Corporate performance shows a clear trend of demand destruction

Last week the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) released the data on the performance of non-financial private corporate business sector during the second quarter of 2015-16 (July- September 2015). This data makes for a very interesting reading.

The data aggregates the financial results of 2,711 listed nongovernment non-financial companies during the period July to September 2015. Take a look at the following table which summarises the performance of the companies. Also, please keep in mind that “to compute the growth rates in any quarter, a common set of companies for the current and previous period is considered.” This has had to be done because the number of companies across quarters does not match. So while 2863 companies have been taken into account for July to September 2014 results. Only 2,711 companies have been considered for the period July to September 2015.

IndicatorJuly to September 2014April to June 2015July to September 2015
Amount in Rs billionYear on year growth in Per centAmount in Rs billionYear on year growth in Per centAmount in Rs billionYear on year growth in Per cent
No. of Companies2,8632,7232,711
Value of Production8,1484.27,694-2.47,479-5.6
Expenditure, of which7,0763.66,534-3.56,330-7.8
  Raw Material3,7603.43,199-11.82,994-18.7
  Staff Cost6497.768110.26899.0
  Power & fuel2973.7284-3.0276-4.2
Operating Profits (EBITDA)1,0738.31,1603.71,1498.9
Other Income27526.12151.8250-5.8
Gross Profits (EBIT)1,05114.11,0703.41,0996.5
EBT (before NOP)72522.17290.77665.6
Tax Provision20429.02116.02199.6
Net Profits53725.6514-9.55779.9

The table clearly shows that the sales of the companies during the period July to September 2015 fell by 4.6%, in comparison to the same period last year. Despite falling sales the net profits went up by 9.9%. There are a couple of important points that need to be made here.

Falling sales show that businesses lack pricing power. This is because the consumer as well as industrial demand for products hasn’t been going up at the same pace as it was in the past. Nevertheless, despite falling sales, the net profit went up by close to 10%. What is happening here? The raw material costs of businesses fell by 18.7% during the three month period in comparison to a year earlier.

As CARE Ratings pointed out in a recent research note: “The negative growth in net sales is largely attributed to weakness in demand and pricing power. Despite negative producer’s inflation as measured by the wholesale price index signalling also lower raw material costs, growth in profits do not appear to be satisfactory.” 

The raw material cost during the period stood at a total of Rs 2,99,400 crore. This was Rs 76,600 crore lower. Profit on the other hand jumped by around Rs 3,900 crore during the quarter. Hence, the entire jump in profits has come from lower raw material costs.

Raw material costs have fallen largely due to falling global commodity prices. Power and fuel costs have also eased by Rs 2,100 crore. This has helped businesses bring down total expenditure by Rs 74,500 crore during the quarter and in turn, help report greater profits.

Now let’s dig a little deeper and look at how manufacturing and services companies have done.

July to September 2014April to June 2015July to September 2015
Amount in Rs billionYear on year growth
in Per cent
Amount in Rs billionYear on year growth
in Per cent
Amount in Rs billionYear on year growth
in Per cent
No. of companies1,9101,8281,828
Expenditure, of which5,2703.54,732-6.24,534-11.3
  Raw Material3,3743.02,882-13.02,697-19.1
  Staff Cost29311.331110.83099.4
  Power & fuel16810.51642.8158-2.5
Operating Profits (EBITDA)6497.97174.069911.0
Other Income12720.1119-3.914012.5
Gross Profits (EBIT)59212.06492.465813.9
EBT (before NOP)40416.7453-0.447618.1
Tax Provision13130.11356.91376.2
Net Profits28121.6310-14.333319.8

The manufacturing sector includes companies operating in Iron & Steel, Cement & Cement products, Machinery & Machine Tools, Motor Vehicles, Rubber, Paper, Food products etc. The sales of these companies have fallen by 7.8% during the three month period between July and September 2015. This shows a slowdown in industrial as well as consumer demand.

The profits on the other hand, tell a completely different story jumping by 19.8%. This was primarily on account of raw material costs falling by 19.1%, during the period. It needs to be mentioned here that for profits to continue to grow raw material costs will have to continue to fall, so that expenditure can be controlled or brought down.

For raw material prices to continue to fall, commodity prices need to continue to fall. Commodity prices have already fallen quite a lot. Hence, for profits to grow in the next financial year sales of companies need to start growing as well.

Let’s take a look at the performance of services sector which includes companies operating in Real Estate, Wholesale & Retail Trade, Hotel & Restaurants, Transport, Storage and Communication industries.

July to September 2014April to June 2015July to September 2015
Amount in Rs billionYear on year growth
in Per cent
Amount in Rs billionYear on year growth
in Per cent
Amount in Rs billionYear on year growth
in Per cent
No. of companies465454450
Expenditure, of which5836.46554.86463.3
  Raw Material4912.9476.844-13.6
  Staff Cost5011.9558.0568.4
  Power & fuel403.431-21.730-25.9
Operating Profits (EBITDA)12928.316416.415719.4
Other Income6461.7242.943-33.3
Gross Profits (EBIT)13359.012019.5131-2.2
EBT (before NOP)88@*7031.575-14.3
Tax Provision17-9.32316.72335.4
Net Profits71@*486.647-33.9

* The ratio / growth rate for which denominator is negative or negligible
is not calculated, and is indicated as ‘$’ and ‘@’ respectively.

The sales of companies operating in the services sector have risen by around 7.2% but net profit has fallen by 33.9%. This despite the fact that raw material cost as well as cost of power and fuel has crashed. Nevertheless, this did not prevent overall expenditure from going up. This again shows that companies operating in this sector are going through tough times and lack pricing power. The consumption has still not picked up despite the RBI cutting the repo rate by close to 125 basis points since the beginning of this year.

The column originally appeared on The Daily Reckoning on December 7, 2015

Why exports have been falling for 11 months

3D chrome Dollar symbol

Exports for the month of October 2015 fell by 17.5% to $21.35 billion in comparison to October 2014. In October 2014, exports had stood at $25.89 billion.

This is the eleventh month in a row when the exports have fallen. In fact, between April and October 2015, exports have fallen by 17.6% to $154.29 billion, in comparison to the same period last year. Between April and October 2014, the exports had stood at $187.29 billion. And this is indeed a worrying trend.

So why are the exports crashing? Much has been written about how India has benefited from falling oil prices. On April 2, 2015, the price of the Indian basket of crude oil had stood at $54.77 per barrel. Since then, it has fallen by 27.2% to $39.89 per barrel.

This has pushed down the oil import bill. And that is the good bit. Nevertheless, there are negative impacts of falling oil price as well. The export of petroleum products in October 2015 crashed by 57.1% to $2.46 billion, in comparison to a year earlier. In October 2014, the petroleum exports had stood at $5.73 billion.

The petroleum exports amounted to 22.1% of total exports in October last year. Since then, they have fallen to 11.5% of exports. In fact, in October 2014, petroleum products were India’s number one merchandise export. In October 2015, they came in third behind engineering products and gems and jewellery exports. So this is the flip side of falling oil prices. Surprisingly, this doesn’t get mentioned much in the media.

While writing this column, I heard an economist who works for a big American bank say on one of the business news channels that we should be considering exports data stripped of petroleum exports. If we do that a much better picture emerges.  Exports (without petroleum products) have fallen only 6.3% between October 2015 and October 2014.

Nevertheless the thing is that such suggestions were not being made when petroleum exports had been on their way up because of the rising oil price. And they are being made only now, when the petroleum exports have crashed because the oil price has crashed. If a certain basket of products makes up for our exports, the need is to look at the complete basket and not remove certain items as and when it suits.

What is worrying is that exports by sectors like engineering goods, gems and jewellery and leather and leather products have also fallen. Exports of engineering goods has fallen by 11.65% to $4.58 billion. Exports of gems and jewellery has fallen by 12.84% to $3.49 billion. Exports of leather and leather products has fallen by 6.6% to $417 million.  It is worth remembering that these sectors especially gems and jewellery and leather and leather products, are fairly labour intensive.

The finance minister Arun Jaitley explained this fall in a statement he made  on November 17, 2015: “One aspect of India, which is adversely affected, is our exports because of shrinking global economy. The headwinds are against us.” This is yet another of those motherhood and apple-pie kind of statements that Jaitley specialises in. As he had said in May earlier this year: “The country has the potential of taking the economic growth to double-digit. The government will take appropriate action in the regard.”

In fact, exports are a very important part of economic growth and no country up until now has seen sustained economic growth without rapid export growth. As TN Ninan writes in The Turn of the Tortoise—The Challenge and Promise of India’s Future: “While optimists like Jaitley talk of getting to double-digit growth, it is worth bearing in mind that no country has achieved this on a sustained basis without rapid export growth—which, in an uncertain world economic situation, is not likely to materialize especially with continuing deficiencies of India’s physical infrastructure.” Hence, falling exports are a very worrying trend.

How are things looking on the imports front? Imports for the month of October 2015 were down by 21.15% to $31.12 billion. The total imports in October 2014 had stood at $39.47 billion. The fall in overall imports was primarily because of a fall in oil and gold imports.

Also, if we look at non-oil non-gold imports, an indicator of the strength of domestic demand, the situation doesn’t look great. The non-oil non-gold imports for October 2015 stood at $22.57 billion. This number is an improvement on the August 2015 number, but it is down from the September 2015 number. The non-oil non gold imports are down 0.76% from October 2014. This is a good indicator of flat domestic demand.

The total imports between April and October 2015 stood at $232.05 billion, down by 15.17% from $273.56 billion between April and October 2014.  Despite this fall, the customs duty collections are up 16.8% between April and October 2015 to Rs 1,22,448 crore.

One explanation for this might be a fall in the value of the rupee against the dollar. But that doesn’t explain the whole thing. As TN Ninan recently wrote in the Business Standard: “Perhaps the import mix has changed, or there is some other explanation — the government has been upping import duties on specific items to combat imports. The point is, an explanation is due; an increase in the collection rate usually points to increased protectionism.”

To conclude, things aren’t looking good for India on the trade front.

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

The column originally appeared on on November 18, 2015

Eight things you need to know about falling oil prices


Vivek Kaul

The price of oil has been falling for a while now. As I write this the brent crude oil is selling at around $80.4 per barrel. There are several reasons behind the fall and several repercussions from it as well. Let’s look at them one by one.

1) The Chinese demand for oil has not been growing at the same rate as it was in the past, as Chinese economic growth has been falling. As Ruchir Sharma, head of Emerging Markets and Global Macro at Morgan Stanley Investment Management wrote in a recent column in The Wall Street Journal “The growth rate in Chinese demand for oil has plummeted to nearly zero this year, down from 12% in 2010. This is arguably the main reason why oil prices are down.”
2) In the past when oil prices fell, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) led by Saudi Arabia used to cut production to ensure that supply fell and that ensured that prices did not continue to fall. This hasn’t happened this time around. As the Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi told Reuters on November 12, “Saudi oil policy has been constant for the last few decades and it has not changed today.” He added that: “We do not seek to politicise oil…for us, it’s a question of supply and demand, it’s purely business.”
And what is this pure business Al Naimi is talking about? The United States and other western nations like Canada have had a boom in shale oil production. This boom has led to the United States and Canada producing much more oil than they were a few years back. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that United States in 2013 produced 12.35 million barrels per day. This is a massive increase of 35% since 2009. In case of Canada the production has gone up by 22.8% to 4.07 million barrels per day between 2009 to 2013.
Shale oil is very expensive to produce and depending on which estimate one believes it is viable only if oil prices range between $50 and $75 per barrel. Hence, by ensuring low oil prices the Saudis want to squeeze out the shale oil producing companies in Canada and United States.
3) So is the Saudi policy working? The US Energy Information Administration in its latest Drilling Productivity Report said that the seven largest shale oil companies will produce 125,000 barrels more per day in December 2014 in comparison to November 2014.
Hence, the Saudi strategy of driving down oil prices to ensure that the production of oil by shale oil companies is no longer viable, hasn’t seemed to have had an impact yet. Nevertheless that doesn’t mean that a fall in oil prices will have no impact on shale oil production.
International Energy Agency (IEA) has said that the investment in shale oil fields will fall by 10% next year, if oil prices continue to remain at $80 per barrel. Faith Bristol, chief economist of IEA recently said “there could be a 10 per cent decline in US light tight oil, or shale, investment in 2015 [from full-year 2014 levels]”…I wouldn’t be surprised to see statements from different companies in the weeks and months to come [outlining a change in] their investment plans and reducing budgets for investments in North America . . . especially the United States.” And this will have an impact on the production of shale oil in the medium term, if Saudis continue to sustain low oil prices.
4) Nonetheless, the interesting thing that the United States and other Western nations may never have to increase production of shale oil, just the threat of doing that will act as an insurance policy. As Niels C. Jensen writes in the Absolute Return Letter for November 2014 “There is nothing easier to get used to in this world than higher living standards, and the populations of most oil producing nations have seen plenty of that in recent years. Shale [oil] is a threat against those living standards, and falling oil prices are the best assurance they can hope for that shale [oil] will never become the major production factor that we are all being told that it could become. It is very expensive to produce and thus requires high oil and gas prices to be economical.”
But even with that shale oil can act as an insurance policy against high oil prices, feels Jensen. As he writes “In a rather bizarre way, shale [oil] has thus become an insurance policy, as the western world never have to ramp up shale production to levels that have been discussed. The sheer threat of doing so should keep the oil price at acceptable levels.”
5) Also, low oil prices are going to benefit nations which import oil. “A $20-per-barrel drop in oil prices transfers $6-700 billion from oil producing nations to consumers worldwide or nearly 1% of world GDP. Assuming consumers will spend about half of that on consumption, which historically has been a fair assumption, the positive effect on GDP in consumer countries is 0.5%,” writes Hunt. And this is clearly good news for oil importing nations like India. Falling oil prices are also benefiting airlines and shipping companies given that oil is their single biggest expense.
6) News reports suggest that China is using this opportunity to buy a lot of oil. As a recent report on Bloomberg points out “The number of supertankers sailing toward China’s ports matched a record on Oct. 17 and is still close to that level now.”
7) The countries that are likely to get into trouble if oil prices continue to remain low are primarily Russia and Iran. Russia relies heavily on exports of oil and gas. As a recent article on points out “In 2013, for example, Russia’s energy exports constituted more than two-thirds of total exports amounting to $372 billion of a total $526 billion.” Further, the Russian government’s budget gets balanced (i.e. its income is equal to its expenditure) at an oil price of anywhere between $100-110 per barrel. Iran’s case is similar. Hence, both these countries need higher oil prices.
As a recent Oped in the Los Angeles Times points out “Russia and Iran compete with Saudi Arabia in the international oil market, and both need oil prices to be at roughly $110 a barrel in order to balance their budgets. If oil prices remain at $80 a barrel, the strategic ambitions of Tehran and Moscow could be severely undermined.”
8) Saudi Arabia also gets hit by a lower oil prices. “Saudi produces close to 10m barrels per day, similar to Russian output. A $20 fall in the oil price, costs Saudi Arabia about $200m per day,” a recent article in The Independent points out.
But Saudi Arabia has more staying power than the others. The fact that
Aramco (officially known as Saudi Arabian Oil Company) has deep pockets is a point worth remembering. As Vijay Bhambwani, CEO of recently told me “Saudis can produce low cost arab light sweet crude very cost efficiently and only the recent state welfare schemes implemented after the arab spring, have raised the marginal costs. Even a slight rollback / delayed released of the additional welfare payments (US $ 36 billion) can add sizeable cash flow into the Saudi national balance sheet and give it additional staying power.”
To conclude, there are many different dimensions to falling oil prices and the way each one of them evolves, will have some impact on oil prices in the days to come .

The article originally appeared on on Nov 13, 2014

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

Oil prices are at a 4 year-low now but assuming that they will continue to fall is risky business


Vivek Kaul

Oil prices have been falling for a while now and have now touched a four year low. As per the data published by the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell, the price of the Indian basket of crude oil touched $ 82.83 per barrel on October 16, 2014.
There are several reasons for the fall (You can read about them in detail
here and here). Analysts expect this growth to continue to fall in the years to come. Several fundamental reasons have been offered as an explanation for the same.
As Crisil Research points out in a research report titled
Falling crude, LNG, coal prices huge positive for India “Over the next five years, we expect global oil demand to increase by 4-4.5 million barrels per day (mbpd). However, crude oil supply is expected to increase by 8-10 mbpd. This, we believe, will bring down prices from current levels.”
This augurs well for India as falling oil prices will ensure that the under-recoveries suffered by the oil marketing companies(OMCs) on selling diesel, cooking gas and kerosene, will fall. The government has been compensating the OMCs for these under-recoveries. Falling under-recover will mean lower government expenditure leading to a lower fiscal deficit. Fiscal deficit is the difference between what a government earns and what it spends.
Analysts Harshad Katkar and Amit Murarka of Deutsche Bank Markets Research in a report titled
Breaking Free point out that “Fuel subsidy could fall to an annual level of $7billion – a 70% reduction over financial year 2014 – by financial year 2020 and potentially reduce the government’s fuel subsidy burden to zero by 2021 driven by elimination of the diesel subsidy and rationalization of the cooking fuel subsidy.”
These arguments sound pretty good. The only problem is that predictions on which direction oil prices are headed invovle too many variables and predicting all these variables at the same time is not an easy thing to do.
On several occasions in the past, well renowned experts have ended up with eggs on their face while trying to predict the price of oil. In January 1974, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) raised the price of oil to $11.65 per barrel. This was after OPEC’s economic commission had determined that the price of oil should be $17 per barrel.
It was around then that the economist Milton Friedman wrote in a column in the
Newsweek magazine where he predicted that “the Arabs … could not for long keep the price of crude at $10 a barrel.”
By early 1981, the price of oil had risen to $40 a barrel. A spate of reasons including the politics of the Middle East were responsible for this rise. Other than the politics of the Middle East, in April 1977, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States had come up with a highly influential report which predicted that the growth of the world oil demand would soon outpace production.
This was primarily because of constraints on the OPEC production. The Soviet Union, another big oil producer, would reach its peak soon. This meant that by the mid-1980s, oil would become very scarce and expensive, the report pointed out.
Customers, including some of the biggest international oil companies, were queuing up to buy oil. The report succeeded in generating sufficient paranoia among the oil-consuming nations as well as the big oil-producing companies. Hence, they wanted to buy as much oil as they could.
All the doomsday predictions regarding the price of oil turned out to be wrong. By 1983, the average OPEC price had fallen to $28 per barrel leading to some members of OPEC offering additional hidden discounts in an attempt to boost their stagnating sales.
By 1986, the price of oil was quoting again at $10 a barrel, proving the CIA prediction to be all wrong. Milton Friedman, though, was right about the price in the end. And Friedman would write a “I told you so” column in
Newsweek which appeared on March 10, 1986, titled “Right at Last, an Expert’s Dream.” This, of course, was in jest. As Friedman confessed, “Timing, as well as direction, is important…I had expected the price of oil to come down far sooner.”
What this tells us is that it is very difficult to predict the long term direction of the price of oil. One reason why oil prices have not risen in the recent past despite the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is because the outfit has not been able to move into the southern part of Iraq where a major part of the country’s oil is produced. Southern Iraq is dominated by the Shias who do not support the ISIS.
Then there is the so called deal between Saudi Arabia and the United States, where the ruling dynasty of Saudi Arabia is believed to have engineered a fall in the price of oil so as to ensure that the security guarantee that they have from the United States, continues.
The trouble is that with the price of oil now lower than $85 a barrel, the shale oil boom that is happening in the United States and Canada, might not be able to continue. Shale oil is expensive to produce and it is financially viable only if the price of oil remains at a certain level. As analysts of Bank of America-Merrill Lynch point out in a report titled
Does Saudi want $85 oil? “With production costs ranging from $50 to $75/bbl at the well head, a decline in Brent crude oil prices to $85 would likely be a major blow to US shale oil players and lead to a significant slowdown in investment.”
The shale oil boom can lead to a situation where the United States no longer needs to depend on the Middle East and other countries to meet its oil needs. Hence, to some extent it is in the interest of the United States that oil prices continue to fall. At the same time, one reason that dollar continues to be the international reserve currency is because oil continues to be bought and sold in dollars.
Saudi Arabia over the years has cracked the whip among the OPEC nations to maintain a status quo on this front. It is in the interest of the United States that the dollar continues to be the international reserve currency. While every country in the world needs to earn dollars, the United States can simply print them.
And to ensure that dollar continues to be a reserve currency, the United States, needs Saudi Arabia on its side. The Saudis currently would prefer a lower price of oil, in order to make the production of shale oil unviable. At the same time they would like the security guarantee they have from the United States to continue, in order to protect them against the ISIS.
As the Bank of America-Morgan Stanely analysts point out “It should perhaps not come as a surprise that the threat of a stateless group that challenges the status quo by attempting to redraw national borders is shifting incentives for key regional and global players…The Islamic State could present a direct threat to the Arab monarchies at a time of growing social discontent…In our view, Saudi and other regional rulers may prefer to re-engage the US to help protect established borders from the expanding caliphate. What could Arab countries offer the West to help contain this threat? Lower oil prices.”
This issue is too complex to make a prediction on. Nevertheless it will have a huge impact on the direction in which oil prices will go in the years to come. Further, the chances of the current turmoil in the Middle East escalating, still remain. As Milton Ezrati writes in a piece titled
ISIS, Oil, and the Economy on Huffington Post “There is no mistaking the huge remaining importance of Persian Gulf supplies. If the turmoil there were to take a significant portion of this output off line suddenly, the world would be hard pressed to replace it, and prices would rise with all their ill effects.”
He further points out that “the Persian Gulf itself is also a choke point of no small significance in oil transport. The EIA reports that upwards of 35 percent of sea going oil and gas passes through the Gulf and the narrow Strait of Hormuz at its head. If Iran were to become further embroiled in Iraq’s problems or otherwise come to a confrontation with Western powers, the strait would close and the world would find itself without any of this still crucial supply.”
The price of oil is not just determined by the demand and supply equation. The politics of the Middle East and which side of the bed Uncle Sam wakes up from remain very important factors. For any analyst trying to predict the price of oil, taking all these “qualitative” factors into account remains very difficult.
To conclude, what are the lessons that we can draw from this. First and foremost we need to ensure that the price of diesel is decontrolled. And more than that we need to ensure that it continues to be decontrolled in the years to come, even if the global price of oil rises.

The article originally appeared on on Oct 18, 2014

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)