India Steel Boom on Show as Top Mill Aims to Double Capacity

  • JSW plans two new plants of 10 million metric tons, Rao says
  • Company may tap bond market more frequently to fund expansion

A JSW Steel manufacturing facility in Maharashtra, India.

Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

JSW Steel Ltd. became India’s largest steelmaker this year as production surged. It wants to get bigger still, much bigger.

The Mumbai-based company plans two plants of 10 million metric tons each in the resource-rich states of Odisha and Jharkhand, part of a drive to more than double in size to 40 million tons by 2030, according to Joint Managing Director Seshagiri Rao. To fund growth and lower costs, the steelmaker will tap the bond market more frequently, with larger issues of possibly longer tenures, he said in interview, building on its recent successful overseas debut.

These are boom times for steelmakers in Asia’s third-largest economy as firms including JSW wager that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to build cities, an industrial corridor and a railway-freight network will bolster demand. Nationwide steel output is forecast to more than double over the next decade and a half, aided by the country’s growing economy and increasing urbanization, according to the Indian Steel Association.

“If we want to become a 40-million-ton company, we have to do either greenfield or brownfield expansions or acquisitions,” Rao said at his office in Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla Complex. “Our balance sheet is strong. We can make investments.”

Sajjan Jindal-owned JSW Steel would be looking to invest 400 billion rupees ($6.2 billion) in each plant, and is in talks to acquire land and plans to participate in auctions to secure raw materials, Rao said. The company has already won a coking coal block and iron ore mine in Jharkhand, he said.

“History has shown that JSW Steel can keep capex intensity low, so the street will definitely view this positively,” Ritesh Shah, an analyst at Investec Capital Services Ltd., said by phone on Tuesday. While setting up new plants will be dependent on securing mining leases, the company may find it easier and cheaper to expand its existing plant in Maharashtra, he said.

Shares Rise

Mills’ shares have soared along with production and demand. On Tuesday, JSW Steel rallied as much as 2.1 percent to 196.50 rupees, the highest in a week, and it’s 45 percent higher over 12 months. That’s outpaced gains from competitors Steel Authority of India Ltd. and Tata Steel Ltd.

While JSW has bid for a stake in Monnet Ispat & Energy Ltd. -- a New Delhi-based steel and power producer -- Rao said that high debt levels at many of the stressed assets on sale in India are a deterrent. “If these companies are to be auctioned, then banks have to take maybe a very large haircut.”

JSW’s capacity currently stands at 18 million tons, with the plant in Maharashtra and another in Karnataka, and it produced a record of 15.8 million tons in the year to March 31. The steelmaker, which had net debt of 442.7 billion rupees as of Dec. 31, raised $500 million with an overseas bond sale this month and the funds will be used to reduce the cost of company’s foreign-currency debt, Rao said.

“We will continue to raise funds to reduce the cost of debt,” he said. “Now investors know our company. So that is the market we would like to tap from time to time. The frequency can be lower than one year, size can be higher, tenure can be higher.”

India will surpass Japan as the world’s second-largest steel producer, behind only China, by the end of the year, Indian Steel Association Secretary-General Sanak Mishra forecast in April. Indian policy makers have erected tariff barriers to keep out a flood of cheaper Chinese metal, alongside similar moves by other countries.

India became a net steel exporter for the first time in three years last fiscal year and prospects look bright for the current year too, according to Rao. 

“With the trade-remedial actions against China in many of the countries continuing, it would open up space for India to continue exports,” said Rao, citing markets including Bangladesh, and Vietnam as well as countries in Europe, South America, the Middle East and Africa. “The outlook in 2017 is much better globally compared to last year.”

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