will India take to achieve infrastructure goals?

Sep 16 17:18 2021 KS Bakshi Print This Article

The biggest challenge India faces is net new investment, India's nearly $ 3 trillion economy is growing fast enough to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi's GDP target of $ 5 trillion for 2024-2025. But signs indicate that economic activity has bottomed out and foreign institutional investors are making big bets in India's infrastructure sector, 

There is much skepticism as to whether India's nearly $ 3 trillion economy is growing fast enough to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi's GDP target of $ 5 trillion for 2024-2025. But signs indicate that economic activity has bottomed out and foreign institutional investors are making big bets in India's infrastructure sector,Guest Posting according to participants in a panel discussion at the recent Wharton India Economic Forum in Mumbai.

Foreign investors are attracted to "butterflies" or cash-generating assets, such as existing airports, to operate and use as a cushion to invest in entirely new projects, the panelists said. They are also optimistic about the increased transparency in project management, auction systems for the allocation of licenses for public funds, the existence of an upper layer of well-managed private companies and other market mechanisms such as the creation of financing platforms of infrastructure. , are scored.

According to C. Rangarajan, former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, the country's central bank, the Indian economy will need to grow at a sustained rate of 9% over the next five years to reach its GDP target of $ 5 trillion. . . On January 20, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) lowered its growth forecast for India by 130 basis points to 4.8% for 2019-2020. In his World Economic Outlook update, IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath said that India's growth slowed sharply "due to stress in the non-bank financial sector and weak income growth in rural areas. ".

Three statistics that matter

"At one level, the growth rate is an irrelevant number," said Alok Kshirsagar, a senior partner at consulting firm McKinsey, which leads its risk practice in Asia. He noted that "we are obsessed with" the growth rate and cited three metrics that matter. The first is the pace of public and private investment, especially investment in terms of real capital spending and capital formation. The second is the growth rate of new income and jobs, such as employment created by e-commerce platforms in food delivery or taxis, he said. The third is the growth of income per capita, which is increasing according to government data.

The biggest challenge India faces is net new investment, which Kshirsagar says has been low as bank liquidity problems limit lending. "[That] has prevented much of the engines of the economy, such as the small and medium-sized business sector and supply chains, from growing and stalled them for the past two to three years," he said.

Much of the pain caused by such cash problems is "self-inflicted," Kshirsagar said. “I see this as an Indian business conducting itself in a ditch. About a year ago, everyone was convinced that the sky was about to fall. " While some non-bank finance companies had "deep-seated problems" due to their involvement in corrupt practices and fraud, the problem was exaggerated.

"We have taken what could have been an isolated set of problems associated with five or six institutions - a bank, an NBFC, a mutual fund, and some real estate development companies - and turned it into an economy-wide problem," he added . Kshirsagar said. . "We have to regain our confidence because we got into this ditch. We have to jump."

The Indian government is trying to provide financing for infrastructure projects. One is the creation of the National Infrastructure and Investment Fund with investors such as the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Singapore's Temasek and the HDFC Group. The government has also announced Rs. 100 billion ($ 1.4 billion) in infrastructure projects in the electricity, rail, urban irrigation, mobility, education and health sectors. Attempts to sell the stressed assets of Indian government banks and divest government holdings in state-owned companies are other encouraging signs. In the most recent Union budget, presented three weeks after the WIEF conference, the government set a divestment target of $ 2.1 trillion by 2021.

"We need to regain our confidence because we got into this ditch. We have to jump." - Alok Kshirsagar

India's Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recently stated that the economy is getting back to health, with "seven big green shoots" clearly visible, including foreign direct investment and trends in foreign portfolio investment, industrial production and investment. purchasing managers index. A day later, two indicators dampened that enthusiasm: Retail prices rose to 7.6% in January, their highest point since 2014, and industrial production contracted 0.3% in December 2019.

Growing optimism?

Encouraging posters are visible at toll plazas and tax collections reflecting activity in the formal and informal sectors respectively, said Shailesh Pathak, CEO of L&T Infrastructure Development Projects Ltd. (L&T IDPL), the subsidiary based in Chennai of the infrastructure development engineering and construction services company Larsen & Toubro. He noted that GST (Goods and Services Tax) collections increased by 6% in November 2019 and exceeded Rs. 103,000 crore ($ 14.4 billion), reversing two quarters of negative growth, according to government data. They have since crossed Rs. 110,000 crore ($ 15.4 billion) as of January 2020, according to government data. "The real number that matters to the formal economy is GST collections," he said. "The numbers have no ideology."

Toll plazas offer a sense of informal economy, noted Pathak, whose company operates 33 toll plazas nationwide. "At the end of October, the traffic figures show that the worst is over," he said. He pointed out that the formal business sector accounts for just 14% of the Indian economy and that most of the economic activity in India takes place in the informal sector.

At toll booths, L&T IDPL raises about $ 1 million every day, Pathak noted. Of those, digital tolls have increased from 2% in November 2016 to 64% in early January 2020, he said. “This is not counted in GDP, but it has eliminated the queues at the toll stations of our projects. There are 540 toll stations in the country. Can you estimate the savings in those diesel toll lines, congestion, and wasted time? "

More and more informal sector is making its way into GDP calculations, thanks to simplified tax regimes and a push for greater compliance. "For a long time, the business model for many of these informal companies has been tax evasion," says Pathak. "That is not a sustainable business model."

All of that will undoubtedly boost India's macroeconomic performance, Pathak said. "Whatever the GDP growth rate next year, by 2024-2025 it will certainly be 300 basis points more than that," he predicted. He noted that India outperformed the UK economy in terms of GDP size last year and said it would overtake Germany and Japan by 2029.

Accelerate growth

"After India gained its independence [in 1947], it took 60 years to reach the first trillion dollars," said Sujay Bose, executive director of the National Infrastructure Investment Fund. "The next trillion took 10 years and then it took about three years from $ 2 trillion to $ 2.9 trillion. Now, in five years to make $ 2 trillion more, there is nothing wrong with it; it can be done."

Bose noted that the decade between 2005 and 2015 saw nearly $ 1 trillion in investment in infrastructure projects in the country. "The second trillion [can be reached faster] if you do things the right way," he said.

India is already moving up the leagues in some infrastructure segments, Bose noted. In the coming years, for example, the world's four largest metropolises will include three in China and India (the fourth will be in Tokyo), selling out London and New York. "If we can make that kind of specific investment in infrastructure, it will be a major part of GDP growth to $ 5 trillion."

Pathak said that he believes better days are ahead for India's infrastructure sector, also as abuses of the public-private partnership (PPP) model have decreased in recent years and the government has been tough on actors. wandering. "In India, PPPs became TTTs or transfers from taxpayer to tycoon," he said. In such PPPs, an infrastructure project would be browned with inflated costs that banks would finance, allowing private sector participants to lock in capital even before commercialization, he explained. "Obviously, when you run a $ 1,000 infrastructure project with a $ 2,000 capitalized value, you're not going to make money," he explained.

However, if the project generates positive cash flows and makes a profit upon completion, private sector partners will stick with it, he said. "If it doesn't [become profitable, the private sector partners] leave. The banks take the can." Many of those PPP surpluses occurred between 2006 and 2012, with public sector banks burdened with nonperforming assets hampering them to this day, Pathak said, given the government's reluctance to undermine public sector banks. She recapitalizes them with taxpayer money, she said. "That is not a sustainable business model." Bose expected the APP concept to "resurface in a different way, taking in all the lessons we've learned from the last decade."

Pathak offered an alternative and sustainable way to run infrastructure projects: build them with public money and, once you generate cash flow, hand them over to the private sector for operation. Mumbai and New Delhi airports are excellent examples of private sector companies taking over operations after they have been built with public funds, and are also giving way to the construction of additional terminals, she noted.

Butterflies and caterpillars

Publicly funded infrastructure projects under construction are "caterpillars" and projects that are turned over to the private sector for operations are "butterflies," Pathak said. "Caterpillars are ugly to look at and full of risk. Butterflies are beautiful assets that flow in cash for the next 30 years." As a result, she says, the "butterflies" will attract international financing, since they have safe cash flows in sight, while the "caterpillars" will have a hard time attracting that capital. A second terminal at Mumbai International Airport is a 'butterfly as it was built by private sector partner GVK Power and Infrastructure, but the winning bid from the same company to build a brand new airport in Navi Mumbai will find a challenge to attract capital. international, he added.

There is clearly a demand for butterflies, as recent agreements show. Last October, IFRS and its partners Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and PSP Investments of Canada signed an agreement to acquire a stake of 26.3% each in the holding of the GVK group that owns Mumbai International Airport, for a value total of one billion dollars. Pathak revealed that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Canada's largest pension fund, which bought a 51% majority stake in L&T Infrastructure Development Projects last September, is "looking very clearly at the butterflies" for its investments in India.

"Caterpillars are ugly to look at and full of risk. Butterflies are beautiful assets that flow in cash for the next 30 years." - Shailesh Pathak

He said the government could open up similar "butterfly" opportunities to investors in assets with existing cash flows, such as train stations. “Obviously, if you have 300,000 visitors at a train station, there is money to be made. The private sector is happy to take over. "In that regard, he noted that a competition is taking place between many Indian cities to build their own subways, and that in the next 10 years at least 25 Indian cities will have metro systems. last generation.

Greenfield "Caterpillar" projects also attract international investors. The IFRS combination with Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and PSP Investments of Canada (a pension investment manager) will also obtain the rights to build Navi Mumbai Airport. The other IFRS partner, Zurich Airport International AG of Switzerland, recently won the concession for the construction of a second airport in Jewar, near New Delhi. The Zurich Airport Group sold its stake in Bengaluru International Airport to the Fairfax Group of Canada in 2016. “We are really able to get some really serious, high-quality capital on totally new projects,” says Bose. "This is a turning point in the landscape of infrastructure development in India."

Invest in infrastructure

Kshirsagar pointed to some aspects that make India's infrastructure projects more attractive to international investors than in the past. First, the presence of "large professionally managed companies" such as L&T Infrastructure Development Projects and the emergence of IFRS as a major financing platform is fundamentally changing the infrastructure market. Increased transparency in governance and the use of auctions to allocate public resources have made it easier to attract international equity capital, he said. “As a fundamental premise of resource allocation, a huge change as occurred in the last five or six years [with auctions] as a way of allocating resources. When you look back 20 years from now, it will be a very important development to encourage more professional capital to avoid the gold-plating [of projects] and the tycoons’ corruption and political corruption.”

The drive to monetize assets in public sector organizations, such as the planned divestment of state logistics company Concor [Container Corporation of India], is sparking "great enthusiasm for all the major global sovereign wealth funds and global infrastructure investment funds to participate. ". "There is a big positive cycle going on where the government is under pressure to monetize assets, international capital is looking for butterflies, and now you have platforms and vehicles like IFRS to do that. I am optimistic about the market mix." mechanism and monetization with a more transparent project portfolio to promote equity. "

Role of state and municipal governments

While most of the attention has focused on the central government, Indian state and municipal governments play an underestimated but critical role in ensuring the success of infrastructure projects, the panelists noted. Kshirsagar noted that more than half of India's tax revenues are controlled by the states. "Historically, when state-owned companies were well run, they had a very important role to play," she said. For example, the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation or the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation played an important role in allocating land and creating ecosystems in their respective states in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, he said.

However, several state-owned companies have been declining over the years. "Unfortunately, in the last 10 to 15 years, most of them have become major sources of corruption and charity deals, and their capabilities have been compromised," Kshirsagar said. New structures such as Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) to run infrastructure projects have helped and enable many private sector companies to participate in smart city projects, including smart metering, water treatment and water treatment. residuals "that just wasn't possible before." it had been, "she added." Together we must raise the bar for [state-owned] companies by using SPV and other structures to encourage more private sector involvement. "

"Read what the economists are saying, but focus on what the investors are doing." - KS Bakshi

Pathak says city governments pose an "even greater risk" than state governments on infrastructure projects. “The way the state operates in India, the city is a subordinate body. So, there is no champion for the city of Mumbai. It is the Prime Minister of Maharashtra who runs Mumbai; it is the prime minister of karnataka who runs bangalore. This will not work. "

Another risk for investors in infrastructure projects relates to compliance with contracts, Pathak said. If contracts can't be enforced, they will lead to time and cost overruns on projects, he warned. "If I hand over a check in Singapore and it bounces, I will go to jail. If my check is returned in India, that is the beginning of negotiations, because nobody wants to go to court." According to Bose, the growing development ambitions of Indian citizens and the relentless pace of urbanization will fuel a "bottom-up" momentum for infrastructure projects.

Looking beyond the numbers

Kshirsagar reiterated that GDP growth figures are irrelevant, in response to a member of the public who pointed out last year a Harvard research article by Arvind Subramanian, India's former chief economic adviser. In that document, Subramanian claimed that India's GDP was overestimated by 2.5 percentage points between 2014 and 2018. According to official estimates of 7%, India's GDP growth did not exceed 4.5%, he had argued.

“The strength of Arvind's article is that he looks at the underlying drivers of consumption and investment. And it showed that they weren't growing, "Kshirsagar said. But corrective mechanisms have since been put in place, such as auctions of public funds, more transparent contract allocation and greater accountability, he added.

Reforms such as the introduction of the GST regime to unify the multiple taxes previously in force are significant and positive structural changes, even if they are poorly executed, he added. GDP growth rates paint the big picture, but it's important to look for those countries that are outperforming, such as states like Chhattisgarh and parts of Madhya Pradesh that have outperformed industrial powers of the past, including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. He said. The same is true for companies, where a select group of better-governed, high-performing companies will be able to seize the opportunities offered by transparent market mechanisms. “Forget the averages. Just look at where the growth is. "

Bose had some advice for those about to start their careers or those in the early stages of their careers: “Read what economists are saying, but focus on what investors are doing. The world's biggest and brightest investors are allocating more and more of their capital to one, infrastructure, and two to India. Forty percent of the world's largest investors say their greatest exposure will be to the infrastructure sector, and almost all of the major institutional investors operating outside OECD countries have India as one of their top capital destinations. "

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KS Bakshi
KS Bakshi

Mr. KS Bakshi is one of the Founder Directors of the Company with 50 years of experience in civil engineering and infrastructure (planning and execution), especially in pavement engineering.

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