Winning the Nobel Peace Prize may be yet another feather in India’s cap, but the work of the victor, Kailash Satyarthi serves as a sharp reminder of the many problems that still plague one of the most important emerging market countries. Satyarthi is a crusader for erradicating child labor in India, an issue that’s a part of the long-term, structural issues many investors in India would want to see addressed, if not resolved, by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Modi, whose victory rekindled excitement over India’s future and the investment opportunities it presents, is considered a reformer capable of getting India moving again. President Barack Obama, who met Modi on his recent and highly publicized U.S. visit, has said that India and the U.S. form “the defining partnership of the 21st Century.”
How do investors see that partnership, which has always been fractious, developing? What are their views of and expectations for an India under Modi? Here’s what a few of them have to say:
Sid Bhargava, Research Analyst, Matthews International Capital Management
Though some might argue that there’s a cyclical recovery in India that coincides with Modi’s win and that gives him a good platform, Modi is also viewed as an outspoken and strong person, someone who can get things done, and that compares favorably to the policy paralysis we saw with the last government, said Sid Bhargava, research analyst, Matthews International Capital Management.
“I guess the next question is how much reform do I see coming through, and I believe there’s a difference between dealing with the low hanging fruit and the deeper, structural issues, which are the long term issues that India has always faced,” he said. “I believe those must be addressed from a long-term perspective with respect to investment.”
As far as the “low hanging fruit goes,” Bhargava believes that Modi has made it fairly clear that he will deal with it. Broadly speaking, he wants to clear bureaucracy, remove government intervention and spur business, and “I believe those and other kinds of things are easy enough to do through a number of short-term policy measures, including reducing subsidies in fuel and even agriculture,” he said. Longer-term, however, and to attract sustained investment, there are structural issues, fundamental changes that need to come about in India. These include better revenue collection, which requires detailed, long-term policy planning, cleaning up the public sector banks, increasing employment in the organized sector and of course, reducing the great socio-economic inequalities that still exist in India. Those are the changes that will matter for India’s long-term development and whether Modi can actually effectuate them remains to be seen, Bhargava said.
Kurt Umbarger, Portfolio Specialist, T. Rowe Price Global Growth Stock Fund
India is one of the biggest overweights in T. Rowe Price’s Global Growth Stock Fund. “We’ve always been optimistic about India, but the level of corruption and bureaucratic red tape made it very difficult for us to invest there,” said Keith Umbarger, portfolio specialist of the Global Growth Stock Fund.
Under Modi, it seems those kinds of hurdles will finally ease up, Umbarger said, “and we believe it’s with good reason that the markets have gotten so excited about Modi. We believe he will have a great deal of positive impact at the federal level in India.” At the same time, though, Umbarger said that all the hype in the few months since Modi became prime minister may have led to expectations that may be unreal.
“It’s going to take years, not quarters, to bring about long-term and meaningful economic change in India. I’m talking about the kind of reforms that are necessary to attract long-term, sustained investment and FDI,” he said. “Let’s not forget India is a country with twin deficits and the tapering here in the U.S. last year also exposed the underlying issues in the Indian economy. Now, the rupee has rebounded and the Indian market has rallied, but there are still many areas in which we need to see progress in order to get the kind of long-term results we’d want. Evidently, those can’t be achieved in just a few months.”
Doug Coté, Chief Market Strategist, Voya Investment Management
Since Modi became prime minister, things have really been moving quickly in India, according to Doug Coté, chief market strategist at Voya Investment Management, and measures such as increasing FDI investment limits in certain sectors of the economy are extremely positive and make for a good start in the right direction.”
“I believe we’re going to see many more U.S. companies investing in India and it’s going to become easier under Modi,” Coté said.
Now, India’s greatest challenge is to convert from an agricultural-driven economy to one driven by manufacturing and consumption. This will not be easy, Coté said, particularly since “India needs to first get its financial house in order.” Luring in and keeping the vast amounts of FDI that are needed, while introducing the longer-term structural reforms that India needs, won’t be easy either.
“I would add that’s what really important, too, is investing in infrastructure,” Coté said. “India hasn’t done well in this area but you can’t have a thriving economy without proper infrastructure.”