So whose side is the Public Investment Corp (PIC) really on in the battle of the cement giants — SA’s largest cement producer PPC, or its smaller rival AfriSam? This week the PIC raised its stake in PPC, which is being courted by numerous suitors, to 21%. It’s an extraordinarily large punt on the ailing cement sector, considering the PIC already owns two-thirds of debt-laden AfriSam. The PIC was sparked into action by Canadian insurance group Fairfax, which emerged from nowhere a few weeks ago with an offer to buy R2bn of shares in PPC (at R5.75/share) — but on condition that PPC merged with AfriSam.Only, since its plan first came to light on September 4, PPC’s shares have soared 26% to R6.90 — far beyond the offer price. This was spurred, in part, by the prospect of a bidding war, as African giant Dangote emerged with its own offer, as did Irish group CRH. Either way, it seems Fairfax’s offer is dead in the water — which should please the PIC, if it was hiking its stake in PPC as a...

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