Bottlenecks plaguing the coal sector in India

Bottlenecks in the coal sector in indiaThe import of coal has been one of the significant factors contributing to the Current Account Deficit (CAD) in India that touched 4.8 per cent (approx USD 88 billion) of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2012-13 period. Rising imports, coupled with fall in value of rupee, resulted in a drain of foreign exchange from the country. It is surprising to note that although India has the fifth largest reserves of coal in the world totaling up to 235 BT in 2011, the gap between production and consumption of coal has been increasing over the years from 72 MT in 2009 to 82 MT in 2011.   India imported around 135 MT of coal in the 2012-2013 and is currently the second larger importer of coal after China.

Here we look at some of the issues pertaining to the coal sector in India.

Issues related to import of coal

India needs to import substantial amount of coal from countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Indonesia. Indonesian coal accounts for a bulk of India’s thermal coal imports, while steel-making coking coal is imported largely from Australia and South Africa. Owing to the increase in environmental concerns, coal exporting countries such as Indonesia imposed coal tax and Australia levied carbon tax in 2012.  The imposition of taxes increased the cost of coal for the plants in India that are especially designed to use imported coal, This resulted in power producing  companies such as Tata Power and Adani Power to demand for rate revision in their power purchase agreements (PPA). However the government upheld the PPA, while agreeing for a temporary upward revision in price in some cases.

Issues related to domestic production of coal

Domestic production of coal is beset with challenges both in terms of quality and quantity. Problem of quantity relates to environmental, rehabilitation and technological issues in opening up of new mines and in increasing recovery from currently operating mines. Sustainable solutions are needed to address the environmental and rehabilitation concerns. Since most of the coal deposits lie underneath forests and tribal regions, mining requires felling of forest and resettlement and rehabilitation of affected people. Mining in such areas, if left uncontrolled, can cause environmental and social havoc. Environmentally sustainable mining is costly which is bound to reflect on the cost of electricity. Increasing prices of electricity is as much a political decision as a business one.

By and large, domestically produced coal has problems associated with grade and ash content. The Indian coal mines produce coal that has higher ash content, and hence more impurities which increases the cost of cleaning. High ash content imposes a limitation to that coal being used in metallurgical processes. Around 70% of the coal in India is used to produce power and around 7% of the coal is used in the steel industry. Though the high ash coal can be used in power plants, but it produces substantial quantity of ash (both solid and fly), thus increasing the costs associated with cleaning and storing such ash. Additionally plants have to invest in capturing fly ash to adhere to flue-gas emission standards. Some older power plants also have limitations of space required for disposing ash. High ash content increases the cost of transportation per unit energy value of the fuel, further increasing the cost of production of electricity and metallurgical process. There are technological issues associated with plants which have been designed to work on lower ash content. Local coal needs to be blended with imported low ash content coal for use in such plants.

Coal India Ltd (CIL) is the only public sector company that mines and sells coal in the local market. In addition some companies like steel and power companies have their captive mines. Of late, due to supply constraints, CIL has not been able to fulfill the domestic requirement of power plants, after entering into Fuel Supply Agreements. Further, FSAs are waiting to be signed with many other power companies that are under development or have been awarded permission to set up new power plants. Domestic coal demand touched 772.84 million tonnes (MT) during 2012-13 period whereas production was at 557.60 MT. In the wake of the local shortages, coal imports have been increasing and are projected to increase further.

Issues related to government policy on coal allocation

In 2012, the policy of the Government of India on allocation of coal blocks came under scanner due to allegations by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) office, accusing the government of allocating coal blocks in an inefficient manner during the period 2004–2009. In spite of the government’s policy to open coal sector to private players, the coal allocation has been ineffective and has created a situation where coal is not available to power generators as and when required. On one hand few generators are occupying huge mines, whereas the newer ones are not able to start mining as they still haven’t got the mandatory clearances.

This has put the burden for supplying coal on CIL, the sole public sector coal producer. Current slowdown in the economy has adversely impacted the power producers as plant load factor (PLF) has reduced and short-term power rates are depressed. Rupee’s slide against the dollar has further driven up the cost of imported coal. The Indian buyers of coal are unwilling to shoulder the additional cost burden, and have cancelled contracts or sought to renegotiate contracts, causing coal cargoes to pile up at Indian ports. As nearly 60 % of country’s electricity generation is from coal-based plants, better power prices would have incentivized power producers to purchase costlier imported coal for generating more power.

All these factors have added to the increase in demand and supply gap, and have been deterrents in the country’s progress towards energy sufficiency.

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  • Indonesia’s 25% tax plan on coal exports to hit Indian power firms

Core of a Business

We know that firms need to adapt their strategies as per the changes in the business environment.

Strategies are highly context specific.

What was good five years back will not hold good now. The business model that works for a particular firm may not work in a similar manner for another firm. The strategy that pays off in one country may not produce similar results in another country. While responding to the changes in the environment, sometimes companies have even moved away from their core business.

  • Today, Nokia is a world leader in digital technologies, including mobile phones, telecommunications networks, wireless data solutions and multimedia terminals. You would be surprised to know that Nokia started with a wood pulp mill in Finland as a manufacturer of paper. The company later went on to manufacture rubber bands, industrial parts and raincoats. After World War II they expanded into Electronics and then into telecommunications.
  • HP’s first product was an audio oscillator – an electronic test instrument used by sound engineers. They shifted to computers, printers, servers & imaging products.
  • Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) started as a textile manufacturing business in 1966, and is one of the world’s most vertically integrated and horizontally diversified group with a wide range of businesses such as retail, telecom, textiles, petrochemicals, infrastructure development, etc. RIL sold off its textiles business and its ‘Only Vimal’ brand in 2012.


Alternately there are businesses that diversify into other areas while retaining their core business.

  • Indian Tobacco Company ITC has diversified from its main business of cigarette into various other businesses like FMCG, lifestyle retailing,  stationeries, hotels, paper businesses, and agriculture products.
  • IBM started as a computing, tabulating & recording company in 1880s, moved to PCs in 1980s , to integrated solutions and consulting servicers.
  • Pepsico has broken out of confines of cola drinks to become one of world’s most successful suppliers of drinks, snacks and breakfast cereals. Pepsico had diversified into restaurant business after acquiring Pizza Hut in 1977, Taco Bell a year later, and Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1986. But these acquisitions failed to live up to expectations of the shareholders, as Pepsi began losing ground to Coca Cola in the soft drinks. In 1997 PepsiCo decided to spin off its under-performing restaurants and Yum brands was created.  PepsiCo has since expanded to a broader range of food and beverage brands, the largest of which include an acquisition of Tropicana in 1998 and a merger with Quaker Oats in 2001, adding with it the Gatorade sports drink to its portfolio.

So we see that the core of a business need not necessarily be static. It can very well be a moving target. 

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Investor Participation in Corporate Governance

Monetary Policy and Inflation


The announcement of Monetary policy is awaited by businesses and investors alike, who are eager to know the impact of the change in policy on their savings or on their business. Here we look at how monetary policy impacts the economy.The objective of Monetary policy is to control the supply of money to boost economic growth while keeping inflation within acceptable limit.

Some tools of monetary policy that are used by the central banks are:

  1. Lowering of short-term Interest Rates: This is the first tool used by the central banks around the world. When interest rates are lowered, it becomes cheaper to borrow money and less lucrative to save.  This brings about a decline in savings, individuals and corporations are encouraged to spend; more money is borrowed, and more money is spent, thus increasing the overall economic activity.
  2. Open Market Operations: Under OMO, the central bank buys bonds (from banks or general public) in the open market.  By exchanging bonds for cash, the central bank increases money supply in the economy. Due to increase in the supply of money relative to demand, money can be borrowed at lower interest rates. This means that the short term interest rate for borrowing decreases. Conversely, if the central bank sells bonds, it decreases the money supply, drains liquidity and increases short term rates. Different countries have different ways of conducting OMOs. In India, effective instruments for OMOs are Liquidity Adjustment Facility (LAF) and Market Stabilization Scheme (MSS).  Repo and Reverse Repo rate constitute the LAF system. Securities purchased and sold in OMOs are dated securities, T bills.
  3. Reserve Requirement: The central bank has the ability to adjust banks’ reserve requirements, which determines the level of reserves a bank must hold in comparison to specified deposit liabilities. By adjusting the reserve ratios, the central bank can increase or decrease the amount of money that banks can lend.
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The Case for Raghuram Rajan and Economy of India


Recently in an article in the Economic Times, popular Indian columnist and novelist Ms Shobha De, touted the newly appointed Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan, as the ‘rock-star economist’, the ‘Poster Boy of Banking’ who can easily top easily top ‘India’s Most Desirable’ lists and is also expected to pull India out of the financial mess.

RRThe post has attracted lot of media attention and has succeeded in flaring up imagination and  varied emotions of the readers, ranging from interesting, to disgusting or even revolting! To add substance to the article, it might have made better sense to also look at some of the problems facing India’s economy and the challenges that Rajan has to deal with while he tries to walk his talk. Let’s have a go at those less appealing aspects that are actually the areas of concern for all Indians.

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What is the scope of shareholder engagement?

Shareholders have a legitimate role in areas pertaining to:

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  • Capital Structure – such as capital allocation discipline, use of cash on balance sheet.
  • Governance – such as audit-related issues, board structure, managerial remuneration.

However shareholders are not expected to micromanage companies. Nor is it desirable that shareholders push for short term profitability over sustainability and long term value creation. It is important that shareholders and board members engage effectively in the shared pursuit of high quality governance.

What are the different ways in which shareholders engage with companies?

Shareholders can either have a proactive approach for engagement with a company or may adopt a passive approach towards a company.


Passive investors sell off their shares if they are dissatisfied with the corporate decisions.


On the other hand, active investors engage proactively with the management, prior to a corporate decision being affected, in order to change the outcome of the decision. While the term ‘shareholder engagement’ is used to describe a collaborative approach, ‘shareholder activism’ refers to the use of a more assertive approach by the minority shareholders to affect changes in management and strategy of a firm. Read more

Is shareholder engagement good for companies?


Shareholder activism has increased significantly in the last few years, particularly after the financial crisis of 2008. However, it has since then been a debatable topic, as it is difficult to quantify “appropriate” level of shareholder engagement, which is desirable for achieving effective governance, while adding to business value. Quite often there is an apprehension that excessive shareholder intervention may consume a lot of valuable management time and result in short term profit orientation.

Why should shareholders engage with company management and boards?

A business needs capital to finance its growth Shareholders are the providers of capital to a business and as such are part owners of the business. Shareholders invest in the business hoping for a higher potential return from the investment while accepting a greater potential risk than other providers of capital. As shareholders own a share of the organization in which they have invested, this entitles them to ownership rights (i.e. rights to profits and assets in proportion to their shareholding) and in most cases control rights (i.e. rights to have a say in the running of that company, e.g. they may vote on key issues).


Management makes use of the capital to run the business and has an obligation to do so in a fair and transparent manner while maximizing value for the shareholders.  Read more

Currency crisis in the Emerging Markets

The year 2013 has seen a global sell off resulting in the fall of currency in most emerging markets including Brazil, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Turkey. The charts below show the currency movement of the emerging nations versus the US Dollar in the last 5 years. (Source: )

Brazilian Real has fallen more than 14%  against the USD.



Indian Rupee has fallen about 20% against the dollar in 2013 and hit a lifetime low 68.85 per USD.



South African Rand hit the R10/$-mark for the first time since 2009, the lowest value in four years as poor economic data and labor market tensions weighed on sentiment.


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 The Turkish Lira has fallen to a record low of 2 to the US Dollar, the lowest level record since 1981.


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Companies Bill 2012– Giving Voice to Minority Investors in India


The passing of The Companies Bill 2012 by Rajya Sabha on 8th August 2013,  is a step forward towards transformation in the corporate governance practices of the country. The new bill that requires President’s assent for it to become law, replaces the Companies Act of 1956. The bill, when enacted will bring in reforms to enhance corporate governance by giving voice to the minority investors in India, strengthening the role of independent directors and expanding the responsibility on auditors.

A key objective of corporate governance in India has been to strike a balance between the rule of majority shareholders and the protection of the rights of minority shareholders. The protection of minority shareholders rights is particularly critical given the often concentrated ownership of Indian companies.

Unlike in the developed countries such as US & UK, where ownership of a company is widely dispersed and is generally separate from the management of the company. In India, listed companies are usually parts of a large business group, characterized by a promoter or a controlling shareholder.

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Changing Global Energy Landscape with US Shale Gas – Part II

In mid- 2012, Kinder Morgan’s acquisition of El Paso for $38 billion,  resulted in a combined company called Kinder Morgan, Inc which is the largest operator of natural gas pipelines in the U.S. with 22% of the U.S. natural gas pipeline network,  connecting almost every gas field and consuming market in the U.S. The expanded pipeline network resulting from the Kinder Morgan-El Paso deal is expected to be especially significant in supplying gas to higher-priced electricity markets such as New York and Florida. The expanded pipeline network will permit the natural gas “bubble” to move downstream, in enough abundance to stimulate new products and locations.

This deal was a game changer because thousands of wells drilled to produce the record-setting “bubble” now have a record-setting pipeline network to get to market. This transaction affirms the potential of the shale gas discoveries, while countering apprehensions regarding stability of the natural gas market.

Sasol has announced a $10-billion facility in Louisiana to manufacture diesel fuel from natural gas, thus creating a new market for Haynesville Shale gas. That’s not all. Dow has announced plans to build shale gas downstream capacities based on ethane and propane on the Gulf Coast, and Shell has also made known of their plans to build an ethylene cracker in Appalachia near the Marcellus Shale.

There are domestic and export implications for liquefied natural gas (LNG) as well. Last year, Cheniere Energy was the first company in 35 years to receive export approval for LNG from its Sabine Pass liquefaction facility and has signed an $8-billion contract with BG for supplying LNFG and another one with Spain’s Gas Natural Fenosa for a total 7 million tons/year of LNG over 20 years.

The LNG exports are likely to be directed primarily to Asia, where in addition to the strong demand for LNG, the prices being paid for LNG are four times as high as the prices in the U.S. This demand for LNG in Asia is dominated by Japan and South Korea . These two countries together imported 64 percent of global LNG. Japan is replacing nuclear electricity generation capacity lost as a result of the earthquake and tsunami with LNG. Additional demand comes from China and India. China’s import of LNG has increased considerably, driven by demand for electricity generation and air quality concerns. The oil companies of India &China have made significant investment in U.S. shale plays in an attempt to bring in supply to their own markets.

The tide has turned — the U.S. is on its way to being not only the supplier of the world’s LNG, but other fuels as well. The U.S. is already on course this year to be a net exporter of gasoline, diesel and other fuels for the first time since the post-World War II economy of 1949 — a prospect that was unimaginable even a few years ago.

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