ML: What are the key factors you would watch out for signs of significant reversal?
NS: At the end of the day if 8% growth happens, notwithstanding small corrections, we can be reasonably sure that markets will continue to move up. At 8% growth rate even interest rates need not move up. We can have a virtuous cycle which can support us or we could have a vicious cycle which could derail us. The optimism is basically driven from the fact that we are generating about 25% savings and putting similar amount in investments. With that savings and investments we are able to generate just around 5%-6% kind of growth. If we can increase our productivity, it could easily become 8%-9% growth. The productivity is not going to increase overnight. For that infrastructure needs to be developed, deficit needs to be cured. For that certain real reforms have to happen in the real economy. I think all of that will follow, but at a slow and steady pace. The second shortcut is that we get money from overseas investors and convert that into capital. My feeling is that the world can give us that capital. People are talking about China and India virtually in the same breath, but the allocation is far more tilted towards China. We can bridge that gap. With that capital coming in, we can accelerate growth, which will accelerate government revenue, narrow down deficit problem, reduce interest rate pressure and reasonable liquidity becomes available. With that jobs and employment will be created, more consumption will happen, optimism will prevail, corporate earnings will go up. The entire virtuous cycle will prevail for us, in which scenario equity markets will continue to move up. The vicious cycle could come is essentially because of two things. One, the real reforms don’t happen in the economy and hence the absorption capacity does not increase. Capital flows go towards asset price inflation, building up of bubbles, rather then building up of real assets. If that happens then we are back to the old story where eventually the bubble burst. So there have to be some real reforms in terms of improving the absorption capacity. We are seeing some improvements happening but it is not sufficient. We can do better. Like the ultra mega power projects announced some time back. None of these are moving at the speed they should. Same is the case with coal allocations. Bank credit growth has definitely slowed down in response to falling raw material prices, oil companies are not borrowing as much as before. But this slack of bank credit should have been absorbed either by the planned capex or infrastructure development. The slowdown in bank credit probably signifies that the real economy’s absorption capacity is not as high, so that we can be sure of that 8% growth on a sustained basis.
ML: Is there too much of complacency not only about global growth but also about the domestic growth situation?
NS: I think what we are seeing is the difference in the return expectation of investors. The Japanese investors investing in India will probably be happy with 5%-10% return because he is comparing with a 0.1% return on his deposits. An Indian investor on the other hand is looking for 30-40% return because he is comparing with previous experience. So we are seeing participation from different sets of investors with different return expectations, time horizons and hence the shrugging off of certain short term economic issues.
ML: Domestic investors have poured more funds into the markets. Have we finally shrugged off our huge dependence on FIIs? If so, what are the long-term implications?
NS: I think while we suffer from the limitation of long term investment on the equity side by pension funds and retirement funds, we are seeing the emergence of insurance companies and mutual funds as a major force. They are acting as a stabilising factor for the Indian equity market. Very recently Goldman Sachs came up with a research report that said that India can actually fund the entire $7 trillion worth of infrastructure investment from its own savings. We don’t need foreign capital. This is based on certain assumptions and projections, but it shows the enormous power of Indian savings. For us savings comes naturally. We still don’t have the American lifestyle of living on credit cards. We live within our means. So we have this ability to support our own growth from our own capital.
ML: At what stage would inflation and higher interest rates be worrying factors given the higher high liquidity in the system, rising prices and huge government borrowing?
NS: Somewhere between 1997-2003, our fiscal deficit remained at an elevated level, which is why stock markets fluctuated. It went up because of certain reasons other than fundamentals. Overall it didn’t go anywhere. From 2002, fiscal deficit started contracting. Fiscal responsibility and budget management reduced the deficit from around 7% levels to 3%. This created the brand value of India. Our equity markets expanded almost 7 times in those four-five years. Then in 2008-09 again we saw an exceptional response from the government. It resulted in higher deficit and the market valuation corrected. Now there is hope, that though deficits are high, they are cyclical in nature, they will come down.