Tycoons set to remake India steel
Surging steel prices and a new Indian insolvency law have set the stage for an industry-defining battle between tycoons and producers for more than $26 billion of the sector’s most-coveted assets.
Creditors are seeking the approval of India’s new bankruptcy court to sell assets of as many as 40 firms, including steel producers. That’s spurred Lakshmi Mittal, head of the world’s largest maker of the alloy, and fellow billionaire Anil Agarwal to vie for control of Essar Steel India Ltd, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Debt-laden Bhushan Steel Ltd. has drawn interest from Japan’s and India’s biggest producers, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private.
Insolvent producers including Monnet Ispat and Energy Ltd are attracting potential bidders as prices of the material soar and creditors embark on the first significant test of a bankruptcy law that’s intended to encourage asset sales. Several deep-pocketed suitors have made expressions of interest for the Indian mills and some have already submitted bids for a series of deals with deadlines around year-end, according to the people.
“It just can’t get better than this in India in terms of size or valuation in fully-baked assets,” said Pooja Dutta, managing partner at Mumbai-based Astute Law. “At a time when too much capital is chasing too few opportunities across the globe, steel mills are set to see a bidding war as long as sales are executed in right and transparent manner.”
Four makers of the alloy are among India’s so-called “dirty dozen”—debtors that the central bank has ordered be taken through the bankruptcy courts. Essar Steel, Bhushan Steel, Monnet Ispat and Electrosteel Steels Ltd owe more than $26 billion combined, the people said.
Indian producers added leverage to fund expansion plans when the economy was growing at a much faster clip. The debt soured as economic activity slowed and demand for the alloy waned amid oversupply from China.
Now that Chinese mills are closing as the world’s second-biggest economy seeks to ease pollution, prices for the material are rising. Demand in India is also expected to pick up after Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to spend more on infrastructure and power.
Creditors, armed with the new insolvency and bankruptcy law, are seizing this opportunity to get repaid. Suitors see the potential purchases as a way to acquire a bigger share of a steel market that’s forecast to produce more than 100 million tons this fiscal year.
“This level of bidding interest from such a wide range of investors, from strategics to private equity firms, for such large operational assets has been very rare in this country,” said Rethish Varma, a Bengaluru-based researcher at MarketSmith India.
There’s a lot at stake. Essar Steel’s 10-million-ton capacity, in particular, could immediately give a new entrant a sizable presence in an industry expected to benefit from India’s plan to invest trillions of rupees in infrastructure upgrades, creating ‘Smart Cities’ across the country. The producer is currently restructuring its roughly Rs45,000 crore of debt or about Rs77,000 crore including debt owed by subsidiaries, the people said.