Dangote Cement felt compelled to issue a statement clarifying its prices at the end of August 2023. In the release it stated what its ex-factory price was in Nigeria and added that transport costs and the location of a delivery could add additional expense. It made the declaration in response to alleged “misinformation” on social media channels that the company had been selling its cement more cheaply in the neighbouring country of Benin. A subsequent investigation by the This Day newspaper reported that Dangote Cement does not officially export cement to Benin and that the average price in the country was actually slightly higher than the end prices Dangote Cement provided. Competitor BUA Cement wasted no time though in saying at its annual general meeting that it would ‘crash the price of cement.’
All of this may sound familiar because a similar argument broke out in early 2021. At that time prices were rising following the outbreak of Covid-19, although other factors were at play. Then as now, Dangote Cement, the largest domestic producer, defended itself by publishing its prices and BUA Cement made another showy claim saying that it had no plans to raise the ex-factory price of its cement at the present time or in the future, “…barring any material, unforeseen circumstances.” The government also became involved with the Senate of Nigeria discussing the matter in relation to potential legislation at the time. Part of the problem here has been that Dangote Cement is the biggest producer and it has gradually started exporting cement from Nigeria in recent years and, regardless of any effects to the domestic market, it leaves it exposed to the kind of unsubstantiated scuttlebutt it has faced recently. Back in 2021 it briefly stopped exporting cement for a while before resuming it again in May 2021.
Graph 1: Half-year sales revenue from selected large cement producers in Nigeria. Source: Company reports.
Graph 1 shows how some of the large cement producers in Nigeria did in the first half of 2023. Dangote Cement is the market leader by a considerable margin and the figures here do not even include its sales elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite its market dominance its sales revenue has fallen so far in 2023 and the company blamed election uncertainty, a “cash crunch”, negative currency exchange issues and the weather. That said though it did manage to increase its earnings through initiatives such as using alternative fuels, making efficiencies at its plants and utilised compressed natural gas in its truck fleet.
BUA Cement and Lafarge Africa provided less descriptive context in their release. Both BUA Cement’s revenue and profit after tax rose year-on-year but Lafarge Africa’s profit after tax fell. This may have been due to a rise in fixed production costs such as staffing, by-products costs and electricity, although depreciation was also an issue.
For all of BUA Cement’s talk of “crashing the cement price” it is preparing to commission two new 3Mt/yr production lines at its Obu and Sokoto plants respectively in the first quarter of 2024. Given everything else that is going on in the Nigerian economy, such as inflation, and the large size of the country it seems unlikely to lower the price although it might slow down the rate by which the price continues to rise. In its 2022 annual report BUA Cement’s managing director Yusuf Haliru Binji said that the new production lines would enable it to potentially increase its exports. This is the logical next step for a local sector outgrowing its domestic bounds and this is exactly what Dangote Cement has done. Yet, as the recent price debacle has shown, the price of cement matters to Nigerians. If the price keeps going up all of the local producers may end up facing negative attention whether warranted or not.