As construction spending by government, mines and individual home builders grows, the tills are ringing at some of Zimbabwe’s listed companies.
Between January and June, the Zimbabwe government spent Z$21.2 billion on capital projects, according to Treasury data. Of this, $1.4 billion went into one of government’s roads rehabilitation projects, the Emergency Road Rehabilitation Programme. There was additional spending on the Beitbridge-Harare highway.
Apart from government, mining companies and Zimbabweans building their own houses are increasing demand for construction materials, from cement to bricks and other materials. House construction is mainly driven by Diaspora money, increased bank lending and the informal market, according to industry executives.
And construction companies are lapping it all up, as their results show.
Here, newZWire looks at how the infrastructure spending is keeping the wheels turning at seven listed construction firms.
The cement company says in the six months to September, its cement sales volumes were expected to grow by between 14%-18%. Where’s the demand from? It’s coming from retail sales – that is individual buyers – as well as demand from companies that make concrete products, as well as government contracts.
When compared to the same time in 2019, before COVID-19, PPC sales volumes are up by 25%-29%.
The projects that PPC is supplying include; the Hwange power station expansion, the recently completed Muchekeranwa Dam, Gwayi-Shangani Dam, the new Manyame Air Base Hospital, National University of Science and Technology (NUST) student accommodation, RG Mugabe International Airport, the Beitbridge-Harare highway and the Beitbridge Border Post expansion.
Revenue at Masimba for the six months to June grew 58%, mainly driven by a firm order book in mining, infrastructure and roads. It is one of the five companies on the Beitbridge highway project.
According to the company, the revenue earned in US dollars, as a proportion to total revenue, improved to 35% from 20%. This is because the company has built up a “diversified project portfolio”, that evenly balances both government contracts and private clients.
Barzem, a division of Zimplow, is the local agent of CAT earthmoving equipment. In the half year to June, the company doubled the number of earthmoving units sold.
“Our outlook is positive supported by a firm order book and good leads in the construction and mining industries.” Barzem achieved a profitability growth of 88% in real terms. It has sold CAT units to CMED and DDF, the government agencies leading some road projects, as well as to PPC and Masimba.
Barzem will have some strong competition soon, when John Deere’s construction equipment unit opens in Zimbabwe.
In August, the brickmaker reported that it had sold 33% more bricks in the three months to June than it did over the same time last year. Sales were up 30% since the start of the year.
“Demand remains relatively high, driven by housing development and infrastructure projects,” the company said. “Ongoing construction of housing units in the market will continue to drive volumes towards a profitable year.”
Turnall, which makes roofing materials, asbestos pipes and other products, reported a 21% increase in sales volumes and a 28% in production in the June half-year.
“Plans are underway to resuscitate the asbestos plant in Harare to reduce cost of transferring the product from Bulawayo to Harare,” the company said.
The cement company this week reported a 25% increase in revenues, mostly driven by volumes growth in the dry mortars business. The company commissioned a new dry mortars plant in March, which increased annual output from 7000 tonnes to 100 000 tonnes.
Not only are Zimbabweans building more, they are also spending more on quality. This is partly why in August, the company said demand for dry mortar products – such as lime-based finishings, tile adhesives and skim coats – had risen by over 100%.
The company is building a new cement milling plant. This will double cement production capacity to 800 000 tonnes per year.
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The company makes cables used for electricity and telecommunications, supplied for domestic and industrial customers at home and in the export market.
In the six months to March, Cafca sold 41% more than what it sold over the same period last year.
“Sales are buoyant in the following sectors – mines, retail, construction and industry,” Cafca says.
Construction: not all so solid
But, it’s not all plain sailing. There are still many bumps on the road, and the biggest one is the government’s poor handling of the exchange rate.
At Turnall, for example, US dollars accounted for 49% of sales. However, these sales had to be converted at the official exchange rate, which was below the open market rate.
“This resulted in lower than anticipated turnover and gross profit margin for the period both in historical and ination adjusted terms,” Turnall said.
For Masimba, the project pipeline may be looking strong, but the company cautions that “the speed of execution of the order book will largely depend on the continued stability of the macroeconomic environment and government policies being consistent”.
High costs are also holding back local companies. According to Lafarge, power makes up 30% of costs. Producers also need coal, which they are buying at US$42 a tonne, compared to US$30 a tonne in South Africa and Botswana. Rail costs in Zimbabwe are US7 cents a kilometre per tonne, eight times more than what producers in South Africa pay, and almost double the charge in Zambia. Road transport is US11 cents per kilometre per tonne, but only US7c in South Africa.
This makes local cement more expensive, leaving local producers vulnerable to cheaper imports.