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Motilal Oswal

By Motilal Oswal 27-Dec-2010 | 16:45

GDP growth of 8.9% in 2QFY11 is a resounding validation of the India growth story. India has effectively endured a global crisis and the worst drought in 30 years. It continues to be one of the fastest growing economies – its GDP is likely to grow at ~9% in FY11 and well into FY12. Growth should rise to double digits, on track with the higher growth trajectory of the last decade. In short, India is well on its way to the next trillion dollars of GDP.

We published our first note on the concept of NTD (next trillion dollars of India`s GDP) in 2007. The core NTD thesis is this: It took India about 60 years post independence to clock the first trillion dollars of GDP. With nominal GDP growth of 14-15%, at constant exchange rates, India`s next trillion dollars (NTD) will come in just 5-7 years. We juxtapose the NTD idea with the GDP growth experience of China to arrive at India`s GDP of almost US$5 trillion by 2020.

The addition of the next trillion dollars to India’s GDP has exponential growth implications for several businesses. Consider this: India`s current gross domestic saving is at 34% of GDP. In line with long-term trend, we expect this to rise steadily to 40% by 2020. This translates to cumulative decadal saving of over US$10 trillion, compared to US$2.7 trillion during the decade to 2010. The large savings pool presents a huge opportunity for many businesses. Applying a trended growth rate correlated to GDP, in the decade to 2020, business opportunity will be five times and profits six times the previous decade.

India enjoys a special demographic advantage. With over 200 million households, India is not only a huge consumer market but also an attractive investment destination. Its consumer market is projected to become the fifth largest by 2025, worth more than US$1,500 billion. India’s total commerce, which was estimated at US$2.3 trillion in 2007, is expected to triple by 2025, making it larger than the current size of the UK market in terms of purchasing power parity. India might well be at the helm of a radical realignment of the global economy!

However, the journey is unlikely to be smooth – a number of speed-breakers and roadblocks will be encountered along the way. The fallout of the lack of radical reforms has shown up in high consumer inflation, which though trending down, continues to persist. Rising global commodity ( including oil )prices are adding further fuel to the fire. Interest rates are headed up. The speed with which India’s reforms process is progressing is less than desirable. Adapting to changes in global economic trends and their impact – wild gyrations in exchange rates, fight of capital, for instance – is becoming more challenging. Macroeconomic and business headwinds apart, markets have reason to be concerned about the serious and relentless issues of corporate and political governance, which India is currently embroiled in.

A serious challenge that faces India is ensuring that the fruits of progress are not restricted to just a few. The bottom one-third of India’s 1-billion-plus population still lives below a contentiously-defined "poverty line". It is this section of the population that is most impacted by inflation. Even basic healthcare and education is not available to a large section of the population. The prevailing economic and social inequality is already fuelling social unrest and insurgencies in various pockets of the country. If there is further increase in the rich-poor divide, it could fuel further discontentment and prove to be disruptive. Besides the threat of internal conflicts, it is equally important for India to be adequately prepared for possible external aggression. Relations with neighboring countries, especially Pakistan and China, need to be effectively managed.

The government’s attempts to reach out to the poor are proving to be ineffective. Subsidies do not reach the people they are targeted at. For instance, kerosene is under-priced because it is supposed to be used by the poor for cooking and lighting and also aimed at discouraging the use of wood for burning. However, it is illegally diverted to adulterate diesel and petrol because of price differentials and is smuggled out of the country. Similarly, diesel prices have still not been fully deregulated due to the direct impact of higher diesel prices on inflation. Diesel is used to power generator sets used in irrigation and to fuel trucks that carry agricultural products, raw material and finished products. However, the unintended beneficiaries are owners of luxury cars and SUVs, who can do without the fuel subsidy.

India levies high taxes on petroleum products – half of the selling price of petrol and nearly a third of the price paid by consumers of diesel goes towards various imposts levied by the state and central governments. However, instead of paring taxes on petroleum products, the government has chosen to shift the burden on to consumers. I am not saying that I am opposed to fuel price deregulation or that I would like auto fuel subsidies to continue. High petro-product subsidies have a negative impact on India’s fiscal health, which too eventually culminates in higher inflation. I am merely implying that a more holistic approach to fuel pricing – including the possibility of lower imposts on petro products – is necessary in India’s context.

It is necessary that the government’s thrust on infrastructure development continues. While projects such as the Golden Quadrilateral and the North-South and East-West corridors are laudable, sustenance of India’s growth story will depend to a large extent on continued investment in infrastructure. Also, several regional biases have crept up in the years following India’s independence. There are pockets that have not flourished as much as the rest of the country – the North-East states and the BIMARU states, for instance.

Even in the more progressive states, development expenditure has been concentrated in a few urban centers. This is evident in the stark difference between the city of Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra. Lop-sided development comes with its own set of social issues – one that makes regular news is the issue of migrant labor. Looking at human resources in general, while India’s educated population is sizeable, the industry often complains about acute skill shortage. Education and training is an area where much needs to be done.

Food security is another issue that India needs to wake up to. While India is agriculturally well-endowed, 60% of its total cropped area is not irrigated and dependent on a four month-long monsoon during which period 80% of the year`s total precipitation takes place. In the years when the monsoon is abundant and regular, there is good crop output. But when the monsoon plays truant or is inadequate, the crop output is poor. There is a need to develop extensive irrigation infrastructure throughout the country. Policies relating to agricultural produce – fertilizer subsidy, administered pricing mechanism, public distribution system – need to be re-examined.

One roadblock that India needs to demolish quickly is rampant corruption. Serious and relentless issues of corporate and political governance have been coming to light. Such brazen acts of corruption are a big deterrent to national prosperity and can damage the brand India story. However, there appear to be no serious deterrents to corruption, which often goes unpunished. While India needs a total overhaul of its anti-corruption delivery system, it is even more important to revamp the education system. Without a holistic education system, India’s greatest strength – its army of young people – could turn out to be its greatest weakness!