The iron & steel sector in India seems to be slowly gaining momentum. Finished steel consumption and demand are growing steadily which is reflecting positively on capacity utilization of steel plants. The price curve too is showing a gradual increase which means the conversion margin at every stage is reasonable.
Though steel user sectors such as infra, construction, auto, engineering are putting up impressive performance month after month and are providing support to the demand curve, in my opinion, this is not enough to have a sustainable growth. The real and biggest trigger for steel demand comes from mega infra projects undertaken by the centre or state government and this has not yet picked up as expected. Still the overall capacity utilization of Indian plants is below 80 % and there is a lot of ground to be covered.
Steel Ministry has made a projection of steel making capacity to be enhanced to 300 mtpa by 2031 from the present level of around 130 mtpa. This also means that with around 80 % capacity utilization, the steel production has to reach to 240 mtpa from present level of 102 mtpa. On consumption front, if the Indian economy grows by near double digit rate, then the steel consumption can rise to that level but it is not only consumption estimate which will decide the fate of such ambitious projection. The whole system has to gear up to that level. The raw materials, plant equipments, plant builders, logistics, technical manpower, everything has to increase three times the present level and this is a real huge task and challenge. A lot of technological upgradation is also needed at various stages in iron & steel making and for that purpose, our R & D institutes have to gear up. India has a great history of metallurgical advancements but unfortunately in the present era, we are lagging behind the developed world in this very subject.
On policy front too the industry needs support. Firstly, land acquisition bill. Unless it is in place no Greenfield expansion is possible and as we all know brownfield expansion has land limitations. Industry is struggling to get this bill passed by the parliament but till date the issue is fluid. Further, because high cost of power and finance, Indian steel price can be never competitive in a global marketplace. Now, these are old issues but still not resolved. One has to understand that steel prices do have a big effect on a lot of industry verticals and by making it higher, we are putting the viability of not only steel but many other industries under question. One more issue is logistics support. We all know that to produce a tone of steel, four tones have to be moved. It is government’s responsibility to provide logistic support (roads, rail and sea route) I do agree that the process of building the infrastructure is being carried out with a great speed in last few years but still a lot of ground is yet to be covered. Unless infrastructure is in place, iron & steel industry cannot progress. Something has to be done about it.
Overall, I am quite bullish on the fortune of Indian iron & steel sector and would certainly bait my money on it !