Sucheta Dalal :‘Infrastructure remains a bottleneck for growth’
Sucheta Dalal

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‘Infrastructure remains a bottleneck for growth’  

October 21, 2009


ML: What are your expectations regarding corporate performance and which sectors do you see outperforming?
NS: I think the sectors which could create outperformance for Indian equity markets are the sectors related to infrastructure. We are lacking in infrastructure and it is acting as a bottleneck for growth. Infrastructure sectors will have to receive priority if growth is to sustain. During the Green Revolution certain areas were given priority such as hybrid seeds, irrigation and fertilisers. Suddenly the farm productivity went up. The same kind of approach would be required towards infrastructure sector. So, probably roads, towers, power transmission and such kind of things which actually create the building blocks for connectivity for sustaining growth, will receive special treatment. They will probably outperform. The second growth sector is consumption. At the end of the day we are a domestic consumption story also and while savings and investments will continue to give a fillip to the infrastructure side, the rest of the amount is going to be spent and hence the consumption sector will do well. The problem is there will sometimes be down trading. So company X which is at the higher end may not benefit but company Y which is at the mid-end could do very well. On the other hand you could have newer trends emerging on the consumption side as people move up on the income curve. So per se, in consumption sector, you will have to identify the trend and identify the companies. Consumption as a sector will do well but you really have to focus on the companies also. The other sectors are difficult to evaluate. Earlier, life was very easy when you invested in a steel company; all you wanted to know was selling price. You could then have actually create an Excel sheet showing 10% or 20% growth rate for a steel or aluminium company without any worry and genuinely believe in it. Now, a mine getting closed in Zambia or an earthquake occurring in Sumatra has an impact on all these things. So, with so many variables, it is difficult to remain bullish on the commodities sector. Technology as a sector has run up significantly well and they are witnessing two contrasting trends. One, in their top-line they are seeing some revival, global growth is happening, financial institutions have started placing the orders and they are seeing some large orders. On the other hand, the cost cutting measures, which they had adopted are almost coming to an end. They have to actually increase salaries. I think their employee turnover will also increase as more and more people start chasing the talent. Third, the rental cost and lease costs will also start increasing. So we will see a good differentiator where top-line is improving but at the same time the margins are getting impacted because of the domestic factors. Since valuation appears rich and the currency has appreciated a little bit, probably in the short term there could be some impact on the technology sector. But overall one can remain bullish. However, a lot of technology companies are fairly large in size and hence the growth will not be as good as it was in the past. So we will have to price the growth correctly.
ML: With the markets back in full swing, IPOs are back in vogue. A big burst of IPOs is usually is a contrarian indicator. What is your sense?
NS: Definitely, the supply of paper is necessary to balance the appetite of investors and ensuring that the liquidity does not end up creating a bubble. As long as markets are functioning efficiently, I think investors are smart enough to price the issues properly. There will be one or two issues which will fail because of over-pricing. The promoter’s need and investor’s greed will be balanced out. We haven’t yet seen a mad rush of IPOs. We could argue with the valuations for some of these companies but the fundamentals are beyond doubt. We have seen how some IPOs had to be extended even though they were reasonably priced. It just didn’t generate investor interest. So I think that IPOs should come in good quantum, of good companies and let the pricing be market determined. One or two issues may be priced aggressively. Somewhere Maruti’s IPO generated the trigger for the bull market to hit India. My feeling is that if we can see similar type of IPOs from PSUs or the private sector, it will enhance this rally, rather than curtail it.
ML: What is the direction of the market over the short-term, medium-term and
NS: Long-term, I am extremely bullish. I think the virtuous cycle will prevail. We will probably move in true Indian style of two steps forward and one step backward. Over the medium-term also we are reasonably bullish. We have political stability, desire for growth, entrepreneurs, resources, consumers and now capital is available. We need catalysts in the form of reforms so that this entire process can be speeded up. The short-term is difficult to predict. The markets are no longer cheap or attractive; they are fairly priced. A small correction here or there is always possible. We will have to keep one eye on the liquidity factor as it can change colour very fast, but I would advise investors not to get deterred by the short-term volatility and keep an eye on the medium-long term.

-- Sucheta Dalal