brazil is home to one of the largest packaging markets in Latin America, and allocating production there means that it will be closer to corrugators and consumers.

Mexico is the second-leading producer of packaging in the region, representing about 28.7% of total packaging capacity, reflecting one of the GVC principles: the proximity of the country to important consumer markets. About 80% of Mexican consumer goods production is exported to the US, a trade flow that is benefited by the geographic proximity of the two countries.

Mexico cannot grow trees or produce as much virgin paper as Brazil due to unsuitable weather and soil conditions, but it can easily import both pulp and paper grades from the US and has specialized in the production of recycled paper product grades to ship its consumer goods production offshore.

Other countries represent a smaller share of the packaging capacity in the region, with the next largest in Chile, Argentina and Colombia. In those countries, there is some production of virgin paper like there is some production of pulp, although it does not compare Brazilian production. Those countries are also the three next-largest packaging markets in the region, mostly due to fruit exports and some domestic relevance.

Impact on paper packaging markets by country

Here is a summary of the impact of the Smurfit Kappa and Westrock merger on paper packaging markets in four Latin American countries: Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia.

  • Brazil: The merger will mostly affect the containerboard market because the two companies do not produce other paper product grades.
  • Mexico: The merger will affect the whole packaging market in Mexico, as the two companies produce all sorts of packaging paper in the country.
  • Argentina: The merger will initially not affect the Argentinian market, but this could change in the future.
  • Colombia: The Colombian packaging market was already led by Smurfit Kappa before the merger.

For a full in-depth analysis of the impact of the merger on the four countries and to access all the data charts included as a part of this report, sign up here.

Case Study

Learn how to monitor packaging prices using cost and price indices and understand the underlying cost drivers, from material cost to labor, energy and more. Examples include cartonboard, liquid container and paper bag.

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