Thursday, February 23, 2012

>HIGHWAY DEVELOPMENT: Near term challenges; smoother times ahead

Roads & Highway development presents a structured, planned & definitive opportunity of ~` 1365bln (USD 26.25bln) to EPC & BOT developers. Dissecting this opportunity, we find that the scale, size & regional distribution of majority of balance projects may not be attractive for a BOT developer. Also, the competitive intensity of bids has challenged all industry players alike & warrant caution. In our opinion, these bids assume a consistent availability of cheaper source of finance which in itself is unsustainable over a longer time frame. We believe capital markets shall, in the long run, create a valuation differential between aggressive company managements and those with conservative & sustainable strategy. Hence, we like companies with business model & management style which does not encourage excessive risk taking, have projects with longer concession tail & are able to consistently generate positive FCFE with minimal support from the parent entity.

■ Definitive opportunity, award activity has already peaked
Highway development under the planned NHDP presents an opportunity of ~` 1365bln (USD 26.25bln). While we don’t deny the size & certainty of the opportunity we are concerned about limited projects fitting the size & scale of a PPP development. The regional spread too is not quite encouraging. Also, we expect FY12 to see peak of awards in near term.

■ Competitive pressures – no respite in near term
The recent bids by developers belie their stated IRR objective. Also, the expectation of gradual decline in competitive intensity has been proven otherwise. Supply side constraints along with demand side factors of declining order backlog/sales, lower asset utilization & scope for financial leveraging has attracted the breadth of the construction players to road projects particularly the NHAI project awards. Hence, we expect the competitive intensity to remain at elevated levels in near term restricting IRR’s of projects to lower teens.

■ Takeout essential (debt & or equity), equity requirement to pull plug on competitive intensity
We estimate an equity requirement of ` 2687bln over the next 3 years for projects currently under implementation. Additionally, ` 339bln of equity shall be required for projects which are expected to be awarded in the next 2 years. In our opinion, this shall be the sole factor for pulling the plug on the competitive intensity of the sector.

■ Challenging times to continue; Valuations offer comfort
The competitive intensity, amongst other reasons has led to underperformance of the sector with broader markets. The current average valuation of 1.5x P/B offer significant comfort from further downside. We initiate coverage on Ashoka Buildcon & ITNL with a Buy rating, downgrade IRB Infra to Hold, maintain Buy on Sadbhav Engineering. Sadbhav Engineering continues to occupy the top slot in our pecking order of stock selection.

To read full report: HIGHWAY DEVELOPMENT