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Sembcorp Industries Limited’s Latest Earnings: Is its Indian Operations Turning into a Nightmare?

Sembcorp Industries Ltd (SGX: U96) has big dreams for India. But the dreams could be turning into a nightmare. 

At the end of 2016, operations in India had a gross power capacity of 3,611 megawatts (MW), accounting for almost a third of the conglomerate’s overall capacity. The mainstay of the Indian operations was the 2,640 MW Sembcorp Gayatri Complex, which comprises of Thermal Powertech Corporation India Limited (TPCIL) and Sembcorp Gayatri Power (SGPL).  

Unfortunately, Sembcorp Industries’ big bet on India hasn’t quite panned out.

A dream or a nightmare?

TPCIL recorded losses in 2015 and was barely profitable in 2016. The first-half of 2017, TPCIL turned the corner and generated $27 million in net profit. But just as TPCIL started to repay its investment, SGPL’s $55 million net loss tipped the overall Indian operations into the red.  

The culprit was SGPL’s lack of a long-term power purchase agreement (PPA). In the interim, SGPL has had to rely on short-term contracts for revenue.

But the short-term contracts have proven to be insufficient to cover costs. Contracts are plagued with weak spot and short-term power tariffs. To make matters worst, Sembcorp Industries’ Chief Executive Officer, Neil McGregor, said that short-term tariffs are expected to be weak for the next two to three years.  

A case of optimism

But McGregor remained optimistic on the long-term future of SPGL. He said:

“And our view of that market is that India will require more demand for power in the next 2 to 3 years. So it’s a period that we are going to have to just ride through.”

But when can investors expect SGPL to secure a long-term PPA? McGregor gave his take:

“PPA outlook, I gave you a period of about 2 to 3 years in order to bring it together. Why do I say that?

Because our own forecasts say that demand is actually growing in India and the amount of renewables that are being built are not keeping up with the pace of that demand. So as we look at the forward demand, our view is the market will tighten, and therefore, they will need more flexible thermal back on the market. So PPAs should become available.”

As it stands, Sembcorp Industries will have to tough it out in India in hopes of better days ahead.

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The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be personalised investment or financial advice. Motley Fool Singapore contributor Chin Hui Leong doesn’t own shares in any companies mentioned.