SUNDAY TIMES - PPC expands in Africa despite stiff rivalry
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Sunday Times Business By TAWANDA KAROMBO, 2017-03-19 00:00:00.0

PPC expands in Africa despite stiff rivalry

PPC CEO Darryll Castle on July 3, 2015.
Image: Daylin Paul

PPC is investing more in Africa despite challenges such as slow demand and oversupply of cement products, CEO Darryll Castle said on Thursday as the group opened a $300-million (about R3.8-billion) plant in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Congo plant started production this month, while its Ethiopian operation is behind schedule by about two weeks.

And PPC's Zimbabwe operation this week commissioned a new $82-million cement plant in Harare, with capital expenditure being about $3-million below the initial targeted budget of $85-million.

"We are seeing slower demand in Africa and there is overcapacity.

"A lot of cement factories have been built in Africa, but demand has been somewhat slow," Castle said.

Jumai Mohammed, an equities analyst at Exotix Partners, said PPC would compete directly with Dangote Cement in Ethiopia, "where we have seen close to 40% declines in prices" after the entry of Dangote to the market.

PPC will also compete with international players such as Lucky Cement and Heidelberg in the Congo.

As more and more cement factories are built in Africa, the subsequent oversupply results in "pressure on prices" across most African markets.

In South Africa, said Castle, PPC was also having to deal with an influx of cheap imports, although the "market has managed to limit" disruption from imports.

According to research by Ecobank, annual cement consumption per capita across sub-Saharan Africa is significantly below the world average of 500kg, with the region's largest markets in Nigeria (126kg), Ghana (187kg), Kenya (80kg) and Ethiopia (61kg).

There is potential for growth although experts say price pressures from the high competition and oversupply will persist.

Mohammed said there was growing "implementation of import bans or higher import tariffs in some key markets, including South Africa and Zimbabwe", and that this would be positive for volumes.

"However, we have also seen an aggressive capacity roll-out in the sector, led by both international and indigenous companies like Dangote Cement and PPC, which has implied a fiercer competitive landscape and considerable pricing pressures," he said.

But it is not just increasing competition that is presenting challenges.

Kelibone Masiyane, MD of PPC Zimbabwe, said delays in foreign payments for spares or machinery sourced from other countries were hindering the company's operations.

He also said that Zimbabwe's high production-cost base was forcing the company to institute measures to keep its costs down.

"From July 2016, the duration is getting longer for processing payments and this has slowed down transactions as we rely more on imports for spares and other equipment for our manufacturing operations," Masiyane said.

PPC Zimbabwe produces about 1.8million tons of cement a year, including 700000 tons from its new Harare plant, and some production is set to be exported to neighbouring countries.

PPC is hoping that the exports to other countries in the region such as Mozambique will boost its foreign-currency generation capacity, to offset the liquidity constraints that continue to hobble Zimbabwe.

There have been calls for the use of the rand in Zimbabwe from industrialists and manufacturers, but the government has not been keen, even as inflation has started to creep up.

Despite these woes, PPC said current problems in Zimbabwe also provided opportunities, especially as it had already complied with the contentious indigenisation policy, which required foreign companies to sell 51% of their business to local partners.