By Neha Arora
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian demand remains a bright spot in major steel markets as domestic consumption is seen growing at a "high single digit" rate over the next 12-15 months, a senior executive at Moody's Investors Service said on Monday.
India, the world's second-largest crude steel producer, posted 11.4% growth in finished steel consumption during April-October to 65.5 million tonnes.
"India remains the bright spot because the underlying steel demand still remains quite solid," Kaustubh Chaubal, a senior vice president at Moody's, told Reuters in an interview.
"It is one of the brighter spots when we compare with any other region, whether it is APAC, Europe or even the U.S."
In the coming months, a major catalyst for steel demand growth would be infrastructure investments ahead of India's national elections in 2024, Chaubal said.
However, most major steelmakers suffered during July-September due to a drop in prices and a global slowdown.
India's export tax on some steel products further hurt profitability. The country's finished steel exports more than halved during the first seven months of the fiscal year that began in April.
"September results were disappointing," Chaubal said, adding steel prices had corrected at least 35-40% since May when the export levy was imposed.
But, steelmakers have bolstered their balance sheets by reducing debt and growing core earnings, he said.
Tata Steel, India's top steelmaker which also has operations in Europe, was "on the cusp" of an investment-grade rating, Chaubal said. It is currently rated "Ba1 positive".
The outlook for rival JSW Steel remained stable, he added.
"The growing proportion of India (business), and the declining proportion of Europe, has helped them (Tata)," Chaubal said, adding the steelmaker had trimmed its 20 million tonne-plus capacity to 10 million tonnes in Europe.
Tata Steel, which has an annual crude steel capacity of 34 million tonnes, missed analysts' quarterly earnings estimates by a wide margin as profit slumped more than 87% in the July-September quarter.
(Reporting by Neha Arora; Editing by Aditya Kalra and Mark Potter)