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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.

Indian Real Estate, Modulex Modular Buildings, Red Ribbon Asset Management Plc

Affordable Housing for India: A Perfect Storm of Opportunity

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Affordable Housing for India: A Perfect Storm of Opportunity

Mumbai’s skyline has, of course, been transformed beyond recognition over recent years, but its glass pinnacles are well beyond the reach of all but its wealthiest residents. So you need to look closer to the earth to find the true driver behind the subcontinent’s resurgent real estate sector.

India’s increasingly youthful population is moving out of the countryside at an increasing rate in search of better work, pay and living conditions and this is precisely the demographic the Affordable Housing Policy is designed to appeal to, because the dream of having a home (or a flat) of one’s own resonates like nothing else with this new wave of discriminating voters on the subcontinent…and nobody knows that better than Narendra Modi. His Government has aggressively pursued legacy policies on housing with the introduction of a raft of new tax incentives over the course of the last two Union Budgets, including giving infrastructure status to qualifying affordable housing, offering developers increased tax concessions and providing buyers with a range of fiscal incentives including subsidised interest payments.

And it’s not just voters who are being energised: investors are responding positively too in increasingly ingenious ways. For example, because banks in India aren’t allowed to finance land acquisitions the Private Equity Fund KKR has moved into the sector to offer development funding directly to contractors, taking an equity stake in the completed project. In what might be taken by some as a statement of the obvious, Sanjay Nayar of KKR India pointed out that “with the right project and partners, there’s good money to be made”.

There is indeed Mr Nayar.

Chris Wood of Citic Securities perhaps put it a little more eloquently: “Affordable housing in India remains one of the most straightforward bull stories in Asian equities. There will be an acceleration in economic activity in India in the coming 18 months driven by housing.”

But there is, of course, at least one (more or less hidden) difficulty with all of that. Given such a voracious and burgeoning consumer appetite coupled with capital market ambition and expansionist government policies, where are all these new homes going to come from? As we have noted previously on this site, stoking up such high levels of demand means India is now committed to building 856 new homes every hour between until 2050. Traditional construction technologies simply aren’t up to that kind of challenge, which is why commentators (including KPMG India’s Director of Real Estate Neeraj Bansal) have pinpointed Modular Construction as the single most important innovator in the sector.

By prefabricating units at scale and off site, Modular Construction is capable of delivering affordable housing on the required scale and at a reasonable cost: three times quicker and half as expensive as traditional construction methods. It is perfectly positioned to meet the demands and opportunities being created by this perfect storm in India’s real estate markets.

As Mr Nayer would probably say over at KKR: “there’s good money to be made”.

Modulex Construction 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 focused manner. It was established by Red Ribbon to harness the 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 India and its markets better than Red Ribbon.

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:

For me, the key determinant of exponential growth in India’s real estate sector over recent years is the combination of an unprecedented growth in the subcontinent’s population and a rapid trend for its urbanisation: largely, as the article rightly points out, a product of this rapidly expanding population becoming progressively more youthful and more affluent. In time honoured fashion, India’s younger demographic is streaming from village to city with money in its pocket (in the hope of making more).

This is the demographic that Prime Minister Modi has so successfully appealed to through his Government’s re-energised Affordable Housing Programme: the other key factor driving growth in the sector. As with some of his other radical initiatives, the scale and scope of the programme has at times been breathtaking, but in truth it has to be to meet the sheer scale of the challenge.

And when it comes to delivering a workable solution to that challenge it seems to me, as most expert commentators now recognise, that the attraction of Modular Construction is simply inescapable. No other technology offers the pace and scale of delivery needed to meet India’s housing needs. That’s why Red Ribbon was committed to Modulex Construction from the very beginning of the project and we remain committed to it today. I’m convinced it is a vital element in meeting the challenges as well as making the most of the opportunities currently being presented by the subcontinent’s markets.

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…

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’s property market and what makes it so attractive for investors?

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Like most property markets across the world, India’s real estate sector is a game of two halves; but what sets it apart and  makes it so attractive for investors at the moment is that the subcontinent’s property sector is being radically reanimated by an unprecedented and explosive demographic shift; a step-change that is bringing with it a new and startling dynamic, likely only to increase India’s global importance well into the foreseeable future.

Because India currently has the fastest growing population of any large economy on the planet – the United Nations reported last year that it was likely to overtake China as the world’s most populous country by 2022 (less than five years away). And that’s not all because of course projected population growth on the subcontinent is exponential so that figure is expected (by the United Nations again) to reach no less than 1.7 Billion by 2050.

The socio-economic consequences of all of this are profound enough in themselves, but such startling demographic changes have also been accompanied in India by a rapidly increasing rate of urbanization, progressively shifting the population from country to town and swelling already overcrowded conurbations such as Mumbai, creating an acute shortage of residential housing stock and also an unprecedented demand for commercial property.

So let’s take a look at the first of those factors.

The Residential Housing Sector

India has suffered from an acute shortage of (particularly affordable) residential housing for decades, but rapid population growth coupled with increasing urbanisation has driven Prime Minister Modi’s Government to include key provisions in this February’s Union Budget to do something about it.

So affordable housing has now been given Infrastructure Status meaning Developers will find it a lot easier to secure access to institutional credit for project funding and they will also find that the overall bottom line cost of borrowing has been reduced. The Budget measures also take into account that social housing projects are currently taking longer to close, so the eligibility timeline has been increased from three to five years and the definition of “affordable housing” has been revised to enable a wider range of developers to participate in the scheme.

And that’s by no means all.

Against a historic background of high inventory levels which have created a notorious fetter on investment (unsold stock being taxed as income in the developer’s P&L), the new regime will give developers up to a year to pay tax on notional rental income accruing on their completed (but unsold) residential stock; and there will be a new reduced period of two years after which capital gains can be considered eligible for long term write down. It seems inevitable these measures will increase the appetite to invest in the residential sector; they are certainly the boldest governmental initiative to be seen in the area since Independence. The recent budget measures signal a clear governmental commitment to creating financial and fiscal incentives for new residential builds, establishing a pattern of supply to meet burgeoning demand in one of the most exciting and innovative markets in the world. What more could you possibly ask for?

Well, what about the Commercial Real Estate Sector? What about REITs?

Commercial Property and the REIT Model in India

Traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs for short) have of course been enormously successful in stimulating the North American Property Market for the past fifty years, creating a range of tax breaks for packaged commercial property portfolios which are then investment graded and listed for dealing in public markets; and that success was one of the reasons why the REIT Model has been adopted root and branch not only by the United Kingdom but also in some of the most developed economies around the world.

And now REITs have finally arrived in India where they are widely expected to create major new opportunities for investment in the commercial property sector. It is, in so many ways, the natural counterpart for the stimulus currently being given by the Government’s “Housing For All” Program to the residential real estate sector. So, for example, this year’s Union Budget also included a new REIT based tax regime, establishing the basis for a ‘pass through’ structure and including LLP vehicles in the definition of ‘SPV’ (Special Purpose Vehicle), both of which will make the Model much more flexible in its application; and these incentives are already showing solid results with the first of the new REIT Bonds having been successfully listed and traded on the Bombay Stock Exchange last month.

And just think about it; it’s not as though India is unleashing all this potential from a cold start. Knight Frank India reported in March this year that the subcontinent already has an inventory of rent-yielding office stock valued at more than USD 70 Billion (something in the order of 537 Million square feet of space); Donald Trump, no less, described the sector as “wonderful” (a word we are getting used to from him but given the worldwide status of the Trump Organization in commercial property developments, one is inclined to say that he should know what he’s talking about (on that subject at least)). So there is an enormous pipeline of potentially REITable assets in India and it bodes extremely well for the future of the sector.

In overall market terms as well, the five-year return statistics for REITs last year ranged between seven and sixteen percent globally, and with relative newcomers to the model in Japan and Malaysia already securing eight to ten per cent, most market analysts have very high expectations for Asian Markets generally going forward; and for India in particular.

Red Ribbon Asset Management is committed to investing in socially responsible real estate projects in India since it was founded more than a decade ago.  Red Ribbon Asset Management aims to generate above market rate returns for investors, by investing in projects having a positive impact on society and the environment, including the innovative Modulex project, which is on target to become India’s foremost offsite modular construction company with the capacity to manufacture buildings ranging from hospitals to residential homes and everything in between.

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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