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Organised jewellery retailers stare at halving of revenue growth

Revenue growth of organised jewellery retailers is set to slide 500-600 basis points (bps) to 5-6% over fiscals 2020 and 2021, following triple headwinds of higher import duty, elevated gold prices, and sluggish demand.

That’s half the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12% seen in three fiscals through 2019, an analysis of 44 CRISIL-rated jewellery retailers, which account for a third of the organised jewellery sector’s revenue, shows.

Banks have been shy of extending more working capital loans following asset quality issues at certain jewellers, which has affected lending sentiment. That, in turn, is limiting new store openings and hence revenue growth.

Gold imports fell 20% on-year during April-December 2019 (see Chart 1 in annexure), and 45% between July and December after import duty was increased by 250 bps to 12.5% in the Union Budget presented in July 2019 (see Chart 2), as retailers offloaded their lower-duty inventory and demand slackened.

Gold prices are expected to stay high because of global economic slack and geopolitical uncertainties. Domestic prices have surged 25% in the past one year to almost Rs 40,000 for 10 gm of 24-carat gold (see Chart 3).

“High gold prices, accompanied with increased import duty, are the primary reasons gold jewellery purchases have been subdued,” said Gautam Shahi, Director, CRISIL Ratings. “But retailers with a reasonable share of diamond-studded gold jewellery sales had a better festive season (in October, which accounts for ~15% of annual sales). They would be relatively less impacted compared with those that sell largely gold jewellery.”

Gold imports are highly elastic to increase in import duty, just the way retail demand is to domestic prices of gold. If gold prices and import duty remain high for long, they can undo the gains made by organised retailers in recent years, which were driven by higher same-store sales and expansion of outlets.

CRISIL foresees subdued gold imports in fiscal 2021, too. With prices continue to be elevated, consumers will prefer to exchange their old gold for new. Therefore, even with lower imports, revenues will grow on account of higher prices and higher proportion of old gold exchange. However, the growth will be lower compared to what was seen in the last 3 fiscals.

On their part, banks have been reducing exposure to the sector over the past 18 months. While gross bank credit outstanding rose 7% last November (on-year), lending to the gems and jewellery sector slid 10%. Banks are also seeking higher collateral or margins from jewellers, which increases their cost and constrains store additions. But retailers with stronger balance sheets are able to continue store expansions and thus outpacing peers on growth.

“Given the milieu, we expect the credit metrics of organised jewellery retailers to moderate this fiscal,” said Kiran Kavala, Associate Director, CRISIL Ratings. “The credit ratio (rating upgrades to downgrades) of CRISIL’s rated pool of gold jewellers has hovered at 0.8-0.9 time since fiscal 2019 to date.”

Two factors could provide some offset: jewellery retailers typically have 10-15% of their inventory unhedged, which helps them benefit from a sharp rise in gold prices. Further, high gold prices also provide flexibility to run tactical promotions via jewellery-making charges to boost sales without significantly impacting margins.

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