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Star1965
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Fund manager with top brokerage in Mumbai. Ivy educated for whatever its worth. Need to remain anonymous given institutional constraints.
  • India. Reforms. Really? 0 comments
    Oct 17, 2012 3:03 AM | about stocks: BIK, BKF, EEM, EPI, HDB, IBN, INDL, INDY, INP, SCIN, VWO, INXX, SCIF, INDA, SMIN, EDZ, EEMA, EEME, SCHE, EDC, EUM, DGS, EEB, EWX, AGEM, EMF, FEMS

    As predicted, the Indian government has started its divestment drive. The Indian government is behaving like the corrupt and bankrupt zamindar in a Tagore novel, who has to go to an older lady of the night, instead of the younger fresher one, because that is all it can afford. As outlined earlier, this is part of its plan. It is talking up the markets, announcing reforms that can never be developed on, and then selling its paper. It will recover Rs 40000 cr. from divestment and Rs. 30000 cr. from spectrum auctions. They say, the money will be applied towards the deficit. In reality it will be used to fund further sops and giveaways in the next budget. The deficit will be kept at 6 % of GDP and they will take their chances with the rating agencies like S and P later. (SELL ALL STOCK).

    Much has been made of the "burst of reforms" unleashed by Finance Minister Chidambaram in recent weeks. The stock market has rallied and animal spirits it seems are back. Everybody's babbling about how the UPA, after eight years in power, has found religion ie "reforms".

    The market is now at 21 times price to earnings (trailing twelve month free float adjusted as per the National Stock Exchange). Once more the mood swings violently. More interestingly the India VIX , the fear index is at 3 year lows of 15. This is usually an indicator of complacency, and historically such lows have signified a massive sell off. The combination of the stretched price to earnings and the VIX means the market is ripe for a big sell off. My two bit as an Ivy educated fund manager in Bombay who has worked internationally on some of the world's major structural adjustment and economic reform programs.

    In reality, the reforms amount to bureaucratic tinkerings with percentages - of a sort that only tax mavens and accountants can comprehend. Witholding taxes go down by a percentage point or two. FII margin percentages change. Service tax percentages for insurance companies change. Now an attempt's been made to increase the percentages foreigners can hold in insurance and pensions. (This last will never pass through Parliament given the unanimous opposition to it). Blah Blah Blah.

    The Indian economy, in fact, requires Parashurama's ax and not the surgeon's scalpel. The reference is to the mythical woodcutter of Indian mythology who wields a massive axe when needed. Wholesale violence will have to be committed on large areas of India's economy with Parashurama's axe, if we are to resume a decent growth rate.

    The government had no choice but to unleash this wave of tinkering and call it "reform". It is trying to keep the capital markets buoyant because it needs to sell or "chipkao" (i.e. stick, as we say in the business) close to Rs 40,000 crores worth of equity. This with spectrum auctions, hopefully plug the budget deficit a little by March. More crucially, it will also free up resources for massive election giveaways in next March's budget. This is especially needed if the Food Security Bill -Madame Sonia's chosen strategy for reelection - is to be passed.

    Real reforms for India will not happen for a long time. These include financial sector reform, and an end to the financial repression signified by the statutory liquidity ratio. Privatization of the banking system that's put an end to the ridiculous spectacle of 75 % of the banking system being owned by the government in a market economy. Bankruptcy and exit laws will have to be introduced. Labour market liberalization and the freedom to hire and fire labour will have to be allowed.

    The collapsed state of Indian cities will have to be addressed by building 30 to 40 cities to accommodate massive rural urban migration. Land acquisition which is impossible now will have to be addressed. This list does not even include the sector changes required in mining and real estate and infrastructure and banking and power and sugar, and so on and so on. None of this is happening ever, it seems.

    Everybody's babbling in the media about how crucial the February budget is going to be for the UPA because it will be packed with big ticket sops like the Food Security Bill. Remember game theory however. It is crucial to take your opponent's reaction into account. The Opposition also knows that the budget will be crucial to the UPA's reelection chances ! Why then will they allow the UPA to present the budget at all. Especially when they have the numbers and the government is already on life support and in a minority. !!!

    The government therefore, will, in all likelihood, fall in November-December, during the winter session of Parliament. Elections will take place in March-April as India needs the school system for a general election. This will allow the Opposition the chance to deny the government's attempt to pass a budget full of sops and giveaways. The February budget will consequently be a vote on account. This scenario will suit all parties except the Congress and hence it will happen.

    Is the market discounting the possibility that in a few weeks, all these guys PC, Montek etc. will be gone ? Is it realising that this whole reform effort is a sham that will be exposed in a few weeks when the govenment falls ? Looking at the way its going up, I think not.

    The logical conclusion also is that this is the high point of the markets move this year. India has gone from having the most incompetent FM (Pranab) to the most cunning FM (Chidambaram). The later is deliberately doing all he can to talk up markets to implement his plan. There is little need to oblige him and his plans of using the stock market as a financing vehicle, by buying high and losing one's hard earned capital.

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