We visited cement manufacturers, channel partners, builders and contractors in south India in the 2nd week of January 2017 for an update on the current situation and the forward outlook. The feedback from southern India continues to remain very positive, especially the volume commentary. Price upticks are likely to be seen in pockets where pricing is subdued (for example, in markets like Maharashtra and Gujarat, where southern players have an exposure).
In markets where prices are already buoyant, no major upticks may be expected. Cost pressures will be felt in Q3 with increase in fuel prices, but we don't expect all companies to face a similar impact on the cost front.
Ramco Cement is believed to be best placed with high inventories of low cost fuel which will suffice requirements till 1QFY18. Debt repayment continues to remain the key objective of southern companies, and we see no deviation in management commentary on this front. India Cements is expected to repay debt of more than Rs 2 billion in the current fiscal, and the run rate is likely to increase in FY18. The commentary on east India volumes also seems to be encouraging, and Dalmia Bharat will be amongst the key beneficiaries here. We reiterate'Buy' calls on south Indian cement manufacturers and maintain our price objectives with +50 per cent returns expected in our coverage universe of southern manufacturers.
No impact of demonetisation
The feedback from all southern Indian leaders continues to suggest that there has been no impact of demonetisation on volumes for cement manufacturers. All manufacturers are expected to report high double-digit growth in Q3. This is partially on account of low base effect, but even if we compare on a sequential basis, the volume impact for southern companies is likely to be very marginal (largely flattish). Notably, Q3 is a weak quarter for south India as it is the monsoon quarter.
Turnaround year for capacity utilisations
Management commentary remains extremely positive on volumes. Good demand revival is being sensed by southern manufacturers in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The commentary also remains very positive on eastern volumes. Both manufacturers and channel partners expect FY18 to be a turnaround year and expect utilisation uptick of 4-5 per cent for the region as a whole, from current utilisations of about ~60 per cent.
Focus on volumes
We see that all southern Indian cement manufacturers are now refocusing on volume growth with the support of demand and by establishing newer markets outside of the region where the volumes can be pushed. For example, we were told that India Cements is targeting nearly 1 million tonnes of sales in export markets in FY18 (~10 per cent of sales). Fresh orders for specialised cements to select manufacturers are also helping the company ramp up capacity utilisation and support blended realisations. They don't expect much to come in from cement prices as they seem happy with the stable price scenario. However, they will try hard to push prices in subdued markets.
- Despite demonetisation, Q3 will not be a disappointing quarter for south India-based manufacturers. EBITDA/tonne (Rs 100-150) decline will be largely on account of marginal price correction and cost push.
- Volumes continue to remain strong though y-o-y volume growth may tone down in Q4 due to high base effect.
- We reiterate'Buy' on southern manufacturers. There are no disappointments expected in FY18 earnings. Along with volumes, if southern manufacturers are also able to restore pricing in subdued markets, earnings may potentially surprise in FY18.