Business Standard

OMC shares sink up to 6% on fuel price cut

- DEEPAK KORGAONKAR & NIKITA VASHISHT Mumbai / New Delhi, 15 March

Investors shunned shares of oil marketing companies (OMCS) on Friday as they feared that the government’s decision to cut retail prices of petrol and diesel could hurt the companies’ profit margins in the near term. On Thursday, the government announced that OMCS will reduce pump prices of petrol and diesel after a record 22 months, making them cheaper by ~2 per litre in the national capital. The changes were effective from Friday.

As there is no indication of any excise duty relief from the central government, analysts expect OMCS to bear the cost of this price cut. Reacting to the developmen­t, shares of OMCS tumbled up to 19 per cent on the BSE during Friday’s intraday trade. Hindustan Petroleum Corporatio­n (HPCL) and Indian Oil Corporatio­n (IOCL) plunged 9.8 per cent each to ~451 and ~153.6 per share, respective­ly. Bharat Petroleum Corporatio­n (BPCL) declined 8 per cent to ~571.75 during intraday trade. These stocks ended up to 6 per cent lower against 0.6 per cent fall in the Sensex. The Oil & Gas index fell 2.2 per cent. With Friday’s fall, stock prices of OMCS have declined between 15 per cent and 21 per cent from their respective 52-week highs, touched in mid-february.

“We expect a negative stock price reaction from OMCS in the near term amid the retail price cut and recent elevated Brent crude prices of $85/bbl. Yet, we have a ‘buy’ rating on HPCL and IOCL and a ‘neutral’ rating on BPCL. This is because the waning impact of the Red Sea crisis on crude oil and gross refining margins (GRMS) will help marketing margins recover to above ~3/litre in the medium term,” said a note by Motilal Oswal Financial Services.

Analysts believe a price cut, especially in diesel, was not warranted at present, given a spurt in Brent crude prices, and marketing margins being around breakeven levels. Every ~0.5/litre change in auto-fuel gross marketing margin (GMM), they said, may have an impact of 7.1 per cent (~3,400 crore) on IOCL’S FY25 consolidat­ed earnings before interest taxes depreciati­on and amortisati­on (Ebitda); 8.3 per cent (~2,130 crore) on BPCL FY25 consolidat­ed Ebitda; and 10.5 per cent (~1,860 crore) on HPCL FY25 consolidat­ed Ebitda. Early estimates suggest that, post the latest price cut, OMC GMMS will decline to ~2.2/litre for diesel and ~3.5/litre for petrol. It will result in blended auto-fuel GMM of ~2.6/litre (vs historical GMM of ~3.5/litre). Meanwhile, marketing Ebitda may be ~1/litre (vs historical marketing Ebitda of ~2/litre) based on spot Brent price of $85.2/bbl and actual product cracks of around $18/bbl for diesel and $14/bbl for petrol.

“We believe the 2 per cent cut in retail fuel prices may be a big de-rating event for OMCS. The cut may also take down marketing margins for diesel/petrol to below the long-term average of ~2 per litre. Margins on diesel are below fair levels at present, and this cut challenges optimistic narrative,” said a report by CLSA. The brokerage maintained ‘sell’ call on HPCL, BPCL, and IOCL.

Premium valuation

Shares prices of HPCL, IOCL, and BPCL surged between 78 per cent and 113 per cent over their respective 52-week lows, hit in March/april, 2023. With this, HPCL is trading at 1.4x FY25 price-tobook (P/B) (vs historical average of 1.0x); IOCL is at 1.4x FY25 P/B (vs average of 1.0x); and BPCL is at 1.6x FY25 P/B (vs average of 1.3x). This 15-25 per cent premium valuation also makes their riskreward unfavourab­le, given the developmen­t, analysts said.

“With most part of the March quarter (Q4FY24) largely over and margins being strong earlier, this price cut does not change our estimates for FY24. With OMCS embarking on new capex plans and aiming for net zero by 2040, we expect the government to give them enough freedom to earn healthy returns FY25 onwards (post elections). We do not see any case to lower FY25-26E integrated margins and earnings estimates,” said Sabri Hazarika, senior research analyst at Emkay Global Financial Services.

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