Thursday, October 16, 2014

Infrastructure bars India’s growth path
[Editor: Narendra Modi is an over-inflated balloon, waiting to burst at any time. If it was not for Rahul Gandhi (...someone said his speech comes in POGO Channel) and the RSS (or say in short, "Sangh Parivar"), demagogues like Narendra Modi, would have NEVER reached Delhi. India should have a new Prime Minister and a Finance Minister, as both of them are totally flop till now. However as long as sycophants and blind fans are there, he could be assured of victory in elections] 
Whenever Air India cancels its flight to Delhi from Kullu Manali in the foothills of the Himalayas – as it often does – it leaves passengers facing a 600km journey over monsoon-damaged but unrepaired roads, which takes 14 hours. There are many conspiracy theories as to why Air India cancels the flight so often – and why a successful air taxi service from Chandigarh, halfway between the two points, failed to get its licence renewed. Most of these theories cite a blend of corruption and incompetence.

Many in India had hoped that the election of a new prime minister might bring about some rapid improvements in infrastructure investment – to the benefit of business that rely on it. But, less than five months after Narendra Modi’s stunning victory at the polls, hope is being tempered by harsh realities on the pockmarked ground. Already the stock market euphoria has faded into three straight weeks of market losses.

This year was supposed to be one in which fixed investment in the country began to rise again, after a virtually flat 2013. However, the investment climate remains inhospitable and the cost of capital way too high despite the exhortations from the prime minister’s office. Investment growth in the third quarter was up a mere 0.4 per cent while, in September, capital goods output fell 18 per cent, month-on-month, according to JPMorgan.

KKR, which has a big stake in Dalmia Cement (Bharat), is feeling the effects – or, rather, the lack of them. It reports no improvement in orders. And what is true for cement is true for steel and other industries that should be harbingers of a commitment to large-scale investment.

Mr Modi is right to aspire to expand the country’s manufacturing industry. Today, manufacturing as a percentage of Indian GDP is a mere 15 per cent – less than half what it is in China. Even in Indonesia, which has generally failed to move up the value-added chain, it is 24 per cent.

Unlike the rapidly ageing countries of East Asia, India does at least have a young population and low wages. In recent years, many of its people have also become more mobile, and able to migrate to major cities – especially Mumbai – from poorer states.

So, at first glance, India should be the biggest beneficiary of rising wages in China. But this does not seem to be the case, possibly for two reasons. One is the fact that the conditions that gave rise to the East Asian model of export-driven growth are radically different from those in India. But the other is that it may be too late for India to emulate that growth model, even if it wished to.

Both Japan and China kept the cost of capital artificially low to subsidise industry at the expense of consumption. India has been the antithesis of that model. Demand for cement and steel is depressed, capital goods production is falling – but sales of motor scooters and cars are holding up relatively well.

Perhaps most significantly, though, East Asia prioritised the infrastructure needed to make manufacturing possible.

When capital was cheap a few years ago, and the whole world had emerging market fever, India could have got its infrastructure act together – and cheaply. It failed to do so. Today, the roads are a disaster, but hardly the only disaster. Power remains in deficit for many states – including the mountain states where hydro power should be plentiful and cheap. Most infrastructure companies remain under pressure, their balance sheets overleveraged and the banks reluctant to extend more credit to them.

These companies are also operating in a world that is less benign. Global trade has been flat for some time, making exports more of a zero-sum game. If anything, there is too much manufacturing capacity, which is why the prices of manufactured goods are under downward pressure.

India has some competitive advantages, notably where there is a large component of engineering, say in manufacturing certain car parts. But the low wages of its workers aren’t enough to compensate for the high cost of capital, the low productivity, the impossible delays on the roads and at the airports, the lack of power, and the incalculable cost of corruption as many businesses shut down rather than pay off the bureaucrats and officials.

India is about to celebrate Diwali, the festival of light. But at the moment, as on the long drive from Kullu Manali to Delhi, the light remains disappointingly dim.

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