Protecting margins a big worry for Indian tech firms

Protecting margins a big worry for Indian tech firms

Bangalore: India’s leading software services companies are set to report a fall in profit margins for the last quarter due to a firmer local currency, though demand for outsourcing is improving in a global economy on the mend.

The country’s $60 billion sector, which manages complex computer networks to maintaining technology operations for clients such as General Electric and Citigroup, is back to its hiring ways and is also boosting salaries.

“All the negatives in the world economy are not out of the system, but the confidence level in the IT sector is better now compared to the beginning of last year," said Rakesh Rawal, head of private wealth management at Anand Rathi Financial Services.

“The companies are now expected to come back on the growth path, but the key challenge is the currency rate."

A global recovery, recent deal wins and stable prices have brightened the outlook for Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys Technologies India’s top two IT exporters, after the global recession hit the sector last year.

The rupee, which rallied to a 15-month high on Thursday, surging wages, and intense competition from global firms such as IBM, Accenture and Hewlett-Packard are seen as key risks for the sector.

The rupee is set to rise another 4% this year on top of its 4.7% increase last year, with gains driven mainly by inbound portfolio investment, according to a Reuters poll.

Indian tech firms are a magnet for thousands of young jobseekers with their sprawling campuses offering pizza and Subway outlets, golf courses and fitness centres to retain employees.

The software services sector gets more than half its revenue from the United States but companies are furiously expanding in Asia Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East to reduce dependency in the market and boost growth.

Infosys, India’s No. 2 software exporter, a trendsetter in the showpiece industry, kicks off the earnings parade on Tuesday, followed by sector leader Tata Consultancy on Friday and third-ranked Wipro on 20 January.

Infosys is expected to post its first year-on-year drop in October-December profit, as wage rises, a stronger rupee and higher sales and marketing costs dent margins.

Valued at $32 billion, Infosys, which had previously frozen salary hikes and promotions for this fiscal year, said in October it would raise pay by an average of 8% this year for its employees in India.

Markets will be keen on the company’s comments on business and pricing trends, hiring and IT budgets of its overseas clients in 2010.

Last month, Accenture reported a fall in first quarter earnings and gave a sales outlook for the current quarter that was weaker than analysts’ expectations.

Margin Pressures

Infosys expects revenue growth in the fiscal year starting in April to be better than this year as a recovery in the global economy spurs investments by its clients, a senior official told Reuters last month.

Consultant Gartner said major British and US firms are focusing on a return to revenue growth in 2010 over cost-cutting, and information technology was central to their recovery strategies.

Brokerage Angel Securities said Infosys profit margins are set to drop 245 basis points in Oct-Dec from the preceding quarter due to a 3.4% rise in the rupee and salary hikes.

Tata Consultancy and Wipro should report margins fell 62 basis points and 38 basis points, respectively, it said.

In the quarter, Tata Consultancy shares gained 21% and Infosys rose 13% versus a 14% jump in the sector index and a 2% rise in the broader market.