Two major aspects of our human civilization today, health and economy, are being watched closely in the context of coronavirus pandemic. The two are so incredibly interconnected that one cannot talk about any one in isolation. There is a set of graphs or trends, if you may like, which inform us about the progress of the pandemic through data such as numbers tested, numbers infected, recovery rates, number of fatalities, etc., on the one hand, and on the other hand, we want to continuously look at how the economic parameters are doing, and more interestingly, how the global economy is going to rebound. The prognosis of the curves of economy and virus are conjoined, so to say. As always in human history, livelihoods and development are once again shown and demonstrated to be closely linked to health and hygiene. This reinforcement was necessary.
Comings to nuts and bolts of the economy, or bricks and mortar rather, we are also keen to know how the cement industry is going to do in current year; we want to forecast what is going to happen with cement demand in the next year. In short, we would very much like to get a fix on the speed of recovery of the sector. All these are however, deeply connected with how the economy fares in the ensuing times. A lot has been written on that subject, and even as we go to print, more and more analyses will be available from agencies and bodies and experts, who are good at doing this - projecting GDP growth numbers based on reasonable assumptions. This is where things start becoming a little nebulous. Assumptions at this time can be very fragile, given that we cannot be sure when the pandemic will peak and slow down in India, or when will unfettered business activities be allowed, or even if there is a possibility of another all-out lockdown in our efforts to "flatten the curve". These are real life uncertainties which can swing either way, and can have significant impact on the speed of recovery. This is also perhaps the reason why forecasts for the FY21 GDP are continuously going downhill, currently resting at a negative 4.5% for the year.
While this itself is a disaster in the making, particularly for the weaker sections of our societies, things could actually get much worse as we move ahead. The broad consensus of our industry today is that cement demand may shrink by 20 to 25% in FY21, but this may also change as the pandemic ravages India, and as the political leadership grapples with the"Morton's Fork" kind of dilemma to choose between public health and unlocking economy. One thing is however clear - and that is things are going to get worse in the immediate aftermath, and our economic turnaround will take some time in coming.