MUMBAI Energy major Reliance Industries should post a second straight increase in quarterly profit, lifted by higher gas output from fields off India's east coast and a nascent recovery in refining margins.
India's leading listed conglomerate, controlled by billionaire Mukesh Ambani, has been scouting for acquisitions overseas, and progress on that front will determine its outlook.
Reliance, valued at $78 billion, recently said it would pay $1.7 billion to form a joint venture at one of the most promising natural gas deposit regions in the United States with Atlas Energy.
The deal followed two failed attempts to buy overseas firms as Reliance looks to expand its presence outside India, break into new markets and broaden its businesses, which include refining, oil and gas exploration and petrochemicals.
"The company has already invested in its own projects such as its gas fields in India and is going to generate a lot of cash flow," said Deepak Pareek, an oil and gas analyst at Mumbai-based Angel Broking.
"A lot of that cash has to be pumped into overseas growth opportunities and that's exactly what it's done with Atlas." Bankers say more overseas deals could be in the offing.
The outcome of a long-running gas dispute with Reliance Natural, led by Mukesh's younger brother Anil, will also have a bearing on the company's outlook.
Reliance is unable to hit peak gas production of 80 million standard cubic metres a day (mmscmd) at its D6 block in the vast
Krishna Godavari basin in the Bay of Bengal due to customers not buying allocated volumes, and a lack of pipelines.
But analysts say current production of 63-64 mmscmd is still enough to boost results. Reliance began pumping gas from the block in April last year.
Analysts estimate gross refining margins (GRMs), a key measure of profitability, will have dropped about 16 percent year-on-year in the March quarter to $8.30 a barrel, tracking a decline in Asia's benchmark Dubai crack margin. Reliance GRMs nearly halved to $5.90 a barrel in the December quarter.
The company's results will be helped by its acquisition last year of unit Reliance Petroleum.
State-run explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp is expected to post higher earnings on firmer oil prices, but subsidy payouts the group is required to make to state retailers will keep results muted.
A lack of clarity about the government's subsidy rules means analysts estimates for ONGC are often disparate.
"What you'd want to bet on is a company's business or its management decisions," said Rakesh Rawal, head of private wealth management at Anand Rathi Financial Services. "But here you are betting on whether a government policy will change or not, which just can't be figured out."
Poll contributors: Angel, Citigroup, K.R. Choksey, Motilal Oswal, Morgan Stanley, Macquarie, Prabhudas Lilladhar, Kotak,
(Editing by Ranjit Gangadharan and Ian Geoghegan)