Wednesday, 04 July 2007 02:00

Bags of opportunity?

Women's empowerment group Wiphold and a Cape Town-based construction company, Coessa, say they will start to import cement from China at "competitive prices" in coming months.

Construction IndustryWiphold finance director Tryphosa Ramano says it is not possible to calculate a stable price for the cement because it is exposed to the rand-dollar exchange rate. It is currently possible to land cement in Durban for US$40/t. "But this doubles with handling and bringing the cement up to Gauteng," Ramano says.

Wiphold has formed a joint venture with Tangshan Jidong Cement (Jidong) to import a cement called Dunshi.

Coessa director Adam Essa says since news broke of his company's supply deal with Singapore-based Evermont International, he has taken at least a dozen orders totalling tens of thousands of tons.

He will not divulge the landed cost of the product but says he expects to sell it for about $93/t. At the present rate of R7,13, a 50 kg bag of this cement will sell for R33,50. Local building suppliers are charging R50-R60. A year ago the price was R36.

Evermont MD Lim Hong Siang has "conservatively calculated" SA's annual cement shortage to be over 5 Mt. "The four big companies in SA are currently producing 13 Mt-14 Mt annually. According to statistics, total usage is set to be around 20 Mt this year."

Independent industry analyst Mark Kingham disputes these numbers. "I don't know where they get them," he says. "The SA cement market is broadly in balance. The supply situation is tight, I agree, but we are nowhere near a 5 Mt shortage."

Kingham says new capacity which will start to come on stream in the next nine months will gradually reduce the need for imports. Already it appears that Pretoria Portland Cement (PPC) will need to import only half the cement it previously predicted. Kingham adds: "If you're importing cement, you're transporting a dead weight. These container ships also leak like colanders, so even if the bags don't break there is a good chance there is going to be spoilage."

Lafarge SA CEO Albert Corcos says a previous attempt by his company to import Chinese cement "translated into a loss". Lafarge's experience shows that if it had managed to get all its logistics right, even cement supplied to coastal regions would have been cost-neutral. "As soon as you start hauling it, you start losing money. Transport is not cost-effective."

JP Morgan analyst Marc ter Mors says it is possible to make money on Chinese cement imports but doubts it can be achieved consistently. A rise in shipping rates from China or a dip in the rand's strength would wipe out profits. "It's a low-margin business and it is likely that they will make margin only in the coastal areas," Ter Mors says.

He agrees with Corcos that once cement is moved to Gauteng, where demand is strongest, transport and handling costs are too high.

"It is possible that at a certain point in time you will be able to make money on the imports but it is questionable whether that can be done sustainably."

He adds that companies have gone bust in Namibia after underestimating the complexity and cost of importing cement. "I think it would be quite difficult to build a sustainable business out of this." However, he adds that if local companies continue to push up prices - some have risen by as much as 20% this year - importers will have a better chance of profit.

Wiphold appears to be aware of some of the challenges. "SA is not geared for the importing of cement," admits Ramano, but she says that because Wiphold has no overhead costs associated with importing the product, there is less pressure on margins.

She admits Wiphold has not yet found any customers. "You don't get commitments until you can guarantee continuity of supply," she says.

Wiphold expects to take delivery of a first shipment in October. It hopes customers will make their own collection and transport arrangements. If not, it hopes to get Grindrod or Spoornet to offer bulk services.

Lack of customers is not the only problem facing Wiphold. Ramano says the Durban port's warehouse facilities are limited and can handle only 25 000 t/ month of cement.

Importing cement from China is Wiphold's first step to cash in on the rapid acceleration in infrastructure investment. Ramano says it is investigating the possibility of building a cement-making plant with Jidong.

Until then, the partners will have their work cut out bringing in the cement. Kingham says: "If it was easy to make money by importing cement, the big guys would have done it ages ago. "

 

A high-speed rail link between Johannesburg and Durban, which the Department of Transport (DoT) had “agreed to in principle” and was awaiting approval for, was an “absolute nonstarter”, Arup South Africa transport economics adviser Andrew Marsay argues.

Rail utility Spoornet is set to increase its freight capacity 30% over the next five years while at the same time reducing the cost of doing business in SA, President Thabo Mbeki told Parliament on Friday.

Tuesday, 02 December 2003 02:00

Modern rail link for Eastern Cape

Spoornet said yesterday that the construction of the railway line linking the port of Coega to Port Elizabeth was firmly on track.

SA's trade with Africa, particularly exports, has surged dramatically in the post-isolation years, with average annual export growth greater than with traditional trading partners.

New rail strategy in Eastern Cape to bring heavy haulers on track, and link up with the port and planned industrial zone in East London

Friday, 01 November 2002 02:00

Cement price hikes 'hurt building sector'.

Members of the building industry are reeling from the shock of a proposed 20% hike in the price of cement. This follows a double digit price rise in the past year.

Construction IndustryThe proposed price rise is likely to lead to a substantial increase in building costs. Stellenbosch University's Bureau for Economic Research (BER) warned yesterday that, together with higher interest rates, a weighty rise in the price of cement would contribute to building work being less affordable and would lead to a slowdown in demand.

Ultimately, this will have a negative effect on the economy.

Cement producers PPC, Alpha and Lafarge would not comment on what their price hikes would be yesterday. However, a number of concrete product manufacturers have said that PPC, for one, had indicated a 20% price rise in January.

The rise would not be applicable to all clients, because prices vary between clients and cement product types, but double-digit rises were expected all round.

The BER's Charles Martin said cement sales were on the rise for the first time in years, and that now would be considered an ideal time for cement producers to introduce substantial price hikes.

PPC and Alpha said their price hikes were based mainly on increases in their input costs, which were affected by the depreciation of the rand. Capital equipment and spares, for instance, were sourced mostly from the US and Europe.

PPC also fingered Spoornet's prices and inefficiency as contributing factors to rising cement prices. Colin Jones of PPC said problems with rail availability had forced the cement producer to switch to more expensive road transport in some instances.

PPC and Alpha said price shifts were not based on attempts to come in line with international pricing or to move towards import parity pricing.

Lafarge declined to comment on price strategy issues.

The cement buyers said the reasons given for the increases were reasonable, but 20% was beyond what could be justified.

Several cement buyers have also accused producers of continuing to operate in a cartellike fashion. PPC, Alpha and Blue Circle operated as a cartel until 1996, when it was officially disbanded. A price war ensued in an attempt by the producers to secure market share.

 

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