The Tale of Two Cement Giants
The Tale of Two Cement Giants

The Tale of Two Cement Giants

ACC and UltraTech have both surprised the market a massive topline in July-September 2017 quarter. ICR compares their financial results.

Although it has been a pessimistic quarter for the Indian cement industry as data show cement production fall year-on-year, that began in December 2016. However, August and September showed some resilience with negligible recovery in the production growth rate. The pessimism is also corroborated by Cement Manufacturers Association (CMA) stating that the industry was sitting on more than 100 MT a year of excess or idle capacity. Even, the credit ratings agency ICRA following the output data has downgraded its forecast for cement demand growth to not more than 4 per cent for the 2017-18 FY.

The Indian Cement Review (ICR), in its April issue, had predicted demand to expand just 3.6 per cent in FY18 assuming real GDP grow 8.5 per cent leading to 4 per cent increase in construction activity during the year. Considering that economy will grow at 8.50-9.00 per cent in the next five years, the statistical relation between cement demand and economic growth, the ICR had predicted cement demand to grow at an annual growth rate of 4 per cent over the next five years. However, the GDP growth seem to taper in Q1 2017-18 and would remain slower throughout the year.

The bar graph shows production peak in 2015-16 before falling as monthly production broke the trend in the 2016-17 while the line graph pinpoints the month it started to go wrong, November 2016, when the government demonetized high currency notes. Production growth turned negative the in December 2017 and could not managed to correct itself since then. Nevertheless, it is convenient to blame the policy for the production slump but the trough in February 2017 before taking a lower level of decline since then.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) annual report in August 2017 suggested that the policy failed in its primary purpose of reducing the kind of corruption that a cash heavy economy can hide such as tax avoidance. People reportedly managed to find ways to bypass the bank deposit limit and may have successfully laundered large amounts of cash without being caught. However, Financial Times have pointed out, the longer term implications of forcing the economy towards digital payments and increasing the tax base could yet be beneficial overall.

Coming back, the CMA's blame of overcapacity for the current mess, it appears to have underplayed the capacity crisis facing India. UltraTech Cement's number based on data from the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, show an overcapacity of 155 MT in 2016-17 and this is poised to blot to 157 tonne in 2017-18, even utilisation rate is expected to rise slightly. UltraTech's estimates utilisation rate topping 70 per cent until the 2020-21 while Mint newspaper concur, although reckoning the rate would bounce sooner, in 2019-20. As CMA brought forth the industry's excess capacity, it pinned outlook on infrastructure schemes like the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train announced recently, This prompted JK Cements to point that one train project will not make much of a difference for demand to bounce back.

Infrastructure was one of the important factors for ICRA and the other credit agencies to forecast growth in cement demand and development then had indicated that industry may be able to narrow the gap between production capacity and demand. Unfortunately, demonetisation undid ICRA's growth prediction for 2016-17.

It had predicted demand growth at 6 per cent but it turned out to be just 1.2 per cent. So downgrading forecast for 2017-18, on fears of weather and adverse impact of Goods and Services Tax (GST) beginning Q2, is valid. Major cement producers such as Ultratech and Ambuja Cement had based their road to recovery in their latest investor presentations on the 6 per cent growth or even higher. Being lower than expected and overcapacity gap not narrowing down, the hope now is pinned at a brisk business in second half of 2017-18.

Prospect still bright despite lean Q2 2017-18
During Q2 2017-18, characterise as lean season for cement consumption due to south-west monsoon, demand and pricing trends of cement was a mixed bag. But, a closer inspection suggests the recent past as well as future prospect are in good shape.

While prices in east and west India have surprised with year-on-year rise, it was not so in other regions. Hence, average all-India cement prices are pegged flat to up 3 per cent cent in Q2. But, if one were to factor in the 2-3 per cent reduction in the tax rates after implementation of GST, which is also reflected in the prices, the overall pricing trend is encouraging.

On demand, although monsoon was a factor impacting construction, sand availability, active government projects, etc., had a bearing on regional patterns. While north and east as well as Andhra Pradesh/ Telangana witnessed volume grow of 10 per cent y in Q2, largely driven by high execution of government projects, demand apparently declined in central and south, dragged by sand shortage in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu and Kerala markets did not see much activity in government projects. Expectedly, central and south India saw major price impact. Before the announcement of Q2 results, HDFC Securities expected cement companies to post 13.4 per cent volume growth while Kotak Institutional Equities expected a lower volume growth of 6 per cent in cement volumes. With healthy volume growth and realisation, pan-India players like UltraTech and ACC, and those with larger exposure to east and west like Ambuja Cements and Shree Cement were expected to report better Q2 performance. Nevertheless, rising cost of fuels such as pet-coke and coal, would restrict any sharp increase in per tonne profitability in year on year comparison.

Beyond Q2, the prospect is positive, expert believe, for the cement companies anticipating a turnaround in demand in the second half of 2017-18, led by rural recovery even as the first six months may have seen the impact of the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act (RERA). JM Financial expect demand from the affordable housing and infrastructure segments to drive volume growth in the second half of the current fiscal year, while Centrum Broking indicated that cement demand should recover post monsoon and as the GST and RERA drag fades in the coming months and sand availability improves.

Experts also opine that with overall capacity expansion pace is slowing and with demand outpacing, cement manufacturers should benefit. Reliance Securities foresees incremental demand to outpace incremental supply, and, thus, better utilisation rate in the ensuing years. Factoring an average annual expansion in capacity of 8-10 MT, incremental demand is pegged at 15-20 MT over 2018-2020.

Performance analysis of top cement companies in Q2 2017-18
ACC and UltraTech Cement have both surprised the market a massive topline in July-September 2017 quarter. Prices have firmed supported by some rise in demand which was seen picking up in the north slightly in the west also, south has been lagging behind, signs in west and north are good price wise and volume wise. Infrastructure sector was picking up substantially implying healthy growth in the foreseeable future. Low-cost housing is slow to pick up and with the monsoons being good, rural demand is expected to pick up in January-February onwards.

UltraTech, the largest cement company with capacity of 89 million tonne per annum (85 mtpa in India), has presence in all the regions in India. In 2017-18, UlltraTech expanded its capacity by 25 per cent by acquiring 21.2 MT from Jaiprakash Associates. It also has 80 per cent stake in Dubai-based Star Cement.

Compared to market expectations, UltraTech has beaten consensus with great Set of numbers given the consolidation. Numbers are way ahead of consensus and beats street estimate by 21 per cent. Despite consolidation it has delivered Rs 1,000 EBITDA a tonne, which is termed com­mendable against the expectation of Rs 871 a tonne. Q over Q realisation improved 1 per cent.

UltraTech reported a 28 per cent decline in net profit (in standalone) to Rs 431 crore for the quarter ended September 2017. It had clocked net profit of Rs 601 crore in the July-September 2016. The company's net sales were up 7.1 per cent at Rs 6,571 crore during Q2 2017-18 as against Rs 6,135 crore in same quartet the year-ago.

This quarter continued to witness increasing cost trends, attributable to increase in fuel price while total expenses were up 11 per cent at Rs 6,095 crore as against Rs 5,491 crore. Depreciation increased 59 per cent to Rs 499 crore while interest cost doubled to Rs 376 crore due to cost involving new cement plant acquisition. Meanwhile, EBITDA increased 24 per cent to Rs 1,350 crore, translating into EBITDA/tonne of Rs 1,028 and margin of 21 per cent.

The company stated that the acquisition of cement plants of Jaiprakash Associates and Jaypee Cement Corp had helped it augment capacity to 93 million ton per annum. The acquisition has also enhanced its footprint in the high growth markets of central India, eastern UP and coastal Andhra Pradesh, where the company has been focusing to increase its presence. Volumes for Q2 increased 18 per cent to 12.84 MT due to the ramp-up of JPA assets. Pricing improvement was better than expectation at Rs 5,001 a tonne due to firm prices across most focused markets.

Ambuja and ACC
According to Neeraj Akhoury, Managing Director and CEO, ACC, "results demonstrate its capacity to respond quickly and resolutely to changing market dynamics and execute strategies with focus and determination." ACC's operating results has beaten consensus by 10 per cent against market expectation of 19 per cent. Volume grew 17.6 per cent YoY was higher against. consensus of 6 per cent. The cement giant has maintained control on its operating expenditure as anticipated. EBITDA was at Rs 592 a tonne, 12 per cent higher than expectations at Rs 527 a tonne.

Ambuja delivered a strong set of numbers while focusing on brand building, through differentiated offerings for individual home builders, building and infrastructure segments. According to Ajay Kapur, Managing Director and CEO, the company's strategy to focus on key markets, premium products and value based pricing has paid off, leading to strong net sales and EBITDA growth.

During July-September 2017 quarter Ambuja Cement recorded higher sales and growth in value-added pricing, but it also faced cost pressures relating to rising fuel costs, packaging and raw material prices. Thus, there has been a move to increase its use of petcoke and alternative fuels further, as against 67 per cent it achieved in June 2017. Ambuja Cement's net sales rose 16 to Rs 2,320 crore even as sales volume grew slower at 11.6 per cent to 5.02 MT. EBITDA per tonne rose 3 per cent to Rs 706.

Merger ambitions
Ambuja Cement has a 50.05 per cent share in ACC and the board of directors have initiated a study into the possibility of merger between the two companies. A national daily recently pointed that in a post-merger situation, the new entity would save about 10 per cent in operating expenses, especially with better logistics in terms of reaching relevant markets, manpower and taxes. The new entity will have a production capacity of 63 MT, making it the No. 2 player after UltraTech.

Ban on petcoke will increase cement cost
An Indian Supreme Court ruling to ban the use of petcoke in and around National Capital Region is likely to have adversely impact on cement plants and prices in northern India, as produces are expected to switch to higher-cost fuels. The ban impacts cement producers in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan, while all have districts falling under the NCR. These producers will be required to use either domestic or imported coal from November 1, 2017, resulting in an increase in power and fuels costs.

Petcoke is a key fuel for the Indian cement industry. Its usage ranges from 100 per cent of total fuel consumption at Shree Cement to 62 per cent at Ambuja Cements. Power and fuel costs vary from highs of Rs 852 a ton at Ambuja and Rs 856 a tonne at J.K. Cement to Rs 425 per tonne at Shree Cement. The petcoke ban could add an additional Rs 8-10 per tonne to fuel and power costs.

Cement to benefit in the coming years
The government has identified the construction and infrastructure as one of the key sectors that will help improve overall economic growth. Infrastructure projects in power, irrigation, roads, metros and railways, as well as dedicated freight and industrial corridors, are likely to generate strong demand for cement in the country. Furthermore, increased spending on affordable and low-cost housing coupled with the normal monsoon is expected to boost the rural economy which augurs well for the cement industry.

- Nitin Madkaikar

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