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It’s the Environment Stupid…Build, Build, Build’s only half the battle

By COVID Slowdown, Eco Hotels, Environmental Policy, Fiscal Stimuli, India, Mainstream Impact Investment, News

In 1991 Bill Clinton handed out boxes of campaign buttons to his staff (not by himself obviously, he was too busy running for office), and all of them had a simple message, “It’s the Economy Stupid”. Nowadays it’s still about the economy, but other badges may be available: how about this for a start, “it’s the Environment as well Stupid”. That could be a popular (and prescient) choice in these difficult COVID times, as we witness eye-watering levels of government debt being taken on to shore up and expand economies across the world: in the United States, more than 80 Million cheques for $1,200 were sent out to 80 Million people as part of a $1.4 billion stimulus programme (although a million of them would have difficulty cashing them as they had been dead for several years: nice one Donald). And across the Atlantic, Boris Johnson is promising to “build, build, build” his way to a new Jerusalem: determined to spend, spend, spend his way out of the country’s deepest recession since the Great Frost of 1709. The UK Government borrowed £35.56 Billion in June alone, which is five times the equivalent figure from June 2019 and its all starting to make the 2018 bank bailouts look like bargain bin day at Primark.

So, for obvious reasons, economic growth is getting a lot of attention at the moment…and so it should.

But along the way, and almost uniquely (increased levels of social cohesion also spring to mind too), the COVID pandemic has had at least one good outcome: a sharp reduction in air pollution levels across the planet, particularly in urban areas, and ironically as a direct consequence of the very economic slowdown governments are so desperately trying to reverse. So here’s the question: are we now at risk of inflicting even greater harm on our precious planet in pursuit of a full-throated policy of rapid and short term economic growth? Or, put it another way, do we really have to have one at the expense of the other? As our alternative campaign button might have said, “it’s the Environment as well Stupid”.

Happily, it doesn’t seem to be a message wholly lost on the UK Government. In July George Eustace (the Environment Secretary) announced a £5 Million Pilot Programme as part of a new Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment that will (we hope) ultimately sit at the heart of an improved planning process capable of strengthening “baseline understanding of habitats and species abundance”; paving the way for more environmentally friendly decisionmaking in future real estate programmes. As George said, it will “leave the environment in a better state than we found it”. Nice one George, every little helps…but how about putting environmental awareness at the heart of the entire construction cycle?  Especially as new homes are one of the things we need most of at the moment, and how about securing economic growth and looking after the environment at the same time? How about building green…

That’s exactly where Eco Platforms have come into their own over recent years: setting a new paradigm for sustainable construction methods that are both environmentally responsible and resource-efficient: not just putting up quickly what will be torn down quickly (and for the most part discarded), but demonstrating real concern for the entire life cycle of the building at every stage from planning through to replacement and recycling of materials. It’s all about Planet, People and Profit, delivered thoughtfully across the supply chain, and it has dramatic potential to make a real difference to all our futures.

Eco Hotels are a case in point: key consumption variables are taken into account at the very start of the design process, including water-saving devices and waste reduction technologies, and from the beginning, solar tubing systems are built in to reflect light across the property day and night with the result that electricity consumption levels are roughly half those of a conventional hotel. A single, centrally located kitchen reduces the carbon footprint of the entire building, instead of the usual scattered, ill-thought-out and inefficient catering facilities in a conventional hotel. That’s precisely where “Planet and People” come in, by way of practical, environmentally friendly technologies; and as for “Profit”, well, all those savings go straight to the bottom line so the Eco Hotel Model makes good commercial sense too.

It’s about the economy and the environment…

 Invest in Red Ribbon Asset Management 

Red Ribbon is the founder of Eco Hotels, the world’s first carbon neutral hotel brand which offers “green hospitality” as part of a progressive roll out across India designed to take advantage of market opportunities while at the same time caring for the environment. The brand meets all sustainability criteria without compromising on quality or standards of hospitality and caters for commercial and recreational travellers alike.

Executive Overview

Nobody can seriously doubt the importance of government stimulus measures in addressing the profound economic impact of COVID slowdowns across the globe: after all, we all share a common economic future and the more that can be done to secure it the better.

But we also share our planet’s future as well, and it’s important not be distracted from the importance of environmental responsibility: particularly as the slowdown has given us a graphic example of what ill thought out economic growth can do.

I believe these aren’t alternatives; this isn’t a zero sum game. We can build growth in a responsible way by putting the Planet, People and (yes) Profit at the heart of our strategic thinking.

We know what the answer isn’t… So what’s the question?

By Climate Change, Economic Growth, Global Risk Report, India, Mainstream Impact Investment, News

If short term thinking isn’t the answer (and it’s not), what exactly is the question? Well, a few candidates spring to mind: why build a house with an expected life of twenty years and then use so few materials that can be reused when it comes to putting up a replacement? That’s short term thinking. Why build a factory that creates jobs, but then closes down inside a decade and in the process pollutes the local river system? Short term thinking (again): and, perhaps more than anything else, how are we planning to address the profound economic and social challenges posed by climate change? Not, that’s for sure, with short term thinking…

Global economies are now more threatened than ever by climate change. In this year’s Global Risk Report The World Economic Forum ranked various biodiversity and ecosystem vulnerabilities as the top five threats to future economic sustainability: and that should come as no surprise to anybody because more than half global GDP, a staggering $44 Trillion, is to some extent (and often more than less) dependant on natural ecostructures, to such an extent that “Nature loss”, as the Report terms it, is now a key variable in worldwide commerce, supply chains and markets. So it’s not just a “green” issue: climate change couldn’t be more important for business.

Since the Industrial Revolution economic activity has extinguished 83% of wild mammals and half of the world’s plant species, fundamentally altering ecosystems on three quarters of ice free land and two thirds of marine environments: one million species are now at risk of extinction within the next twenty years (a rate many hundreds of times higher than at any point since homo sapiens first sparked up fire).

So what’s the question? 

It’s this: how can we can create and sustain essential economic growth but at the same time reduce the adverse social and environmental impacts of the value creation process? Not, as should now be obvious, by short term thinking, but by adopting instead Mainstream Impact Investment strategies: creating wealth by investing in well regulated and profitable businesses, operating in mainstream markets and succeeding because they look to the long term impacts of their decisionmaking. And by being responsive to global conditions, and the challenges of climate change in particular, these are more robust and better businesses too: better equipped to be profitable over the long term because they are prepared to engage successfully with the complex issues posed by sustainability, not because sustainability is an end in itself. 

That’s why the Global Risk Report ended by saying “Business leaders have a crucial role to play, by putting nature at the core of their processes and decision-making and systematically identifying, assessing, mitigating and disclosing nature-related risks to avoid severe consequences. Businesses can be part of the global movement to protect and restore nature”.

Despite the credibility of the source, Donald Trump and his cohort of climate change deniers will probably find all this difficult to accept, but he (and they) are creatures of the short term too. Even if he wins in November, he’ll still be gone in four years, and the strident voices of denial will inevitably fall silent in the face of increasingly undeniable facts.

Now, more than ever, we need to work together to build low carbon economies and formulate long term solutions capable of reducing carbon emissions: Mainstream Impact Investment not only helps us formulate the questions as we embark on that task, its also a crucial part of the answer…

 Invest in Red Ribbon Asset Management 

Red Ribbon Asset Management has been investing successfully in groundbreaking, environmentally friendly projects across the globe for the last thirteen years, adopting cutting edge Mainstream Investment strategies and gaining expertise on Indian and the UK projects in particular. With more than 100 skilled employees, corporate leaders and innovators, it brings together a wealth of experience in every sector it invests in.

Executive Overview

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report makes striking reading, reviewing a wide range of economic variables it finishes by finding the top five risks faced across the planet are all environmentally based. That’s the first time this has happened and it should give us all serious pause for thought.

Commercial and Investment strategies should now have climate change and environmental impact front and centre of their thinking, not only because it’s good for the planet but because it’s good for business too. And I’m sure Impact Investment strategies play a major part of that shift of paradigm: not only, as the article says, because it helps us understand the questions, but it’s part of the answer too.

Facts are Facts…The Truth about the Moon and Modular Construction

By India, News

Samuel Shenton lived an otherwise unremarkable life, until one morning in 1956 when he woke with a mission to start The International Flat Earth Society: undeterred by suspiciously round looking photographs of the earth taken from Space a decade later, he blustered that It was easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye”. Shenton died in Dover in 1971, so who knows, his untrained eye may now be a little closer to the truth. But there’s still a man in Croydon convinced (with red-faced passion) that the Moon doesn’t exist, a group in Alabama who think Prince Charles is a Vampire (I’m not making this up), and a certain gimlet-eyed zealot on Pennsylvania Avenue who believes you can fend off COVID by injecting yourself with bleach (although he’s since claimed that was a joke…some joke). All of which goes to show that untroubled by facts, left to range free and speculate unhinged, human beings are capable of believing pretty much anything…or some of them are anyway.

And they might not be quite as unhinged as injecting yourself with bleach or cancelling out the Moon, but some of the wilder theories circulating in construction at the moment are equally far fetched: notably the assertion that Modular Construction is more expensive and less efficient than traditional building technologies: step forward Reuven Schechter who is convinced land costs, utility installation (“drilling for water” as he puts it) and reduced planning flexibility all conspire to make Modular less efficient and more costly than its bricks, mud and mortar competition.

Really?

For a start, land is land and costs pretty much the same whether you’re planning to fabricate units off-site or build from scratch in a field. The land might cost more in downtown Mumbai than, say, Dover (sorry Mr Shenton), but that’s another matter altogether: the fact is no sane seller will reduce the price just because a developer plans to hire workers who will spend one day in three sitting in a hut waiting for the rain to stop. And as for utilities (including water), they have to be run in or paid for irrespective of how technically the project is being carried out: piped water is stubbornly indifferent to where the walls around it have been assembled, and so too, come to that, are most planning authorities: in fact, the speed of modular technologies (three times faster than traditional construction methods), makes it more likely the development will get a green light. Planning officers know all about the worldwide housing shortage, so speed of completion is pretty much at the top of their list.

And that’s why McKinsey has come out so strongly in favour of Modular construction. In their seminal report published last year (and snappily titled “From Project to Products”) they rightly draw attention to historic productivity lags in the construction sector that have created bottlenecks in supply against burgeoning levels of demand (for domestic housing in particular): “Modular construction offers the industry an opportunity to make a step-change: shifting many aspects of building activity away from traditional construction sites and into factories with off-site, manufacturing-style productionattracting an unprecedented wave of interest and investment”, all of which, they conclude, will provide the sector with “a huge productivity boost”.

And those productivity benefits will all, inevitably, factor themselves straight into the bottom line. According to McKinsey, Modular technologies are also capable of delivering completions that are 20% less expensive than their traditional counterparts (and, of course, three times quicker).

So facts are facts and its better to face them: the world is round, there is a Moon (whatever someone in Croydon might think), and Modular Construction is less expensive, faster and more reliable than building from scratch in a muddy, rain-soaked field can ever be.

Find out more about Modulex 

Modulex Construction is the World’s largest and India’s first Steel Modular Building Company. It was established by Red Ribbon to harness the full potential of these fast-evolving technologies and deliver at a pace to meet the evolving needs of the community.

Executive Overview

Now certainly isn’t the time to lose sight of facts: in the face of global housing shortages, in India in particular but the UK is also suffering from a dire shortage of domestic housing, we need to be better focused (not less) on how best to meet this burgeoning demand at pace and as efficiently as possible. That’s why I’m sure modular construction technologies will be so important for the future of construction.

And it’s why I’m glad to see stated so clearly the underlying reasons for those advantages. It’s time to nail the absurd myth that modular technologies can in any sense be more costly than their traditional, and frankly much less efficient, alternatives.

A Marathon, not a sprint…Global Markets have got what it takes to win

By India, News

The Centre for Disease Prevention and Control gave evidence to the European Parliament in May that across all 28 Member States, only Bulgaria was reporting increased COVID 19 infection rates. Germany has ticked up a little since, but the overall picture is positive. The Centre’s Director, Dr Andrea Ammon, confirmed that Bulgaria aside “there are four countries with no substantial changes in the last fourteen days: Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the UK, and all the others are showing a substantial decrease.” Lockdowns across Europe have reduced aggregate transmission rates by 45% since April and “the initial wave of transmission has passed its peak”. But she emphasised too that this is a marathon, not a sprint: “the economic consequences of the pandemic need to be managed for the foreseeable future and people need to prepare for that”.

Front and centre of those preparations will be how we work to deal with radically increased levels of central government debt incurred to meet the challenges of COVID, not only in Europe but across the globe.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies forecasts the UK Government will be required to borrow an additional £200 Billion over the current financial year and is now heading for a debt to GDP ratio of 95% (up from 83% at the beginning of April). This flies in the face of received orthodoxy that only basket case economies (think Zimbabwe and Venezuela) are prepared to contemplate debt levels in excess of 100% GDP. The UK now looks set to join them, but it’s not alone: the United States has a debt to GDP ratio of 110% and the equivalent figure for Japan is a dizzying 250%. Unprecedented levels of State intervention are now changing the economic landscape and defying received wisdom.

But that’s only part of the picture, because received wisdom is also breaking down on more than one front at the moment: absolute debt figures are not as significant as they were in the days they threatened European Bond Markets in the aftermath of the Greek currency crisis. Most commentators agree that any significant increase in interest rates (already at a historic low) is unlikely for at least the next ten years, and that means the cost of financing debt is lower than it’s ever been before and likely to stay that way: so it’s not so much the size of the relative debt that matters, its what it costs to carry it forward and market conditions are conspiring to make that easier than ever before.

Bear in mind too that not all countries are running such high debt to GDP levels even in the current circumstances. India, for example, has a debt ratio of 66%, which in itself bodes well for the rigour and resilience of our global economy.

And finally, for those Governments still keen to find some extra cash down the back of the sofa, France has suggested the introduction of a new Digital Tax. Speaking recently, and not without a certain irony, at a Linkedin Digital Conference, France’s Economic and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire pointed out that digital behemoths like Amazon and Facebook have done very well out of locked down markets, but they are still the least taxed. 

He might have a point there…

 Invest in Red Ribbon Asset Management 

Nobody understands the fundamentals of the Indian economy better than Red Ribbon Asset Management, which has placed the subcontinent at the heart of its investment strategies since the company was founded more than a decade ago. Drawing on unrivalled knowledge of local markets with an expert team of more than a hundred advisers working in India’s economic hotspots, the Red Ribbon Private Equity Fund offers unique opportunities to share in this potential.

Executive Overview

The economic dynamic between historically low interest rates and almost unheard of government spending programmes is very interesting, and I think it’s right that orthodoxy of economic conservatism would be misplaced at the moment. We need to build for the future and grasp the opportunities for what may well be a more connected, cohesive and re-focused future.

A Change in the Zeitgeist…Market Optimism is a Sign of Our Changing Times

By India, News

Markets, and financial markets, in particular, give us a unique insight into our hopes, fears and aspirations: complex interlocking networks of instructions to buy and sell reflect the Zeitgeist more effectively than any rolling news-editorial ever can. So more than anything else, the current slump in oil prices reflects a collective lack of confidence in the future of the internal combustion engine; since the lockdown Amazon’s share price has soared because of a renewed sense of social connectivity, and the steady rise in Telecom stock is underpinned by a move to support working remotely and working from home.

As Alexander Wagner said, financial markets are “incentivized surveys for future expected outcomes”: investors gain by predicting outcomes correctly and markets reflect the sum total of their decisions.

With that in mind, and using available options data, the Chicago based VIX Volatility Index measures these market expectations on a scale of 0 for complete stasis (which never happens), moving progressively towards 100 as unpredictability levels increase (which happens a little too often): the index tells us a lot about market expectations. So, for example, the Index went from 25 to 66 within three months after the 2008 financial crash, and on 16th March this year it skyrocketed to 82 (from a low of 13) in response to the global challenges posed by the COVID 19 pandemic. On the same day, the Dow Jones Industrial Index returned its second worst day ever and three of the 15 worst days ever in the history of US Financial markets happened in the week running up to 16th March. 

Panic buying in supermarkets and panic selling on financial markets were seemingly going hand in hand. But not any more…

The VIX Index fell dramatically recently from 82 to 31 and the Dow Jones has soared to a high of 24,633 (a jump of over 2% on the single day of 29th April): so what’s happened in the last month to reduce volatility so significantly and at the same time heap healthy gains on equity markets across the globe? How and why has the Zeitgeist changed so radically?

Well, a few things come to mind. First of all, shares in companies with stable, global reach (think Amazon and Apple) have risen in value because China is slowly emerging from the first of the World’s COVID lockdowns and a number of countries, including Germany and France, are cautiously following suit: so investors are sensing increased prospects for global trading. And then, of course, there have been unprecedented Central Government interventions in international markets over the last month: more than £2.5 Trillion has either been pumped in or promised, with more to come if needed. Most of us grew up on a diet of Monetarism and Milton Friedman, but we are all Keynesians now: Quantitative Easing works and the free market is its biggest fan.

And fuelling all those sentiments, forged perhaps ironically by months of enforced lockdown, we are now seeing a fresh sense of social connectivity: within a matter of days, more than 750,000 people volunteered to participate in the UK Government’s Coronavirus Support Scheme and we are increasingly accustomed to public demonstrations of support for health workers across the world. The global Zeitgeist, a new world order, is gradually growing out of the anguish of COVID 19 and we can begin to see a different future beyond it: Financial markets are not immune to that sentiment.

 Invest in Red Ribbon Asset Management 

Nobody understands the fundamentals of the Indian economy better than Red Ribbon Asset Management, which has placed the subcontinent at the heart of its investment strategies since the company was founded more than a decade ago. Drawing on unrivalled knowledge of local markets with an expert team of more than a hundred advisers working in India’s economic hotspots, the Red Ribbon Private Equity Fund offers unique opportunities to share in this potential.

The Challenges of COVID 19 will leave us better equipped to deal with Global Warming

By India, News

COVID 19 is presenting us with ever more complex and profound challenges on an almost daily basis: Boulevards are deserted in Paris, Squares empty in London and rolling news carries an almost unbearable litany of loss. With more than 20% of the world’s population now in lockdown, these are unprecedented times; but what does all this mean for the future of our already beleaguered planet? What do those empty streets and squares mean for the longer-term struggle against global warming?

The latest Sentinel 5P Satellite Data shows radically reduced figures for airborne nitrogen dioxide: the pollutant most commonly associated with burning fossil fuels, and motor vehicle use in particular (most vehicles having been forced off the roads by pandemic restrictions). With an admirable sense of understatement, the Director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, Vincent-Henri Peuch, has described this as “useful, because less pollution can only be a good thing when this virus is around.

Who’s going to disagree with that?

And for the first time in history, the price of crude oil has slumped to below zero in some US Markets. Bunkers and storage facilities are already at capacity, so producers have been paying customers up to $40 a barrel to take any new output off their hands, even though this means immediate shipment to another facility (with costs way in excess of $40 a barrel) in the hope of a future spike in prices. So, it may not be the gift horse it seems; particularly bearing in mind continuing energy market uncertainties that make any increase in crude prices far from certain.

On a more upbeat note, Allesandro Miani of the Italian Society of Environmental Medicine believes reported reductions in Nitrogen Oxide levels may actually inhibit the overall spread of the virus: “Particulate matter, when it’s at a certain density and there is a lot of smog, a lot of atmospheric pollution, can be considered a sort of highway for the acceleration of the epidemic.” So the recent fall in pollutant levels could well be COVID cul de sac. Let’s hope so…

On the other hand, global CO2 levels are still at an all-time high despite the (as yet) short-term effects of the pandemic lockdown: highlighting a sharp contrast between overall atmospheric conditions and readings in specific, densely populated areas. That’s because localised emissions have a limited impact on the build-up of greenhouse gases generally, resulting as they do from an aggregate accumulation dating back hundreds of years beyond the industrial revolution. Year on year (short term) trends will have little impact on planet-wide conditions of that kind.

But nurtured by the current lockdown restrictions, our common experience will profoundly shape how we respond to the challenges of climate change in the future. No matter how cloistered or hemmed in we might feel now, nobody can have failed to notice the radical reduction in air traffic over recent weeks: 41% lower than this time last year; road traffic volumes in the UK have fallen by 73% in a month (the lowest since 1955), and no one can have failed either to notice the improvement in air quality during those occasional forays from homes stalked by disaffected children, distracted by i-phones and (occasionally) longing for school… 

So let’s make no mistake, things will change when all this is over: one of the more bearable legacies of COVID 19 will be an increased awareness of just how important it is to protect our precious planet from the threat of climate change. So when travel does start up again, when all those planes return to the skies and cars to our roads, we will be better informed, more responsible and perhaps even a little chastened: but on any basis better equipped to build a better future together.

 Invest in Red Ribbon Asset Management 

Red Ribbon Asset Management is proud to be the founder of Eco Hotels, the world’s first carbon neutral hotel brand: offering “green hospitality” as part of a progressive program to deliver planet friendly, impact investment strategies capable of making a real difference to our shared world.

Executive Overview

Far from going away during the COVID pandemic, climate change policies are now more important than ever. For a few months, we glimpsed the potential reduced carbon emissions have for positive change across the world, and it’s down to us now to grasp that reality and build on it with renewed energy.

Defeating COVID with Pace and Conviction…Major New Hospitals are part of the story

By India, News

Health Authorities across the globe have been increasingly turning to Modular Construction as part of the fight against COVID 19, and the NHS Nightingale Hospital in East London, a 4000-bed facility with capacity for 16,000 medical staff, was a prime example: developed from concept to completion in less than nine days, which is just the sort of pace, focus and conviction that we need to meet and defeat challenges posed by the pandemic n these unprecedented times.

And in Wuhan, the pandemic’s ground zero, two major hospitals were built from scratch in less than two weeks using state of the art modular technologies. Like the Nightingale in London, the City’s 1000 bed Huoshenshan Hospital was completed in nine days, with all of its key components being prefabricated off-site and assembled to plan on location: covering 60,000 square meters, the new hospital spans two floors and has thirty critical care units and quarantine wards. Its sister facility at Leishenshan was built on an equally impressive scale and finally topped out in just seven days.

But none of that is especially surprising, given Chinese Authorities have been here before and know exactly what they’re doing: Beijing’s colossal Xiaotangshan Hospital was built at breakneck speed in 2003 to confront (successfully) the burgeoning SARS crisis. The entire hospital was completed in seven days using modular construction techniques, where traditional technologies might have taken anything up to two years, but the epidemic wasn’t offering any quarter in 2003, and it’s no different now…

In fact, it’s precisely this unforgiving dynamic of extreme time pressures meeting unprecedented demand for public safety that has made Modular Construction so important at the moment. One of the recent hospital projects in Wuhan used re-targeted components from more than 3000 flatpack housing kits, modified by size and materials to meet the exacting requirements of a modern healthcare facility. You simply can’t do that with a conventional inventory of precast concrete blocks, steel girders and bricks: in addition to which Modular Construction has also shown itself particularly adaptable in matching the demands of modern clinical projects, with optimal outcomes on both hygienic environments and clinical delivery platforms.

For example, those new hospitals in Wuhan needed thicker internal walls than usual to prevent the virus from spreading from individual isolation units: something which was easily accomplished at a stage when the units were still being modified and constructed off site under controlled conditions. Specialist devices and medical equipment were supplied by external contractors and added to the building’s structure before final assembly: everything from oxygenation systems, aspiration units and surgical scrub facilities. And Modular Construction also needs far fewer labourers working at the final assembly site, working for far shorter periods (a lesson graphically illustrated at the Nightingale in London) each of which significantly reduces the risk of a virus spreading during assembly. Social distancing is built into the process.

And let’s not forget that there are significant benefits for the future as well: unlike a conventional hospital, anchored in steel and concrete, a modular project can be dismantled, removed by truck and recycled when (happily soon) it is no longer needed to fight off the pandemic. The steel core can also be recycled and sold back to the original suppliers…there’s a world waiting for us after COVID 19 has finally been defeated, and we need to look after that too.

Find out more about Modulex 

Modulex Construction is the World’s largest and India’s first Steel Modular Building Company. It was established by Red Ribbon to harness the full potential of these fast-evolving technologies and deliver at a pace to meet the evolving needs of the community.

Executive Overview

Over recent weeks we have seen a significant increase in enquiries for Modulex to become involved in the creation of new triage units, testing facilities, emergency areas and isolation wards so as to meet the immediate challenges of the pandemic. And over the longer term we are looking too at producing ICU Rooms and related Care Facilities as well as permanent ICU Patient Facilities and Non-Critical Care Units.

I’m extremely proud of the part Red Ribbon and Modulex are playing.

How will the pandemic downturn end …And what will the future look like?

By India, News

AJP Taylor asked an interesting and counter intuitive question, How Do Wars End? Most historians focus on how they begin: with re-armament, broken treaties and aggressive expansion, but how do they end? That can be a more interesting question, examining the impact of national exhaustion, often unbearable loss and a reinvigorated appetite to build bridges across divides. And as President Macron reminded us when all this started, we’re at war with COVID19: so how will this war end? How will the social and economic turbulence caused by the pandemic finally come to an end, and what will the world look like when it does?

Well, given the scale of the economic shocks the virus is leaving in its wake, we certainly can’t expect all the building blocks of the existing economic order simply to fall neatly back into place; and nor should we, because there are serious lessons to be learned.

President Macron was right when he cautioned “Many certainties and convictions will be swept away. Many things that we thought were impossible are happening, so the day after we have won the battle against the virus won’t be a return to the day before: we will be stronger morally and we will draw new conclusions about the way ahead”. And that’s a view shared too by the Leader of the Social Democratic Party in Germany: Norbert Walter-Borjans has predicted a radically new kind of globalisation in the post COVID world, and even Henry Kissinger (a confirmed economic conservative if ever there was one) has advised leaders to prepare for a “new world order” when the virus is finally defeated. 

So what will this new world order look like? 

First, and most obviously, we will almost certainly see a redefinition of the role of the State in civil society, with fresh importance attached to social capital: a new emphasis on the role to be played by individuals, communities and business as part of a more energised and engaged national framework. Just look at the rapid (and wholly voluntary) enlistment of more than 750,000 would be participants in the UK Government’s Coronavirus Support Scheme, making the divisions caused by Brexit seem a million miles away and graphically confounding Steve Bannon’s prediction that the “administrative state” is dead. Who wants to be entirely reliant on Amazon and commercial suppliers for the supply of protective facemasks if anything even remotely like this happens again? The crisis has taught us we need the administrative state more than ever, and the State will have a new role.

Indeed, as a catalyst for economic survival that newly defined role is already apparent. Unprecedented sums have been committed across the globe through Central Bank and Government interventions: Donald Trump (hardly a fan of Keynesian economics) has approved a $2 Trillion Financial Stimulus Package, and in the United Kingdom the Conservative Government (with a decade long policy of financial austerity) nodded through a £342 Billion support measure. In the EU more than 540 Billion Euros have been allocated to meet the unforgiving challenge of the pandemic. That’s £2.5 Trillion in all, or £300 Billion more than the entire UK GDP in 2019. If Coronavirus support was an economy, those three interventions alone would make it the sixth biggest in the world.

Even though tighter monetary policies are likely to be reimposed after the virus is finally consigned to history, the capacity of this kind of state inspired intervention to end an economic downturn (no matter how severe) has been thoroughly tried and tested for at least the last 90 years. Lower interest rates also act as a further stimulus to recovery, and although typical central bank rates were hovering around 0.75% in March so they haven’t got that much further to fall, analysts predict that even a 0.25% reduction can increase GDP by as much as 1%.

So that’s the first thing we’re likely to see: stronger and more confident State oversight. If it was difficult to see that not happening in the aftermath of the global crash in 2008, it’s almost impossible now. Steve Bannon is unlikely to find himself on the right side of history…

Which brings us to the second key pointer: the pandemic has resulted in the role of Globalisation being scrutinised like never before. Joseph Stiglitz, Professor of Economics at Columbia University, has predicted a reduced role for global supply chains, pointing out (with obvious justification) the failings of dangerously localised and disparate facilities for production of medicines and clinical equipment. So for that and other reasons it seems likely our dependence on just in time supply chains will also diminish and give way in time to more regionally based production centres. Economies like India, which has already established an enviable reputation as an Asian distribution hub, are likely to benefit from the change…which neatly leads into the third key pointer.

Even before the pandemic emerged, we were seeing definitive signs of a progressive shift in economic power away from the West and towards Asian economies. The response to the crisis means we can now expect that trend to be speeded up.

Harvard International Relations Theorist, Stephen Walt, put it succinctly: “Coronavirus will accelerate the shift of power and influence to the East. South Korea and Singapore have shown the best responses, and China has managed well in the aftermath of its initial mistakes. In contrast, the response of Governments in Europe and the United States has been sceptical and likely to weaken the power of the western brand.” And for those thinking China, Singapore and South Korea have been successful only because of a lack of democratic traction, think again: Shivshankar Menon, Visiting Professor at India’s Ashoka University, points out that Authoritarians and populists alike are no better at handling the pandemic. Those countries that responded early and successfully, such as Korea and Taiwan, are democracies”.

But East or West, cooperation has never been more important than it is now: after an all too often stumbling and uncoordinated response in the West, countries across the globe have now been drawn to work together as they have rarely done before, whatever their political complexion might be.

And that alone should give us cause for hope: our global future might just be better, more collaborative and more cohesive than the past has ever been.

 Invest in Red Ribbon Asset Management 

Nobody understands the fundamentals of the Indian economy better than Red Ribbon Asset Management, which has placed the subcontinent at the heart of its investment strategies since the company was founded more than a decade ago. Drawing on unrivalled knowledge of local markets with an expert team of more than a hundred advisers working in India’s economic hotspots, the Red Ribbon Private Equity Fund offers unique opportunities to share in this potential.

Amazon’s latest investment in Hyderabad

Mr Bezos goes to Hollywood… by way of Hyderabad

By India, News

Mr Bezos goes to Hollywood… by way of Hyderabad

Amazon started out with Jeff Bezos selling books from his mum and dad’s garage and he warned his investors that there was a 70% chance of the company failing, but the world’s richest man is now at the helm of a corporate monolith and he has just spent $165 Million for a house in Beverley Hills: the most expensive residential property of its kind in California’s glitzy, dollar scattered history. And for that kind of money you could buy 4,715 houses in Hyderabad which is enough to put up a third of the 15,000 employees who will now be employed at Amazon’s nine acre Campus in the City’s financial district: the biggest of its kind in the world.

Of course, Hyderabad has long nurtured an ambition to emulate the Bezos heartland of California’s Silicon Valley, so it’s hardly surprising it should now feature so prominently on his radar: Oxford Economics predicted this year that within the next decade all ten of the world’s fastest-growing cities will be in India, and among this select grouping Hyderabad is growing fourth fastest by GDP and is the second biggest technology hub on the subcontinent after Bangalore. 

It is unsurprising too that the sheer scale of Amazon’s new venture should be characteristically leviathan: the canteen can cater for 2,500 at a single sitting and a dozen new shopping malls are set to open in Hyderabad by June next year to cater for solitary geeks looking for quality shopping time away from the madding crowd: perhaps, like so many young Indians, to buy a new smartphone or (less likely) a book. As a result of the Financial District of Hyderabad currently resembles nothing so much as an enormous construction site with more and more hopefuls pouring into the City every day looking for work. There are new flyovers to relieve the traffic.

And for those lucky enough to get a staff pass to the canteen, there are suitably Amazonian touches to keep them amused during those late-night coding sessions: table tennis tables, Zumba classes, a Treadwall (whatever that is) and even a synthetic cricket pitch which might help visiting Americans understand what the World would be like without baseball and how to pronounce Sachin Tendulkar’s name properly (Donald Trump take note).

But there’s obviously more to Amazon’s decision than Treadwalls and cricket: Jeff Bezos didn’t become the world’s richest man without being able to recognise the planet’s fastest-growing retail and technology market when he sees it. Cisco Systems have had their calculators out and predict that by 2022 India will have a staggering 829 Million smartphone users compared with 199 Million in 2015: the exponential growth is breathtaking. Added to that online shopping is literally going viral on the subcontinent with some estimates putting the market as high as $200 Billion annually (up from $30 billion last year). 

With honey pots that big, international retail giants were bound to be jostling for a piece of the action and Amazon is just one of several currently putting down a (very big) stake in India’s future including, most notably, Flipkart (now owned by Walmart) and the Ambani owned Reliance Retail. Bearing in mind the subcontinent is still on course to become the most populous nation on the planet by 2022: much more middle class, with a younger demographic and much more money to spend, those stakes are only going to get bigger. 

 Invest in Red Ribbon Asset Management 

Nobody understands the fundamentals of the Indian economy better than Red Ribbon Asset Management, which has placed the subcontinent at the heart of its investment strategies since the company was founded more than a decade ago. Drawing on unrivalled knowledge of local markets with an expert team of more than a hundred advisers working in India’s economic hotspots, the Red Ribbon Private Equity Fund offers unique opportunities to share in this potential.

Executive Overview

The scale of Amazon’s latest investment in Hyderabad is truly breathtaking: as the article says, the Campus is now the biggest of any of the company’s anywhere in the world. But I think it is more important to ask why the investment has been made and why it has been made now.

In my view, it is clearly a response to explosive growth rates in the subcontinent’s on-line retail markets and there is every indication that these rates will not only be maintained but will accelerate over the next decade.

Watch this space…

The Future is Blockchain…”A Unique Opportunity for India to Take the Lead”

By India, News No Comments

With all too obvious shades of George Orwell and Jackboots, a new “Control Commission” was never going to be a runner for India, so when the Orwellian sounding Independent Evaluation Office recommended just such a body be created in place of the Planning Commission, Prime Minister Modi wisely gave it the cold shoulder: he went instead for the cosier sounding National Institution for Transforming India, or NITI Aayog (“NITI”) for short, and the new body convened for the first time in 2015. So why does that matter? Well, the current Chairman of NITI is a certain Narenrda Modi and its core purpose is to decide national development priorities, sectors, and strategies”: so take note, NITI and Mr. Modi have just decided Blockchain is a national priority.

Blockchain technologies will empower citizens through increased transparency, decentralization and added accountability…and has the clear potential radically to improve living standards across the country”. So says NITI. And who in their right mind is going to vote in favour of increased transparency, added centralisation and less accountability: only, one suspects, a certain class of desiccated bureaucrats with something to hide and a preference for life in the shadows. Narendra Modi is certainly not one of them.

So despite all the huffing and puffing going on in Indian Government circles at the moment (not least from Reserve Bank lawyers shuttling backwards and forwards, to the Supreme Court every couple of weeks), this latest pronouncement is the clearest signal possible that Blockchain will be front and centre in the future of India’s economy.

Snappily titled “Blockchain: The India Strategy – Towards Enabling Ease of Business” (who on earth makes these things up?), the NITI Report has identified a number of key areas for potential innovation, including better contract management, improved procurement and enhanced quality controls across existing supply chains: not to mention the much-heralded prospect of a radical decentralisation in current decisionmaking powers across the subcontinent.

Of course the streamlining of land registry records and property transfers has already been widely trailed, as has a more transparent (and cheaper) Blockchain-based pharmaceutical supply infrastructure, but the Report now goes much further by highlighting the possibility of additional innovated changes in areas such as issue of educational certificates (where fraud is currently a major issue), insurance, agriculture, and energy trading markets. All will now be targeted for the delivery of new decentralised social networks, and in a masterly display of understatement the Report’s authors caution the Government to give each of them “special attention”. Bearing in mind the identity of NITI’s Chairman, there can be little doubt it will.

And just to ram the point home for those still of an agnostic disposition, the Report concludes on a suitable ringing note: “India now has a unique opportunity for the government to take the lead in creating public digital infrastructure and allow private sector innovation to leverage it for further development.”

Quite right.

When NITI Aayog was created in 2015, the former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley went on record to say the predecessor body was fit only for a “command economy structure and had become redundant…India is now a diversified country and a ‘one size fits all’ approach to economic planning is obsolete. That cannot make India competitive in today’s global economy.” 

There couldn’t be a better expression of why Blockchain will be so important for India’s future and why, far from being redundant, NITI has the resolve and resources to make sure it takes its proper place…and soon.

 Invest in North Block Capital Fund

North Block Capital Fund is structured to make the most of the exciting opportunities India has to offer, launching in Blockchain DLT and Crypto Currencies. It draws specifically on the company’s unparalleled expertise in the subcontinent’s markets because when it comes to India, nobody understands those markets better than Red Ribbon.

Executive Overview

With all of the conflicting and confusing public statements over the last year and a half, not to mention the ongoing tussles in the Supreme Court, its about time we had a clear and cogent expression of Blockchain’s future in the Indian economy.

NIFTI has now given us that and we should be grateful: we wait now for its Chairman to act on the findings…as I’m sure Mr Modi will.

Red Ribbon

At Red Ribbon we understand that the transition towards a resilient global economy will be led by well-governed businesses in mainstream markets, striving to reduce the environmental impact of their production processes on society at large and on the environment as well.

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