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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cement demand to stay damp this quarter

This story first appeared in DNA Money edition on Monday, Aug 5, 2013.

Good rains that are likely to remain strong for the rest of the monsoon are set to keep cement demand under pressure in the ongoing July-September quarter.

While demand for cement between May-end and June was supported by pre-monsoon increase in construction activities, it is unlikely to be sustained going forward, experts said.

In its update on the industry, ratings agency Icra said off-take remained weak in April-May 2013, mainly due to lacklustre demand from end-user industries.

“Domestic cement production grew by 8.2% year on year (yoy) in April 2013 as compared with 12.5% a year ago. The growth slowed to 3% yoy in May 2013, pulling down the overall growth rate in April-May 2013 to 5.6% yoy. Though the demand picked up temporarily from May-end, it does not reflect any fundamental recovery in prospects,” it said.

K C Birla, chief financial officer, UltraTech Cement, said while April and May saw 5.8% growth in demand, it was just about 1% in June.

“Overall, demand growth for the quarter was around 3-4%. Surplus capacity in the sector of around 90 million tonne per annum coupled with lower demand has put significant pressure on pricing,” said Birla, adding his company’s per-tonne realisation was down 6% for the first quarter, impacting profitability.

Cement prices, which weakened during March and April 2013 due to less demand, recovered somewhat from mid-May 2013.

The hike in prices was supported by pre-monsoon increase in construction activities.

The industry also raised prices to pass on the increase in coal prices by Coal India Ltd (CIL).

As a result, the average wholesale cement prices (per 50-kg bag) increased around Rs 10 in Delhi, Rs 17 in Chandigarh and Rs 5 in Kolkata during April-June 2013.

Prices in some parts of southern India including Bangalore and Chennai also saw hike of Rs 10-15 per bag in June.

However, in the last week of June, prices came under pressure in northern, western and eastern regions with declines of Rs 5-20 per bag seen in
Delhi, Chandigarh and Ahmedabad markets.

Hyderabad, which saw average wholesale cement prices fall 20% from Rs 283 in July 2012 to Rs 228-232 per bag in April 2013, too saw a steep recovery in prices in the last week of May 2013.

The prices increased 30% to Rs 296 per bag in June 2013 there, driven by slowdown in capacity addition in South, production discipline and cost pass-through to customers.

On the cost side, the cement industry was affected by increase in coal prices by Coal India Ltd (CIL).

In May 2013, CIL reduced the prices of premium varieties of coal (G3 and G4) with gross calorific value in the range of 6100-6700 kcal/kg by 10% in line with decline in international coal prices.

To offset this, CIL raised the prices of low-grade coal (G6-G17) varieties used by Indian cement companies by an average 10%.

The impact of this hike will be more pronounced on companies which depend more heavily on domestic coal, Icra said.

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