Bangalore: India’s top information technology (IT) firms expressed optimism about a gradual recovery on Wednesday but stopped short of flagging a sharp rebound in the near term on uncertainties about the strength of the global economic resurgence.

Executives from the companies, hit by a collapse in demand caused by largest downturn since the Great Depression, told the Reuters India Investment Summit in Bangalore that overseas firms were gradually turning to them in the search for cost savings. However, sluggish technology spending by Western clients, moderate fees, a stronger rupee and rising competition from global rivals such as IBM and Accenture are likely to keep them away from past years’ heady growth rates.

Cost savings: Indian IT firms provide services ranging from managing complex networks, call centres to software coding. The market is hoping the next fiscal will be much better growth-wise than this year or last year. S. Burmaula / Hindustan Times

The overall outsourcing sector has been on a roll in recent months following a brutal slide in demand at the end of last year as turmoil in the financial sector, software firms’ key client base, led to cancellation or postponement of contracts.

Mid-sized software services company HCL Technologies Ltd said on Monday it had won a contract worth $200 million (Rs926 crore) from British insurer Equitable Life. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd (TCS), Infosys and Wipro Ltd have also announced deals in recent months from companies such as oil and gas major BP, mobile operator T-Mobile UK, brewer SABMiller and Volkswagen.

Suresh Vaswani, co-chief executive of IT business at Wipro, India’s No. 3 software exporter, said the deal pipeline had improved in the first half of the current fiscal that began in April, compared with the immediate post-crisis period. “The recovery is taking place slowly," he said. New York-listed Wipro is betting on a demand uptick from its financial clients, which produce about a quarter of its revenue, as consolidation in the sector boosts demand for technology.

Mahindra Satyam—the erstwhile Satyam Computer Services Ltd—is also adding new clients, said Atul Kunwar, president of its global operations.

Optimism about a growth rebound has sent Infosys shares up 118% this year, in line with a surge in the sector index and outperforming the broader market that has risen 78%. TCS has soared 194%.

“The market is hoping the next financial year will be much better growth-wise than this year or last year," said Srividya Rajesh, a fund manager with Sundaram BNP Paribas Asset Management, which holds Infosys and TCS shares in its portfolio. “But whether the sector has got out of the woods or not will be known only once the technology spending patterns become clearer early next year," she said.

Indian IT firms provide services ranging from managing complex networks and call centres to software coding, and their clients include Citigroup Inc., Credit Suisse, General Electric Co. and BT Group Plc.

The sector’s scorching pace of growth has halted as many top customers were badly bruised by the recession, forcing them to tackle severe cost cuts and leaving little room to boost technology spending.

Balakrishnan of Infosys said while demand for fee cuts from clients had abated thanks to the economy’s limping back to life, the No. 2 IT exporter did not see prices going up in the short term as customers were spending selectively on technology. “You will live on similar pricing environment for some more time till the supply demand situation changes more in favour of demand," he said. “As long as the pricing remains stable, we are OK on the margins."

But a 12% rise in the rupee against the dollar from a record low in early March could have an impact on profit margins, Balakrishnan said.

“If the pricing pressure and the rupee rise happen at the same time, then it will be a challenge for the companies," said Rajesh of Sundaram BNP Paribas Asset Management.