Billionaire Mittal Says ‘Not Giving Up’ on Indian Economy

Indian Shoppers
Shoppers walk along the markets in Colaba Causeway in Mumbai, India. Photographer: Kainaz Amaria/Bloomberg

Billionaire Lakshmi N. Mittal, who chose India for his first investment in crude oil processing, said the nation’s economy will continue to expand, unaffected by slowing reforms and delays in government’s decision-making.

“The India story is not over,” Mittal, chairman of the world’s biggest steelmaker ArcelorMittal, said in New Delhi yesterday. “Whatever may happen in terms of policies and paralysis, the country will continue to grow.”

Mittal, with a net worth of $18.7 billion, said India is on his “priority list” as a rising middle-class population will spur demand while it may take at least five years for Europe to recover from its debt crisis. His optimism on Asia’s third-biggest economy contrasts with Standard & Poor’s, which cut the nation’s sovereign credit outlook last week, citing slowing investments and growth.

“I am not giving up,” Mittal said. “There has been some slowdown. But you can’t ignore India.”

Economy of the world’s second-most populous country expanded 6.1 percent in the three months ended Dec. 31, the slowest pace in almost three years, as costlier credit hurt consumer spending and dented investments. India’s central bank cut interest rates on April 17 for the first time since 2009 to help bolster growth.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s administration is facing one of the most challenging periods since taking office in 2004. Rifts in the ruling coalition have hampered efforts to push through various legislation, including a move to allow overseas retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

$20 Billion

Mittal’s energy unit opened a $4 billion refinery in the Northern Punjab state in a venture with India’s Hindustan Petroleum Corp. on April 28. ArcelorMittal has $20 billion of planned projects in the states of Odisha and Jharkhand.

Mittal Energy also has a venture with India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp., which has offshore oil exploration blocks in Nigeria, according to ONGC’s overseas unit. In the Punjab refinery, run by HPCL-Mittal Energy Ltd., the partners own 49 percent each.

ArcelorMittal plans to invest in expanding its existing mining operations and some steel projects in Canada, Liberia and Brazil, Mittal said. Allocation of mining rights in India has to become more transparent, he said. The company has waited for more than six years because of delays in securing approvals and land for its Indian steel projects.

Steel consumption in China will increase by 4 percent this year, Mittal said. Demand will rise as much as 8 percent in the U.S. while that in Europe may slow, he said.

The European Union “continues to be slow and it’ll probably be 2016-17 for it to emerge at the pre-crisis levels of 2008,” he said.

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