Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cannot group India with other Emerging market

Over the past years, I spend part of time explaining this fact. India's economic structure is not like other emerging markets and hence we should not club those together. This goes when you are looking at bond yields, currency forecast or simply equity market valuations.

First, India is a consumption economy. Unlike other emerging markets that depend on US consumption, India is driven mostly by domestic consumption. Sectors like IT/ITES do have significant employment here and thus they do contribute indirectly to the consumption. However, the overall impact of IT/ITES is not as substantive as exports are to other emerging markets. Thus we need to look at India through a developed world lens.

Second, India functions despite of its government, again unlike other emerging markets. In other EMs government is a driver or enabler of growth. Not in India. In fact, wherever government interferes you have problems. So in that aspect too India is unlike other EMs.

Third, India has more efficient capital utilization pattern. Overall, the incremental Capital output ratio, ICOR, is higher in India. While a group of economists believe this is reflection of the stage of the economic development rather than character trait of India, I disagree. While the high level of ICOR is misleading, India will have better ICOR than comparable country at similar economic development level. However, this also means India will pay lesser for everything. In other words, if you expect certain demand at a price point in other countries, expect half that demand in India. MNCs found this very challenging at first. But at the right price point, there is ample demand than you can cater to.

Fourth, Indian banks, thanks to RBI's watchfulness, are very conservative. Even in Real estate lending, thanks to the black economy percentage charged by developers, the individual has higher skin in the game than in other markets. 

So during the next year when you look at investing in India, bear in mind that India is a consumption economy like the west. 

But what does this mean?
To me it implies some direct conclusions.

First, India can sustain a higher Debt-GDP ratio than other EMs. Since the payback comes from internal demand generation, the debt is likely to be more robust than other EMs. 

Second, it also means that India's economic model is directionally right, i.e. correct in intent, but low on scale, i.e. India is slow - very slow. This may mean higher stress on currency. Popular opinion on this topic is against me. People expect INR to continue to become cheaper vs. USD because of national debt. However, over time, people will realize the difference and try to flock into the INR. I do not expect it to happen in 2011 or 2012 but I have been wrong before. In any case, if it were to happen expect capital controls and regulation to manage the currency.

Third, infrastructure payback is likely to be longer. With India infrastructure story being marketed to death, I expect lot of infra-investment to come in without acknowledging this fact. Please expect payback to take longer than your models indicate.

Fourth, India may become a consumption driver of the world sooner than other EMs. It might take two decades more, but India may be first to contribute to global consumption rather than other EMs.

In sum
India is unique, it is a culturally in the middle. It is slow, but it is going the right way.