(This appears in Moneylife. It is a subscription only website. I am taking the liberty of posting this on my website, because I think this is worthy of a debate and more people should think about this)
Keeping the (Market Wealth) in India
06 February 2018 4
Our honourable prime minister Narendra Modi is passionate about ‘Make in India’. Government policies are getting fine-tuned to make this easy. Today, I want to touch on a topic that is dear to my heart. About encouraging Indians to create wealth from the massive spending and growth that is happening in India. While our gross domestic product (GDP) may be growing in real terms at 6%-7% (implying a nominal growth in double-digit terms, given that inflation is around 4%-5%), many businesses are making money hand over fist and shareholders are creating wealth at a much faster pace.
The Indian consumer is the most sought after one today. Whether it is Google or Microsoft or Unilever or Nestlé or Apple, everyone is wooing Indian consumers. Indian consumers are giving a lot of boost to the share prices of all these companies. Then you pause. All this money is spent by the Indians. Who gains? Who owns Google or Microsoft? It is clearly the Americans who own bulk of the shares. You and I cannot buy five shares in Google as easily as we can buy five shares in Bajaj Auto or Maruti. In fact, we won’t be able to buy any with our national currency!
Now think of the opposite. Who owns top Indian companies? The fact is that HDFC (Housing Development Finance Corporation), HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank are overwhelmingly owned by foreign investors. In some cases, they hold 74% shares. Uday Kotak is probably India’s finest banker and sharpest brain. Read what he has to say here: https://tinyurl.com/yb6cu8bp He rightly points out that companies that need capital can find it from Indians. When that is possible, why do companies like HDFC have to raise money from foreigners?
Indeed, we have a problem of plenty. Indian mutual funds are flush with money and not finding enough investment avenues. They need quality investments. Why give this up to foreigners? He notes that HDFC is today owned 80% by foreigners! And 100% of the money is made from Indians and made in India! However, the wealth from this gets created abroad. Google, today, counts on India for its next big growth opportunity. Probably, companies like Google also do a lot of their development work in India. India has the fastest growing Internet market in the world. But then, who owns the wealth that gets created from this? Indians? Think again.
My friend, Umesh Kudalkar, is an investor and an analyst par excellence. He has sharp insights on most companies and also sees things from the top. He has made a very passionate argument which calls for listing of foreign companies in India, if they wish to do business here. While India needs capital to grow, India also has capital that seeks investment opportunities. I urge you to read his arguments for “Listing in India” at https://tinyurl.com/yccf2xvv. To know more about Umesh, check https://www.linkedin.com/in/umesh-kudalkar-9776701b/. I fully endorse his views. Yes, there could be legal or technical issues which may need to be addressed before we can actually commence listing and trading of global securities on our bourses. If Hong Kong or Japan or European countries can invest in shares in global companies, we should also be doing that.
Coming back to fund-raising by Indian companies, the government needs to revisit the provisions that permit companies to raise equity through private placement with select investors. This provision was introduced in an era when we widely believed that domestic shareholders would not participate in offerings of new shares at prices prevailing in the secondary markets. Today, things are different. Domestic money is in plentiful supply and looking for new investment options. It would be perfect if the clause were scrapped. However, markets are fickle and investor sentiments change. In order to help both, the government can insist that all new offerings should be compulsorily through rights issues (the principle of not diluting existing shareholders). Anything unsubscribed could be given to domestic mutual funds first and then to the horde of registered foreign institutional investors (FIIs). This can be done easily without any delay, as technology is an enabler of instant decisions.
There was a time when we needed FIIs. India was short of capital and FIIs were important because they pumped in billions of dollars every year. Those days are over. Already, investments by Indian mutual funds have overtaken FII investments. Much as we need their money, they also need investment options. China allowed foreigners to buy only in a graduated manner, limiting the number of companies, imposing several restrictions and so on. Here, we have opened our capital markets too much, too soon.
Last week, Indian Railways Finance Corporation launched a bond listing on the India INX. It is an initiative by the BSE, to enable foreigners to trade round the clock. In the first phase, it proposes to commence trading in equity derivatives, currency derivatives, commodity derivatives including index and stocks. Subsequently, depository receipts and bonds would be offered, once the required infrastructure for these is in place. The technology offerings at India INX would facilitate co-location of members in its own data centre at GIFT City (Ahmedabad) as well as provide high-frequency trading. It is an attempt to compete with the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong. It is only fair that foreign securities are available for trading for Indians.
Domestic companies’ shares are creating wealth for foreigners. And foreign companies are creating wealth for their shareholders by selling to Indian consumers. And, we, Indians are getting excluded. As Umesh Kudalkar mentions in his article, every government does things to encourage domestic participation. What are we doing? We are permitting foreign banks to thrive here, without being incorporated or listed here. I am sure that if we ask them to incorporate locally and get listed here, they will comply; no one will leave the country. On the other hand, we are seeing a bank like HDFC Bank being owned predominantly by foreigners and creating wealth for them. We can insist on the foreign companies to either list and offer shares to Indian investors and/or insist on their shares being traded within India, enabling Indians to buy those shares.
Indian investors have totally been left out of the wealth created by companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc, while being big contributors to their profits. Our digital payment rewards are going to Visa and MasterCard. Here, if we cannot compete with them, at least owning their shares should be enabled. India has been perennially short of capital. It is only now that wealth creation is possible as entrepreneurs get rewards from the capital markets. By opening more avenues for Indian investors, this process can be accelerated. More capital means more risk-taking can happen. Ultimately, this will all go to increase the ‘Make in India’ pie.
Our capital market regulations are among the best in the world. In many cases, we are ahead of Western regulators when it comes to disclosure regulations. However, we seem to have had a blind spot when it comes to thinking about our own interests. We have a colonial mind-set. We still want to ‘impress’ and ‘favour’ the foreigner. Indeed, at the time of writing, there is a speculative news report that Indian government may allow 100% FDI in banks. I would be happy to see the government and the regulators take steps to get us freedom from the second colonial conquest, that of our capital markets.