India not another Bric in the wall

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India not another Bric in the wall
Walnuts being stomped after breaking green husks to clean their shells on Pulwom, 40km south of Srinagar. Exports make up 23.6 per cent of India's gross domestic product. - Getty Images

'Growth-friendly' environment to steer growth, insulate vs global shocks.

By Sukumar Rajah

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Published: Sat 14 Nov 2015, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 15 Nov 2015, 9:30 AM

Amidst the scrutiny that emerging markets have been coming under in recent months, it is important to remember that they are not all the same. Even within the group of the so-called Brics economies in the advanced stages of development - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa-different fortunes abound. We think India's "growth-friendly" environment created in part through a number of government reforms should help steer its growth story, and help insulate the country against potential global market shocks.
We think India is in an enviable position relative to many other economies, and holds both the structural catalysts and cyclical positive drivers to sustainable growth. The worst of India's prolonged slowdown seems to be in its rear-view mirror. We believe growth is likely to revert to long-term trends in the near to medium term, driven by infrastructure spending and urban consumption, but also helped by an accommodating interest-rate environment that has been supported by declines in inflation.
Given that exports make up just 23.6 per cent of India's gross domestic product, we think that if there is a downturn in global growth, it is likely to have less impact on the country's economy. Compared with Russia and Brazil, which are heavily reliant on commodity prices and would therefore be affected in a global slowdown, India is a key beneficiary of a weak commodity-price environment as a net importer.
In our view, lower commodity prices and the resulting impact on the cost of imports could leave India well-positioned to benefit from current economic conditions, compared with other Brics economies. India is the only Brics country to see an increase in GDP growth from 2013?14.
We are already seeing signs of India's economic improvement: twin deficits (national budget and foreign trade) appear to be under control, inflation has dropped significantly since 2014, and improved currency reserves suggest there should be less vulnerability in the event that foreign investors withdraw capital. While other Brics economies face their own domestic issues, in our view, India's path is a little different.
Building growth, Bric by Bric
We believe a major difference between India and many other global economies - particularly in the emerging-markets arena - is its potential to sustain high growth for the next two to three decades. Underpinning our assessment are four factors, amongst others: India's working-age population, labour productivity, an increase in capital spending as a percentage of GDP and capital productivity. We believe India has the opportunity to keep improving on all four metrics over a long period of time in order to build a sustainable story of growth.
A recent United Nations study suggested that India will overtake China's population by 2022, six years ahead of its previous projections. By 2022, both countries are estimated to see their respective populations swell to 1.4 billion, with India reaching new highs of 1.5 billion in 2030 and 1.7 billion in 2050, while China's population is expected to remain constant post-2030.
With India's per-capita GDP observed at similar levels in Brazil in 1983 and in China in 2004, prosperity levels in India are decades behind other emerging markets - leaving ample room for India to catch up. Moreover, the availability of high-quality human capital means that India is well positioned to compete in the tradable services sector and higher value-added sectors such as information technology and pharmaceuticals.
Additionally, India's age dependency ratio - the ratio of the very young or old members of society considered dependents to the working-age population (individuals typically aged 15 to 64) - is expected to decline until 2040, while many other economies are likely to see a rise in their dependency ratios. We think this trend should provide a greater pool of workers compared with many other countries, which we believe should ultimately create opportunities for strong domestic growth and retail flows, and contribute towards India's growing middle-class population, expected to reach 1.1 billion by 2030.
Foreign direct investment, or FDI, which dictates the percentage of an Indian company that can be owned by non-Indian investors, is another important factor to consider when looking at India's resilience, particularly in up-and-coming areas such as the railway industry, defence and insurance. In July of this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi helped spur the Indian government to nearly double the foreign investment limit in insurance companies to 49 per cent from 26 per cent.
FDI inflows hit a record high in 2015 - gross inflows were up 22.25 per cent the previous fiscal year - while foreign portfolio investor ownership of Indian stocks hit an all-time high, which we see as a sign that Modi's reforms are headed in the right direction.
While recent global volatility has sparked some FDI outflows, India's macroeconomic adjustments in the past 18-24 months have helped rebalance domestic savings.
As a part of overall household savings, there has been an increased allocation to financial investments in India, particularly in the equity markets. As a result, inflows into domestic equity funds have picked up strongly, offsetting recent outflows from foreign investors.
While investments in equities have increased, currently only 2.3 per cent of domestic household savings in India are invested in equities.
So, we think more favourable regulations for investors, along with good demographics, a supportive growth environment and better investor education, could result in a strong increase in domestic investment flows into Indian equities in the medium to long run. This, in turn, could not only support the domestic equity asset class but also reduce the correlation of Indian stock markets to global markets, potentially helping to contain volatility.
The writer is the managing director and chief investment officer at Franklin Local Asset Management, Asian Equity. View expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.

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