Author Archives: Sohrab Darabshaw

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India’s protectionist measures to safeguard its steel industry seem to be paying off.

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As reported consistently by AG Metal Miner, the Indian government, responding to the call of its steelmakers, had time and again imposed various forms of anti-dumping measures and fines to stop cheap imports of steel — especially from the world’s steel manufacturing leader, China.

Along with the U.S. and Brazil, India was said to be one of the world’s leading initiators of anti-dumping investigations, according to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Well, now, all this has resulted in India’s steel exports doubling to 8.2 million tons and imports have been slashed by about one-third in 2016-17.

As per a report by the Press Trust of India (PTI), quoting from portions of the released Economic Survey, the rise in exports of steel could also wipe away the excess capacity built up in the steel sector. The mid-year survey by the government said steel imports had declined in 2016-17, while exports of steel had doubled.

Alloy imports dipped by 36.6% to 7.4 million tons in 2016- 17 against 11.7 million tons in the previous fiscal year. Exports doubled to 8.2 million tons last fiscal year, over 4.1 million tons in the corresponding year.

The news was welcomed by steel companies like Tata Steel. T.V. Narendran, managing director for Tata Steel India and South East Asia, told newsmen that steel demand in India was increasing, making it just right to make future investments. Stability was being witnessed in the steel sector globally, though it had faced some problem two years ago, Narendran told reporters.

Ironically, much of Indian steel joy stems from its traditional rival China, where there’s been a visible improvement in the economy — which meant much of its steel being produced was once again being used within the country. It was against the backdrop of China’s economic slowdown that the global steel industry had faced distress due to decline in global demand.

The Indian survey report said, in response to the dumping of cheap imports, the government in 2016 introduced a host of measures like raising Basic Customs Duty, imposition of Minimum Import Price (MIP) and anti-dumping duties in order to shield domestic producers. The government imposed the MIP for steel in February 2016 for a period of one year.

On April 12, 2016, India initiated countervailing duty investigation concerning imports of certain hot-rolled and cold-rolled stainless steel flat products originating in China.

According to the WTO, India’s share in total global steel exports increased from 1.1% in 2000 to 2.8% in 2016. During this period, China’s share in total steel exports rose from 3.7% in 2000 to 19.2% in 2016. Japan’s share in total steel exports in 2000 which was 12.2%, but fell to 9.1% in 2016.

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Meanwhile, the U.S. share in total steel imports was 17.0% in 2000, but has since come down to 12.1% in 2016.

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One of the top five regions in the world with the largest deposits of bauxite, India’s bauxite production is expected to increase from 22.08 million tons in 2016 to 49.4 million tons by 2021, according to new research.

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The BMI Research report says bauxite production is projected to hit 26.1 million tons this year, about 18% higher than 2016.

In the last two decades, India’s bauxite ore production has kept up with its aluminum output. As is the case with steel and other metals, bauxite production in the country, too, was estimated to go up in 2017 because of increasing domestic demand.

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There’s been a shift in one of India’s biggest steel company’s plans.

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Steel giant Tata Steel will now focus more on India, its home base, than on global markets.

Chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran has said Tata Steel’s priorities will be to focus on the Indian market, achieving operational excellence, and delivering value-added and differentiated products to its customers.

He told shareholders in the company’s Annual Report for 2016-17 that steel demand in India was set to witness a “significant growth in the future,” considering the current stage of development of the country’s economy and its expected growth path in the next decade.

Protectionism and Political Uncertainty

The global steel industry continued to witness challenging times, though the performance of the industry has been better this fiscal year.

While most in this sector, including Tata Steel, are keenly aware of the slow growth in global steel pickup for the last several years, they are also too aware of the fact that only China and India, where infrastructure development is the fastest, are the two places on earth where steel will continue to be used at a faster rate than the rest of the world.

The global steel industry continues to face structural overcapacity, but we see recovery in developed economies, such as Europe, gradual improvement in demand in India and better industry conditions in China.

At the same time, risk of uncertainty was likely to remain at elevated levels due to structural issues such as geopolitical uncertainty, especially in the U.S. and U.K., and the rising trend of protectionism, Chandrasekaran said.

In March 2016, Tata Steel announced plans to sell its U.K. business, as the company battled to control its “deteriorating financial performance.” In February, the company inked a pact to sell its Specialty Steel business, which employs 1,700 people, to Liberty House Group for £100 million.

Tata Launches Graphene-Coated Stirrups Products

What’s more interesting is the fact that Tata Steel was working on the commercialization of superconductor graphene, an advanced material. The company has launched ready-made graphene-coated stirrups called Tiscon Superlinks+.

Explaining this, Peeyush Gupta, vice president of steel marketing and sales at Tata Steel, said when four columns are built, the support link was normally made of steel. However, the link normally starts rusting after a while. Tata Steel has changed that by coating it with graphene.

Tata has said Superlinks+ comes with enhanced corrosion resistance and better bonding strength than other stirrups in the market. Incidentally, Tata Steel has filed seven patent applications in this area of work. The company is said to be contemplating other areas where graphene can be used. For this, a graphene development cell has been set up at Jamshedpur to identify applications and establish new businesses. In addition, two advanced material research centers of excellence have been established.

According to other media reports, Tata planned to start manufacturing graphene, which can be used in filtration systems, batteries and smartphones. The company is also working on drones and hydrogen fuel cells.

Graphene is ultra-light, 200 times stronger than steel and yet highly flexible. It is a superb conductor and is also transparent. Graphene research is focused on applications in energy, membranes, composites and coatings, biomedical, sensors, and electronics.

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Tata was working on using graphene in highly targeted wearable technology products, including a smartwatch meant for yoga enthusiasts.

Sanjeev Gupta has been sometimes called a knight in shining armor, saving the workforce of distressed steel mills across Europe and Australia.

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Now, Liberty House Group — the Gupta-controlled metals and engineering empire — plans to enter the Indian market, and is looking at investing in the renewable energy, auto component, shipping,  engineering and infrastructure sectors.

If it happens, in a sense, life would have come a full circle for the Punjab born, U.K.-based Gupta.

In an interview with the Indian newspaper Live Mint, Gupta said the entry would probably be through the acquisition of distressed assets or direct investment.

Gupta hurried to add they were in no hurry to enter this market segment, though.

In mid-July, the steel tycoon bought the U.K. assets of Amtek Global Technologies Pte, a subsidiary of India’s debt-ridden Amtek Auto, for an undisclosed amount. It would save 550 jobs. The Liberty Group is also said to be actively looking at bidding for the ABG Shipyard Ltd and the India assets of Amtek Auto. Amtek and ABG Shipyard are two of the 12 large defaulters identified by the Reserve Bank of India for launch of early bankruptcy proceedings under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).

These two acquisitions could be the stepping stone for Liberty House’s entry into India, though only time will tell.

“Give me your distressed and I shall retain their jobs” seems be the motto of Liberty House, though some experts and sector observers have started questioning the viability of its business plan.

After all, where other majors had failed, what magic formula does Liberty House have to turn around the same, loss-making businesses?

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For India, a recent development may turn its minerals industry on its head.

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Scientists from the Geological Survey of India (GSI), a department under the Ministry of Mines, recently discovered millions of tons of precious stones and minerals under the deep waters that surround peninsular India.

What’s more, the discovery lies within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which means India will benefit the most.

It was sometime in 2014 that the scientists found the huge presence of marine resources off the Indian coast, extending till the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and around Lakshadweep. The amount of lime mud, phosphate-rich and calcareous sediments, hydrocarbons, metalliferous deposits and micronodules called for a more extensive exploration, and that’s precisely what the GSI team did.

After three years of exploration, they hit paydirt.

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The jury may be out on whether the recently concluded Group of 20 (G20) summit’s protectionist slant will hurt India or not (though everybody is near-unanimous that where overproduction of steel was concerned, China’s had it coming for a long time).

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The G20 leaders at the July 7-8 summit in Hamburg, Germany, had agreed to address “growing overcapacity and rock-bottom prices in global steel markets.” This, after pressure was applied by the U.S. administration, which managed to get some strongly worded language inserted into the G20 communique, even setting deadlines for G20 members to address the issue of excess steel production.

The communique urged world leaders to seek the removal of “market-distorting subsidies and other types of support by governments and related entities,” according to a copy obtained by news agency Bloomberg.

The statement called on all G20 members to “fulfill their commitments on enhancing information sharing and cooperation by August 2017, and to rapidly develop concrete policy solutions that reduced steel excess capacity.” All the data and proposed policy solutions will also be compiled as a report and published by the OECD’s Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity in November this year.

Some last-minute maneuvering by the Trump administration saw such strong language being inserted into the communique to fight protectionist measures and ensure reciprocity in trade and investment frameworks. Many saw this as a departure from attempts to include similar language at the G20 finance ministers’ meeting in March, barely a month before the U.S. had launched investigations to determine whether cheap steel imports posed a threat to U.S. national security, startling many sector experts.

Calls to lower overcapacity are largely aimed at China, producer of half of global crude steel output until May 2017. Even though China has insisted it had clamped down on polluting and unviable steel capacity, the impact on steel production has been negligible so far, experts say. (Stuart Burns wrote on the subject of capacity cuts last week.)

Even at the 2016 G20 summit, European and U.S. leaders asked China to accelerate capacity cuts, blaming its big exports on slumping prices and accusing it of dumping cheap metal in foreign markets.

Data for global crude steel output in 2017 through May showed output grew 4.7%, while U.S. output was up by only 2.2%. In comparison, steel output in the European Union (EU) rose by 4.1%. China’s output was up by 4.4%, although May saw output grow by 1.8%.

India’s steel industry has come to rely on exports since its domestic demand had not kept pace with the increase in capacity. While some in India say the country needs ready access to global steel markets, any such protectionist move could put pressure on growth.

On the other hand, other experts were of the view that the move could resolve a large part of the non-performing assets problem in the Indian banking sector. At the moment, a number of Indian steel companies were facing bankruptcy and their lenders were looking to sell their assets.

Any move by G20 companies to support the world steel prices would eventually help Indian companies’ realizations from exports.

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Indians’ love of gold is a story with which many around the globe are familiar.

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Just how deep is this love? A recent research report by one of India’s well-known equities firms said India had consumed — hold your breath — around $300 billion worth of gold in just the last decade.

The analysis by Kotak Institutional Equities said gold prices had gone up by 300% between FY 2008 and FY 2017. But the love story has not been the same in the last five financial years (FY 2013-17), when only half the gold consumption of the past decade was recorded, not to mention virtually flat gold prices.

It’s no wonder that under the new Goods and Services Tax (GST) implemented as of July 1, gold, according to some, has been given special treatment. The tax has been kept at 3%, nowhere near the 18% suggested by some experts.

GST is a uniform tax across India, doing away with almost all other forms of taxes for businesses. So high is this precious metal on an average Indian’s shopping list that even the 3% tax, up from the current 1.2%, has raised the hackles of buyers. Some have even suggested that the “high” GST (in reality, just 1.8% more) would once again lead to the smuggling of gold into the country.

A report by news agency Reuters, for example, quoted named and unnamed gold traders and buyers as saying smaller gold shops could be more inclined to sell without receipts, potentially hitting sales.

Indians have been familiar with the “black” gold economy.

Except for certain periods, gold smuggling has always been a part and parcel of India. In 2013, for example, when the government raised import duties on the metal to 10%, smuggling went up. The World Gold Council (WGC) estimated that smuggling networks had imported up to 120 tons of gold into India last year.

The Kotak Institutional Equities report opined that it was “unhappy” with the special treatment given to gold vis-à-vis GST. India’s policy on inflation management achieved remarkable success, which should reduce gold’s function as a “store of value,” the report said.

Gold Demand on the Rise?

A WGC report in June highlighted the potential impact of the GST on India’s gold demand. It said the new tax could have a negative impact in the short term as the industry went through a period of adjustment, but the net impact in the long term was likely to be positive. The WGC expected India’s demand for gold to be 650–750 tons in 2017 and predicted it will rise to 850–950 tons by 2020.

According to another article in the Mint newspaper, analysis of household survey data seemed to suggest that one reason why regional governments in India may have lobbied for a low tax rate on gold was because gold purchases were not exclusive to the rich.

Even though the rich tend to buy more of it, possession of gold was a universal phenomenon across income classes, according to the Household Survey on India’s Citizen Environment & Consumer Economy (ICE 360° survey) conducted by the independent not-for-profit organization, People Research on India’s Consumer Economy, which was partly financed by the WGC.

The report found that one in every two households in India had purchased gold in the last five years. The survey also revealed of 61,000 households polled in 2016, 87% of households owned some amount of gold in the country.

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It’s the largest coal miner in the world, and accounts for at least 80% of India’s coal production.

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Now, faced with India’s onward march on the path of renewable energy, Coal India Ltd (CIL) finds itself stuttering. So much so that it has decided to shutter as many as 37 coal mines by March of next year.

India’s Coal Ministry, in a review meeting with CIL and its subsidiaries, took special note of the fact that a substantial number of mines had not been able to recover costs in the form of even salaries paid to the workers. It then directed CIL’s arms to conduct a detailed study of such mines and report on action taken.

CIL also explained away the decision, saying its subsidiaries undertake an annual exercise to determine profit- and loss-making mines for comparative study of performance. The decision has been met, predictably, with protests from local labor unions. If and when the mines are shuttered, it would help the company save about $124 million. The mines make up about 9% of the total number of mines operated by CIL.

CIL is not alone in facing the challenge represented by the growing renewable energy sector.

One estimate by the Energy and Resources Institute predicts if the cost of renewable energy and storage continue to fall, India may phase out coal power completely by 2050. Both solar and wind energy prices have been steadily decreasing over the last three years.

In 2016-17, India added over 14,000 megawatts of new renewable energy power compared to almost 7,000 megawatts of new coal power capacity.

But green energy is not the only new challenge coal mines face.

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A new front seems to have opened up in India’s steel wars.

Only this time, the country seems to be fighting for its steel companies to be allowed to sell its steel in a foreign market.

India has complained to the World Trade Organization (WTO) that the U.S. had failed to drop anti-subsidy duties on certain Indian steel products. The move comes on the heels of India itself having imposed anti-dumping duty on 47 steel products from six nations in May.

According to the Indian government, the U.S. had not kept its promise of an April 2016 deadline to comply with a WTO ruling that faulted it for imposing countervailing duties on hot-rolled carbon steel flat products from India.

In December 2014, the WTO ruled against the U.S.’s move to impose high duty on imports of certain Indian steel products. The world body said the high duty by the U.S. was inconsistent with various provisions of the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures.

The U.S. sought time until the April 2016 deadline to comply with the ruling. Realizing that the deadline had passed away without any action on part of the U.S. authorities, India has now requested the WTO dispute consultations with the U.S. regarding U.S. compliance.

Some experts say the U.S. will have to amend its domestic norms to comply with the WTO’s verdict on countervailing duties.

In May, India imposed anti-dumping duty on products from six nations — China, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Russia and Indonesia — to protect its own industry from cheap imports.

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Editor’s Note: This is the second of two posts — the first of which ran yesterday — from our Sohrab Darabshaw on renewable energy in India. 

India saw nearly $10 billion invested, both in 2015 and in 2016, in renewable energy projects. Last year, $1.9 billion of green bonds were issued. India’s solar targets alone need $100 billion of debt.

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Posting in the Bloomberg View opinion section, columnist Mihir Sharma, however, struck a slightly skeptical note.

“India is not like China, or the U.S., or Australia or Germany when it comes to meeting its Paris pledges,” he wrote. “In India, hundreds of millions of people still live without electricity — a big part of what keeps them desperately poor. India also has a shrunken manufacturing sector, partly because electricity is so expensive (relatively) and its supply so variable. No democratically accountable Indian government can ever favor an international agreement over fixing these two problems.”

Sharma added coal “looks bad” in India at the moment because “its economy is struggling and because it is so services-intensive. Over the past few years, coal plants have used less and less of their capacity as growth has slowed.”

But, if India’s economy does take off, Prime Minister Narendra Modi might indeed be faced with such a choice.

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