Exports, better balance sheets to help firms tide over second wave impact: Report
Exports, better balance sheets to help firms tide over second wave impact: Report
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The partial-to-full lockdowns imposed by various states to contain the second wave of the pandemic are likely to have a muted impact on the overall business environment, given strong export demand and improved balance sheets in the past six months, according to a report.

Though supply chain disruptions could play out, overall impact on corporates is expected to be moderate to minimal. But, small businesses and retail borrowers are likely to see stresses, India Ratings said in a report on Monday.

It added that retail borrowers and small business will see stress, leading to a build-up of potential asset quality issues in the unsecured lending books of lenders and an increase in softer delinquencies in the MFI segment.

The assessment will change if there were a stringent national lockdown or a protracted normalisation of activities due to the pandemic, the agency warned and cautioned that the economy in general will have a bumpy road to recovery.

The second wave of the pandemic infections will be less disruptive than the first wave for overall businesses, despite the daily caseload reaching more than four times of the peak level seen during the first wave. This is because the administrative response is likely to be confined to the regional/local lockdowns and containment zones.

The agency believes the first order impact on corporates will be minimal to modest depending on the industry and size of entities, as it believes that companies are better prepared to operate under localised lockdown conditions while adhering to various guidelines.

Another enabler is exports, it said pointing out that while curbs on economic activities will shave off a portion of aggregate demand, export growth could compensate for the same as the global economy is on the mend now.

The export growth has been reasonably strong in the past six-eight months and is likely to sustain given the fiscal push across its key exporting destinations. Consequently, impact on topline (profit) for sectors other than offline retail, entertainment, hospitality, travel and associated services is likely to be minimal for mid to large corporates.

The agency also believes that corporate margins could taper off from the extraordinary buoyant levels in the second half of FY21, mainly because of return to normalcy and adverse impact of elevated commodity prices.

The impact on margins will be disproportionally higher for medium-to-small entities, than that for the large ones in the commodity user groups.

The agency also argues that corporate balance sheets have gained resilience, in view of the healthy pre-tax margins and strong cash-flows since the second half of 2020-21. Moreover, free cash-flows for most sectors have improved due to deferment of capital expenditure (capex) and reduction in working capital, with excess cash being used by many entities to reduce debt or retained as a cushion on the balance sheet.

Healthy balance sheets will provide necessary safeguard for larger entities to manage the temporary disruptions, if any in the short term, said the report.

Another enabler this time around is more manageable labour challenge, though there could be a bout of disruptions. Unlike the last time, the challenge owing to the reverse migration is not visible in a significant way. Industry such as auto, auto ancillaries and cotton may face challenges, whereas paper and chemical may stay broadly unaffected owing to the dependence on local labour force.

On the other hand, construction activity will be hit due to limited availability of key resources because of imposed restrictions or rising infections though some of it is being managed by retaining staff at the construction sites.

The agency had in later April revised down its GDP growth forecast for FY22 to 10.1 per cent from 10.4 per cent on April 23.

Accordingly, the demand-side components of GDP -- private final consumption expenditure, government final consumption expenditure and gross fixed capital formation - are now expected to grow at 11.8 per cent, 11 per cent and 9.2 per cent year-on, respectively, in FY22. This is as compared with the agency's earlier forecast of 11.2 per cent, 11.3 per cent and 9.4 per cent, respectively.

Recovery will be slow and bumpy given the muted incremental countercyclical fiscal spending. Also, the nature of fiscal support will be indirect and supportive, rather than any direct stimulus to augment aggregate domestic demand conditions.

Additionally, rising inflation will restrict any large monetary support through lower interest rates. Given these two restricted levers, the recovery paths of certain sectors especially those linked to services and social distancing could stretch beyond FY22, said the report.

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