India's Reliance completing core refining, petrochemicals expansion, expects sharp profits rise

MUMBAI (Reuters) -- Indian oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd expects a sharp rise in operating profit from the next financial year as it completes an expansion of its core refining and petrochemicals business, a senior executive said on Monday.

Reliance, controlled by India's richest man Mukesh Ambani, on Monday reported a better-than-expected 10% rise in third-quarter net profit to $1.18 billion, helped by strong refining margin.

Analysts had on average expected a standalone profit of 78.5 billion rupees, according to data compiled by Thomson Reuters.

The company embarked on a $15 billion capital spending program in March 2012 to set up a petroleum coke integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plant and a refinery off-gas cracker (ROGC), each costing $4 billion to $5 billion. The company had at the time envisaged a 66% expansion of its petrochemical capacity.

Reliance's Joint Chief Financial Officer Srikanth Venkatachari said on Monday the new capacity could increase earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) by $3.2 billion to $3.5 billion on a full-year basis.

By comparison, for the nine months to December, Reliance reported EBITDA of about $4.7 billion.

Srikanth said while the ROGC is "almost" complete, the IGCC will be mechanically completed by June 2017. After a few months of stabilization, the benefits of the projects will be reflected in the company's operating profit.

"I believe even in the next financial year, we will see a substantial jump in EBITDA," Srikanth told a news conference.

REFINING BOOST

Refining and petrochemicals contribute around 90% of Reliance's overall revenue and profit.

Standalone revenues, which include its refining and petrochemicals business and oil and gas exploration in India, came in at $9.8 billion for the third quarter ending Dec. 31, up 9% from a year ago.

Gross refining margin, or profit earned on each barrel of crude processed -- a key profitability gauge for a refiner -- was $10.8 per barrel for the December quarter.

On a consolidated basis, including its newer businesses such as telecoms, retail and US shale gas operations, third-quarter net profit rose 3.3% from a year earlier 75.67 billion rupees.

Reliance's Jio unit commercially launched its fourth-generation (4G) telecoms network in September after building a new network with an investment of more than $20 billion.

The company, which is offering free voice and data services to its subscribers until the end of March, said on Monday it had signed up 72.4 million subscribers as of Dec. 31.

Reporting by Promit Mukherjee; Editing by Biju Dwarakanath and Adrian Croft

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