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Modular Construction: the answer to the shortage of skills in India

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Most Indians work in agriculture but next comes construction, and according to the latest Economic Survey the subcontinent’s real estate and construction sector is likely to create more than 15 Million jobs over the next five years, that’s three million every year. To put that in perspective less than 3 Million people are currently employed in the entire UK construction industry. And of the 52 Million building workers employed by Indian companies, 90% are involved in on-site construction with the other 10% busily painting, plumbing and wiring the finished product. It’s fair to say all these painters, plumbers and electricians are skilled workers…but not so the other 90%.

Because the vast majority of India’s construction workers are either minimally skilled or have no skills at all: an astonishing 97% of them aged between 15 and 65 will receive no formal training of any kind before starting work on site and, plumbers and painters aside, most of the skilled workers won’t be getting any cement dust on their boots because they’re probably office based clerks, technicians and engineers. And that’s a real problem…

It’s a problem, because coming the other way down India’s infrastructure and logistics superhighway is an unprecedented surge in demand for urban housing, fuelled by an increasingly urbanised population projected to become the biggest on the planet by 2022. India’s National Skill Development Council predicts that by then the real estate and construction sector will require a workforce of more than 66 Million, so without any obvious core of skilled workers currently able to sustain anything like growth it’s no wonder the sector is starting to show signs of stress.

Of course all this was supposed to be addressed by 2016’s Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act which was intended to act as a platform for local, State driven planning capable of creating an appropriate environment for improved training and regulatory structures, but so far six States out of 29 have failed to produce any plans at all under the legislation which means finding workers with the right skills in the right place will continue to be a source of real concern.

Billionaire developer Niranjan Hiranandani, head of Hiranandani Construction, has a simple enough solution: just pay unskilled workers less and reap the savings while you can. But that’s not a particularly attractive solution for anyone buying one of his apartments 76 floors up in the Mumbai skyline where quality assurance is far from being a dispensable extra. The behemoth that is Hindustan Construction Company perhaps takes a slightly more realistic approach, going on record last week to say that skills shortages have become a huge problem for the sector: 50% of its workforce needs advanced training just to use the complex machinery now prevalent on most modern building sites. With a heavy tone of understatement a spokesman for the company announced grandly that given these skilled workers are not available, “the only option is to train them”.

Well, it’s not quite the only option…

With no actual shortage of workers seeking employment in India’s urban conurbations, particularly in the light of a seemingly inexorable drift of former agricultural workers from country to town, what if the physical construction process itself could be de-skilled? Why not make a virtue of necessity and draw on this pool of former agricultural labourers to release the margins of between 20% to 70% that Deloitte India predict would follow from a wholesale deskilling initiative? These savings would go straight to the bottom line without endangering the quality and safety of the finished building. Skilled construction workers earn Rs 1,000 a day as opposed to their unskilled counterparts who earn an average of Rs 200.

And there is just such a business model on the market right now, a model with the potential to uncouple construction projects from a seemingly insoluble skills conundrum: it’s called Modular Construction.

Modern Modular technologies allow all of the building’s key components to be put together off site by specialist workers and then assembled locally at the same time as the site works are completed, not only reducing overall completion schedules by as much as 50% but also significantly reducing the need for skilled workers in the construction phase. All of the design and engineering disciplines are instead concentrated at the offsite manufacturing facility leading to labour, financing and supervision costs. Which will all be music to Mr Hiranandani’s ears…

Modulex Construction is the World’s largest and India’s first Steel Modular Construction Company, meeting the challenges of the subcontinent’s current urban housing shortages in a practical and focused manner. The company was founded by Red Ribbon as part of an innovative project to harness the potential of India’s dynamic and evolving real estate markets whilst at the same time delivering opportunities for investors through Red Ribbon platform. Because, when it comes to investing on the subcontinent, nobody knows India’s markets better than Red Ribbon.

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

Delivering on India’s stringent housing targets over the next five years presents an enormous challenge for the subcontinent, and that challenge is likely to get more testing still given the underlying demographics of a rapidly increasing and ever more urbanised population. Existing skills shortages within the construction sector have the potential to be a crucial block to meeting these targets, especially given the scale and scope of the training programmes necessary to release a further 3 Million workers into the sector every year for the next five years: never mind the attendant costs which are likely to be eye watering on any basis.

That’s why to my mind the answer has to be Modular Construction. No conventional technologies can beat it for sheer pace of delivery and, with a centralising of skilled labour in the offsite manufacturing facility, it will beat conventional construction methods hands down on overall profitability too.

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.

Indian Real Estate and Modular Construction - Red Ribbon Asset Management Plc

A Sense of Understatement: Modular Construction and Indian Real Estate

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A Sense of Understatement: Modular Construction and Indian Real Estate

Mitsubishi Corporation announced this month its first ever investment in Indian Housing: it will invest $25 Million in Chennai through its subsidiary DRI India and plans to build 1,450 new homes on a 186,000 square meter site. And as if you needed any reminding of the buoyancy of Indian real estate, three quarters of those units have already been sold. Mitsubishi expects to earn more than 10 Billion rupees on the project within four years so it was probably with a sense of understatement that a Mitsubishi spokesman told the press last week that: “…middle-income earners (in India) are expected to expand, boosting housing demand.”

No prizes for original thinking there.

The United Nations has repeatedly forecast that the subcontinent’s current population of 1.3 Billion will overtake China by 2022, making it the most populous in the world so yes, middle-income earners on the subcontinent are indeed “expected to expand”…and how. Added to which India is already the fastest growing large economy on the planet, with an increasingly urbanised population so the demand for new homes will indeed be “boosted”. Look no further than the burgeoning conurbations of Mumbai and Bangalore. Mitsubishi might not be winning any prizes for economic analysis anytime soon but its decision to invest in the subcontinent’s real estate sector makes perfect business sense.

Of course, in the overall context of the economic phenomenon that is India, 1,450 homes is a drop in the Ocean. Just to keep pace with current housing demands, the subcontinent needs to build 856 new homes every hour (using up Mitsubishi’s contribution in less than two hours).

And that provides a graphic illustration of why Modular Construction is now at the top of the subcontinent’s political agenda.

Modular Construction is literally changing the shape of the world we live in: not just for homes but hospitals, bus stations and offices too…if it can be built at all, it can be built quicker and more efficiently in a modular format. So if, like India, you need to build nearly 900 new homes an hour, it should be obvious where to look for the solution. Indeed, having announced this week that the United Kingdom Government will commit an additional £2 Billion to affordable housing projects, Theresa May could usefully take a leaf out of Prime Minister Modi’s playbook.

And that’s not the half of it…with recent concerns over air quality in India’s conurbations also making the news recently, modular construction technologies also provide a ready answer to environmental concerns. Its technology eliminates high moisture levels occurring in traditional building materials, with units being constructed off site and indoors well away from adverse weather conditions. That not only protects the integrity of the structure but prevents excess moisture building up in the wooden framing too.

Modulex Modular Buildings Plc is the World’s largest and India’s first Steel Modular Building Company, working to meet the Challenge of India’s urban housing shortages in a practical and focussed manner. It was established by Red Ribbon to harness the full potential of India’s dynamic and fast evolving markets, delivering exciting opportunities for investors because, when it comes to investing on the subcontinent, nobody knows its markets better than Red Ribbon.

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

Mitsubishi’s entry into the Indian Real Estate sector should come as no surprise to anyone: major Japanese consortia have been leading the wave of inward investment into the subcontinent in the wake of key initiatives such as Delhi’s high speed rail system. But the article is right to characterise Mitsubishi’s commentary on the strength of the sector as a wild understatement. India is currently the fastest growing large economy in the World, with a burgeoning and increasingly urbanised population that is projected to be the largest on the planet by 2022. That will inevitably make the subcontinent’s real estate market an attractive proposition for any investor.

But none of that should beguile us from forgetting the sheer scale of the housing challenge India currently faces, in common with other leading global economies. Traditional construction technology simply can’t deliver to the scale and pace required by projected demand on existing governmental programmes. No wonder then than Modular Construction is a policy priority for Prime Minister Modi’s Government. It’s only a question of time before others follow suit…

India - The case of Investment - Red Ribbon Asset Management Plc

India: The case for Investment

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United Kingdom is the gateway to many investment opportunities, of which India is one to take notice of. India’s economy and business landscape are changing, ushering in a period of growth, prosperity and investment opportunities.

Let’s look a little more closely at just a few of the more compelling reasons why investing in India is an opportunity you can’t afford to miss:

The Indian economy is the fastest growing major economy in the world. It surpassed China in 2015 and is forecast to expand by 7.7% in 2018, before accelerating to 8.3% in 2019. India’s population is also expected to increase from 1.34 billion and exceed that of China, within the next five years.

As 10 million countryside inhabitants move into India cities, per annum, urban society across the country is increasing. Those new and growing societies are increasingly wealthy, sophisticated and technologically literate, providing a platform for growth, fuelled by demand.

India also has an incredibly supportive government that’s working hard to facilitate economic growth and a fundamental change in the way the population lives and interacts. PM Narendra Modi has introduced a single tax base across India’s 29 states, while the regulatory environment has also radically transformed.

United Kingdom – gateway to India

United Kingdom is an economy that has a proven track record at identifying areas and regions that have a lot to offer. That’s why India is already among the countries where investments and partnerships can be easily accessed via United Kingdom.

As a UK-based business, Red Ribbon Asset Management Plc is an obvious partner to access those Indian investment opportunities.

Not only do we understand what is driving India’s economy and investment boom, at Red Ribbon we know how different areas of investment are performing. Our well-connected Indian-based team, provides hands-on support to our UK-based investment specialists. It’s a successful partnership, that ensures we identify the right investment for each and every investor we work with.

Red Ribbon has been involved in numerous major projects in India and the UK, that have proven successful in both execution and from an investment perspective.

But, that’s not all. At Red Ribbon we believe investments should offer benefits to everyone involved. Aligned with our philosophy and core values, all our investments are morally acceptable, provide measurable social and environment impacts and deliver strong financial returns.

As you can see, Red Ribbon Asset Management Plc has been quick to recognise the potential in India and through us you can access an array of investment opportunities.

Red Ribbon brings you a gateway into investing in India, offering bespoke services in wealth management, private equity and real estate. Our strong network of contacts means we know India from the inside and outside. That’s just one reason why we’re ideally placed to identify the best opportunities as they arise.

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

India is more than just an exciting investment opportunity, it’s also a driver to global economic growth and that’s why Red Ribbon has long held the view that no investment portfolio can be considered properly balanced unless at least 10% of its holdings are deployed in Growth Markets and, of course, for us that has always meant India in particular.

And of course this vindicates Red Ribbon’s decision in 2008 to place India and its fast growing markets at the heart of our investment strategies from the very start. Our expert advisers now have an insight into what makes the subcontinent’s markets tick, what makes them so profitable and where the best opportunities for above market rate returns are likely to be found.

The Phenomenon of Eco Hospitality - Red Ribbon Asset Management - Eco Hotels

The Phenomenon of Eco Hospitality

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This year’s Sustainable Travel Report has reinforced the continuing momentum of Eco Hospitality in India: 84% of business and recreational travellers now confirm a preference for sustainable destinations, and as the saying goes, “sustainability starts where you stay”. Two thirds of travellers are willing to spend 5% more on accommodation if it meets sustainable criteria, meaning everything from water and energy consumption through to macro environmental management systems. But to get a real feel for the importance of those findings, you have to place them side by side with tourist and business statistics on the subcontinent and, in particular, for the first half of this year. It helps explain why India is currently experiencing an Eco Phenomenon.

The subcontinent will be the fourth biggest tourist economy in the world within the next four years, bigger than Italy, the United Kingdom and Australia put together and a major factor in this explosive growth is internal demand. In May alone airlines in India reported a 16.6% growth in passenger numbers, carrying 11.9 million customers with 80% occupancy (Spicejet reported an astonishing 94.8% occupancy rate). And with tourist numbers on the subcontinent riding at such an all time high with 84% of tourists preferring sustainable destinations (they have to stay somewhere when they arrive), even the most rudimentary of economists could spot an emerging trend.

Certainly Lemon Tree Hotels and Eco Hotels haven’t been slow to pick it up: both companies are currently spearheading key innovations in India’s hugely significant mid market hotel segment, with eco hospitality at the heart of each of their business models.

No surprise then that JP Morgan reported Lemon Tree in June to be delivering better than average cost control and execution ratings as well as higher return rates on room occupancy. Better Eco credentials aren’t just a honey pot for prospective travellers, they make sound business sense too with reduced commodity use (and costs) delivering straight to the bottom line. JP Morgan have also pinpointed enhanced operating leverage as a driver for future growth for at least the next three years, which is likely to deliver improved capacity for better pricing and capacity structures.

Lemon Tree and Eco Hotels continue to roll out new hotel units across the subcontinent, with the former last month investing another Rs 850 Crore into its aggressive expansion programme. Interestingly enough, Lemon Tree’s President Vikramlit Singh has also again highlighted a continuing mismatch between demand for hotel rooms and availability as a likely source of future profitability, so there’s no sign of those capital programmes losing their momentum anytime soon.

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, designed to take full advantage of market opportunities available on the subcontinent at the moment. The brand offers sustainable living without compromising on quality and will cater for commercial and recreational travellers alike.

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

Market changes rarely come about in isolation, with one revolutionary event: the iPhone would have been an expensive mirror without something to plug it into. And the same goes for economic trends generally where we should look for the confluence of a number of key factors before drawing any conclusions. That certainly applies to the Indian Eco Hospitality sector where a huge uptick in business and recreational travel on the subcontinent has coincided with a surge in demand for sustainable destinations. With mid market hotels already roaring ahead, added eco credentials are giving the platform a turbo charger.

And I would add a third factor too. As may not be generally known the whole, vast expanse of the subcontinent currently has less hotel rooms that the island of Manhattan alone. So the point mentioned at the end of the article also has considerable importance to my mind: demand for hotel rooms is in any event seriously outstripping supply and that is bound to make for a more profitable outlook. A turbo charge for the turbo charger perhaps?

Modular Construction Solution - Modulex - Red Ribbon Asset Management

Modular Construction: A Global Construction Solution

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Lets get straight to the point: the UK construction industry has a problem, three problems to be precise. First, an aging demographic (mostly with their own homes) combined with a impoverished younger population (mostly without); secondly, a lack of new companies entering the sector (think Carillion) and, third, a marked decline in skilled labour that isn’t likely to improve anytime soon with Brexit on the horizon. All of which makes the UK Government’s target of building 300,000 new homes every year until 2020 look distinctly shaky if only because, according to Arcadis Target, this would require 400,000 new skilled workers to be added every year from 2017(one every 77 seconds). Not particularly likely given lack of skilled workers is a core component of the problem.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In 2017 the Government fell 80,000 short of its target (nearly 30% short), which is why Modular Construction has now leapt up the list of UK Policy priorities: if you can’t change the system, change the method and no existing building technology is better equipped to deliver quality housing at pace than Modular Construction. In fact, off site prefabrication delivers units at three times the rate of conventional technologies so its just what the Government needs to meet its target…

Except no matter how hard Government seems to try, modular construction in the United Kingdom is still at cottage industry levels, largely because of the first of those three factors we just mentioned: an aging demographic and an impoverished younger population acting together effectively to staunch demand for innovation.

How different then things are on the subcontinent.

Rather than an aging demographic, India has an increasingly youthful population, increasingly urbanised and increasingly wealthy as well as being drawn inexorably to live and work in the subcontinent’s major conurbations (Mumbai and Bangaluru in particular). And it is this demographic trend that is creating a surge in demand for affordable urban housing added to which, unlike the UK, India has no shortage of new construction entrants or skilled labour.

Again, the proof of the pudding is in the eating… Knight Frank’s latest India Real Estate Report found a surge in the number of new project launches for the first half of this year, up by 46% and with a marked increase in affordable housing starts too (making up 51% of supply). Most Indian Cities are also showing exceptionally strong rental growth, with Bengaluru in the lead at 17% year on year. All in all it’s a very different picture from the UK but what the two countries do have in common is housing targets: specifically those established in India by the Affordable Housing Programme which are if anything tougher than those confronting the UK Government.

That’s where Modular Construction comes in, because in contrast to the position in the former mother country, off site prefabrication on the subcontinent is very far from being a cottage industry. Favourable economic conditions and underlying demographic trends have instead made it an essential component of India’s drive to meet its public housing targets by 2022. The sheer pace and quality of delivery offered by modular technologies (not only for homes but hospitals, schools and office buildings too) simply can’t be matched by conventional building techniques: something the UK Government seems to be waking up to, if perhaps a little too late.

Red Ribbon set up Modulex Modular Buildings with the intention of building on these demographic and economic trends, recognising the outstanding capacity of Modulex to deliver above market rate returns for investors by tapping into high demand levels in India’s real estate markets. Modulex provides an exciting opportunity for investors to participate in this key sector of the fastest growing large economy in the world.

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

I found it interesting to compare the current strengths and weaknesses of the Indian and UK construction sectors where the same three factors for change seem to be working in wholly opposite directions (to India’s advantage). But more than that, I was also struck that both sectors have now come to the conclusion that view modular construction has to be a key component in delivering the significant number of new units required in each country. I know, for example, that the House of Lords Technology Committee has recently started an investigation into the advantages off site prefabrication offer in helping meet policy targets which seem at the moment to be running away from the Government. Perhaps though, as the article points out, that may all be too little too late.

For our part, and with Red Ribbon’s roots set deep in the Indian markets for over a decade now, it is a trend we have obviously been following with great interest for some years. That’s why we decided to take a pivotal role in establishing Modulex Modular Construction on the subcontinent and its why we remain excited at its prospects of delivering above market rates for our investors in such a resurgent real estate market. We firmly believe Modular Construction will play an essential part in India’s 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.

Interest Rates India - Red Ribbon Asset Management

Interest Rates: What the Reserve Bank of India can teach the Bank of England

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Inflation, as it happens, is also attracting considerable attention not only on the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England but also at the Reserve Bank of India which anticipated recent events in Threadneedle Street by raising its own interest rate to 6.5%. That came hard on the heels of a hike of 0.25% in June, which was the first rate increase on the subcontinent for more than four years. And given the two Central Banks now appear to be moving in ever closer lockstep on the issue, it’s no surprise that the smart money in the City is on Urjit Patel to replace Mark Carney as Governor when the first overseas national to hold the position returns home next year to spend more time with his money. Urjit Patel is currently Governor of the Reserve Bank and his own three-year term ends next July. Mark Carney’s time is up next June, so If nothing else, it looks like good timing.

And should Urjit Patel eventually end up in the hot seat he could do worse than draw some lessons from the underlying reasons that are driving inflationary growth in India at the moment, which stand in stark contrast to those troubling the former mother country. As a seasoned economist he might also remind himself of the old adage that there is no inflation in a graveyard: consumer demand can only fuel inflation if consumers have something to spend.

The UK’s headline inflation rate of 2.4% is barely driven by consumer spending at all for the simple reason that domestic consumers have very little surplus income to spend. Such pressure as there is on that front is driven rather by the biggest rise in UK consumer borrowing since the global financial crash of 2008. Of much greater importance is the increased cost of imported goods due to a weakened sterling coupled with (inevitably) ongoing fears over Brexit, so the decision to raise rates last week had much more to do with bolstering the value of sterling going forward (although, in the light of market movements in the aftermath of the announcement, that may itself be something of a triumph of hope over experience).

Now lets take a look at India.

Last’s week’s 0.25% rate rise on the subcontinent was primarily a response to rising crude oil prices on international markets. India has spent 12% more on imported oil since April this year, reflecting an upward pressure in key prices and, to a certain extent, a 3% depreciation in the value of the rupee against the dollar over the same period (dollars being, of course, the lingua franca of oil). But that’s nothing in itself to be worried about because there’s a reason why India is buying all this extra oil: it is (quite literally) fuelling the economic expansion which is now expected to see India’s GDP grow by 7.25% this year; and with limited reserves of its own the subcontinent is bound to be vulnerable to adverse price movements on global markets. That is a necessary cost of its startling economic success.

And as for the other element of the inflation equation, we hardly need reminding of India’s unprecedented surge in consumer demand. With the fastest growing population on the planet, an increasingly younger demographic and steadily rising rates of average income, very little of this is leveraged with debt (unlike the UK) but India’s annual consumer inflation rate still hit 5% in June (the eighth month in a row that it has exceeded the 4% medium term inflation target). But again, that is hardly a cause for significant concern either, bearing in mind that the RBI target has an upper tolerance of 6%, which is above the current inflation return. After all, there’s no inflation in a graveyard.

So unlike the Bank of England, the Reserve Bank of India (although pursuing a similar monetary policy) has in reality simply trimmed its inflation projections rather than run scared of them, confident in the knowledge that it is not only still working within existing tolerances but also harnessing unprecedented economic growth. That’s why it has been able to maintain its well-rehearsed policy of neutrality: encouraging growth and keeping inflation under control. Urjit Patel might not be able to take that particular policy with him if he comes to London next year.

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. With an unrivalled knowledge of market conditions on the subcontinent, the Red Ribbon Private Equity Fund offers a unique opportunity to share in the potential of the fastest growing large economy in the world.

Red Ribbon CEO, Suchit Punnose said:

I had heard that Urjit Patel was being tipped to take over as Governor of the Bank of England when Mark Carney moves on next year, and for my part I think he would be an excellent choice. Certainly it would be a matter of great pride for every Indian to see him take the helm and build on his policy experience on the subcontinent, perhaps even (as the article points out) adding some of the subcontinent’s current economic sparkle to the UK economy.

And it is also interesting to note the radically different reasons for the Central Banks in each country making virtually the same monetary policy announcements in virtually the same week. Inflation is not always an enemy of sound economic growth, and in India’s case it seems rather to be an inevitable product of its own success. As the article says, there’s no inflation in a graveyard.

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.

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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