Construction picks up in unlock, cement prices rise

Fading monsoons, easing of lockdown restrictions and recovery in non-trade demand have revived the construction activities in the country resulting in pan-India 2 per cent month-on-month increase in cement prices in October after four consecutive months correction.

The rising demand and prices for construction materials is a good barometer to gauge revival of economic activities in the country.

The cement price rise in October is also an aberration to historic trends when price normally corrects 2-3 per cent due to seasonality.

“A strong demand recovery in September 2020 (10-12 per cent yoy) and continued demand tailwinds in early October 2020 underpin the price strength. Cost headwinds should hit from end of 3QFY21 and price hikes, if sustained, would offset the impact on margins and drive earnings upgrades,” Kotak Institutional Equities said in a report.

The distribution of rise in cement prices indicates that consumers revival has happened across the country. Prices in North and Central markets increased 5 per cent m-o-m on a sharp uptick in demand led by easing of lockdown restrictions and return of migrant labour to metro cities supporting non-trade demand.

Prices remained stable m-o-m in East and West India while prices in South increased 2 pet cent mom after strong demand recovery in September 2020.

Historically, cement prices correct by 2-3 per cent qoq in 3Q due to seasonality. However, in 3QFY21E prices are up 1 per cent qoq led by higher prices in North and Central markets, the brokerage report said.

While government estimate suggests that demand declined 15 per cent yoy in August 2020 in the country and declined by 29 per cent yoy YTD FY2021. However, channel checks by the brokerage suggests that strong demand in September 2020 (+10-12 per cent yoy) more than offset the weakness in early 2QFY21.

South, where demand was worst-hit in April-August 2020, too witnessed 3-5 per cent yoy demand growth in September 2020 led by Andhra-Telangana.

Initial feedback suggests that demand tailwinds have continued in October 2020. We expect industry volumes to decline by 12.5 per cent yoy in FY2021E. We see grinding and clinker capacity addition at 4 per cent/3 per cent CAGR over FY2020-23E versus demand at 3 per cent CAGR.