Cement maker ACC Ltd’s performance for the September quarter was much below expectations. The stand-alone entity’s net profit plunged by 77% year-on-year (y-o-y) to 100 crore. That was half of what analysts had estimated, as the firm took a beating on both price realizations and costs.

ACC’s net sales fell 16.9% y-o-y to 1,637.2 crore, mainly due to a 3.7% contraction in despatches to 4.8 million tonnes. Weak market conditions and lower cement prices, especially in the west and south where ACC has a substantial presence (about 32% of sales), also impacted revenues. Analysts had estimated lower revenue for the industry as both infrastructure and real estate growth was subdued during the quarter.

Graphic: Yogesh Kumar/Mint

Raw material costs as a proportion of sales almost doubled on a y-o-y basis to 19.6%, led by increase in slag and fly ash prices. In addition, the firm took a beating on power and fuel, and employee costs, which jumped y-o-y by 400 and 210 basis points, respectively. The declining profitability of the business is reflected in the consistent drop in ACC’s operating profit per tonne—it is down from 1,400/tonne a year ago, to 459/tonne in the September quarter. Some analysts reckon this is close to the cyclical lows that were visible in 2005. ACC’s shares fell during the day, after the results were announced, but ended up 1.5% higher on the Bombay Stock Exchange at 982.60 apiece.

Perhaps, markets are interpreting the September hike in cement prices as a signal that the worst is over. However, more capacities will come on stream, adding to market supply in 6-12 months. Whether the price increases can sustain, even when that happens, is the moot question.