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This article was first published 9 years ago  » Business » How Tata Steel weathered the MRTP Act storm

How Tata Steel weathered the MRTP Act storm

By Krishna Kant
August 27, 2014 17:40 IST
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Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata (R) and Deputy Chairman Cyrus Mistry attend the launch of a new website for tech superstore Croma, managed by Infiniti Retail, a part of the Tata Group, in Mumbai."Unique among such adventures, unique in its advantages and unique in its difficulties"-this is how J R D Tata once described the growth trajectory of Tata Steel, formerly Tata Iron and Steel Company (Tisco).

The pioneer steel maker and the Tata group's flagship company for about a century has always been unique, whether one considers the founder's 30-year struggle to find a suitable site to set up Asia's first integrated steel mill or the fact that it was the first company to raise capital in India.

In the early 70s, Tisco faced its biggest crisis since its brush with near-bankruptcy and closure during the post-World War I recession.

In 1969, Parliament passed the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices (MRTP) Act, which put clamps on the country's top private firms.

As Tisco was the largest private enterprise at that time, it faced the brunt of the government's distaste for big business.

The following decade was a wash-out for the company, with annual production stuck at about 1.5 million tonnes from 1969 to 1981, a period when India's steel production increased about 50 per cent.

The company's production began to rise in the 80s, when restrictions were progressively relaxed.

But the situation on the ground had changed---the company had lost its dominant position.

A mix of MRTP restrictions and government emphasis on public sector undertakings forced Tisco to cede market share-first to government-owned Hindustan Steel (now Steel Authority of India Ltd, or SAIL) and, subsequently, to new entrant Jindal Iron & Steel Company (now JSW Steel).

Tisco's market share by volume declined from 80 per cent in 1951 to 30 per cent in 1971 and 15 per cent on the eve of the economic reforms of 1991.

Now, it is the third-largest steel maker in India (10 per cent volume share), after SAIL and JSW Steel.

The restrictions on the company had their bright spots. These forced Tata Steel to look inwards and, through a period, emerge as the most cost-competitive and profitable steel maker, with extensive backward and forward linkages.

These created a launch pad for the $12.6-billion acquisition of Corus (now Tata Steel Europe) in 2006, the largest Indian takeover of a foreign company.

The challenge for Tata Steel, now the world's 11th largest steel maker, is maintaining its global stature without being swamped by the stagnation and continued losses in Europe.

European operations remain a financial burden on the parent, with accumulated losses and negative net worth.

The market and analysts, however, are optimistic, given the record and the group's deep pockets.

Tata Steel has seen its position slide in the group hierarchy.

Once a co-promoter of most of the group's new ventures, Tata Steel is now behind Tata Motors, in terms of revenue, and a distant third in terms of market capitalisation, after Tata Consultancy Services and Tata Motors.


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Krishna Kant
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