Indian cement industry pessimistic about near future demand

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India: The Economic Times has reported that the capacity utilisation in India's cement industry has fallen 70% from 94% in 2007 - 2008 because of a supply and demand mismatch, according to data from the Cement Manufacturers' Association (CMA). As such, the cement industry is staring at a 'dead investment' of US$8.66bn in the near term due to 100Mt/yr of unused capacity.

"Installed capacity stands at 380Mt/yr and utilisation is about 275Mt/yr. This extra capacity of 100 – 105Mt/yr has cost about US$8.66 – 9.45bn of investment," said Shailendra Chouksey, whole time director at JK Lakshmi Cement and vice president of the CMA.

The slump in the real estate industry has not helped matters as it accounts for about 15 - 20% of all cement demand in the country. About 55 - 60% of cement consumption comes from the retail segment, followed by real estate at 15 - 20%, infrastructure at 13 - 15% and the commercial factories segment at 10 - 12%.

The demand by real estate players has fallen by 40% in the last three to four years, according to Chouksey. The slowdown in the sector is coupled with weakness in rural demand and infrastructure development. Faced with the scenario, capacity addition is also expected to take a hit in the next few years. From about 25Mt/yr of capacity added in 2013 - 2014, new capacity additions will come down to 19Mt/yr and 14Mt/yr in 2015 - 2016 and 2016 - 2017, respectively, according to industry estimates.

"The capacity addition will go down as banks are not lending to cement companies as they know they will not get returns in such a scenario," said Anil Kumar Pillai, director and CEO of JSW Cement.

Now the cement industry is looking towards major government infrastructure and housing programmes to boost demand. To bring about major infrastructural development in the country, the government has announced The Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) for 500 cities and the Smart Cities Mission. It has approved a US$15.7bn spend for the two schemes. It also aims to build 20 million houses by 2022 under the Housing for All initiative. "The cement industry is likely to improve by the second half of the current fiscal year on the back of huge infrastructure push by the government," said Pillai.

However, not all cement manufacturers are optimistic. "These programmes are good, but the question is how and when will they be implemented. There has been no off-take of cement for highway construction so far," said Chouksey. Transport minister Nitin Gadkari said in January 2015 that Indian highways would be constructed using cement instead of bitumen and launched a website in March 2015 for cement procurement and delivery for the purpose.