Have we oversold the India story ?


Indian Economy From Aviation, Retail , Healthcare & SEZ Perspective

A lot of experts spoke about the robustness of the Indian economy when the global recession of 2008 did not entirely slow down India’s growth. Experts spoke at length about the pragmatism of India’s central bank leadership and its policies to have evaded the crisis. They even spoke about the sturdiness of the capital market and the role of the regulatory authority.  Today the global crisis is over in most of the nations. United States is back on track with the unemployment figures at a controllable rate and the retail spending picking up. Similarly Japan is expecting the return on investments it made after the Tsunami crisis last year. The amount spent on reconstruction has boosted the economy and it is expected to grow at respectable 2 percent this year. Only Europe seems to be lagging behind, however it must be taken into account that integrating economies of over 30 nations is a daunting task and credit has to be given to EU’s leadership for having dealt with the crisis in a respectable manner.

When compared to the growth rates of these developed nations India’s 7.6 percent growth rate seems to be enviable. So is everything great with the Indian economy? Is it really faring the way it is being projected? Every year fiscal consolidation is the buzzword yet the budget keeps running into deficit. The finance minister keeps promising to bring it under control yet deficit has increased from 4.6 percent last fiscal to 5.9 percent this fiscal year. Most of the deficit is on the account of food, fuel and fertilizer subsidies. The government keeps making provisions for the underprivileged but it is equally true that they are not getting the desired benefits. Most of the provisions are limited to mike & paper.

Let us evaluate the top most (so-called Sunrise )  sectors in India that are consumer driven and how they are faring – Retail , Healthcare , Aviation and also the ‘Oversold & over hyped SEZ story’.

We will have a moment of truth !

Aviation Industry

The India Aviation industry is in a tailspin. Every other day Air India, Kingfisher, Jet Airways etc are making the headlines for all the wrong reason.

Air India the state-owned company has been relying on frequent government bailouts for its existence. Air India alone was responsible for the 10 percent of the global aviation industry losses in the year 2008 while it handled dismal 0.35 percent of the global passenger traffic.  It is also over staffed with over 500 employees per aircraft whereas the industry average is around 120.

Kingfisher airlines owned by the flamboyant liquor baron Vijay Mallya is in troubles. Banks have finally decided to withdraw support in terms of providing further debt.  The only hope which the country’s third largest carrier can have right now is a government bailout. However there is a vehement opposition to such an action by the government. Experts and other industrial groups have strongly advised against such an action as it is a free market economy and it would amount to sheer wastage of taxpayers’ money.

Jet Airways has recently been in news when the tax authorities decided to freeze its account as it was about to default on its service tax payments. The Jet Airways spokesperson attributed the problem to rising crude oil prices and the high airport duties and lack of support from government in terms of policies. According to them the delay in service tax payment was a minor operational issue. However the mounting losses over past few years tell an entirely different story.  They were in news few years back for having laid off over 1200 employees and later taking them back next day after intervention from a local politician.

Other airlines in India like Spice jet, Go Air etc. have been on the fringe and have been moving back and forth from black to red.  An only Indigo airline is making profits. Several other have bowed down under pressure. They were either forced to shut down operations like Paramount Airlines or they managed to exit at the right time like Air Deccan and Sahara Airlines.

So what exactly is ailing the airlines in India?  Rising crude oil prices are often quoted as the culprit. In India fuel cost is almost 40 percent of the operational cost of running an airline whereas in other countries it remains around 15 percent. High fuels cost give little margin to maneuver in terms of other aspects like offering attractive tickets rates and other offers. However this is not the entire picture. Even though the crude prices reduced from $ 156 barrel to $70 barrel in 2008 to 2009, the Indian carriers continued to bleed and posted losses.

The real problem is of excess capacity due to overselling of India’s growth story . India’s daily domestic passenger traffic is approximately 1.51 lakh passengers whereas the capacity is around 2.16 lakh passengers. Imagine the revenue loss everyday on account of unused capacity. This has happened only due to the mindless unplanned expansion by the airlines hoping to cash on the Indian Incorporation growth story sold by the gang of politicians right from Sonia , Manmohan & inefficient Pranab and highly promoted Montek !  The airlines promoters were chasing numbers which was arrived on mere speculation & playing a ‘Valuation game to make quick buck’. They went on buying spree and expanded their fleet. Today the aircrafts remain underutilized.  India has the aircraft flying hours of 12 per day compared to 16 per day internationally.

Looking at the complete picture it is difficult fix the responsibility on the airline owners. They are capitalists who are driven by market forces. They anticipated growth in market based on market forecasts and other factors like projected rate of growth of GDP. They expected growth in industrial output and service industry output and subsequent increase in airline travel. However the reality was far removed from it. The India Incorporation failed to deliver and they were left in lurch. Today they are hoping for a miracle to save them from their predicament.

Losses Made by Major Domestic Carriers in India

Carrier Cumulative Loss 3 years (Cr)
Air India 13,000
Kingfisher Airlines 3900
Jet Airways 2400

Retail Industry

According to the experts the retail trade industry in India is having a bright future & is consumption driven due to the ‘reducing poverty due to social schemes and increasing middle class due to India’s growth story ‘. One of the studies by North bride capital expects it reach about USD 850 billion by 2012. Out of which organised retail will be having a share of over 20 percent. In numbers it over USD 175 billion. That is a huge market. According to others this figure will be achieved by 2015. Similarly other reports have painted rosy picture for the entire industry.  Currently it is increasing at a rate of 5% yearly.  A further increase of 7-8% is expected in the industry of retail in India by growth in consumerism in urban areas, rising incomes, and a steep rise in rural consumption.

As per consulting firm KPMG’s findings in a March 2009 report, the organised retail market in India has witnessed steady growth at 15 per cent in fiscal 2009. It will grow much faster, at the rate of 30-35 per cent annually, than the traditional one in the coming years. Fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) and apparel sectors are likely to drive this growth.

According to the 8th Annual Global Retail Development Index (GRDI) of AT Kearney, India retail industry is the most promising emerging market for investment. In 2007, the retail trade in India had a share of 8-10% in the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the country. In 2009, it rose to 12%. It is also expected to reach 22% by 2010.

A India’s Retail Market Report by Boston Consulting Group

Year

Total Size ($ Billions)

Organised Retail ($ Billions)

Percentage

2005

244

8

3

2006

276

11

4

2007

316

15

5

2008

362

19

5

2009

368

22

6

2010

425

28

7

2011

471

35

7

2012*

528

44

8

2013*

590

55

9

*Forecast

 

The true story of the retail industry: It has become a ‘Valuation game’ due to over selling the India story of the growing middle class 

Subhiksha, Vishal Mega Mart, Koutons , Wadhawan group’s Spinach etc; do these names sound familiar and have something in common. Yes these are players in the organised retail industry who have succumbed and failed to deliver at their promoters expectations. These chain stores were at one time case studies of India’s organised retail success. So what actually forced them lower their shutters.   

According to Jagannadham Thunuguntla, head of SMC Global all these cases are classic examples of the retailers getting carried away by the India’s fascinating growth story and the phenomenal rise of the middle class.

The phenomenon is not limited with these cases mentioned above but also with the so-called successful ones in the industry. Country’s largest department store Shoppers Stop for instance posted an overall loss of Rs.4 crore in the last five years, while its debt soared to Rs.390 crore. The Tata group’s retail arm, Trent decided to close down its loss making chain, Fashion Yatra. It was launched in Oct 2008 and it was aiming at low-income shoppers in Tier 2 – 4 towns. Similarly Reliance Retail decided to close its Reliance Wellness format and not only that it scaled its hypermarket format down in some cities. Hypercity closed down its catalogue selling venture and also got rid of its Gourmet City format.

For the modern retailers penetrating further into urban markets has become a challenge. They have no option but to continue to create, preserve and then destroy the store formats they have come up with. Having closed down and revived several formats, most retailers have realised they need to constantly experiment with them to stay afloat.

So we can clearly see that India’s organised retail industry, which has the coveted potential of nearly a billion plus customers with enough cash to spare, has so far claimed a number of players, small and large. These players expanded too soon based on mere speculations.

While these retail stores were expanding and accumulating debts they hoped that the middle class with disposable income would be ready in short time to support them.  Things did not turn out the way they had planned. India Incorporation failed to deliver and along with that came the global economic crisis. These firms ultimately paid the price by closing down their shutters. For instance Subhiksha had expanded to over 1600 stores country-wide entirely on debt. This was a blunder that it committed as it was counting on the rising customer demand which was only on papers.

Not only the growth stories are misleading, at the same time the country’s back-end is not developed and huge investments go into developing it.  The vital supply chain required for the retail networks are entirely missing. This leads to a huge inventory cost which the small retailers are unable to cope up with. Take for example, it is estimated that in the food retail business in India, the wastage due to lack of proper storage facility is staggering 40%. This entire situation is largely the result of the lack of proper policy framework from the government.

The Indian retailers like Future group , Reliance and others are backing FDI so that they can get investment and save themselves from the fate of Subhiksha , Koutons , Gini & Jony , Spkykar , Vishal Mega mart , Foodland super markets, Surya Group etc . We have more companies going into CDR – Corporate debt re-structuring post the closure of the financial year 2011 ( March 2012 ). Banks do not wish to announce the failures or NPA’s in this year.

Ideally , retail businesses should have been making money due to consumer demand but the fact remains that India’s income and growth story is limited only to 6-10 towns and impacts less than 10 % of India’s population

 SEZ’s in India

India adopted the concept of zones from as early as 1965. Kandla in Gujarat was the first Asian export processing zone till the advent of the modern SEZ’s as such zones are now known as. With the passing of the SEZ Act in 2005, it was hoped that the Chinese success story would be replicated in India. It was expected that investor’s confidence would be established in the Government’s commitment to a stable policy regime. The real aim was to generate greater economic activity and employment with the establishment of SEZ’s following the Chinese model of economic growth !

There were numerous applications from multiple sources with individuals, indigenous companies, foreign MNC’s all rushing to have a share in the pie. Sadly it was a short phenomenon. The initial excitement was over as the problems started cropping up. Today in the last two years, as many as 60 applications for SEZs have been withdrawn, while 35 developers have applied for de-notification, according to data by CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), the real estate consultants.

Till date, the government has approved 584 SEZs. There are 381 notified SEZs, of which 148 are operational. Of these 148, only 17 are multiproduct SEZs. The remaining ones are SEZs dealing in engineering, electronics, IT/ITeS, hardware, textiles, bio-technology and gems & jewellery.

So what exactly is wrong with the SEZ idea in India which paid its dividends in China, Poland and Philippines?

On the whole the SEZ idea in India seems to be very much the product of the irrational expectation which has been fueled by imagination.

Healthcare Companies :  Most of the healthcare companies are ‘managing profits’ and as i write , a major healthcare ( hospital ) chain and a pharmaceutical conglomerate is about to wind up in the next 3 months . Imagine a healthcare & hospital company winding up ?

So the Congress party has sold the India story purely on ‘Imaginative basis and on speculative data’ numbers , have no idea of what is fueling inflation and what will deliver growth ? With all sunrise sectors on a downslide , it is better to replace these ‘ignorant intellectuals’ and bring in people who can understand the economy and run it efficiently .

Based on the governments high-octane pitches for the India’s growth story , consulting companies have brought out reports supporting government announcements , and  business houses have approached investors or moved to stock market and raised money and have put up expansion plans . But the reality is that, India does not have a growth story with the current fundamentals being very weak and ‘Leaky’ social schemes are making the party rich and not the population !

Also,  that the current stand of the government to raise the tax issue with Vodafone is a clear proof of what i am writing . India is desperate for funds and behaving like a dictator reversing a five decade legislation for just 10,000 crore ( USD 2 billion ). Does it not show the lack of morality and desperation for funds ? Rest will become apparent in April – May-June Quarter !

Lastly , the financial deficit of the government proves the rest ; all is not well with the India ‘bubble’ story ! Tough times are ahead , if we don’t take immediate action !

Rajendra Pratap Gupta

Healthcare I Retail I Rural Economy I Public Policy

www.commonmansblog.com

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Economy Downgrade and Downfall – Both are a foregone conclusion | A Common Man's Blog

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