Prices of basic material – steel and cement – for the construction industry are expected to remain high across the country following the extension of incentives by the government.

Pakistan’s cement sales in the second quarter of fiscal year 2020-21 touched an all-time high of 15.1 million tons, up 11% quarter-on-quarter as well as year-on-year, according to a report of Topline Securities.

In the first half of FY21, cement sales rose 16% year-on-year to 28.6 million tons, it revealed.

“Cement prices will register a further hike as capacity utilisation is increasing robustly,” Topline Securities’ Deputy Head of Research Shankar Talreja told The Express Tribune. “The power to influence prices is with manufacturers at present.”

Industry utilisation based on total sales came in at 91%, adjusted for closed capacities, in the second quarter (Oct-Dec) of FY21. Based on just local sales, the utilisation stood at around 77% with 86% in the northern region and 48% in the southern region.

The strong growth in cement sales could be attributed to economic recovery in the face of low interest rates, announcement of a construction package, allocation of banking sector liquidity to the construction and housing sector and beginning of construction of dams, he said. In the last three months, housing loans increased by Rs43 billion, he added.

“During the outgoing quarter, coal prices surged to an average of $60 per ton compared to $55 per ton about six months ago,” he said. “As a result, fuel cost per ton for major cement companies is expected to increase by 10% quarter-on-quarter.”

To pass on the impact to consumers, the cement producers hiked prices in December 2020 by around Rs20 per bag in the north to Rs570. JS Global analyst Arsalan Ahmed told The Express Tribune that steel prices were on the rising trend.

Pakistan Large-Scale Steel Producers (PALSP) Secretary General Syed Wajid Bukhari said due to shortage of scrap globally, its price had risen above $500 per ton and as a result, rebar rates were increasing in Pakistan. “Local companies, however, are working at margins of less than 5%,” he said.

He added that Pakistan was almost totally dependent on imported raw material for producing steel and requested the government to take urgent measures to contain the impact of price hike on the mega infrastructure projects as well as other ongoing construction projects.

The industry suggested to the government to remove sales tax for some time and reduce the cost of electricity to offset the impact of soaring raw material prices, which was a global phenomenon, he said.

However, the government did not take any measures to address the situation, he lamented.

“We believe that the steel sector has been ignored as it is not receiving much-needed attention from the government,” he said.

Recently, the demand for steel picked up but margins remained very low and most of the large units were working at 50-60% of their capacity, he said.

“In recent months, steel prices have increased by 55% in India,” he said. “In the US, prices are likely to touch $1,000 per ton, which is twice the rate being charged a few months ago.”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2021.

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