Natural gas is fast becoming a major source of energy, given the fact that alternative fuels such as oil are resulting in higher costs for the industry. Growing dependence on oil imports again tilts the balance in natural gas’ favour, as it is a relatively cheaper source as against oil.
Given the growing importance of natural gas in the country, GAIL, the dominant player with a near monopoly is likely to benefit going forward. The company has an integrated business model whereby it supplies gas to the power and fertilizer industry and at the same time, utilizes gas for the manufacturing of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) and petrochemicals. Also, GAIL is a primary source of gas supply for regional retail players such as Gujarat Gas and Indraprastha Gas.
Having said that, GAIL should command a premium over Gujarat Gas, which to a certain extent, is dependent on GAIL for gas supply and has its business restricted to only Gujarat, while GAIL has a network spread over 4,800 kms and covering the major industrial belt in the country. However, that is not the case, as Gujarat Gas continues to command a premium over GAIL, largely due to its private entity status.
Let us look at the factors that help Gujarat Gas command a premium:
Private entity: Gujarat Gas is a private entity with nearly 65% of the shareholding with British Gas. The company has been successful in spreading its retail business in the state of Gujarat and has also assured a monopoly in its area of operations, as the state government shall not allow more than one player in the region. This private entity status helps the company in the sense that there is no political interference and as a result, lack of bureaucracy helps make quick decisions. Also, the company operates in a strong industrial belt, which helps in creating more business opportunities.
No subsidies: As against GAIL, Gujarat Gas need not contribute towards the Gas Pool Account, which is utilized to compensate gas producers for selling gas as a subsidized rate (OIL India). At the same time, it need not contribute towards the LPG and kerosene subsidy burden. To put things in perspective, GAIL contributed nearly Rs 4.3 bn towards the subsidy burden during FY04 and this trend continues during the current fiscal also, with the company having contributed nearly 2.3 bn.
New avenues: The court recently declared that public transportation in Surat should be converted to CNG. This is likely to benefit Gujarat Gas going forward, given the company’s infrastructure and gas purchase agreements. Also, Gujarat Gas is riding high on the fact that the state witnesses power cuts and this is likely to result in industries setting up captive power plants. This could result in higher offtake of gas. Currently, Gujarat Gas has an encouraging portfolio with over 70% of the gas sold towards retail businesses (higher margins) and the balance towards bulk customers (assured volumes) The company is further reducing its dependence on GAIL for gas purchase and has entered into contracts with Cairn Energy.
At Rs 463, the stock is trading at a P/E multiple of 9.4x 2QFY05 annualized earnings. Going forward, the company is likely to enter into newer areas such as Vapi industrial belt and is also eyeing the CNG market in Surat and Ankleshwar. Also, the captive power projects are likely to result in assured volumes going forward. Having said that, the cost of the natural gas purchased is likely to rise, as the company has entered into contracts with Cairn Energy (which shall provide natural gas at international rates) and is currently eyeing gas from Petronet LNG (which is expensive as against natural gas supplied by GAIL). All in all, margins are likely to come under pressure as a result of these agreements.
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