Budget 2022: Infra spending, sops for green tech are key expectations

With private sector capex yet to pick up meaningfully, the government’s infrastructure spending programme would be one of the key pillars that would support growth in domestic steel demand

Jayanta Roy and Ritabrata Ghosh January 25, 2022 14:07:32 IST
Budget 2022: Infra spending, sops for green tech are key expectations

Representational Image. Reuters

The global steel industry witnessed an unexpected V-shaped recovery since Q3 CY2020 as a combination of concerted fiscal and monetary policy actions by the governments and central banks across the globe injected record liquidity into the global economy to stimulate growth. What followed is a surge in earnings for domestic steelmakers during the last six quarters, with most companies reporting their best-ever profits, helping bring down the industry’s debt levels at an accelerated pace.

While China led the first leg of the recovery in the global steel markets during CY2020 and the early part of CY2021, going forward, the sustenance of the upcycle in the second leg would hinge on the healthy demand momentum continuing outside of China.

Weaker Demand

In India, typically steel consumption increases in the second half of the financial year. While the pick-up in domestic steel demand in H2 FY2021 was a healthy 16.8 per cent year-on-year (Y-o-Y), in the current fiscal, the demand recovery post-monsoon has been slower than expected, contracting by 9 per cent Y-o-Y in Q3 FY2022 over the same period of last fiscal. This suggests that demand from the infrastructure and construction sectors, which accounts for around 60 per cent of domestic steel demand, has slowed down in recent months.

Budget 2022 Infra spending sops for green tech are key expectations

More Bark Than Bite

In the 2021 Union Budget, the Government of India targeted a 34.5 per cent increase in the annual capex spending in FY2022BE (budget estimate) over the FY2021BE, making a strong push for infrastructure-led growth, especially in steel-intensive sectors such as the railways, roadways, urban infrastructure, affordable housing, and energy.

However, the actual spending on the ground has been much slower than budgeted, with the government’s progress in capital expenditure in April-November of FY2022 being just 49 per cent of the full-year target. In addition, what is more worrisome is that there has been a marked slowdown in the pace of the Union government capex, after the monsoon, with cumulative capex in October and November of FY2022 being lower by 41.2 per cent over the same period last fiscal.

This has been a key factor behind the lacklustre sequential recovery in domestic steel demand in Q3 FY2022, leading to steel prices correcting by 12 per cent from its peak level recorded in October 2021. Given the slower-than-expected capex spend during October-November of 2021, and following the Omicron outbreak in December, the government’s ability to meet the full-year capex target during the remaining months of the current fiscal remains uncertain.

Therefore, in the 2022 Union Budget, a combination of a higher budgetary allocation along with a closer monitoring of progress and fund mobilisation for projects in the infrastructure and transportation sectors could provide a fillip to domestic steelmakers in FY2023.

 

Budget 2022 Infra spending sops for green tech are key expectations

Incentivise Tech Transition

India has announced its carbon-neutrality target by 2070, which would need carbon-intensive sectors such as steel to invest in cleaner methods of steelmaking like the electric arc furnace (EAF) or hydrogen-based iron-making plants, and investments in carbon capture technologies. India’s National Steel Policy of 2017 projects 60-65 per cent of the country’s steelmaking capacity in FY2031 to be from the cost-efficient blast furnace route, which unfortunately has a large carbon footprint.

However, given the country’s carbon neutrality targets, fiscal incentives in cleaner steelmaking technologies could help the steel industry reduce its carbon footprint. This is particularly relevant, since many large Indian steel producers have announced capacity expansion projects recently.

On the raw material side, India’s scrap supply chain, which feeds mills producing steel through the environmentally cleaner electrical route, remains fragmented and unorganised, leading to increased import dependence. Though the government has recently notified the Vehicle Scrappage Policy 2021, there is a demand from industry players to further increase the incentives for scrapping old vehicles so that the domestic supplies improve meaningfully.

Additionally, infrastructure for scrap segregation and recycling is inadequate at present, which makes the case for targeted capital subsidy to incentivise the private sector for investing in this segment.

Budget Signals

After a long gap, new investment activity in the steel sector has seen a rebound as lenders redraw their negative list for sectors following the earnings surge of steel companies. What is interesting to note is that apart from confirmed brownfield expansions accumulating to around 21 million tonnes per annum lined up for commissioning in the next three years, leading global steelmakers such as Arcelor Mittal and POSCO have announced plans to set up mega greenfield steel plants in India.

However, with private sector capex yet to pick up meaningfully, the government’s infrastructure spending programme would be one of the key pillars that would support growth in domestic steel demand going forward. Therefore, steel companies would be closely watching the government’s infrastructure spending budget before deciding on additional investment plans.

Jayanta Roy is Senior Vice President and Group Head, and Ritabrata Ghosh is Assistant Vice President and Sector Head, ICRA Limited. Views are personal, and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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