Predatory Pricing in Tenders a Worrisome Trend in India’s fast growing Rail Business: Dolat Capital

With the Indian Railways looking to overhaul its networks, analysts see greater business emerging in Infrastructure, Communications, Rolling Stock, Safety, Services & Products.  However the trends to win the Bids by certain OEMs encountered by the nominated members of the Tender Committee Proceedings were aghast on the pattern, however to remain lip locked due to the framework and the rules

In a tender for 2015-16 in which Technical and Financial Bids were opened, the L1 price quoted by one large but new company for BOXNHL Wagon was Rs.10.80 Lakh, whereas the aggregate cost of materials alone for the said wagon is around Rs.13 Lakh. Adding to it the conversion cost including labour, consumables, power, finance charges, and other overheads, the cost (without profit) would be substantially higher.  The department has just come out with one order, but in an unprecedented development, almost all the major wagon makers have refused to produce the wagons for the price quoted by L1 manufacturer. The industry has described the price as predatory as it is even below cost of material.

As a consequence, the Railways, against a total tender volume of 8,509 wagons, has just issued order to only one wagon maker for 1871 wagons. The price quoted by the bidder and accepted by the Railways with respect to the order for wagons of type BOXNHL is Rs 10.80 lakh a piece, lower than previous year’s price of Rs 11.74 lakh. The realistic price should have been not less than Rs 13 lakh, the industry has told the ministry.

“It is an existential crisis for the whole industry. Despite repeated pleas, the Railways, in its wisdom, has decided to accept a price which is unrealistic,” said an industry insider. Finally, all the Bidders (including Railways), were asked to refer the matter to the Bureau of Industrial Cost and Price or any other agency to examine and work out a fair price.

As the government tries to revive Indian Railways, wagon manufacturers are broadening their product portfolios. Texmaco Rail and Engineering Ltd is merging Kalindee Rail Nirman (Engineers) Ltd with itself. The latter does signalling, telecommunications and railway track works. Titagarh Wagons Ltd has received regulatory approval to acquire a rolling stock manufacturing company in Europe.

The merger will help Texmaco climb the rail business value chain. Sporadic ordering and intense pricing pressure have rendered wagon manufacturing no longer lucrative. From around Rs.17 lakh three years ago, the price of a wagon has come down to about Rs.11 lakh, Dolat Capital Market Pvt. Ltd says. As a result, both revenue and profit of Texmaco fell in the last fiscal year. “Besides, what is more worrisome is the predatory pricing in the recent tender for 2015-16,” Texmaco said in May.

Compared with this, Kalindee registered a healthy double-digit growth in revenues. Last fiscal year, it posted a loss due to high interest costs and provision for bad debts. But Kalindee’s margins are better than Texmaco’s. A merger can help Kalindee overcome liquidity constraints. Texmaco will get a chance to offer an array of services and products, based on which it can bid for large-value turnkey projects in rail infrastructure, be it in the private sector or for Indian Railways.

Like Texmaco, Titagarh also aims to broaden its railway product portfolio. It has started manufacturing electric multiple units and metro coaches. The bid for the European company, if it succeeds, will increase Titagarh’s capabilities in the rolling stock business. Through the acquisition, Titagarh plans to cater to the both state and private sector customers.

These steps should help take Texmaco and Titagarh a long way. With the Indian Railways looking to overhaul its networks, analysts see greater business emerging in infrastructure segments like communications and rolling stock. “The big business and investment opportunities will come from segments like infrastructure, safety and rolling stock. The wagon business is a very minuscule portion of overall business in Indian Railways,” Dolat Capital Market Pvt. Ltd said in a note.

Tracking these prospects, these stocks rose sharply in the last year. Though companies are yet to see strong order inflows, it is critical that the government plans translate into business for these companies in the next few months.