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Petrochemicals: A SWOT Analysis - Views on News from Equitymaster
 
 
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  • Jul 20, 2004

    Petrochemicals: A SWOT Analysis

    The Indian petrochemicals industry is finally discarding its nascent stage tag and the companies are now vying for a major chunk of the global pie of the petrochemicals market. Indian major Reliance has recently acquired a German polyester major Trevira GmbH and this marks the private sector giant's entry into the European markets in a big way. At the same time, ONGC and IOC are planning entry into the business in a major way as this is in line with their forward integration plans.

    The petrochemicals cycle is currently on a global uptrend thanks to growing demand from China and other developing nations. In the domestic markets, growing activity in infrastructure and construction segments coupled with strong growth in the auto sector on the back of lower interest rates have actually boosted the performance of the petrochemicals sector. Major beneficiaries of this uptrend are the integrated players such as Reliance Industries, GAIL and IPCL (to some extent).

    A low per capita consumption of 4 Kgs of plastic as compared to a global average of 20 Kgs leaves enough scope for capacity expansion resulting in ONGC and IOC venturing into the business. The following are the major uses of the products:

    Polymer Products and the uses
    Product Uses
    LDPE/LLDPE Consumer packaging/film, extrusion wires, cable coatings
    HDPE Fertilizers, household packaging, woven sacks, cartons, crates, luggage, pipes
    Polypropylene (PP) Cement packaging, monofilament yarn, ropes
    PVC Water pipe, electrical wires, cables, sheets
    Polybutadeine Rubber (PBR) Automotive tyres and tubes, conveyor belts and footwear

    Let us now do a SWOT analysis on the industry so as to have a better understanding of the prospects for the industry, going forward:

    Strengths:

    • Consolidation: The Indian petrochemicals industry has witnessed consolidation over the last few years and nearly 85% of the polymer capacity in the domestic market is with the top three participants (Reliance, IPCL and Haldia Petrochemicals (HPL)). Of the three companies mentioned, IPCL forms a part of the Reliance stable while GAIL is set to pick up stake in HPL. Such high concentration is likely to benefit these players, as this would help reduce duplication of production.

    • Synergies: Most of the petrochemical players have integrated facilities, thereby reducing external dependence to a large extent. To put things in perspective, Reliance Industries uses naphtha from its own Jamnagar refinery as a feedstock for the petrochemicals production. IPCL uses Reliance's vast and widespread marketing network to reach out to global consumers. On the other hand, GAIL utilizes natural gas for its petrochemicals capacity. Rich natural gas is evacuated into the pipelines and after separation of the hydrocarbons such as ethane, propane and butane, the lean gas is transmitted to consumers such as power and fertilizer industry. Further, petrochemicals business being a high value add, would add further to the profitability of these integrated companies.

    Weaknesses:

    • Low bargaining power vis-a-vis the suppliers: Input costs form nearly 50% to 60% of the raw material costs. Further, gas prices are regulated but in short supply, while naphtha is an expensive source of feedstock. Refineries realize the import parity prices on naphtha produced and in case of high feedstock prices, petrochemical players have little bargaining power against the suppliers. These players are therefore vulnerable to raw material prices.

    • Low Bargaining power vis-a-vis customers: In case of increase in input costs, the companies might not be able to pass on the rise to the consumers as the prices of products is highly influenced by factors such as international prices and supply.

    Opportunities:

    • Low per capita consumption: Currently, domestic per capita polymer consumption is nearly 4 kgs while the global average is nearly 20 kgs. This underlines the fact that there is immense scope of capacity expansion in the country as the market to be tapped is huge. Further, spending on R&D activities is around 2% of sales as compared to an international average of 18%. This leaves enough room for product development. Also, currently, India has a chemicals trade deficit of about US$ 1.5 bn a year, which leaves enough investment opportunities in the industry.

    • Increased economic activity:The government has set aside nearly Rs 400 bn for infrastructure projects such as roadways, airports and convention centers and also towards rural housing augur well for the petrochemicals industry as this is likely to increase demand for various products (high density polyethylene, low density polyethylene among others) for the purpose of road development, packaging, cables and wiring. Also sustained growth in the auto sector is likely to keep the demand for petrochemical products high. As per our estimates, the auto sector is likely to grow at nearly 12% over the next few years.

    Threats:

    • Customs duties: Historically, the domestic industry has been protected from overseas competition by high import duties imposed by the government. However, of late, Import duty on polymers has been steadily reduced and is currently at 20%. As part of its commitment to various multilateral and bilateral trade agreements, the government is likely to reduce duties going forward and this is likely to reduce the cushion enjoyed by the domestic players as against the landed cost of imported products.

    • Growing competition: The domestic industry is likely to witness immense competition going forward with IOC all set to enter the segment with its Rs 64 bn project in FY06. Further, ONGC is also venturing into petrochemicals business. With commitments to reduce and eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers, India, with huge market potential, might witness entry of global majors such as ExxonMobil, Dow Chemicals and Shell into the business. These global majors with deep pockets can actually lead into a pricing war, which could result in squeezing margins.

    The above analysis is just to provide a view of the sector and by no way advocates any opportunities to invest in the petrochemicals sector. Taking a cue from their global counterparts, Indian majors such as IOC and ONGC are entering into this value add business in a huge way and this is likely to change the entire business dynamics of the companies, not only in India but Asia as Asia is fast becoming the largest petrochemicals manufacturing hub. Going forward, investors need to be aware of this reality and make informed investment decisions in the energy sector.

     

     

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