Algeria has been steadily building up cement industry interest over the past few months. In late 2013 Lafarge opened its fourth world research laboratory in Algiers. Then this week South African producer PPC confirmed its intention to enter the local market with a new plant and German construction firm ThyssenKrupp announced an order to build a cement plant for Groupe Industriel des Ciments d'Algérie.
According to United States Geological Survey (USGS) data, Algeria saw its cement production more than double from 9Mt/yr in 2002 to 20Mt/yr in 2011. At present Global Cement Directory 2014 figures places the country's cement production capacity from 21Mt/yr with 30Mt/yr a reasonable estimate for 2017. Throw in similarly rising gross domestic product per capita, US$7500 in 2013, with infrastructure investments of US$286bn planned and Algeria appears to be a promising investment for the cement market.
Lafarge, which holds minority stakes in two cement plants in the country, reported that market demand was high in 2012. Its cement sales rose by 9% year-on-year in 2013. The other major foreign player, ASEC Cement, reported in its 2012 financial report that Algeria consumed 21Mt of cement in 2012 but that it had to import 3Mt that year. ASEC was planning to build a 3.16Mt/yr plant at Djelfa to plug that market gap. Yet news reports in early 2013 reveal that the project was paused due to financial issues at ASEC with the suggestion of a possible downgrade to a 1.5Mt/yr production capacity instead.
The decision by PPC to build in Algeria is the first big project by one of Africa's international sub-Saharan cement producers north of the Sahara. It steps away from PPC's expansion strategy so far of building projects out from South Africa. Hodna in Algeria is a long way from Johannesburg! It will also cause tension between PPC and whoever is supplying imported cement to Algeria, most likely indebted southern European producers. Both PPC and its Nigerian competitor Dangote are used to fighting foreign imports to their core markets. Data from the Algerian customs office show that the value of cement imports to Algeria in 2013 rose by 26% year-on-year to US$395m. That's a market worth fighting for.