Balrampur Says Mills Losing Money on Controls: Corporate India

Balrampur Says Mills Losing Money on Controls
A worker transports harvested sugar cane on a bullock cart near Modinagar, Uttar Pradesh. Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg

Balrampur Chini Mills Ltd., India’s best-performing sugar producer, says the industry will continue to lose money as state controls increase costs and a slump in global prices cuts margins on exports.

Prospects of falling profits have turned analysts the most bearish in at least nine months on Balrampur and Bajaj Hindusthan Ltd., the country’s biggest maker of the sweetener, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The federal government sets quarterly limits on sales by each mill to cap prices, while state administrations fix cane rates to help about 50 million farmers, a powerful voting bloc, earn more.

“Companies are making losses because of government regulation,” Vivek Saraogi, Balrampur’s managing director, said in an interview. “Until policy is reformed, companies will continue making losses.”

Balrampur, which reported losses in three quarters through December, may say profit in the three months ended March 31 plunged 75 percent from a year earlier to 283 million rupees ($5.1 million), according to the median estimate of three analysts compiled by Bloomberg. The Kolkata-based company is due to announce its earnings on May 28. A slump in New York futures to a 21-month low this week has reduced incentives for Indian sugar exporters, Saraogi said.

Shielding the Poor

Producers must also sell 10 percent of their output typically below market rates to the government for resale to the poor at a subsidized cost. Policy makers use such controls on essential commodities to cap inflation, a politically sensitive issue in India where the World Bank says about 75 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

Rising cane prices and surplus sugar for a second year will also crimp earnings, said Manish Mahawar, an analyst at Prabhudas Lilladher Pvt. in Mumbai.

Cane prices set by state governments rose as much as 19 percent in the past year, leaving the country’s mills struggling to pay farmers. Producers owed growers 102 billion rupees in arrears as of March 15, Food Minister K.V. Thomas told parliament on April 30. Mills are losing as much as 4 rupees on every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of sugar produced in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s biggest cane grower, according to the Indian Sugar Mills Association.

‘Negative Stance’

Production of the sweetener in the season starting Oct. 1 will probably match this year’s output of 25 million tons to 25.5 million tons, exceeding demand in the world’s biggest consuming nation, Thomas said last month.

“We are reiterating our negative stance on the sugar sector considering a surplus sugar year and higher cane cost leading to incremental burden on companies’ financials, primarily domestic-focus players like Balrampur Chini,” Prabhudas’s Mahawar, wrote in an e-mail.

The consensus analyst rating for Balrampur is 3.2, the lowest since September 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The rating for Bajaj is 1.89, the lowest since September. The consensus rating is the average within a range of one to five, with five being the highest.

Balrampur, which has rallied 47 percent this year in Mumbai, may decline to 44 rupees in a year, Mahawar, who has a “reduce” rating on the stock, said in a report dated April 16. The shares fell as much as 3.1 percent to 48.15 rupees before trading at 49.40 rupees at 10:01 a.m. in Mumbai today. Bajaj climbed 0.4 percent to 26.40 rupees, extending this year’s gains to 12 percent.

Not Attractive

“Domestic prices will be under pressure until and unless exports take place in a big way,” Sanjeev Singh, a Mumbai-based analyst at Centrum Broking Pvt., said in a phone interview.

Producers are being allowed to export an unlimited amount without prior approvals from the food ministry under a government decision announced on May 2. Shipments reached about 1.7 million tons so far this year, the Indian Sugar Mills Association estimates.

The government in January formed a panel headed by Chakravarthy Rangarajan, the top economic adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to study demands for ending state controls. The group will give its report in six months, Rangarajan said Feb. 27.

“The government is running a huge subsidy budget and the sugar industry is put into forced losses” Saraogi said.

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