Date: 1st June 2019
Recent Events – Elections
- Last week we had an election result day and the 2019 central election came to a dramatic end. We welcome the second term of BJP and the National Democratic Alliance at the center.
- The 6 week long 7 phase election was an emotional, high decibel multimedia war among the parties and participants. I am so glad we fight this way. People argue, they criticize, they pull up history, they express themselves, and they get angry. They decide whom to vote for. Then they stand peacefully in a line to vote, and accept the outcome.
- This is far better than a civil war or an agitation or a set of bandhs and protests. Thank you India. :-)
THE Economic Environment
- Growth is slowing in the Indian economy to 7% and below. This is weak as we have a low per capita GDP. To absorb the population growth in jobs, we have to target 8% plus growth.
- The slowdown is a culmination of multiple events – high interest rates relative to inflation; weakness in sectors like real estate, automobiles, consumption and low rural demand. BFSI sector has issues like a liquidity challenge affecting NBFCs, NPA issues in PSBs and the IL&FS crisis. Exports have slowed down as global demand is down due to weak growth and a tariff war between USA and China. The private sector is not investing.
- Even though the above laundry list of issues is depressing, the economy also has a number of positives. Our IT and ITES sector continues to bloom. Sectors like pharma, automobiles, telecom and retail have achieved impressive scale. The large corporates have in general improved balance sheets and are low on debt. Private sector does have investment firepower in place if they see good opportunities. We are past several difficult structural reforms like GST, RERA, demonetization, shell company crackdown and Bank NPAs, and with this election result market uncertainties are much lower. We have rich human resources and need to tap this well.
- Corporate India has to grip the large opportunities up for grabs – housing, infrastructure push from govt. including roads, railway, airlines and airports, gas distribution and water supply, mobile and telecom based opportunities, consumption by a large population, eCommerce, digital and Aadhar validation based business models.
A Wish List for Modi 2.0
As an investor, I have many hopes and expectations from this new government. Extending from governance to education to the corporate sector, this is my list:
- How can justice be delivered faster? The numbers of pending cases in lower courts to SC are scary. The main issues are – slow resolution, and cases in lower court routinely reopened in higher courts. Our suggestion is to – have no vacancies for judges, courts open all year long, push for mediated solution rather than court battle, time bound cases (no tareek pe tareek) and low acceptance in higher courts. Digital solutions can speed access and enable common judgements for similar cases. The NCLT driven IBC code has also proven its usefulness. However this needs to be tightened based on the experience so far, to be faster and with higher success rates.
- Do we have the right education systems today? The problems extend from low penetration and presence of schools, high dropout rates, poor learning and skill building outcomes, overlaps between state and central boards, many languages and high study load for students. Our suggestions are – more and better govt. schools, coordination between central and state boards on content and timetables, free and compulsory (penalty parents punishable) govt. education till 10th, digital tracking of schools, teachers and students, better curriculum of less rote and more experiential, discovery and project based learning, emphasis on sports with good facilities, and zero homework. Competition is always good, so all education should be freed from govt. license shackles. The best universities will naturally thrive.
- Is the right way Garibi Hatao or Amiri Badhao? Both are important. On the former side, the excellent work on toilets, housing for all, LPG, ration card based subsidies, farmer schemes, cooperatives, good supply chain to agriculture needs to continue. Electricity for all, better quality electricity, lower leakages, pension for 60+ age, unemployment measurement and schemes (MGNREGA) needs to be bolstered. All subsidies and subsidized product distribution needs to go through Aadhar verification to plug leakages. On the latter side, corporates need to be encouraged as they generate employment, good salaries and taxable profits. Real Estate and Textiles need revival. Exports and a good startup environment is important.
- Need for Infrastructure: This is obvious, and a crying need. While some progress has been made on Roads and Electricity, much more needs to be done here; and in Railways, Airways, Ports, Water supply, Healthcare and Education, Municipal reforms and Town planning, local transportation and Police reforms.
- Suggestions – funding is as important here as detailed planning. Pension and Insurance funds should be allowed and enabled to invest in Infra.
- Projects have to be reasonably profitable for private sector operators, with lower risks and permit challenges.
- Development of 1-2 new metros in every state. The current 6-7 metros are overcrowded and infra is stretched. The next 20-30 cities need to develop systematically to take pressure off these metros. The Smart Cities Mission needs to be accelerated.
- Public Sector Enterprises: The Govt. should not be in any operational firm that has no national Interests. Firms like SAIL, NTPC, HPCL, BPCL, many parts of Indian Railways, BSNL, MTNL, Coal India, etc. should be freed from the chains of PSU restrictions, allowed to operate freely and generate reasonable returns. The PSUs and govt. ministries have assets worth lakhs of crores that are generating low single digit returns. GoI should monetize firms, assets and lands and sell to investors – foreign, Indian or even their own employees, through IPOs, auctions and management takeovers. And fund Infrastructure, Education and social needs.
- The role of Regulators: The right way to encourage growth in a sector is to have a Regulatory authority that ensures a level playing field and meet national and business objectives to develop the sector. It has to include a think tank and sector experts. Regulators for every sector should be much more dynamic, open to discussion and forward looking, with minimum regulatory and legal overlaps. They must enable minimum ROI for new sector entrants. The success of SEBI, IRDAI, TRAI, etc. has to be extended to Hospitals, Education, Pharma, automobiles, chemicals, etc. to roll out required standards & compliance, and encourage growth and penetration.
- Taxes, Interest Rates and more on Corporate Sector: The laundry list of urgent needs is
- Corporate taxes need to be lowered. This was a Modi 1.0 promise – lower taxes and fewer tax concessions.
- The current interest rates in India are very high in the global context, as well as given the low domestic inflation. Rates need to lowered – through RBI intervention and easing up of foreign borrowing.
- Simplification of GST to 2-3 levels. Inclusion of liquor, petro products and cigarettes
- SEZ model revival and encouragement of exports
- Labor reforms. Firms should be able to hire (and fire) more easily and with lower overheads.
- We need to officially and robustly measure & track Unemployment. This is a key economic measure.
- Auditors have an important role in prevention of financial crimes. Perhaps a regulator is needed for Statutory Auditors to keep up standards and prevent problems early.
- Do we need to export more or import less? Both. Many high tech products like auto steels, specialty chemicals, commodities, oil, gold, machinery, chocolates and consumer products are imported for factories and consumers here. Local manufacturing needs to step up to fill these needs. Also exports is still not happening on a good scale. We are running a trade deficit. This has to be filled up by IT & ITES, pharma, automobiles, engineered products, steel, aluminum, petro products, gem & jewellery, tourism, airport /aviation and seaports /shipping.
- Environmental protection: As the globe gets hotter, the oceans dirtier and forests thinner, it’s sad to see USA dropping environmental concerns and reneging on commitments. In the war on air, water and plastic pollution, India has a secret weapon – low cost of operations. It’s possible to recycle old ships (Alang), electronics /ewaste, newspaper and most dry waste, and generate a wage for workers and a profit for the business. However we need to protect our borders from waste dumping. And the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change needs to proactively reach out to industry, municipal corporations and volunteers to enable and scale these activities.
- Thoughts on Ministerial Changes:
- In Singapore, the minister appointed for an Industry is often a very respected senior business executive from the sector, who transitions from a CEO role, to developing the sector for the nation. Knowledge of individuals gets institutionalized. This has allowed Singapore to progress very fast, it is now a Developed economy. India must adopt this model as in many ministries leadership requires a lot of industry knowledge.
- In India, we saw the Railways and Coal ministries work together innovatively due to a common Minister. Such strong coordination is needed to solve challenges such as Kashmir (Home and Defense), Transportation (Ports, Road, Rail, Air) and Energy (Electricity, Petroleum, Solar, Wind, Coal, Hydro,) etc.
- Execution, administrative reform and good governance have been key observations in Modi 1.0. National pride, Industrial progress and social capital are coming together well.
- We need to do even better in this new regime to take Indian GDP to 8-10% growth range and lift standards of 130 crore / 1.3 billion Indians.
- Also see ‘A Vision for the Indian Economy‘
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