Even as cement majors are dithering from hiking prices with a view to build volumes, their smaller counterparts are hiking prices in order to cover rising input costs.
Positive expectations on the industry prospects returned with some of the industry players breaching the price barrier to an extent riding on the continued demand growth which is to fuelling renewed hopes. Cement prices which have remained stagnant or down during most part of the year, except in May and July, rose about 6 per cent over the last two months - September and October 2018.
After a slide of 5.36 per cent in two months in July and August, ET Cement Index, tracking cement prices across regions in the country, has bounced back in the next two months by gaining 6.01 per cent, touching its peak this year, so far, at 2054.7 points. Rising cost of inputs seems to have pushed the industry to hike prices by 3.18 per cent in October alone. However, we may wait for a couple of months to see if the upward trend is sustainable or not.
Leading ratings firm, India Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra) is expecting that the overall demand conditions will remain stable for the Indian cement manufacturers, considering a gradual economic growth forecast across cement end-markets, with real estate and infrastructure helping sustain volumes. 'With modest capacity additions of 4.2 mtpa (million tonne per annum) in ongoing fiscal, the utilisation is expected to improve,' the rating agency added.
'Tier-2 manufacturers taking price hikes without support from Tier 1 manufacturers suggests that the pricing power is slowly returning to the sector,' says Vaibhav Agarwal of PhillipCapital India, citing the outcome of ground/channel checks in north India the firm has undertaken in October. Volumes continue to remain strong is what the channel has indicated. The worst on pricing front appears to be over, the question remains how fast can the cement prices improve driven by the fundamental pricing power.
'Tier 2 manufacturers are making deliberate attempts to take price hikes in the range of Rs 2-3/bag every week and Rs 6-8/bag of price hikes have already happened in north India since 1st October 2018. Adjusting for GST this will mean a price hike of Rs4-6/bag,' says Agarwal. With this, the price gap between Tier 1 and Tier 2 manufacturers has significantly reduced.
Citing historical experience, Agarwal feels that cement manufacturers have the fundamental ability to see a price CAGR of ~5% in similar scenarios like the current one.
In north India, the ground continues to believe the liquidity issues which has emerged over the last few days is very specific and they have yet not seen any significant reduction in orders. 'Though they also believe it is early to pass a judgment, prima facie the ground remains confident that there is not yet a real crisis which may impact demand in medium term,' PhillipCapital says in the report.
But the situation or low liquidity impact is not the same in an organized market like West India, according to the channel checks done by PhillipCapital. In the west, the impact of liquidity crunch is visible, especially with smaller builders who are dependent on NBFC funding. 'As the NBFC's have stopped extending credit to these builders the orders from such builders for concrete/ cement etc., have seen a slow down. However, the order book from larger builders continues to remain strong as they have yet not faced any liquidity crunch and are mainly bank funded,' says the report released in the last week of October.
However, the impact of liquidity crunch is not expected to hit infrastructure projects and the ground sees no concern in the execution and pace of construction of such projects. Few notable projects which the ground believes have the potential of huge cement consumption are: 1) Statue of Shivaji Maharaj, 2) New Sea Links in Mumbai, 3) Coastal road build up, 4) Freight Corridor, 5) Metro Construction and 6) New Mumbai airport. 'The ground believes these projects are bound to consume material quantities of cement in a couple of quarters from now and will lead and support the demand momentum,' says Agarwal.
Organised markets such as west India will feel the heat of liquidity crunch more severe than relatively unorganized markets like north India. 'However, this will remain limited to real estate market and that too to smaller builders. We were not told of any liquidity issues with regards to infrastructure projects, and the outlook of concrete manufacturers who are supplying to such huge ticket infrastructure projects remains fairly positive,' PhillipCapital says.
In the west, the ground also believes that price hikes in cement is easily possible if the real intent of the cement manufacturers is actually for a price hike. Despite liquidity crunch and lower volume off-takes (then normal), none of the distributor, concrete manufacturers, channel partners believe that cement industry is lacking the pricing power. 'We were told that some price hikes are already on cards effective 1st November 2018 in Mumbai markets. However, sustainability of these price hikes is the key,' says Agarwal.
India Ratings said that with a minimum capacity addition in northern region and stable demand, the capacity utilisation will remain constant. Referring to western region, India Ratings believes that the utilisation in the western region is likely to be high on account of speeding up of the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL) projects, Mumbai metro rail project, and road and irrigation projects due to the upcoming elections in Maharashtra in September 2019.
India Ratings expects capacity utilisation in the central region will increase over the medium term on account of receding impact of sand mining issues, election season in central region states and improving utilisation level of Jaypee's assets.
In the east, it sees utilisation moving northward on account of boost in construction activity in Bihar due to sand availability, growth in individual home builders and infrastructure spends.
- B.S. SRINIVASALU REDDY