India sector to see lowest profitability in a decade - report

India sector to see lowest profitability in a decade  - report
Published: 26 August 2011

Crisil Research has forecast that the profitability of the cement sector will decline to its lowest in a decade by the next financial year, mainly due to a huge glut in supply.

The independent research house said in a statement, describing the highlights of a study it has completed recently, that the supply glut will slacken cement manufacturers operating rates, consequently restricting their ability to pass on a sharp rise in power and fuel costs to consumers. 

"The magnitude of the demand-supply imbalance and cost escalation will halve the cement industry’s EBITDA margins from the current 20% to around 10% in 2012-13-the lowest level in the past 10 years," said Prasad Koparkar, head of industry and customised research at CRISIL Research.

Crisil estimates that over the next two years cement capacities will rise by 60Mta, while demand will increase by much less, about 30Mta. Operating rates of cement manufacturers would, therefore, plunge to around 72% in 2012-13 from an already subdued 78% in the last fiscal. 

The cement sector has been under pressure for some months now due to rising input costs and lower demand, particularly due to the slowing pace of housing construction that has historically been the largest contributor to cement demand. This, together with the seasonal drop in demand, has resulted in a decline in cement prices by about INR35-40 a bag over the past couple of months. 

According to Emkay Securities, demand growth has also been impacted by a slowdown in government infrastructure projects, and project clearances that have affected private spend. Interestingly, the country was importing cement a couple of years ago for construction work related to the Commonwealth Games.

Even as demand has turned sluggish, cement manufacturers are increasing capacity since the past couple of years. Ultratech Cement is installing 3Mt in Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu district. Birla Corporation is increasing its cement production capacity and Shree Cement has commissioned a 1.80Mta clinker grinding unit at Udaipur Udasar, in Sri Ganganagar district of Rajasthan. 

Crisil expects costs of power and fuel, a major input for cement, to increase by as much as 18% in the current financial year, in view of the steep increase in coal prices by Coal India, the leading supplier. An increase in effective excise duty rates will also lower cement manufacturers’ net price realisations by 2%-4%. 

Looking ahead, the research firm believes that small-sized cement manufacturers (with capacities of less than 2Mta) will likely post losses of about 2% at the EBITDA level in 2012-13. However, large cement manufacturers (with capacities of 10Mta or higher) would fare better than the industry average, with EBITDA margins of about 12%.

Key reasons for the better performance of large cement manufacturers is their greater use of captive power and inherent economies of scale. These companies meet three-fourth of their power requirements through captive generation. Small cement companies, in contrast, get a mere 5% of their power requirements through the captive route, and source the remainder from the more expensive grid power.