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Reliance gets thumbs-up from S&P, Fitch as strong earnings keep leverage in check

Reliance gets thumbs-up from S&P, Fitch as strong earnings keep leverage in check
Reliance Industries Ltd has won a vote of confidence from global rating agencies S&P and Fitch after its robust earnings in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2024, supported its growth aspirations and kept leverage under check. S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings in separate notes spoke of its EBITDA (loosely known as pre-tax profit) rising in the current fiscal year and next on rising revenue and past investments.

"Reliance Industries Ltd's (RIL) strong earnings will keep leverage in check as the company continues to pursue growth ambitions. We expect the company's debt-to-EBITDA ratio to remain commensurate with the rating (BBB+/Stable/--)," S&P said in a note.

The oil-to-telecom-and-retail conglomerate's growth aspirations remain intact, it said, adding the company has ramped up investments in the media business in recent months.

In 2024, it entered into binding definitive agreements with The Walt Disney Co for a media joint venture in which RIL will invest Rs 11,500 crore. The company subsequently agreed to buy Paramount Global's 13.01 per cent stake in local entertainment network Viacom18 Media Pte Ltd for about Rs 4,300 crore.

"These investments are in line with RIL's strategy to diversify and have a strong presence in a few key industries," the rating agency said.

Also, the company received government approval in 2024 to develop gas reserves in the KG-D6 block in the Bay Of Bengal. This could increase the company's gas production capacity by 13-17 per cent.

RIL's earlier announced investments include a Rs 75,000 crore expansion plan over five years (starting 2022) for the oil-to-chemicals business.

"RIL's earnings will benefit from past investments," S&P said. "We project the company's adjusted EBITDA will rise 2-4 per cent in fiscal 2025 (year ending March 31, 2025)," it added.

Just as in the past two years, the digital services segment (Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd) will be the key growth driver, with segment's EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortisation) increasing 10-12 per cent in fiscal 2025.

Reliance Jio's wireless subscriber base and average revenue per user will gain from the company's investments in its 5G network since late 2022.

Meanwhile, earnings in the oil and gas as well as retail segments will reap the rewards of increased production volume and a wider retail store network.

"The EBITDA improvement that we expect in fiscal 2025 comes after a 14 per cent increase to Rs 1.6 lakh crore in fiscal 2024," it said.

S&P saw RIL's rising earnings providing it greater balance-sheet flexibility for growth.

"We expect the combination of robust operating performances and continued spending to keep the company's debt-to-EBITDA ratio at 1.8x-2.0x over the next two years. This compares with our estimate of 1.7x for fiscal 2024 and our downgrade trigger of 2.5x," S&P said.

RIL's leverage has some distance from the upper end of the company's internal leverage target. RIL has reiterated its intention to keep its net debt-to-EBITDA ratio (by its own calculations) below 1x. The ratio was 0.65x as of March 31, 2024.

Separately, Fitch Ratings said RIL's EBITDA net leverage is likely to remain below 1x in the medium term, supported by increasing cash flows and lower capex intensity, even as the conglomerate's absolute capex and investments remain high in the near term.

"We expect RIL's EBITDA to increase by 8 per cent year-on-year in the financial year ending March 2025 (FY25) and 14 per cent in FY26, while capex intensity (capex/revenue) is likely to reduce below 13 per cent by FY26 (FY24: 15.3 per cent). Lower capex intensity would be driven by growing revenue and reduction in capex after FY25," it said.

Fitch expected the conglomerate's Cash Flow from Operations (CFO) to be sufficient to fund its capex from FY26, which will limit additional debt funding and keep its EBITDA net leverage below 1.0x in the medium term (FY24: 0.9x, FY23: 1.1x).

"Fitch estimates RIL's FY24 EBITDA net leverage at 0.9x, better than our expectation of 1.1x, driven by marginally higher EBITDA and Rs 20,900 crore of equity raised mainly from the sale of a stake in a subsidiary, even as its capex remained high at Rs 1.5 lakh crore (FY23: Rs 1.4 lakh crore)," the rating agency said in a statement.

It rates RIL at 'BBB'/Stable, one notch above India's rating (BBB-/Stable).

"We expect the EBITDA increase in the near to medium term to be driven by the telecom and retail businesses, supported by contribution from the upstream oil and gas segment and marginal recovery in petrochemical spreads in the oil to chemical (O2C) segment," Fitch said, adding EBITDA from digital services, largely telecom, is likely to benefit from a 10-15 per cent tariff hike and 15-20 million of additional subscribers in FY25 (FY24: 482 million subscribers).

Digital services EBITDA rose by 13 per cent in FY24, as Reliance added 42 million subscribers and monthly average revenue per user increased to Rs 182. Monthly user data consumption increased by 24 per cent to 28.7 GB, one of the highest globally.

Fitch expected retail EBITDA to increase by 20-25 per cent in FY25 (FY24: 28%) as Reliance continues to expand its physical stores and digital channels. EBITDA would be supported by a 22.2 per cent increase in its registered customer base to 304 million in FY24.

Also, O2C segment EBITDA is expected to remain above Rs 60,000 crore in FY25 (FY24: Rs 62,400 crore), as a gradual improvement in petrochemical spreads from FY24 lows is expected as a supply overhang recedes.

Upstream oil and gas EBITDA should stay at around Rs 20,000 crore in FY25 (FY24: Rs 20,200 crore), assisted by the expectation of a 10 per cent increase in gas production in the first full year of operation of three gas fields in the KG-D6 block, which should offset the potential reduction in price realisation with lower gas prices in international benchmarks.


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