Core sector output rose to 32-months high in March 2021
The eight core sector output rose to 32-months high of 6.8 per cent in March 2021 chiefly on account of a negative base of -8.5 per cent in the corresponding month of the previous year. Therefore, one needs to read the core sector growth number with caution. The pick-up observed in March 2021 has been on account of significant double-digit growths witnessed in steel, cement, electricity and natural gas, where the production activity had seen a sharp decline in March 2020 on the back of the imposition of the nation-wide lockdown. The contraction witnessed in the month of February 2021 has been revised upwards to -3.8 per cent as against the previous estimate of 4.6 per cent.
For the full fiscal FY21, the core sector has contracted by 7 per cent compared with a subdued pace of 0.4 per cent in FY20. This is the first time in the last eight years when core sector output has declined. In 8 of out the 12 months during the fiscal, core sector output has seen a contraction, reflective of the adverse impact of the pandemic and the consequent lockdowns on the production activities of the 8-core sector. During the year, there has been a broad-based decline across almost all the sectors with the impact being sharp in refinery products, steel and cement sector. Fertiliser has been the only sector which has seen positive growth, which reflects unabated performance of the agriculture sector despite the lockdown while the impact on electricity production has been relatively lower as resumption of economic activities in the second half of the fiscal pushing up the growth number.
Coal production recorded its sharpest contraction in the new series with the base year 2011-12. The de-growth of 21.7 per cent in March 2021 has come against a positive base of 3.7 per cent in March 2020 and it also reflects high level of coal inventories with coal producers. However, there has been a sequential improvement owing to healthy demand from the power steel and cement sector.
Crude oil production fell by 3.1 per cent in March 2021 compared with a decline of 5.5 per cent in March 2020 and this is the 40th consecutive month of negative growth for the sector. This decline can be ascribed to delays in installation of new platforms due to COVID-19 restrictions, localised lockdowns and lower planned contribution from work-over, drilling and old wells. Natural gas production rose sharply by 12.3 per cent in March 2021, its highest growth in the new series with the base year 2011-12. This is the first time the segment has recorded positive growth after 21 consecutive months of deceleration. The positive growth has been on account of a low base (-15 per cent in March 2020) coupled with production commencement of natural gas from one of the key players in the private sector.
Refinery production declined by 0.7 per cent in March 2021 compared with 0.5 per cent in March 2020, recording the 13th consecutive month of decline in production. Although there has been a sequential improvement, the fall can be ascribed to lower demand for petroleum products and annual maintenance and installation shutdown for some plants.
Fertiliser production continued to decline for the second consecutive month. The fall in production has been sharper in March 2021 by 5 per cent compared with 3.7 per cent in February 2021 but is better than 11.8 per cent decline in March 2020. The YoY decline is the sharpest in the last one year.
Steel (23 per cent), cement (32.5 per cent) and electricity (21.6 per cent) have registered positive growth of above 20 per cent during March 2021 and is primarily on account of a statistical base effect. However, year-end phenomenon of infrastructure projects being on track coupled with State governments and Central government expediting capex plans have provided the impetus and the same is reflected in the numbers. Sequentially too all three sectors have registered a notable pickup. In case of steel, producers ramped up production backed by higher export demand and realisations.
CARE Ratings’ View
The March, April and May 2021 growth numbers for core sector and industrial growth was expected to be high on the back of sharp declines registered last year. The core sector growth numbers for the next two months are likely to be elevated as the decline in April and May 2020 were sharper than March 2020. Hence, we must be cautious in reading the growth numbers for the next two months also as the theme of March 2021 is likely to carry forward. IIP growth for March 2021 is likely to be closer to double-digit mark given the decline of 16.7 per cent last year.
Courtesy: CARE Ratings
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
The article is authored by Sushant Hedem who is Associate Economist with CARE Ratings. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org | +91-22-6837 4348.
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