The streak of negative news does not seem to end for Tata Power Co. Ltd and Adani Power Ltd. Even as the investors were coming to terms with the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission’s (CERC’s) stringent compensation proposal for their troubled power plants at Mundra, Gujarat, the Supreme Court squashed hopes of any such relief.
The full tariff order is not available at the time of writing this story and it is not yet clear if the apex court has allowed any remediation mechanism. But investors are worried. Shares of both the companies dropped 2-16% on Tuesday.
The ramifications can be severe for Adani Power. Assuming a favourable verdict, the company has been booking compensation in its quarterly revenues. Post the latest verdict, the company may have to write-off those revenues, retrospectively (pertaining to changes in Indonesia law), which can adversely hit the company earnings.
That can raise questions about Adani Power’s financial health. As of December, the company has an estimated debt (long term plus working capital loan) of ₹ 48,000 crore. Its debt-to-equity ratio based on 2016-17 estimates stood at 6.8 times and interest coverage ratio stood at 0.8 time, indicating earnings-interest expense mismatch.
Tata Power’s Mundra ultra mega power project has seen cost under-recovery of 70 paise per unit in the December quarter. But unlike Adani Power, Tata Power is not booking compensation in its revenues. And thanks to other assets which are doing well, the company’s interest coverage ratio is at 1.3 times (2016-17 estimate). Further, most analysts were not assuming tariff order relief in their earnings estimates. So the latest verdict may not alter the company’s earnings estimates much.
That does not mean the companies can leave the situation unaddressed. As Deepak Agrawala, senior vice president (utilities, renewables and industrials research), Elara Securities (India) Pvt Ltd says, no one can run the business at a loss.
According to analysts, the power plants in question will not be able to break even at profit before tax level or make any money at current coal prices. The plants are built on Indonesian coal. A change in law in Indonesia pushed up the coal costs. Companies petitioned for cost recovery which the Supreme Court disallowed.
One option is the exit of unviable power purchase agreements (PPAs). This may not be possible given the weak demand environment. According to analysts, companies can face power distribution companies’ ire and reputational risks.
A second option could be the sale of the said power plants after inflicting valuation cuts on promoters and lenders. According to Bhargav Buddhadev, an analyst at Ambit Capital Pvt. Ltd, Tata Power’s Mundra asset is a low-cost plant, though there is a question mark on the profitability. But then as one analyst with a domestic broking firm point out, it can be tough for the lenders to take valuation cuts. Further, selling a PPA tied power plant can be a long drawn process.
A third option is to work around the current circumstances. According to Buddhadev, Tata Power can ramp up its power plant beyond the 75% utilisation level, recover fixed costs and curtail financial losses. With coal prices unlikely to enter a structural uptrend in the near future, the damage to Tata Power can be limited, Buddhadev adds.
The third option looks plausible if the companies contain the financial losses at these plants. But can that be achieved? And if the plants break even, are investors prepared to live with zero returns from one of the large investments these companies made? In the midst of so much uncertainty, no wonder investors made a beeline for the exits.