Indian Cable Production US$  2.2 bn

CRU estimates that Indian cable production in 2005 was US$  2.2 billion. This means that the Indian production is comparable to that of France or Mexico, for example. China’s cable production in 2005 is estimated to be US$ 17 billion, nearly 8 times higher than India. This ratio is much higher than the ratio of China’s GDP to India’s, as (a) China has many manufacturing industries that are very intensive in their consumption of cable, and (b) China is going through a sustained boom in infrastructure development.

Very Large Number of Cable Producers

The Indian cable industry is highly fragmented with a very large number of cable producers – many hundreds of companies – a larger total than can be found in any other country in the world except China. Many of these Indian companies are small-scale cable producers, the smallest of which are family-run operations with only the most basic of production equipment.

Larger Indian Cable Producers

At the other end of the scale in the Indian industry are some relatively large cable producers, but even amongst these larger players there are only a small number whose annual sales of insulated wire & cable approach or exceed US$ 100 million. The larger Indian cable producers include Finolex Cables, the Birla Group (including Universal Cables, Vindhya Telelinks and Birla Ericsson Optical), Sterlite Optical Technologies, Havell’s India, Nicco Corp. and KEI Industries. These are all listed companies. Polycab is a large privately-owned cable producer, while Hindustan Cables is a state-owned manufacturer of telecom cables.

Very Limited Consolidation

CRU estimates that even the largest Indian cable producer, the Finolex group, accounts for only 5% of total Indian cable production. In mature markets it would be more usual to find that the largest cable producer had 15% to 20% (and sometimes a much higher percentage) share. There has been only very limited consolidation amongst the major players in the Indian cable industry. The tendency of Indian cable companies to grow organically, rather than by acquisition of competitors, means that no clearly dominant groups have emerged in the Indian cable industry.

Many Major Listed Cable Companies

Most of the major cable companies in India are listed companies or are part of large industrial groups that are themselves listed companies. This bias in India towards listed companies contrasts with many other developing regions of the world where listed cable companies are not so widespread as they are in India. In China, for example, only a few of the large cable companies are listed, as most of the others have developed from state-owned enterprises or have been newly established by private entrepreneurs. The situation in India also contrasts with South America, where, with a few notable exceptions like Madeco, most of the major cable groups are subsidiaries of foreign groups or are privately owned.

Improved Industry Profitability

According to the survey by CRU of financial results of the major listed Indian cable companies, industry profitability has been improving in recent quarters. Average profitability weakened from Q2 2002 onwards (i.e. Q1 of the Indian 2002/03 financial year), and the low point for the industry was reached in Q1 2004 (i.e. Q4 of FY 2003/04), as in that quarter some of the major players in telecom cables reported big operating losses. Since Q2 2005 average margins for the Indian cable industry have been above 10%, so compared to many other markets, where operating margins in the cable industry even in good years are in the range 5% to 10%, the financial performance of the Indian industry is quite strong.

Large Informal Sector

In the Indian cable industry there is a large informal or unorganised sector. Some small cable companies compete by selling products of dubious quality at low prices. While such a “black market” sector also exists in other countries, it is a particularly big problem in India. Smaller local cable producers may be encouraged in some market sectors (e.g. PVC power cables for utility distribution networks) by legitimate tactics, such as price preferences, but in the unorganised sector almost anything goes. In some instances small cable producers bypass the regulations that large and medium-sized cable producers have to follow. Companies in the unorganised sector may avoid paying taxes or take advantage of unmetered power supplies intended for agricultural users.

Counterfeit Cables an Issue

In mature markets, such as Western Europe, products such as building wire are generally regarded as commodities, with lowest price and availability being the key criteria for purchasers. Quality is a secondary consideration in mature markets, as purchasers usually assume that all cables that have the appropriate product approvals meet the required performance specifications. In India, however, the market situation is different: domestic consumers (e.g. for building wire used in residential construction) are likely to be quality conscious, aware of brands of cable that have a reputation for quality and wary of buying poor quality products. In a market where perceptions of quality are important, unscrupulous small producers may try to sell counterfeit cables, usurping the brand-names of the more reputable Indian cable makers.

Cable Companies Show Resilience

Even more than cable companies in other countries, Indian cable producers experiencing financial difficulties have shown a remarkable ability to survive, usually in a weakened form, rather than being bought by other groups or undergoing outright closure. This behaviour contrasts with the US or Europe, for example, where on a relatively short time scale pressure from shareholders and banks forces the management of poorly performing cable businesses to close unprofitable operations or to seek rationalisation opportunities. In India, by contrast, companies in difficulties may carry on trading for several years, operating under India’s bankruptcy protection regulations. In most parts of India, but especially in areas such as Calcutta, it is difficult to close businesses because of laws that protect workers’ employment rights. Thus the exit barriers in the Indian cable industry are high, which has also tended to make outside investors very cautious about entering joint ventures or setting up green-field operations in India.

Foreign Investment in JVs

There are a number of cable-making joint ventures in India involving foreign groups, but there has not been a big movement by foreign investors into Indian cable manufacturing. The track record for foreign investors in the Indian cable industry is generally poor. There are several examples of foreign companies that in the past have established joint ventures in India but which have eventually withdrawn, either due to market conditions remaining poor over a number of years or to consistently weak performance by the joint venture. Cable businesses in India that are wholly owned (or nearly so) by foreign groups are rare. It is interesting that some of the leading global cable groups have no presence in India, except via trading companies.

Contrast with China

The reluctance of foreign investors to “go it alone” in the Indian cable market contrasts with what has happened over recent years in China. Depending on the market sector, a foreign cable group in China may choose either to set up a joint venture with a local company or to establish a wholly-owned business. More experienced investors in China have the confidence not to need the support of a local partner, unless there are good reasons for seeking such support.