JSW Steel Denies Liberty Asset Bid as Mill Plans India Expansion

The JSW Steel Ltd. logo is displayed on an employee's bag in Dolvi, Maharashtra. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

JSW Steel Denies Liberty Asset Bid as Mill Plans India Expansion

India’s most valuable steelmaker is ruling out overseas acquisitions and is instead focusing firmly on its home market, with a $3.4 billion plan to sharply boost output.

JSW Steel Ltd., whose quarterly profit soared to a record high on a sharp rally in prices and robust demand, denied a Reuters report that it’s weighing a bid for Liberty Steel Group’s assets. It also expects exports to surge as India grapples with a devastating coronavirus outbreak and China’s production curbs ease competition, according to Joint Managing Director Seshagiri Rao.

Reuters had reported over the weekend that JSW Steel is considering a bid to buy Liberty Steel in the U.K., as well as mills elsewhere. Liberty’s parent GFG Alliance, a loose collection of industrial companies, has been fighting to avoid collapse after the demise of its biggest lender Greensill Capital in March.

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“That is not correct news. We deny it,” Rao said in an interview. While JSW had shown interest in the past in the British company’s assets in France, “now we have no plan to look at overseas” acquisitions, he said.

Rao also denied that the mill would be keen on Liberty’s assets in India, which include Adhunik Metaliks Ltd. Instead, JSW will be interested in bidding for the disinvestment in state-run companies Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd., Neelachal Ispat Nigam Ltd. and NMDC Ltd.’s Nagarnar steel plant, Rao said.

Last week, the mill outlined a plan to raise its capacity in India by 68% to about 37 million tons by March 2024 and boost its iron ore mining operations by spending 251 billion rupees ($3.5 billion) over the next three years. While steel demand in India has come roaring back after a nationwide lockdown last year, it took a hit last month when the world’s worst virus outbreak led to many state governments shuttering their economies.

Exports to Surge

Still, the economic impact of the second virus wave won’t be as severe as last year since the lockdowns are mostly localized and demand is expected to recover sharply once infections ebb, probably from July. In the interim, exports will make up for the shortfall in sales, Rao said.

“About 3 million tons of India’s steel demand disappeared in April in comparison with the prior month and that is a significant fall and so we have to make up in the export market,” Rao said. “Exports will be sizable in this quarter,” with overseas shipments comprising more than 25% of sales this quarter, he said.

The removal of export rebates and an increase in taxes on some products by China from this month are also providing a tailwind for India to export more to markets including Europe, Vietnam and the Middle East, Rao said.

JSW is targeting production of about 22 million tons in India in the year that started in April, higher than the 15 million tons it churned out last year, lifted by new capacity and the acquisition of Bhushan Power and Steel Ltd. That’s even as output is likely to fall by about 4% to 5% this quarter as the mill diverts its liquid oxygen stocks for medical purposes, he said.

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