The Italian Competition Authority (the AGCM) recently opened an investigation against four of the main Italian cement producers – Buzzi Unicem, Cementir Italia, Industria Cementi Giovanni Rossi and Holcim Italia – for allegedly having implemented a price fixing cartel.
The opening of the investigation followed a consumer complaint claiming that the four cement producer simultaneously raised the price of cement by €9 per tonne in July 2014.
In order to assess the facts, the AGCM carried out a series of dawn raids together with the Italian Finance Police at the companies' commercial premises as well as at the trade association headquarters in Piedmont, in the north-west of the country.
In the section of the decision assessing the market, the AGCM highlighted that due to the weight of the relevant product, most of the cement producers can only supply customers within 150 km and only a small number of producers have the ability to reach customers as far away as 250 km. At first instance, the relevant market therefore appears to be regional. Nevertheless, due to the nationwide reach of these companies, the AGCM will investigate whether the alleged conspiracy extended beyond Piedmont, where the complaint originated.
The companies now have 60 days to respond to the notification sent to them following the raids. The investigation must, subject to any requests for an extension, be completed by 31 December 2016.
Commentators will look on with interest as to how this case develops given the recent decision of the AGCM – along with other regulators – to fine eight ready-mix concrete manufacturers and a consultancy firm €12.5 million for price fixing and market allocation in several provinces in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region.
Interestingly, cement producers appear to be in the crosshairs of not only the AGCM but also other national competition authorities. For instance, as part of a continuing formal investigation of an alleged cartel among cement and concrete manufacturers, Spain’s National Commission of Markets and Competition has conducted a second series of dawn raids on the companies – including, among others, Cemex España, Cementos Portland, Valderriva, Lafarge Cementos, Holcim España – believed to be involved on price fixing, information exchange and market sharing agreements. Hence, the Holcim Group in particular appears to be under the scrutiny of a number of national competition authorities across the EU.