Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Is FDI in Retail the "fix-all" for the Indain economy

The cabinet approved 51% FDI in multi-brand retail in the last week. The rumour mongers and spin doctors of the government have started talking as if they have taken a giant step in the direction of development of Indian Economy.

Lets take a look at what are the fall outs of 51% FDI in multi brand retail. If the larger retailers really warm up to this idea and invest in or country, who will bring in the remaining 49% is the moot question? will it be through equity dilution to the Indian Public? or will the corporate chieftains, known for their hoarding propensity grab up the remaining 49% stake? if the public is allowed/invited to participate through the equity route, it will be a welcome step in making public participation more inclusive, else it will be another of those schemes meant for the rich to be richer and poor to be poorer (this is assuming that the larger retailers will adhere to good corporate responsibility and keep their shareholders interests in mind whence they manage their businesses).

Another major lobby which will benefit from this immensely will be the real estate lobby. People holding (hoarding) large patches of prime real estate will be able to strike highly profitable deals at unrealistic prices and will be able to make more money. The high rents paid for these commercial properties will end up burning a hole in the pockets of the final consumer. No only this, but another interesting thing is panning out in the Indian markets due to these unrealistic property prices and rental rates. Visit any city, you will find hordes of empty commercial spaces in the upper floors of posh building without any tenants. The owners think that they will be able to attract the same rent as building space with frontage and have kept them empty. The rentals of commercial spaces work out to a little over 4% per annum on the investments made. investors in real estate/ commercial properties are still doing it because they think that the loss in rentals will be made up by the capital appreciation. (doesn't this smack of the stock market mentality? unattractive dividends being made up for by the capital appreciation of stocks!)

The question is, is this approach to real estate pricing  correct in the first place? Is real estate the same as stocks? stocks are liquid: real estate takes a long time to liquidate, stocks can be easily transferred: real estate takes an eternity, litigation in stocks is very minuscule: real estate is highly litigative in nature. So many differences can be drawn to elucidate that real estate and stocks are different classes of assets and they have to be valued and treated differently.

The trading community, which relies on the difference between the farmers/producers price and the retail price will be the worst hit in this milieu. The commission agent will lose his relevance once large retails come over. Remember Reliance had started a vendor portal to procure all their SKU's directly from the producers. Disintermediation is a good thing for markets. But, intermediation employs a majority of people in India (with a long history of trading, and a country of traders) the question arises that whether it is prudent to kill the business that Indians are so good at?

I have posed these questions to elicit comments and make this a lively discussion/debate. Please feel free to vent your views on the subject.

Now, for the outlook on the markets: The cheer in the stock market will be short lived as with other bailout measures. the NIFTY is in a secular bearish trend and it will take a big effort to turn the tide.