Cement demand that has started picking up in the third quarter (October-December 2017) of fiscal 2018 (FY18) continued its growth streak in the fourth quarter of the fiscal, according to analysts. However, cement realisations failed to post commensurate rise, and prices, which should have seen an uptrend in the last quarter of the year, have remained subdued.
Sabyasachi Majumdar, Senior Vice President & Group Head, ICRA Ratings, says, “A demand pick-up in the recent months, October 2017 to January 2018 by 13.4 per cent, is backed by low cost housing in the eastern markets, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana along with the infrastructure demand from the eastern, southern and western markets.”
Discussing the latest demand trends, CLSA’s Vivek Maheshwari and his team says, “The industry has seen a pick-up in volume growth, also reflected in 11 per cent volume growth expected for our coverage in 4QFY18 (January-March 2018 quarter). While a low base helped (these volumes), the two-year Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) should still be at a respectable ~8%.” Besides, cement realisations have not seen any quarter-on-quarter (QoQ) uptick despite favourable seasonality.
The demand environment continued to remain favourable in March 2018, said Binod Modi - Senior Research Analyst, Reliance Securities, in a recent report, adding, however, the pricing trend remained subdued marked by sharp month-on-month (MoM) contraction during the month. Volume push owing to year-end month, and fair chances of price hike from April 2018 also aided volume growth.
“Demand growth was aided by both trade and non-trade segments and most dealers expect the demand momentum to remain benign till the onset of monsoon, while the prices are expected to bounce back from first or second week of April across the regions barring Central,” said Modi.
“A pick-up in the affordable and rural housing segments and infrastructure – primarily road and irrigation projects - is likely to continue the demand growth momentum of around 5 per cent in FY2019,” says Majumdar.
Budget FY2019 has provided higher rural credit target, increased MSP, and allocation for rural, agricultural and allied sectors, and stressed on continued focus on the PMAY and infrastructure investments, all positive for cement demand growth.
There was a disappointment on the price front for the cement companies in the Q4FY18. March quarter is traditionally the busiest quarter for construction, and hence cement prices usually firm up sequentially, but not this time.
All-India average cement price corrected by about 3 per cent MoM to ~Rs 286-291/bag mainly due to sharp correction in Western and Southern realisation, which corrected by ~6 per cent and 5 per cent MoM, respectively in March, while average prices in Northern, Central and Eastern regions corrected by ~1 per cent MoM each, according to Reliance Securities. Besides, all-India average price declined by 1 per cent YoY (Rs 3-5/bag) and 0.3 per cent QoQ in 4QFY18.
Average price in Southern region corrected sharply by 5 per cent QoQ, while it corrected by 1-1.5 per cent QoQ in Western and Northern region during 4QFY18. However, Eastern and Central regions witnessed average price improvement of ~3 per cent and ~4 per cent QoQ, respectively during 4QFY18.
CLSA said that their channel checks had indicated that “efforts are underway to raise prices by 5-20 per cent in South India and Maharashtra,” the regions which saw the highest pressures on EBITDA, follow the sharp cuts in March. However, the channel is still apprehensive on sustainability of such hikes.
“Overall, while cost inflation remains a concern, we believe that price hikes are imminent across regions and unit margins should expand in FY19,” says Maheshwari.
Though government seems to be vigilant about any price hike by the cement companies for last couple of months, Modi of Reliance Securities expects “prices to witness an upward movement in coming months due to rising cost pressures
and sustained demand growth leading to higher utilisation.”
“Overall earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA or operating profit) for our coverage should rise by a modest 7 per cent year-on-year (YoY) although net earnings will likely decline,” Maheshwari says in the report. This is mainly due to high costs particularly those of pet coke, imported coal and diesel, however, rising volumes are expected to come to manufacturers’ rescue during the quarter to an extent. Due to lack of price hikes during the quarter EBITDA margins are expected to decline by 7-8 per cent YoY and QoQ to a 13-quarter low, for CLSA’s universe of cement stocks, Maheshwari said in the report.
Majumdar also predicts that expectation of higher pet coke, coal and diesel prices are likely to put pressure on the profitability margins and debt metrics of the cement companies in the coming quarters.
“Lumpy capacity additions in the recent past have led to an increase in debt levels and some deterioration in credit metrics, although they still remain at comfortable levels for most of the larger players. Further, higher power and fuel (increase in coal and pet coke prices) and freight costs (increase in diesel prices) in FY2018 and in the coming quarters of FY2019 is likely to continue to put pressure on the profitability margins and debt metrics of the cement companies. Hence, the ability of the industry players to secure increases in cement prices remains critical from the profitability perspective,” Majumdar reiterated.
Given all these scenarios, ICRA expects that the capacity overhang and the moderate demand growth to continue to keep the industry’s capacity utilisation level close to 65 per cent over the medium-term (3-5 years).