When talking about the Indian economy, are we missing the big picture ?

Posted on September 24, 2017. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

So the new government got into the office on the back of a pitch that was based on a lot of hope and promises, and while I have been personally quite supportive of the need for change. I have never been in any doubt that, the changes will require time and government will have to let down people. In a country like or anywhere else for that matter, a government gets elected mostly on perception built around the hype. Average people are simply unable to breakthrough each policies and make sense of it. A country like India needs a complete overhaul of its existing economic and financial infrastructure , and that requires a lot of re-wiring and also redesigning of the entire system. Any good reforms takes time, and a prudent policy is always, to not overload the system with Big Bang reforms, one after the other, the changes have to be incremental, but constant. A system overhaul takes time, and you can’t expect the system to start firing on all cylinders right away especially when you are creating more capacity in the old system.

But economic policies alone can’t re-wire the system, it also requires better execution. And if we are talking about creating growth then, there should be a realisation that, without the ability of funding, government policies on their own aren’t the magic fix. So I don’t care what economic policies the government can come up with, driving growth in a country like India , where almost 80- 90% financing is sourced from banks simply isn’t going to work, unless and until the banks are back in shape. The fact is, the bad loans problem hasn’t been fixed, and the lenders have been too slow to offload the garbage sitting in their living room, yes there are legislative policy changes and reforms to help the banks, but banks haven’t been proactive enough. And a lot has to do with the existing training as well as mindset of the executives within the current banking system. For example, based on my own experience, I have realised that a sizeable percentage of the senior bank executives in India aren’t willing to make tough decisions, because for them, as I understood it, it’s all about a peaceful retirement and self preservation. And the investigative agencies haven’t helped decision making process either. Also some of the rule changes don’t really help the banks clean up their balance sheet. The asset reconstruction companies or ARC as they are known in India are, like a time bomb waiting to explode . On practicality basis, there is almost zero value in the ARC structure.

Without recycling the rubbish, you can’t get rid of the stinky garbage, and monetise it. Many quality ideas are simply not getting funded in India, and young entrepreneurs who could drive growth are more or less shut out from funding. And the other real issue is that, like European banks, the Indian banks are also now scared to lend. The ex RBI governor did good talking and provided public opinion on almost everything, but failed to provide real solutions, and now he is busy promoting a book.

I would prefer a wholesale reform of the financial infrastructure of the Indian economy, where capital market becomes the largest source of capital and not the banks. The regulators also need to support the government by unburdening the system from socialistic era policies. Also the government needs to do more work and talk less, there is too much distraction. A lot of announcement, but not much is getting done. Media channels have an endless lineup of experts, who probably wake up everyday, ready to provide new round of expert opinion. And the quality of journalism is rubbish, where is a decent discussion on, what reforms need to be brought in, to help the nation grow? The issue is everyone is drinking from the same source, whether you are the federal or state government, central or state government owned companies, or the private sector. And unless there is new liquidity going into the banks, it’s going to be tough to fund growth.

Various state governments across India are struggling with a very bloated fiscal situation, and they also own companies that have not made money for a long period of time, so it doesn’t make any good business sense for these states, to continue to own unprofitable companies. And in most cases, these companies are competing with other unprofitable or distressed state owned companies across India. These companies were set up in various states across the country, to provide services to the citizens, and by design they were probably never pushed to make a profit. But the time has come for states across the country to find an exit, by either privatising the companies or merging them together with similar companies in other states, and then exiting it. This will also reduce the debt burden on the states.

Also to fund growth, I will encourage the government of India to put in $ 3 billion in equity and then raise additional $ 7 billion from local banks as well as international investors/ banks, to create a growth and investment fund. This fund could also be made tax exempt from withholding taxes for foreign investors, and let this fund buy new loans from the banks, the fund could then repackage the loans in an asset backed security ( ABS) as a way to refinance itself. The fund could also provide working capital loan indirectly to the SMEs through the banks, and let the originator banks hold just 10% of the new loan on their books. RBI could also buy some of these securities from the secondary market to improve the liquidity and pricing. Also Emerging market focused fixed income investors could buy into these securities, and will be exempt from any withholding taxes. I am not a great fan of using pure debt to finance infrastructure, I would rather first raise equity to fund the infrastructure, and then give equity investors an exit by issuing the debt. If you look at it from pure risk perspective, the equity investors are in fact protected from the completion of the underlying asset, and that’s why you need a strong construction company to provide completion and construction risk coverage. So once the asset is built, equity investors will have their value protected, and the return will come from issuing the debt at a premium. There is a natural cycle, and any insurance cover to protect your investment in infrastructure asset will not work, if you simply buy a credit protection. I prefer a equity – debt- equity – exit cycle , which is based on water cycle of cloud – liquid water- ice – water – cloud. That’s the best value preservation model.

The idea that you can protect your asset for its entire life cycle carrying just debt is completely absurd, and it simply doesn’t work, any debt, if not managed well tends to have the natural tendency to end up spiralling into an unsustainable burden. And, if there was no refinancing then, most debt will not be repaid. You can repay debt from cash flow, but refinancing still remains the most frequently used tool. So we need to link the cycle especially for infrastructure assets. The issue with an infrastructure asset also is the permanent loss of value, and this is when the asset becomes redundant for a number of reasons, but if as an investor, you haven’t recovered money during the cash flow generation lifespan or lifecycle of the asset then, you are looking at a permanent loss of capital.







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A Historic Opportunity For India and the Indian society To Bring About a Change From Within

Posted on January 7, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


Good to see the ongoing debate on governance, politics and reforming of the INDIAN TAX SYSTEM stirring up in India in the past few weeks. But by looking at the BIG PICTURE it’s clear that country isn’t just struggling cause of lack of good governance and good governance although essential but on its own won’t go far enough to move the country forward. It is quite evident that the country has been suffering from a severe lack of good reforms and efficient policy decisions but the again a good policy or much needed reforms can only be executed or delivered by an efficient delivery mechanism.And so far this has been India’s major problem because the existing administrative system is simply not fit for purpose. The reality is that a high percentage of the administrators(managers) coming out of the current Indian Administrative Services (IAS) program do not have the right training or the essential background on public policy administration and execution.

A good an innovative policy requires an efficient administrative infrastructure that is not just able to cope with the task at hand but also able to improvise by working closely with the relevant ministerial department on perfecting the policies if and when required. It should also be extremely reactive and responsive to its users / customers i.e. the citizens requirements. The administrative infrastructure created during the British Raj to govern India clearly needs to be revamped and updated. For example we can’t expect to run super fast trains on British Raj Era railway infrastructure without revamping and updating the existing railway infrastructure of the country and this is just common sense. So in short the existing policy delivery mechanism / infrastructure is quite simply outdated. And the problem is not that there is a shortage of talents when it comes to good public administrators but the system simply fails to keep the talent because it isn’t attractive enough. Historically India has produced amazing MINDS and even today the country has no shortage of Talents but the problem has always been the mindset of the Indian society.

Any good system requires a regular overhaul and upgrading and the current IAS program that more or less serves as an operating system to administer and govern INDIA is simply too old and is in need of immediate radical reforms to make it fit for purpose. And here is what the government of the day should look at, a good manager will need to be paid appropriately so what’s the harm in creating a private sector type bonus system linked to verifiable results and overall performance of an official. And the same should apply to ministers. The ministers and the managerial staff will need to work on making various administrative branches of INDIA INC more efficient and responsive and deliver better return on assets for the shareholders i.e. the citizens.

Corruption won’t go away on its own or by street protests or by a creation of new political parties. Also elections and governance etc won’t necessarily solve India’s problem in my own view. If you think the same way you will get to the same place so clearly the country needs to start the process of revamping it’s overall mindset and find a new approach. And this has to come and be driven by the society itself. So a lasting and sustainable change has to come from within. For example lets start with small things if people living in the same community decided to work together and started keeping their streets and town cleans then automatically the entire city will start to look and feel cleaner. Similarly, if people decided and encouraged their friends and families to look at the bigger picture and not to take short cuts for example when getting their kids admitted to a school or getting a normal job done or even when attending prayer events in temples the society will then start to look less messier and more organised as there will be less incentives for folks to ask for favours. It is important to understand that a vibrant bribe culture in India isn’t going to go away just like that and also on the flip side the fear of getting caught might in fact discourage the decision making process making the situation much worst so the people will need to take the initiative and lay the foundation that will bring about the required and essential change in the overall mindset of the Indian society. In other words the society of the day needs to get on 2014 bandwidth.

And obviously the government has a very important role to play by working together with the society and facilitating this change by starting with creating incentives within the existing system. For example, if the government comes with an investment or a social investment program then why not also create a provision where up to 10% of the allocated fund could be paid in bonuses to officials in charge of administering and executing that particular program or policy similarly if a government department is announcing a tender then why not create a BONUS pool of 5 % to 10% that could be paid to the department in charge of the particular project or tender irrespective of who wins the tender. This will mostly likely remove the need for companies to submit unrealistic bids in order to simply secure the project by finding a way to bribe the officials. Also the officials will know that irrespective of who wins the tender their bonus is guaranteed. This by no means should be taken as encouraging corruption but in fact these steps could provide the right incentives by taking away the motivation behind corruption and there are a number of practical, simple and innovative steps to create the right incentives. For example, every government secretariat could have a simple fast track service for citizens and people willing to pay higher fees will be able to access that particular service on fast track basis. Some of these incentives are probably already there. Also why not create a donation incentive so if customers are happy with the services provided by the officials in a particular department then they could donate towards the annual bonus fund. A Corruption that is under the carpet can kill any economy and unless we find a way to start paying people fairly we can’t take the moral high ground and expect people not to take bribe as most of them get involved in corruption because of their obligations towards the family and in a way they do have the right to do what is best in the interest of their family. So this is why it is important that we explore all the practical ways to remove the corruption embedded in the system say.

Now with regards to the TAX Code debate well a country where roughly only 4% of the population pays income tax clearly needs to do better and this will not only require the government of the day to make radical changes in the overall tax structure but also the people who are happy take to the streets to show their anger against corruption will need to have a serious look at themselves in the MIRROR and ask themselves what is their own contribution to the country that they claim to love so much. Talk is generally cheap and easy and most of us are good at it. A big economy like India can’t abolish the personal income tax system altogether, it is simply unrealistic and most probably a wrong debate.

Indian Tax system today heavily relies on indirect tax revenues including of VAT, sales tax, excise duties among others to pay the country’s BILLS. And no doubt the system is struggling cause of corruption but this isn’t just an INDIAN phenomena. Having said that it is surely getting entrenched in the DNA of the Indian society and people will need to realise that if you build yourself a US 100 million dollar mansion in a neighbourhood where the rest of them can’t afford even a US $5,000 house then you are making a serious mistake because you may end up having to spend millions on security etc so why not instead help build your immediate neighbourhood and by this I mean building a good road, a good sanitation system, may be a good school , a good medical centre and then build yourself a billion dollar mansion ( if you can afford it ) because in this case the new neighbourhood will be anchored around you and it always be grateful and most likely you will see significant benefits from your investment in the community. And this is not socialism but just smart and sustainable investment.

If you want to change the country then you will most likely have to start with changing yourself, your own family, neighbourhood and the city. So I will encourage the society, the government and the entrepreneurs to take the important first step and in a society where people like to follow and copy others it is highly likely others will follow suit creating a trend. Collaboration can help us climb mountains and help us get to the moon so the various communities will need to come together and work towards making a better India. A crisis also provides opportunity but it is important not to get overwhelmed by the CHAOS because a grinding process isn’t all smooth and beautiful so I believe it is time for the Indian society to look at the big picture knowing well that it has a truly historic opportunity to take the country forward by playing an extremely important role and in the process it could also set up a good example and precedent for similar societies living in the developing world going forward.

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