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India Mid Market Hotels - Red Ribbon Asset Management Plc

How and why mid-market hotels are taking over India’s branded sector

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In the late 1980’s Esso commissioned a survey of its UK customers and found less than 7% travelled onto Mainland Europe with their cars. Why this reticence on the part of families clearly capable of making their way from Poole to Provence in an overcrowded Metro? And no, it’s not what you think: back in those days we hadn’t even thought of Brexit. As Esso found out, there was a more homely explanation: the Continent simply had far fewer automated pumps on its forecourts, so drivers were in danger of having to talk with an attendant and you know how the English are with languages. Better leave the car behind than risk the unseemly spectacle of sign language on the forecourt with a Frenchman.

And when you think about it, that’s all quite interesting. It’s the reason petrol stations have gradually come to look exactly the same all over the world: with the pumps all roughly in the same place, all self service and roughly the same kind of shop to pay in. It’s why you can now buy a burger (from a screen) in identical McDonalds outlets from Vienna to Vladivostok without once having to speak a word of German or Russian, and it’s why Esso long made sure you can buy your petrol the same way. There’s simply no need to leave the car at home anymore…so we don’t. We buy more petrol instead and everyone’s happy.

Economists call this phenomenon Brand Synergy and until recently India’s mid-market Hotel Sector was widely perceived to be more or less dead to its charms. A senior analyst on the subcontinent memorably (and anonymously) put it as follows: “…it was like an airline that uses a Boeing 747 for travel between Delhi and Mumbai, a Dakota for Kolkata-Delhi, and a Dornier for Bengaluru-Pune”. The poor old travellers never knew what to expect when they got there. Just like trying to buy petrol by word of mouth.

But not anymore…

The subcontinent’s mid-market Hotels including Ibis Styles, Lemon Tree Hotels and Eco Hotels have all made progress over the last decade in adopting a much more uniform approach to product profiling, achieving a consistency in specification that has now seen the mid-market secure nearly half the branded hotel sector: spurred on, no doubt, by an increasing number of private equity investors, none of whom are noted for being slow in recognising brand synergies when they see them.

All of which has made the mid-market uniquely well placed to take advantage of the surge in India’s middle class and increasingly urbanised travellers that has doubled airline occupancy rates over the last seven years.  And with the average cost of building a mid-market room coming in at between Rs 3 Million and Rs 7 Million, breaking even within six years, it all makes bottom line economic sense too. Compare that with the larger branded chains where average construction cost for each room is Rs 15 Million and break even takes 15 years: more than twice as long.  In the past 10 years alone the mid-market has expanded at more than 15% annually (according to Howarth HTL) and now accounts for 43% of total branded stock.

Having got away its successful IPO earlier this year (raising Rs 311 Crore from key investors), Lemon Tree Hotels last week took the trend a stage further by launching its brand overseas: signing a deal for the first of its hotels to open in Dubai next year. It will be the first mid-market hotel on the luxury studded Al Wasi Road, sitting literally in the shadow of the Burj Al Arab and Al Waleed Real Estate’s CEO didn’t miss the significance:  “There was a need for a mid-market hotel of this calibre in this location and India has been the largest source of tourists into Dubai, as well as the UAE as a whole, for over three years now.” To save you Googling it up, the exact figure is 13%: India now accounts for a whopping 13% of total tourist numbers into the Emirates, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody given the subcontinent’s wealth and proximity as well as the population’s found mobility.

And now they’ll recognise at least one familiar, distinctively Indian hotel brand when they get there…Plus ca change.

Red Ribbon Asset Management is the founder of Eco Hotels, the world’s first carbon neutral mid-market hotel brand, offering “green hospitality” as part of a progressive roll out across India which intended to take full advantage of current market opportunities on the subcontinent. The brand offers sustainable living without compromising on standards of hospitality and is designed to cater to commercial and recreational travellers alike.

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

Working as part of the Eco Hotels Project has certainly taught me the importance of branding and product profiling in the hospitality sector, so I was pleased to read about the renewed emphasis on branding generally and unsurprised to see that it has now increased the mid-market share to just shy of 50%. Monolithic 2000 room hotel chains are no longer the first choice for travellers, especially given all the evidence suggests they are increasingly looking for accommodation that also complements their preference for sustainability.

And that’s important because the boom in Indian tourism (domestically and internationally) is playing a significant part in driving forward the subcontinent’s resurgent hotel and hospitality sector. It’s certainly an area that cannot be overlooked when seeking out the best investment opportunities over the coming years.

That’s why I’m very proud that Red Ribbon has played such a significant role in the creation and development of the Eco Hotels Project, spearheading the response to that demand in an environmentally friendly manner.

An Ambition for Growth - India Economic Miracle - Red Ribbon Asset Management

An Ambition for Growth: The Roots of India’s Economic Miracle

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Currently locked in a peculiar species of death roll with her backbenchers, Theresa May still (to her credit) seems intent on securing an orderly exit from the EU by 2020, but most economic commentators are forecasting a long term decline in UK GDP however “soft” the exit terms might be. Price Waterhouse for one are predicting that within a decade of exit, by 2030 the United Kingdom will have fallen to tenth place in Global GDP, behind Mexico and Indonesia and a whisker ahead of Turkey and France (which has a certain irony in the circumstances). And the same survey predicts that by 2030 India will have risen to third place in the global league, treading hard on the heels of China and the United States in first and second place respectively. But unlike the former mother country there is no suggestion that the subcontinent’s remorseless ambition for growth will lose any of its momentum over the course of the next half century.

China had better watch out…

The subcontinent’s economic ambition has been powered by a combination of progressive (some might say revolutionary) economic policies on the part of Prime Minister Modi’s Government (think demonetisation), coupled with a burgeoning and increasingly middle class population fuelling an unprecedented surge in consumer demand. But in a subtle and complex take on that dynamic, McKinsey this month published a fascinating report concluding that India’s explosive growth has just as much to do with interlocking trends in agriculture, urbanisation and mobility.

Take the first element in that triumvirate: agriculture. For decades now (at least the last thirty years), India has pursued an aggressive policy of agricultural self-sufficiency which has not only made the farming lobby one of the most powerful political forces in the country but has also delivered growth rates in the sector that are the envy of most of its near neighbours (indeed, the envy of most farmers anywhere in the world). But despite this, as McKinsey also point out, Indian agriculture still faces a spectrum of uniquely local challenges: severe water shortages alternating with devastating monsoons, combined with often antiquated supply structures and what McKinsey quaintly call a “limited exposure to high productivity practices”: in other words, a lack of investment in the latest farming technology.

That’s where the subtlety comes in…The Indian Government has re-calibrated its agricultural policy to shift the emphasis away from output targets, replacing them with a system of local subsidies designed to buttress farmers’ income (a policy that roused the never less than exuberant President Trump to bring proceedings against India again before the WTO). It was a smart shift in direction too because the new policy will almost certainly double agricultural wage rates by 2022 and, in a characteristically Keynesian frame of mind, the Modi Government are betting that with more money in their pockets India’s farmers will now start investing more in new technology. It can’t do much to stop monsoons but it can, as McKinsey would no doubt put it, “increase exposure to high productivity practices”.

That same factor feeds into the second limb of McKinsey’s triumvirate: urbanisation. More than 200 Million of India’s rural population are expected to move into its urban conurbations over the next 15 years and for those with the instinct to move rather than invest locally, improved agricultural subsidies are giving them a store of money to do it with. And, the Modi Administration is playing to its strengths on this too with a new Smart Cities Mission designed to meet the additional, affordable housing required to cope with resulting surges in demand, reducing urban pollution levels and increasing resource productivity and economic development through enhanced infrastructure programmes. You don’t need to look any further to find the real roots of India’s economic miracle.

And what about mobility: the third element of the McKinsey triumvirate? Well, that’s coming along nicely too with India now expected to become the world’s third largest passenger vehicle market by 2021. It’s not just that the subcontinent offers the same, parallel opportunities and challenges as other western and developing markets, it is offering them with a turbo charger attached. Many of those 200 Million people who are moving from village to town over the next 15 years will want (and get) a car, paying for it with the increased wages earned from working on all those new infrastructure projects; and their family and friends who stayed in the country and invested in new agricultural technology will probably want (and get) a new car too. You need to keep up with your cousins in town!

That, in essence, is what we mean by an interlocking economic structure, and it’s here that we can find the real roots of India’s explosive growth. Just wait to see what happens next…

Nobody understands that potential for growth better than Red Ribbon Asset Management, which has placed India at the very heart of its investment strategies since the company was founded more than a decade ago. With an unrivalled knowledge of market conditions on the subcontinent, Red Ribbon offers a unique opportunity to share in that vast potential.

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

At Red Ribbon we are very proud to have been playing our own part in India’s economic resurgence over the last decade, investing in just the kind of projects that are at the heart of the interlocking triangle of growth mentioned in the article: everything from the modular construction technologies now being developed by Modulex so as to deliver affordable housing at the pace demanded by the subcontinent’s urban expansion, through to innovative sustainable energy infrastructure investment. And to see India now firmly established at its place on the economic top table, uniquely well placed to move further forward still is, of course, a particular source of pride for us.

We look forward to continuing to play our part in India’s future, participating to the utmost in the opportunities the subcontinent’s explosive growth has to offer and at the same time providing above market rate returns from our investors in what I am convinced will continue to be one of the world’s most exciting markets for many years to come.

Smart Eco Hospitality - Red Ribbon Asset Management Plc - Eco Hotels

Better Smart than Big: India’s Eco Hospitality Sector

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The problem with global conglomerates is that they have global reach but monolithic thinking. Look how long it took Facebook to respond to high profile data breaches, with the hardly media shy Mark Zuckerberg virtually disappearing from the ubiquity of his own platform for weeks on end. Think of IBM: slow to the point of near extinction in responding to software innovations in the market, and poor old Kodak, slow to the point of actual extinction in meeting challenges posed by a blizzard of new, digital based technologies. So it should be a sobering thought for our current crop of global empire builders that big certainly doesn’t always best, because all too often great size comes with an inbuilt decision making stasis …in business, it’s always better to be smart.

Even so the thickest commercial hides can sometimes let in a little oxygen, which is why economists still like to look at the interesting conundrum of scaled decision making: big companies deluded into thinking they are fleet enough of foot to react on time to critical and fast moving trends, rather like an elephant finding a discarded pair of tweezers and thinking they must be good for something.

The latest example is Hilton Hotels, which this month unveiled its “Travel with Purpose Campaign” designed to reduce the group’s global carbon emissions by, wait for it, reusing old bars of soap left behind by its guests. Good luck with that: the Hilton Hotel chain on the subcontinent has properties with in excess of 1000 rooms pumping out as much carbon as a Victorian glue factory, so you might be forgiven for thinking the odd bar of soap is unlikely to make much of a difference. But the Hilton monolith is simply reacting (monolithically) to the unsurprising revelation that most of its guests are now placing environmental concerns at the top of their list when deciding where to stay. Hilton knows this because it conducted an expensive survey of 72,000 of its guests in May this year.

Of course it could have saved its hard earned cash and had a look instead at earlier newsletters on this site (amongst other places): sustainability concerns have been a key trend in the Indian Hospitality sector for at least the last decade and are becoming progressively more important. Hilton’s laborious, too little too late response is yet another example of big not being better. Big, in this case, is positively bad.

The companies that are instead best placed to make the most of eco trends are not operating out of densely occupied concrete blocks. They are strategically positioned in India’s mid market hospitality sector, with Lemon Tree Hotels and Eco Hotels being prime examples: smaller in scale and with sustainability ingrained into the fabric of their buildings (rather than in last minute memoranda urging staff to pick up discarded soap). As a result Lemon Tree Hotels is currently valued at 17 times EV/EBITDA and since completing its successful IPO in March of this year the company’s shares have risen in price by an impressive 28 per cent.  

Both companies find themselves carried forward by a relentlessly upbeat market outlook, typical of which is JLL India: “The hospitality industry is witnessing a new buoyancy” and Anarock Capital, where Shobbit Agarwal had this to say: “Stocks of listed hotel companies are on a new high due to improving fundamentals increased occupancy levels, higher revenues and average room rates seeing 5 to 6 per cent year-on-year growth”.

Quite so, we don’t need an expensive survey to tell us that.

And it also has a great deal to do too with a recent surge in India’s domestic and overseas tourist numbers as well as an increasingly affluent middle class demographic prepared to put their money where their heart is…Hilton Hotels might take note.

Red Ribbon Asset Management is the founder of Eco Hotels, the world’s first carbon neutral mid market hotel brand, offering “green hospitality” as part of a progressive roll out across India which intended to take full advantage of current market opportunities on the subcontinent. The brand offers sustainable living without compromising on standards of hospitality and is designed to cater to commercial and recreational travellers alike.

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

I’ve always believed in the essential flexibility and virtue of smaller business platforms, capable of responding quickly and effectively to market opportunities as well as medium term market trends. Because, to paraphrase Keynes, over the medium term a business that finds itself rooted in a fixed strategy can also all to often find itself dead. Just look at the object lesson provided by the once all powerful Kodak Corporation.

And the sheer pace of change and market innovation in the subcontinent’s hotel and hospitality sector at the moment makes that lesson all the more compelling. Mid market groups like Lemon Tree Hotels and Eco Hotels are quite simply better placed to respond successfully to rapid innovation and key demographic changes. Not least because they have both been positioned from the outset to anticipate a sustained and progressive move towards sustainability based tourism and business travel. Sustainability is built into their DNA.

That’s why I’m particularly proud of the part Red Ribbon has played in founding Eco Hotels and helping with its strategic development, anticipating exciting developments in Indian markets capable of generating above market rate returns for our investors. So, whilst like the Hilton Group, I’m sure Eco Hotels will be encouraging guests not to waste soap, the company has a lot more to offer in the future.

The Economic Legacy of Atal Vajpayee - Red Ribbon Asset Management Plc

The Economic Legacy of Atal Vajpayee: A Solid Foundation for Growth

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The boy from rural Gwalior had given up studying Law during the turmoil of the Partition Riots, but Law’s loss proved to be India’s’ gain because Jawaharlal Nehru quickly spotted something special after listening to his maiden speech in Parliament House a dozen or so years later: “This young man will be our Prime Minister one day”. And of course Nehru was right, because that boy from Gwalior was Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who died last week at the grand old age of 94. History has rarely given one man an opportunity to shape the economic future of a nation, but the modern Indian economy was to take root under Vajpayee’s three periods in office. The fact that India is now an economic super power owes a great deal to his foresight.

Vajpayee became Prime Minister in 1998, immediately after the seminal administration of Narasimha Rao, which had taken the first faltering steps towards opening India up to the new global economy. After decades of Central Government stasis and only six years of economic reform, small wonder that most of the subcontinent’s business community were initially sceptical about Vajpayee’s ability or appetite to continue to roll out the Rao inspired anti-protectionist and anti centralisation initiatives. Not least because the Mandarins running the BJP’s parent body, his own party were pretty much protectionist and statist to a man (and they were all men).

But Vajpayee had never been a subscriber to Protectionist Politics, and he defied all expectations by not only continuing with the Rao agenda but expanding it with all the enthusiasm of…well, with all the enthusiasm of a politician used to getting his own way despite established party orthodoxy. Think Margaret Thatcher in a dhoti.

Vajpayee laid radical foundations for modern and deregulated Insurance and Banking sectors in India and for increased foreign investment in India’s real estate markets. He had also removed all quantitative restrictions on imports by 2002, replacing them with a framework of domestic tariffs referable in particular to the all important agricultural sector (Brexit minded politicians in the United Kingdom care to might take note). In a few short years his Administration had also radically extended capital markets and significantly reduced the State’s involvement in public sector banks. But most of all, perhaps more than any of his other contributions to India’s economic resurgence Vajpayee totally revolutionised the subcontinent’s Telecoms Sector in ways that we are still coming to terms with today.

In short…no Vajpayee, no Flipkart.

Vajpayee set up a National Task Force on Information Technology and had the foresight to bring onto it pioneering entrepreneurs including N.R. Narayan Murthy (now of Infosys) and Azim Premij (now Wipro): people, in short, who actually knew what they were doing. How’s that for revolutionary? And the result was the New Telecom Policy of 1999, which introduced new licensing protocols making it easier and more attractive for private interest groups to enter the market, at the same time deliberately backing the State away from crucial decisionmaking. Can you imagine that ever happening on the subcontinent before 1991?

And from the perspective of 2018 we can now see the true scale of these changes. In 1991 only a little over 2% of India’s population had access to telecoms technology, that figure is now over 90%. The fastest growing large economy on the planet also has one of the most fluid and innovative technology markets anywhere in the world, driven by an increasingly urbanised and youthful population that views the mobile phone and the tablet as their shopping instruments of choice. They have Bill Vajpayee to thank for that.

One way or another, it was certainly all a very long journey from Gwalior.

Nobody understands India’s potential for growth 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. With an unrivalled knowledge of local market conditions, the Red Ribbon Indian Equities Fund offers a unique opportunity to share in that potential.

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

I have often thought that an economy opens out fully over a thirty year cycle, beginning with the removal of barriers to trade and expansion of domestic markets from central government control; moving into a second ten year period of market adjustment and recalibration as those changes take root, and then into a third decade of explosive growth. We saw that happen in Russia and in China and now we are seeing it happen in India: we are now living through this third decade of explosive growth on the subcontinent which has seen it become the fastest growing large economy on the planet.

But we should never forget the importance of those first two decades, laying a solid foundation for what comes after is a key part of the process, and neither should we forget that in India’s case the guiding hand for most of this period was the hand of AB Vajpayee. We have a lot to be grateful to him for.

The Best Exits: Innovations in India’s Private Equity Market

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How do you spot a Private Equity Investor at the Opera? He’s the one scouring the lobby for the best exit.

You’ve probably heard that one before. Its an old joke but still speaks to a fundamental truth about all private equity strategies: whilst looking resolutely to the long term (often more than ten years ahead), as soon as the initial investment is made Private Equity Investors will also be searching for the best exit strategy, and in today’s markets that usually means an IPO or a Merger. So next time you’re welling up with emotion at Turendot, keep an eye out for anyone scribbling one or other of those magic words in their programme: they’ll probably be managing a Private Equity Fund.

And given India is now the best performing Private Equity market in the world, it should come as no surprise to learn that the subcontinent is also at the cutting edge of the latest and most innovative of these long term exit strategies.

Take, for example, the Platform Acquisition model: not in itself a novelty, but now being given a fresh lease of life in India. In its new guise the strategy focuses on selected market quadrants and brings them together to create synergies for a targeted return as opposed to more traditional growth through capital infusions into the platform company itself. Think Indian IT and the subcontinent’s burgeoning consumer market, then think Flipkart and you’ll get the idea. Its an intelligent version of the old fashioned roll up strategy where multiple small companies in the same or complementary sectors are acquired or merged prior to being rolled up for exit, and in its new format it has made Private Equity a real force for consolidation and growth within the Indian economy.

Warburg, Pincus and KKR have all launched Platform Acquisition models for projects on the subcontinent, with chosen sectors including business services, media, hotels and hospitality all of which are, of course, already high growth areas. Mid market hospitality in particular is going through something of a renaissance at the moment with this year’s IPO of Lemon Tree Hotels being oversubscribed by a factor of 1.19 and Eco Hotels continuing to make strong inroads into the environmentally friendly segment. Everstone has a Food Services Platform following its acquisition of Modern Foods through which it has subsequently gobbled up Cookie Man; and Goldman Sachs, never slow to spot a trend, has a new Business Services Platform on the subcontinent, appropriately named First Meridian and focusing on HR and staffing companies for later roll up. Sutra HR had better be watching their backs…

Head of M&A at EY India, Ajay Aroa sums it all up nicely: “ The platform acquisitions and their roll ups have made private equity investors the main consolidation force in a number of India’s high growth sectors, standing to benefit equally from growth as well as multiple arbitrage”.

That last point is also interesting (and incontrovertibly right): smaller aggregated acquisitions, characteristic of those completed through a Platform Acquisition model, are very often delivered at a comparatively low exit multiple, giving the platform owner an enhanced arbitrage opportunity. Bearing in mind Blackstone’s private equity investments in India have delivered annualised returns of 30% since 2011, PE Platform Investors will usually lift the aggregate multiple by leverage or arbitrage (or both) in order to compete… and at the moment they’re competing very well indeed.

Red Ribbon Asset Management has placed India at the heart of its investment strategies since the company was founded more than a decade ago, and nobody understands the subcontinent’s potential for growth better than Red Ribbon. Benefiting from an unrivalled knowledge of local conditions and more than a hundred local advisers reporting from some of India’s fastest growing markets, the Red Ribbon Private Equity Fund offers a unique opportunity to share in that potential.

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

As any Private Equity investor will tell you, nothing is more important than having a clear and deliverable exit strategy, set out in detail at the earliest opportunity. Especially so as most funds will look to lock their investors in for an extended period, often for as long as ten years so that investors need to have a clear understanding from the outset of just how they will exit the fund to secure an optimal return on their investment. That used to be an issue in India where traditional family run companies were resistant to exit by private sale, but the subcontinent’s modern markets have now made the task a lot easier through the increased efficiency of IPO and M&A mechanisms: now, as the article points out, the two most favoured modes of exit for Indian companies.

I’m not surprised, either, to hear of the innovations currently taking place in the subcontinent’s private equity sector. After all India is the fastest growing Private Equity market in the world and it would be surprising if it should prove resistant to the innovative policies being rolled out elsewhere in the economy. You only need to look at the participants involved (KKR, Goldman Sachs and Blackstone) to get a feel for the underlying strength of the sector.

And of course I’m proud too that the Red Ribbon Private Equity Fund is part of this process. We will always be looking for the most exciting opportunities India’s markets have to offer, using the most innovative strategies available so as to deliver the best above market rate returns for our investors.

Mainstream Impact Investment: A Sea Change in the Market

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Businesses that set out to minimise the negative impacts of their activities on the community, our society and on the environment at large are better equipped to be successful in the long term; actively structured to meet the demands of an increasingly social market without compromising on their capacity for commercial success. Indeed, these businesses are better able to succeed commercially precisely because they are responsive to this wider social setting.

That was the conclusion reached by last month’s report from the influential research team at Mckinsey which found that more than a quarter of assets now under management globally are being invested on the premise that environmental, social, and governance issues can significantly impact on a company’s long term performance; and given companies which embrace that same cultural mindset will usually perform better in the long term, that should all point to better short term investor returns too as well as a much more robust and resilient share price.

So it isn’t altogether surprising that the market at large is now starting to sit up and take notice of Mainstream Impact Investment strategies; the same strategies which have been at the heart of portfolio management at Red Ribbon Asset Management since the company was founded more than a decade ago.

Major global institutional investors adopting impact investment strategies include the Government Pension Investment Fund of Japan (the world’s largest, with AUM of over $1.1 Trillion), Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global and ABP, the Dutch State Pension Fund (which is the second largest in Europe). As the Mckinsey Report also points out, these behemoths of the investment world are not just switching course for ethical reasons alone: they are pursuing “a conventional investment aim of maximizing risk-adjusted returns”.

And the Report goes on: “…Sustainable investing has become a large and fast-growing major market segment. According to the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance, at the start of 2016, sustainable investments constituted 26 percent of assets that are professionally managed in Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Canada, Europe, and the United States ($22.89 trillion in total). Four years earlier, they were 21.5 percent of assets”.

As though to make that point good, the Government Investment Fund of Japan announced in July this year that it had selected three sustainability indices as future reference points for its passive investment in Japanese equities; and for its part, ABP had already announced that it would include as part of its cross portfolio investment criteria a reduction of carbon-emissions by 2020 of 25% as well as a commitment to invest at least €5 billion in renewable energy by the same date.

These trends are not just straws in the wind. They are all clear pointers to the future, supporting the new paradigm of Mainstream Impact Investment. And of course, the flip side is important too. Mainstream businesses that calibrate their activities so as to reduce their negative impacts on the community, society and the wider environment will also provide a long term, viable basis from which all three segments can flourish. It is the difference between a one off, short-term social project and an entirely new paradigm for society.

It is that important.

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

The influential research team at Mckinsey produced a major new report last month which found long term performance to be significantly affected by good environmental and social market performance, as well as a company’s capacity to deliver effective governance in both fields; and companies that perform well in the long term will usually do better in the short term too, which means compliance with all three criteria is likely to deliver better investor returns and a more robust share price for the company in the short term too. So its not altogether surprising that the market at large is now starting to sit up and take notice of Mainstream Impact Investment strategies; the same strategies which have been at the heart of portfolio management at Red Ribbon Asset Management since the company was founded more than a decade ago.

Read the Mckinsey Report here: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/private-equity-and-principal-investors/our-insights/from-why-to-why-not-sustainable-investing-as-the-new-normal?cid=other-eml-alt-mip-mck-oth-1710

Read more about Mainstream Impact Investment here: reports.weforum.org/impact-investment/

Read about Red Ribbon Fund Management here: https://redribbon.co/

Demonetisation: A Debate Without Substance

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Here’s a little conundrum.

Suppose I want to pay my tailor £500 (guineas if he is Saville Row); and I write him a cheque and post it to him before learning that the postbox was forcibly opened by a thief and the contents of the box stolen; I don’t want to take any chances, of course, so I stop the cheque and I go to the tailor in person, paying him his pounds (or guineas) in cash.  And this is the question: with the cheque now stolen and stopped, but still in circulation, who actually loses out because I won’t honour my promise to pay assuming the cheque is eventually presented to my bank? Not me of course; and certainly not the tailor (who has been paid), but quite possibly the thief (although, presumably, he won’t be in any position to complain).

And you might think that would all be simple enough, but when the same situation is translated into macroeconomic terms it has been causing no end of heartburn for economists.

Because on 8th November last year, the Indian Government removed from circulation two denominations of banknotes that together made up 86% of all of the rupees previously in circulation; it is a policy known as Demonetisation. And to make the policy work, the Central Reserve Bank of India was required to dishonor its promise to make payment on the notes that had been withdrawn from circulation. Just like I might stop the cheque to my tailor.

 

In a slightly arch, if a rather unworldy The Economist Magazine last month portrayed this decision by the Central Bank of India, the decision to dishonor the withdrawn notes as little short of a scandalous breach of promise; having issued the notes in the first place, the Central Bank should honor them and its reputation would be seriously harmed if it failed to do so.

 

But why should that be the case? The old (withdrawn) notes are not simply being liquidated into the ether by demonetization; holders of withdrawn currency were given until 30th December last year to exchange their holdings of old notes for new, higher denomination currency and the Central Bank will certainly be honouring it’s promise to pay on those notes. And, of course, nobody spoke of the Bank of England defaulting on its promise to meet a call on pre-decimal (withdrawn) currency when new, decimal notes were issued in the United Kingdom in 1971; and nobody accused the Bundesbank of reneging on its payment commitment when Deutschmarks were withdrawn and exchanged for Euros in 2002; not least because neither it nor the Bank of England was doing anything of the kind and neither, for that matter, is the Central Reserve Bank in India.

 

So why should India be any different? It all sounds more than a little parochial.

 

After all, ask yourself who loses by demonetization. Only the black economy (the exact analogue of the thief who steals my tailor’s cheque); only those, in short, who are holding a stock of withdrawn denomination currency, which they are unable to take to a bank to exchange because they cannot or will not explain how they got it in the first place; and that, of course, is precisely what demonetisation is designed to achieve: to take the black market economy in India by the throat, stop it in its tracks and pave the way for a more invigorated, open economy.

 

In announcing demonetisation last November, Prime Minister Modi explained that a key objective of the policy was to combat corruption and to render more accountable to the Indian Exchequer what was perceived to be a hidden stockpile of untaxed cash.  Who exactly is going to disagree with that? Although, oddly, the latest reports suggest that some 15 trillion rupees of the 15.4 trillion taken out of circulation are now accounted for. So perhaps the black market in India wasn’t quite as pervasive as had previously been thought, and that has to be a good thing too.

 

But aside from these essentially negative policy objectives, there are also at least three beneficial effects of demonetisation:

 

  • First, Banks across India will now have additional stockpiles of cash available to them as a result of recently converted currency deposits and should, therefore, be more willing to lend it out to businesses looking for additional credit; and that ought to act as a stimulus to further growth across the economy as a whole. The bigger banks on the subcontinent cut lending rates last month which may suggest demonetisation is already having an impact on that front;

 

  • Secondly, demonetisation should mark the beginning of the end of the exclusive cash culture; signalling a progressive, irreversible move away from a rigid, cash-based economy. Prime Minister Modi promoted the idea of a cashless or (as he quaintly put it) “less cash” India, as being one of the driving forces behind demonetisation and sure enough there has been a marked trend over recent months towards increased Electronic Fund TransfersEFT transactions. The Indian economy can only be stronger because of it;
  • Thirdly, with the withdrawn denominations now effectively worthless, the Indian government can appropriate the proceeds of the demonetisation program without affecting its net balance on the Central Reserve’s books. On a straight rupee exchange basis (old for new) the amount remitted to Central Funds by the Reserve Bank after demonetisation could be as much as 0.3% of Indian GDP and that would be just the kind of added stimulus that an already resurgent public infrastructure program is looking for.

 

So it may, on balance, be wise to treat the naysayers of India’s demonetisation policy with more than a little healthy skepticism. And especially so in the light of last year’s fourth quarter figures for economic growth on the subcontinent which were released last month and which recorded a healthy 7% growth in GDP; and that, we should bear in mind, is not only in line with annual growth figures for the Indian economy for the period down to the fourth quarter, but it also coincides precisely with the period when the demonetisation program was operating at its fullest pitch.  Far from hurting the Indian economy, it seems to have helped it.

 

So who loses?

 

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

Demonetisation has certainly proved to be one of the most controversial political programs of recent years, and especially so as it involves one of the World’s leading Economies; but in my opinion, this has been both a brave and a necessary policy for the Indian Government to embark on. As the article points out, the time has come for India to take what remains of its black money economy by the throat, and to lay a solid and sure basis for the wider economy on the subcontinent going forward.

Prime Minister Modi’s Government is to be commended for accepting that challenge. India can only be stronger for it and this is certainly not the time for half-measures or a lack of resolution. India is now the fifth biggest economy in the world and the fastest growing large economy globally. It is time for it to take its place at the economic top table and Demonetisation has been a necessary part of that process.

And far from acting as a fetter on growth, I am very pleased to see that in the fourth quarter of last year India’s GDP growth figures were as strong as the first three-quarters of the year had been. Demonetisation certainly seems to have acted as a stimulus for growth, rather than the fetter the naysayers would have had us believe.

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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