The earnings season got off to a good start with heavyweights Tata Consultancy Services, ITC, Maruti Suzuki and Reliance Industries all putting up a good show.
However, corporate India continues to battle stagnating demand in several segments and players in the consumer space seem to have little pricing power.
Moreover, the capex cycle, critical for the economy to get back on track, may not have quite bottomed out with ongoing projects also seeing slow execution.
Engineering firm Larsen & Toubro’s net profit for the three months to December would have been far smaller had it not been for the support from other income.
Also, commercial vehicles manufacturer Ashok Leyland reported a loss of R84 crore with operating margins crashing 300 basis points year-on-year. Hindustan Unilever disappointed the Street as volumes grew just 5% y-o-y.
For a clutch of 247 companies (excluding banks and financials), revenues in the December quarter grew just 15.3% y-o-y compared with around 17%-plus in the previous three quarters, a sign that demand is not too strong.
However, companies have benefited from benign commodity prices and have managed to keep costs on a leash, earning themselves better operating margins — up 180 basis points y-o-y — and operating profits that jumped 30% y-o-y. The bottom line was driven up 43.5% y-o-y thanks to moderate increases in depreciation and taxes and support from other income — up 19% y-o-y.
Consumers are clearly paring discretionary spends but what’s of more concern is that key segments like commercial vehicles and cement remain weak; net sales at Ashok Leyland fell 18% y-o-y as both volumes and realisations were hit while sales volumes at Ultratech Cement stayed flat.
Moreover, demand for industrial goods isn’t picking up meaningfully — L&T’s muted 10% y-o-y revenue growth suggests a loss in momentum given that the company’s revenues had risen 21% y-o-y in the first half of the year. Consolidated revenues at chemicals producer Rallis rose just 5% y-o-y with the core business not faring well. The jump in profits has come from softening input prices — as a share of sales, the cost of raw materials for the sample has risen just 92 basis points y-o-y, a much smaller increase compared with that in previous quarters. Lower fuel prices, for example, have driven up profits at Ultratech while Asian Paints gained by paying less for key inputs.
Critical areas like mining continue to be in trouble; the ban on mining operations in Goa and Karnataka, for instance, hit Sesa Goa’s bottom line with the miner posting a loss of R170 crore.
So far the results show few signs that corporate India is getting back into investment mode; while L&T’s order book grew 14% y-o-y in the December quarter, analysts point out that about 22% of the inflows during the quarter was from overseas markets. Moreover, they add that execution of projects remains tardy.
While the IT companies have done well to combat the slowdown in the global market — both Infosys and TCS reported good numbers and strong deal flows, sectors like two-wheelers remain under pressure.
Both Bajaj Auto and Hero MotoCorp turned in lukewarm results, especially the latter. The profit warning from Tata Motors for its Jaguar-Land Rover subsidiary is a sign that the global economy too needs to look up before India Inc can call a recovery.