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Sunday, 25 March 2018

Competition authority report vindicates cement producers, says price hikes were justified; consumer protection boss still demanding crackdown

Competition authority vindicates cement producers in initial findings from market review: The Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) has cleared cement producers of accusations of unjustified price increases leveled against them last week by Consumer Protection Authority (CPA) boss Atef Yakoub. In its preliminary findings from its 2013-17 survey of the industry, the ECA says that increases in cement price were a natural response to the changes that have taken place in the local market in recent years, explaining that producers have had to grapple with rising costs and compressed operating margins as thanks to the float of the EGP and the phaseout of energy subsidies.

The ECA attributes a drop in output from the industry in 2017 to a decision to reduce capacity, which certain producers (with a collective market share of no more than 17%) made in an effort to scale back on costs, particularly their energy bills. Energy constitutes around 60% of total operating costs for cement manufacturers, the report adds, noting that some producers are also raising their retail prices preemptively ahead of an expected hike in electricity prices at the start of the new fiscal year and in anticipation of the resumption of the energy subsidy phase-out program.

The local cement market actually enjoys a fair amount of competition. The number of players in the industry rose to 22 in 2017 from 13 in 2008. That number is set to grow: The government tendered 11 licenses in January. The ECA’s findings also show that major producers, such as Lafarge, have seen their market shares drop as new players, such as Elsewedy, Beni Suef, and South Valley cement companies, entered and established themselves in the market. Fierce competition and the fact that there are almost no alternatives to Grey Portland cement explain why different brands retail at really close prices, the ECA also said. Read the preliminary report here.

Meanwhile, the CPA’s Yakoub is sticking by statements he made last week that he lodged formal complaints against cement and steel manufacturers, which the ECA has since denied, explaining it was conducting a standard periodical review of both industries. The CPA boss told Al Masry Al Youm on Friday that he asked the ECA to investigate the surge in steel prices by EGP 3,000 per tonne in the last two months, which he believes could be the result of a deliberate decision to reduce the industry’s overall output in order to manipulate market prices. The ECA is expected to issue the results of its survey of the steel industry within the coming few days.

In related news, Egypt’s cement exports increased 79% y-o-y in January to USD 7 mn, up from USD 4 mn in the same month last year, according to a Building Materials Export Council statement picked up by Cemnet. Kenya was the largest importer of Egyptian cement with USD 1.9 mn-worth, up from USD 29k a year before.

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