The cement industry’s challenge of subdued trends in price realizations continues, trickling into the third quarter of the fiscal year.

All-India cement prices declined in October by 2/bag on a month-on-month basis to 326/bag, showed a recent market assessment by brokerage Kotak Institutional Equities. One cement bag weighs 50kg.

Compared to the previous month, prices declined the most in the east by 5/bag to 330/bag; 4/bag in the south to 343/bag; and 3/bag in the north to 301/bag in October.

While the west did see a marginal price increase of 2/bag over the previous month, it was driven by a handful of cities such as Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur.

Prices in cities such as Vadodara, Surat and Rajkot fell by 5-10/bag, said the Kotak report.

Central India, on the other hand, saw prices improve from the earlier month. Cement prices in this region increased by 3/bag month-on-month to 331/bag.

Prices increased by close to 5-10/bag in Uttar Pradesh in cities such as Lucknow, Meerut and Faizabad, while prices were steady in a few cities such as Bhopal.

According to analysts, better demand conditions in central India compared to other markets is aiding prices. However, demand continues to be largely driven by government spending on infrastructure activities.

Secondly, capacity additions in this region are likely to be limited, unlike that seen in the previous fiscal year.

Brokerage house JM Financial Institutional Securities Ltd estimates major capacity additions to the tune of 15 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) in the south and west regions over fiscal years 2019 and 2020. In central India, it foresees around 5 mtpa capacity additions during the same period.

As for overall cement demand, data from the department of industrial policy and promotion showed that industry volumes increased by 14% on a year-on-year basis in August 2018 to 25.7 million tonnes, but on a low base.

Since demand from the housing sector—a key contributor to overall cement demand—is still muted, the industry’s capacity utilization remains low at around 60-65%.

If a weak trend in prices is not challenge enough, costs are on the rise and both together don’t bode well for the profitability of cement companies in the near term.

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