The last few years had been extremely corrugated for the metals industry. Slow down in the developed world, oil price crash, unstable political situations in many countries and regions, these and similar issues have arrested the economic growth and has adversely impacted the metals demand. On the other hand it is also a fact that metals demand is continuously rising, may be not as expected, but rising. This proves the point that in metals sector, one has to be a really long term player to be able to sustain and grow. Short term outlook of any nature will poison the industry sentiment and kill your own enterprise.
India too witnessed fluctuations in metals demand in the past few years but on year on year basis, the demand seems to be growing. Last few years saw an added emphasis on infrastructure projects and construction sector which are the biggest customer industries for metals. The metro rail projects in many cities, modernization of airports at various locations, massive road building drive also provided the required impetus to the metals industry. New opportunities in modernization of railways and opening up of defence sector will further strengthen this sector. All this improved the numbers as well as the industry sentiment to a large extent. Now most of the metal producers in the country have embarked upon sizable expansion projects. This only shows their confidence in the economy’s future.
The future of foundry sector largely depends on automobile and engineering industry. Both these industries are doing fairly well in past few quarters and are expected to keep a similar pace in the future. This can give a good amount of confidence to foundries and encourage them to invest further in the business. In this situation, Indian metals industry seems to be more interested to cater domestic requirement rather than running after unsure exports markets.
Even if the business prospects are good, Indian metal producers and processors have to upgrade themselves to get the full advantage of this upward economic movement. Most of the processors fall in SME sector and operate with outdated technologies and processes. Naturally this reflects in the final product quality and compromise the business prospects too. Even the big and main producers have to adopt concepts like Industry 4.0 which can substantially enhance the efficiency and induce the much required transparency in the whole system.
I have been always a firm believer of ‘Indian Growth Story’ and strongly feels that the year 2018 will be a much better year than 2017 for metals sector !
Automobile industry in the country as well as globally is passing through a huge transition and perhaps in few years time, the meaning and manifestation of ‘mobility’ will be altogether different !
The last few years saw an enhanced consideration for aerodynamic models, fuel efficiency, impact resistance etc. This led to a gradual shift of some component materials from steel to aluminium and even to composites. Although steel is the most important material and cannot be replaced due to its high strength and impact resistance, the non critical parts have shifted to other materials. This was the period when all the major automakers built their manufacturing facilities in India. This gave a big boost to foundries and auto component industry in the country and India slowly emerged as auto and auto component manufacturing hub for global consumption.
Now, the next generation mobility will employ new technologies and processes like 3D printing and Industry 4.0 and gradually our roads will be flooded with first hybrid cars (which can use fossil as well as electricity as fuel) and then electric cars. Driver less and ‘connected’ vehicles are also not very far. Tesla electric cars are already on the road in the US and have become very popular in a short time span. Industry analysts feel that this change will not be sudden and it will take 7 to 10 years for the industry to completely shift to electric cars, though hybrid cars will become popular in next few years.
This transition in automobile industry will impose a great impact on metals sector. It is obvious that an electric vehicle will have only few metal parts and will consume very less castings as compared with today’s requirement. India’s foundry sector is third in the world ranking in terms of volume (only after China and the US) and produces around 9 mt of castings per year. Its fortune is thickly connected with auto sector and is expecting a double digit growth rate in coming years. With these new developments in auto industry, the long term fortune for foundries look bleak. Will these new structural changes in auto industry have a big dent on foundry and auto component manufacturing sector ? Do we have to look for and develop markets other than auto sector ?
Though 7 to 10 years is a rather longish time frame, we have to address this issue now..
The debate about benefits or shortcomings of demonitisation, implementation of GST is going on nationwide is a truly welcome sign. I am sure Indian economy would mature by these discussions and would move ahead with more zeal in coming days.
As regards metals industry, as long as the economic wheel is running with a reasonable speed, it will keep creating metals demand. Fortunately auto sale figures are impressive for the last few months, thanks to good monsoon which triggered the sale of tractors. This has positively impacted foundry sector and their capacity utilization has improved substantially. Also, they have started planning forward with great expectations from the future. Not only the casting units but the whole vertical as such is in vibrant state.
For the last few years, the demand for primary metals seemed to be stagnated but now it seems that the things have started moving. With metro rail projects in many cities, road building on fast track and also other infra projects the requirement of metals is going to increase manifold. The demand curve has started moving up a bit and this has made primary metal producers optimistic. Few have restarted their expansion plans and the industry sentiment has improved considerably.
Amongst all these happenings, there is one distinct good news for India. World bank monitors a parameter called ‘Ease of doing business’. Till now India ranked 142 on a global level but now her position jumped to 100. It’s a really huge leap, probably the biggest one in one year for any country. For the last few years, India was seen as one of the fastest growing economy and many overseas companies were eyeing on her huge marketplace and wanted to participate in this growing economy. Now with improved ease of doing business in India, I hope there will be more inflow of not only companies but also the investment from international financial institutions which is very vital for building a solid infrastructure in the country.
I would not like to take any side on demonitisation or GST implementation but I strongly feel that India is changing, and changing for better !
The Indian metals sector seems to be in somewhat better shape now. Last few years were particularly challenging for everybody as demand seemed stagnated coupled with raw material crisis. Now, if you look at the quarterly reports of major metal companies, they have started increasing the production. Today, their position is comparatively better than the last year. Atleast they can expect a gradual rise in the demand in coming months. The raw material crisis is also mostly resolved and the availability of ore, coal has improved substantially. Many experts prefer to describe such a situation ‘new normal’ instead of ‘recession’. No, its not only word play. What it means is that now one has to get used to such industry environment where making profits may not be as easy as it was before. One has to be really innovative and articulate to do so. This situation is not a temporary passing phase but a long term reality.
The world around us is changing very fast. Our industry too is feeling the heat and will be undergoing a tremendous transformation in coming years. This transformation is multi dimensional. The technologies like 3D printing are going to re define the auto industry while technologies like robotics, cloud computing, virtual reality, augmented reality are going to completely change the way businesses are being done. I am very sure that many giants of today will face a tough time tomorrow and few of them will even perform a vanishing trick. New business models will emerge. We know today that the biggest taxi company in the world does not own a single vehicle. It were mobile companies which saw the downfall of music and camera companies. In today’s time, one should expect the most unexpected to happen. Auto industry is really heading towards a big transition and as a natural consequence, auto component industry, foundry industry is bound to undergo a huge churning.
Most of the Indian metal business houses are under tremendous finance pressure and few of them are looking for buyers, investors etc. Many companies want to expand the capacity and tap the additional demand expected to be generated but lack the support of financial institutions. Already, there is a talk of mergers, acquisitions and re-structuring of the industry. Looking at all this, I definately see a big fundamental change just round the corner !
For the last few years, global metals sector is passing through a rough period and the same is true for India.
On a global level, demand stagnation is the major concern. The developed countries and regions have already reached a plateau as far as infrastructure development is concerned. Thus their metal appetite is naturally low. In other parts of the world like Asian region, availability of raw materials, availability of finance coupled with demand stagnation is the issue.
In Indian context, for the last few years demand stagnation along with raw material crisis has restricted the growth of metal sector. It has also affected vital numbers like demand growth, bottomline, capacity utilization etc. All this resulted in value erosion and placing many companies in the red.
Now the situation has started tilting towards positivity and there seems a slight increase in the demand, a huge increase in industry sentiment due to good monsoon in most of the parts and some forward planning too. Nobody doubted India’s growth potential on a long term basis but till now the ground reality was not supporting this thought line. Now with slight increase in demand and somewhat better performance of metal companies, there is a huge optimism in the industry.
Unfortunately financial institutions have a different take on this. As per them, they have invested very big capital in the metals sector out of which substantial part has become or on the verge of becoming NPA. Further, metals industry is subjected to cyclic ups and downs which are very difficult to absorb. Lastly, even in best of the times, the margins of the industry are not so attractive when compared to other verticals like IT, Biotech etc. Thus it is very difficult to support this industry beyond a certain point.
In such a situation when the industry is looking up and needs capital for further capacity expansion, we have to find some solution bringing all the stakeholders together. It’s a huge task and requires support from every corner, the most important being from financial institutions !
Metals industry continues to have challenging times in most parts on a global level. Eurozone continues to be stagnated, Middle East region showed a little forward movement when oil prices started moving up but now with oil prices steady at a lower level than expected, the industry and the economy in ME region seems to be halted. South East Asian countries are again witnessing a tough time. Their economies have great influence of their Chinese counterpart and now they are exposed to a dynamically changing policy situation. As we all know, now for last so many years, the key player in metals sector is China. In global steel industry, material availability, pricing and other parameters are being greatly influenced (if not decided) by Chinese industry. In this global fluid situation, India seems to be better poised to attract investor’s attention because of its steady economic growth.
Indian metals sector has also gone through a very challenging time for the last few years. They have seen shortage of vital inputs like ore, coal etc, closure of mining activity by the supreme court orders, continues demand stagnation etc. But now the situation is changing, though slowly but definitely. The demand seems to have started climbing up. This may be due to forward movement of mega infra projects in the country. This will boost construction activity and in turn help the products like aluminium extrusions, wires etc. Also, better road condition is facilitating auto industry growth which in turn helps castings demand to grow. Fortunately this year monsoon is quite satisfactory in most of the regions in the country. This will have a direct, positive and immediate impact on agro equipments sector, tractor sale etc. Further, good crops will increase the purchasing power of the common man whereby helping the economic wheel to move faster. This will obviously help the metals sector to grow. It is expected that the introduction of GST will bring many business transactions in the mainstream economy and will support the growth of GDP.
Overall, I feel the metals sector will make some lost ground in coming months and as such the fiscal 2018-19 will be a better one than 2017-18.
Last few years were quite challenging for the metals industry. On one hand the demand did not rise up to the expectations and on the other hand, the cost of vital inputs was on the rise. Most of the developed world countries are going through an economic slow down and this suppressed the growth of the industry too. Many infrastructure projects were on hold due to liquidity crunch. As we all know, infrastructure and the construction together give the biggest trigger to the metals demand. Thus this situation results naturally in lower metal demand.
Indian story is slightly different. India too had its share of challenging days but fortunately the Indian economy showed up a comparatively good performance and this naturally helped various industry verticals including that of metals. Secondly, the Indian auto industry did fairly well in these testing years which helped foundry sector to survive. Actually, lot of foundries expanded their capacities in anticipation of good export opportunities to European countries but this thinking was proved wrong by the struggling economies of most of the countries in Eurozone. Today, most of the Indian foundries are aiming for domestic markets rather than exports.
Today, if an investor has to put his money, it is but natural that he will strongly consider Indian economy. Auto sector is progressing well, the speed of infrastructure development has also picked up to some extent, most of the raw material issues are sorted out and most importantly, majority of people believe that the Indian economy will continue to grow at a decent rate. Thus there is a strong reason to bait on India’s prospects. Further, introduction of GST will also have some added attraction about Indian economy. After initial teething problems, it is expected that the tax structure will be more simple, transparent and more industry friendly. In fact, from the last few months, the foreign direct investment (FDI) has already started scaling up in anticipation of GST regime.
I hope the positive sentiment in the industry continues and the metals industry in particular benefits from the economic progress and the infrastructure development.