Dangote Cement slows its pace of expansion

Byjirong

Updated Thu, 04 Aug 2016 18:14:16 GMT

Shock news this week: Dangote Cement has decided to slow its expansion in Africa. The announcement from CEO Onne van der Weijde topped a half-year financial report that trumpeted high revenues and sales volumes of cement but one that also had to explain why earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) had fallen by 10% year-on-year. The decline was blamed on lower cement prices and higher fuel costs, as well as the costs of setting up new cement plants.

The mixed bag of results can be demonstrated by a 38.8% leap in cement sales volumes in Nigeria to 8.77Mt for the half year. Dangote attributed this in part to price cut in September 2015. This then netted an increase in revenue of 4.2% to US$677m but its EBITDA in Nigeria fell at a faster rate than the group total.

As an indication of some the pressures facing Dangote at home, it reported that its fuels costs rose by 32.3% to US$14.4/t in the reporting period. The backdrop to this has been the general poor state of the Nigerian economy. The International Monetary Forum (IMF) forecast that its gross domestic product (GDP) will fall by 1.8% in 2016 in its World Economic Outlook Update published in mid-July. Given that over three-quarters of Dangote Cement’s sales revenue came from Nigeria in 2015 this might explain the decision to slow its expansion plans down.

Outside of Nigeria, Dangote did extremely well in its West & Central Africa region, pushing up sales volumes, revenue and EBITDA by triple figure percentages helped by commissioning of a new plant in Ethiopia. Exports were also highlighted as a key part of this region’s strategy to neighbouring countries. It also stated that its recent procurement of about 1000 trucks in Ghana would ensure that an increased share of that country’s imported cement would come from Dangote’s Ibese plant in Nigeria. South & East Africa was a different story, however with sales volumes and revenues rising as new cement plants bedded in but the region was dogged by currency devaluations and poor economies.

Dangote Cement’s response to its current situation is to protect its margins through cost cutting, by adjusting its prices and by slowing its expansion strategy to a five-year programme. However, it isn’t alone in its struggles to preserve profit in its Nigerian business. LafargeHolcim also reported a ‘challenging’ market in its first quarter results for 2016. Its cement sales volumes fell in that quarter due to what it said were energy shortages and logistics-related issues. Its mid-year financial report, out on 5 August 2016, will make interesting reading to see if its experience in Nigeria matches Dangote’s.

Elsewhere, it appears that both PPC and LafargeHolcim have also been struggling in South Africa. PPC’s revenue from cement sales within the country fell by 5% year-on-year to US$171m its half-year to the end of March 2016. It blamed the drop on increased competition. LafargeHolcim noted similar problems in South Africa without going into too much detail in its first quarter.

With the Nigeria Naira-US Dollar exchange rate devalued by over 50% since the start of 2016 and the Nigerian economy bracing itself for a recession, it seems unlikely that Dangote Cement could do anything else than slow down its expansion plans given how much of its revenue comes from within Nigeria. As we also report this week, PPC is in a similar bind. Its CEO had to reassure shareholders that the group’s new plant in Zimbabwe would be finished on schedule later in the year. Controlling imports and exports of cement in Africa has suddenly become more important than ever.

Both companies need to expand internationally to protect themselves from regional economic downturns but the current situation in each of their home territories is preventing this. In the meantime their own export markets are set to become more important than ever. Any target markets that declare themselves ‘self-sufficient’ in cement will be a big impediment to this.