Transfin.

Uncertainty and the Countdown to the US Presidential Elections

Colin Lloyd

Macro

JP Morgan analyses the impact of 14,000 presidential Tweets. Gold breaks out to the upside despite US Dollar strength. China backs down slightly over Hong Kong. Trump berates Fed Chair and China. These are just a few of the news stories which drove financial markets during the summer:The Volfefe Index, Wall Street’s New Way to Measure the Effects of Trump Tweets, Explained (Vox)Gold Prices Continue to Exhibit Strength Despite the US Dollar Breakout (DailyFX)Carrie Lam: Hong Kong Extradition Bill Withdrawal Backed by China (BBC)Trump Lashes Out at China and US Federal Reserve — As it Happened. (FT) For financial markets it is a time of heightened uncertainty. The first two articles provide a commentary on the way markets are evolving. The impact of social media is rising, with Trump in the vanguard. Geopolitical uncertainty and the prospect of fiscal debasement are, meanwhile, upsetting the normally inverse relationship between the price of gold and the US Dollar. The next two items are more market specific. The stand-off between the Chinese administration and the people of the semi-autonomous enclave of Hong Kong, prompts concern about the political stability of China, meanwhile the US Commander in Chief persists in undermining the credibility of the notionally independent Federal Reserve and seems unable to resist antagonising the Chinese administration as he raises the stakes in the Sino-US trade war. Financial markets have been understandably unsettled. Ironically, despite the developments highlighted above, during August, US bonds witnessed sharp reversals lower, suggesting that geopolitical tensions might have moderated. Since the beginning of September prices have rebounded, perhaps there were simply more sellers than buyers last month. In Europe, by contrast, German bunds reached new all-time highs, only to suffer sharp reversal in the past week. Equity markets responded to the political uncertainty in a more consistent manner, plunging and then recovering during the past month. As the chart below illustrates, there has been increasing debate about the challenge of increased volatility since the end of July: Source: Investing.com Yet, as always, it is not the volatility or even risk which presents a challenge to financial market operators, it is uncertainty. Volatility is a measure derived from the mean and variance of a price. It is a cornerstone of the measurement of financial risk: the key point is that it is measurable. Risk is something we can measure, uncertainty is that which we cannot. This is not a new observation, it was first made in 1921 by Frank Knight – Risk, Uncertainty and Profit. Returning to the current state of the financial markets, we are witnessing a gradual erosion of belief in the omnipotence of central banks. See Macro Letter’s 48, 79 and 94 for some of my previous views. What has changed? As Keynes might have put it, ‘The facts.’ Central Banks, most notably the Bank of Japan, Swiss National Bank and European Central Bank, have been using zero or negative interest rate policy, in conjunction with balance sheet expansion, in a valiant attempt to stimulate aggregate demand. The experiment has been moderately successful, but the economy, rather like a chronic drug addict, requires an ever increasing fix to reach the same high. In Modern Monetary Theory: Debasing the Baseless, I discussed the latest scientific justification for debasement. My conclusion: The radical ideas contained in MMT are unlikely to be adopted in full, but the idea that fiscal expansion is non-inflationary provides succour to profligate politicians of all stripes. Come the next hint of recession, central banks will embark on even more pronounced quantitative and qualitative easing, safe in the knowledge that, should they fail to reignite their economies, government mandated fiscal expansion will come to their aid. Long-term bond yields will head towards the zero-bound – some are there already. Debt to GDP ratios will no longer trouble finance ministers. If stocks decline, central banks will acquire them: and, in the process, the means of production. This will be justified as the provision of permanent capital. Bonds will rise, stocks will rise, real estate will rise. There will be no inflation, except in the price of assets. As this recent article from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco – Negative Interest Rates and Inflation Expectations in Japan – indicates, even central bankers are beginning to doubt the efficacy of zero or negative interest rates, albeit, these comments emanate from the FRBSF research department rather than the president’s office. If the official narrative, about the efficacy of zero/negative interest rate policy, is beginning to change, state sponsored fiscal stimulus will have to increase dramatically to fill the vacuum. The methadone of zero rates and almost infinite credit will be difficult to quickly replace, I anticipate widespread financial market dislocation on the road to fiscal nirvana. In the short run, we are entering a period of transition. Trump may continue to berate the chairman of the Federal Reserve and China, but his room for manoeuvre is limited. He needs Mr Market on his side to win the next election. For Europe and Japan the options are even more constrained. Come the next crisis, I anticipate widespread central bank buying of stocks (in addition to government and corporate bonds) in order to provide liquidity and insure economic stability. The rest of the task will fall to the governments. Non-inflationary fiscal profligacy will be de rigueur – I can see the politicians smiling all the way to the hustings, safe in the knowledge that deflationary forces have awarded them a free-lunch. Someone, someday, will have to pay, of course, but they will be long since retired from public office. Conclusions and Investment Opportunities During the next year, markets will continue to gyrate erratically, driven by the politics of European budgets, Brexit and the Sino-US trade war. These issues will be eclipsed by the twittering of Donald Trump as he seeks to win a second term in office. Looked at cynically, one might argue that Trump’s foreign policy has been deliberately engineered to slow the US economy and hold back the stock market. During the next 14 months, a new nuclear weapons agreement could be forged with Iran, relations with North Korea improved and a trade deal negotiated with China. Whether this geopolitical largesse is truly in the President’s gift remains unclear, but for a maker of deals such as Mr Trump, the prospect must be tantalising. For the US Dollar, the countdown to the US elections 2020 remains positive, for stocks, likewise. For the bond market, the next year may be broadly neutral, but given the signs of faltering growth across the globe, it seems unlikely that yields will rise significantly. Economies will see growth slow, leading to an accelerated pace of debt issuance. Bouts of volatility, similar to August or Q4 2018, will become more commonplace. I remain bullish for asset markets, nonetheless. Originally Published in In the Long Run. FIN.(We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you Subscribe Now to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

Social Media & Stock Trading: How Your Tweets & Facebook Posts Influence Stock Prices

Netaji Subhas University of Technology

Tech

Technology is the ultimate disruptor: it has changed everything about everything. And the world of stocks has by no means escaped the tech onslaught. Social media is impacting stock trading in a big way and how we approach this disruption and harness the power of social networking is up to us, writes Ishita Rana. Being a diehard fan of the movie The Wolf of Wall Street, I have always imagined the stock exchange as a large floor with huge monitor screens surrounded by chaotic ringing of phones with hundreds of traders shouting their orders. However, since the Digital Revolution, technology has replaced men and there has been a shift to automatic trading with minimum human intervention using advanced computer programs and mathematical formulae. This is known as Algorithmic Trading or Algo-trading. Algo-trading is a system of trading where complicated trading strategies are constructed into algorithms that use this information to inform users of any profit-making opportunity arising in the market and transact within a fraction of a second. Just like it was said in The Wolf of Wall Street, the stock market is highly unpredictable: “Nobody knows if a stock is gonna go up, down, sideways or in f**king circles.” Algo-traders try to bridge this uncertainty by feeding historical data and stats into their machine learning algorithms. When combined with live data from the internet, the algorithm studies patterns and takes trading decisions at lightning speed. Today, algo-trading constitutes nearly 70% of trading activity in developed markets and developing markets like India are swiftly catching up. Social Media - The Puppet-Master of the Stock Market? Social media is a big source of data that is mined by these algorithms. And due to its mass appeal and instant updates of real-time events, Twitter in particular is a significant player in this game. In the past, its 140 characters have been monumental in causing havoc in the world’s biggest stock market. In 2013, the official Twitter account of Associated Press news agency was hacked and a false tweet was sent out claiming explosions at the White House injuring President Barack Obama. Within a few minutes , the Dow dropped by 1%, oil prices dropped, the price of gold rose and the market was in a state of utter chaos! All this couldn’t possibly be the result of a few traders on their phones. It was a response of several high speed computers which were programmed to detect keywords such as “White House”, “explosion” and “Obama” that triggered this frenzied selling of stocks and caused instability in the market. Dip in the stock market index after the tweet by Associated Press. In yet another case, on May 2016 there was a gruesome train accident in Maryland and the public incessantly tweeted about it. Within a span of just 90 minutes, the stocks of the transportation company guilty in the case, CSX Corporation, fell by $500 million! In recent times, many companies have taken to Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites to release important announcements and financial data. Algo-traders are consistently refining their algorithms by incorporating phrases related to business acquisitions and mergers, market releases and other related terminology that might affect stock prices. However, like human beings, these machines are also vulnerable to fake news and rumours that can cause losses to the tune of millions of dollars. New features are being tested to scrutinise the data and verify the credibility of the source. Sentiment analysis is another aspect where social media acts as a game changer for Algo-traders. The algorithm gauges public sentiment and opinion about a company or stock based on its mentions in posts, news articles and the number of upvotes and retweets associated with it. In simple words, if the algorithm interprets positive sentiment surrounding a particular company, it will draw traders to purchase the stock and in return increase the stock price. On the other hand, negative public sentiment instils fear in traders and compels them to sell their stocks. There is no doubt about the vast power of social media in the world of finance. While it has sparked some major market fluctuations in the past, it has also significantly helped traders to earn millions by the second. In an era where change is inevitable, it is up to us to shape the way social media influences the future of trading. If we play our cards right to harness the immense potential of social media correctly, the possibilities are endless. (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

Why is Nirmala Sitharaman’s Budget 2019 “Reasonable”?

Nikhil Arora

Budget

The big question looming ahead of Finance Minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman’s debut Budget represented a quandary. How to take India to a $5tr GDP future in the backdrop of a slowing economic present? Most commentators perhaps assumed the FM would announce a roadmap to set India on an annual growth rate of 8%-10% for the next half decade or so! It was an unfair question to start with. However, considering the target was set and announced by the government itself following its massive electoral return, one really cannot blame the expectants!? Let us keep the broader vision aside for a moment…the fact of the matter is that India’s supply side has been sluggish for the past 12-18 months, as demonstrated by all major indicators be it Gross Fixed Capital Formation (GFCF), private investment at-large, manufacturing/services sector indices, or credit. And in recent months the demand side i.e. consumption seems to have caught the trend, intermittently slowing but now structurally coming to a halt. In shadows are an NBFC-led liquidity crunch, the need to create more jobs, and a burgeoning agrarian distress which shows no sign of dissipating. And let’s not forget an ever-shrinking fiscal headroom. Any FM, notwithstanding her or his superior judgement would be lacking if they fail to address these matters on priority, before even reflecting upon a broader vision. The criticality of their prompt resolution cannot really be overstated. On that mark the FM’s speech on July the fifth was an exercise in reason. Having an almost workman-like quality from the start it focused on targeting acute areas of the “institutional” kind. Softer credit and operational greasing of MSMEs, real measures to deepen corporate bond markets, enhancing market liquidity in general, easing FDI/FPI norms, another bank recapitalisation, government support for NBFCs, corporate tax breaks, disinvestments, nation-wide water works, electricity, gas, and connectivity commitments – all aiming to revive both liquidity and job creation in parallel. This institutional emphasis was even more pronounced when one could see most interventions in Direct Taxes were centered around corporates rather than individuals. While tangible incentives were presented for companies e.g. advanced tech players, startups, property developers, electric vehicle manufacturers; emphasis was shifted towards plain operational optimizations for individuals. Case-in-point being the Aadhaar-PAN linkage and the pre-filling of IT returns. The FM has volumes and scale in mind, rather than specific mass-market constituencies like the middle class or rural. How else would you explain new surcharge only for the wealthy but status quo for the rest? However, in its efforts to effuse pragmatism the Budget did miss a crucial ingredient – inspiration. When would we re-align ourselves away from tax revenues? When would we dabble with innovative models to enhance government coffers, be it Sovereign Wealth Funds, at scale public real estate unlock or monetization of PSU assets? Why considering global and even Rest of Asia’s personal income tax, indirect and corporate tax rates are on a structurally downward trajectory, we take baby-steps towards reductions without yet giving up easy pickings like spiking duties on petrol, diesel, gold, or even books? Why do we keep tethering agrarian distress on the backburner, preferring to rehash older schemes, talk of passive concepts like “zero budget farming”, but rather not make significant commitments towards industrializing Indian agriculture? Because July the fifth may have addressed the issues most pressing, but it is still a case of band-aid fixes abound. (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

Gold – Is it All that Glisters?

Colin Lloyd

Macro

Uncertainty about US trade policy has truncated the rally in stock Gold remains supported by central bank buying and fears of a US Dollar collapseGold miners look best placed to reap the benefits regardless of directionA collapse in the Dollar is needed for gold to rally substantially In Q4 2018, as stocks declined, gold rallied 8.1% and gold mining stocks 13.7%. It was a prescient reminder of the value of gold as a portfolio diversifier. There have, however, been some other developments both for gold and gold mining stocks which are worthy of closer investigation. Central Banks Central bank net purchases of gold reached 651.5 tons in 2018, up 74% from 2017, when 375 tons were bought. The Russian central bank, perhaps fearing US sanctions, sold almost all of its US Treasury bonds to buy 274.3 tons of gold last year. For probably similar reasons, the Turkish central bank bought 51.5 tons, down from the 88 tons purchased the previous year. Other big central bank buyers included Kazakhstan, India, Iraq, Poland and Hungary. In the first quarter of 2019 central banks purchased a further 145.5 tons, up 68% on Q1 2018. The trend is not new, central bank purchases have been rising since 2009:  Source: BIS, IMF, GEMS, Reuters Putting global reserve holdings in perspective, here is the central bank world ranking as at March 2019:  Source: IMF, Statistica Despite the substantial buying from central banks the price of gold has been broadly range bound for the past five years. Source: Trading Economics The absence of a sustained rally suggests that many investors have forsaken the barbarous relic, however, concern that the gold price will collapse have to be tempered by the cost of mining an ounce of gold. Mining costs have increased substantially since the early 2000’s due to increasingly expensive exploration costs and a general decline in ore quality. In the chart below Money Metals Exchange shows Barrick (GOLD) and Newmont (NEM) average cost of production since 2000:  Source: SRSrocco Report, Kitco In a July 2018 post for Seeking Alpha – Money Metals Exchange –  Never Before Seen Charts: Gold Mining Industry’s Costs Are Higher Than Market Realizes show that the amount of ore needed to produce an ounce of gold at Barrick’s (GOLD) Nevada Goldstrike and Cortez Mines has increased four-fold since 1998:  Source: SRSrocco Report, Barrick The market capitalisation of the sector has halved since 2012, leading to understandable consolidation and deleveraging. Gold, however, is an unusual commodity in that its stock is far larger than its annual production. About 3000 tons of gold is mined annually, this is dwarfed by the 190,000 tons that have been mined throughout history according to World Gold Council estimates. Since it has little industrial use, almost all the gold ever mined remains in existence: central bank reserves are a key determinant of its price. Interesting research on the subject of what drives gold prices can be found in this article from the London Bullion Market Association – Do Extraction Costs Drive Gold Prices? They conclude that, due to the large stock relative to production, the price of gold is the principal influence on the mining industry. The US Dollar and Inflation Expectations The rally in the gold price in 2011-2012 was linked to the Eurozone crisis, the moderation since then has coincided with a recovery in the US Dollar Index. Other factors which traditionally drive gold higher include inflation expectations, these fears have continually failed to materialise whilst the inexorable increase in debt has led some to speculate about a debt deflation spiral; an environment in which gold would not be expected to excel:  Source: Trading Economics A different approach to gold valuation is the ratio of the gold price to the total-return index for ten-year US government bonds. This ratio has been moving steadily higher, suggesting a shift to an era of structural inflation, according to Gavekal Research. Other evidence of inflation remains muted, however. Is Gold Perfectly Priced or Do the Central Banks Know Something We Do Not? A look back at the decade after the end of gold reserve standard is a good starting point. The Bretton Woods agreement collapsed in 1971. In the years that followed currency fluctuations were substantial and the US Dollar lurched steadily lower:  Source: Trading Economics The US Dollar was so little revered that in 1978 the US Treasury had to issue foreign currency denominated Carter Bonds in Swiss Francs and German Marks, such was the level of distrust in the mighty greenback. Confidence was finally restored when Paul Volker took the helm of the Federal Reserve. Volker did what his predecessor but three, William McChesney Martin, had only talked about – taking away the punch bowl just as the party got started – he hiked interest rates and managed to subdue inflation: the fiat US Dollar was back in favour. Today the US Dollar is undoubtedly the first reserve currency. In the era of digital money and crypto currencies the barbarous relic has stiff competition. Added to which it is traditionally an unexpected inflation hedge and traditionally affords scant protection in a deflationary environment. Given the global overhang of the US Dollar denominated debt, many believe this is the next challenge to the international order. Considering the conflagration of factors alluded to above, I believe gold is destined to remain a much watched side-line. Gold mining stocks may fare better, as S&P Global Market Intelligence – Outlook 2019: $3.9bn Increase In Earnings For Majors – explains:  …rising production in 2019, higher metals prices and lower costs could increase free cash flow by $1.3 billion, or 19%, year over year. Companies will use this increased cash flow to lower net debt, which is expected to fall 19% year over year in 2019, placing the majors at their lowest level of leverage in five years. The majors have been focusing on returns to shareholders. Higher earnings have led to dividend payouts increasing 103% to $2.0 billion in 2017 from $1.0 billion in 2016 and remaining at about $2.0 billion in 2018. As for price of gold itself? The attractive fundamentals underpinning mining stocks is likely to cap the upside, whilst continued central bank buying will insure the downside is muzzled too. When I have little fundamental conviction I am inclined to follow the trend. A break to the upside maybe closer, but the long period of price consolidation favours a break to the downside in the event of a global crisis. Originally Published in In the Long Run (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

The Indian Economy and The Dance of Yield Curve

Ankit Gupta

Macro

Off late, there has been a whole lot of discussion around the Yield Curve, especially with the recent inversion of the US Treasury Yield Curve - a phenomena commonly deemed to be a “Recession Predictor” of sorts. It is rather fascinating to analyse how a small change in the Yield Curve is representative of the upcoming possibilities in a country’s economy. The article attempts to analyse the Indian Bond Yield Curve, since 1998, highlighting its key aspects and how the Indian economy has reacted to any change in the curve and vice-versa.  First things first. How to interpret the chart. We have the weekly Bond yields of available India Government Bond maturities since Jan 1998 till 17th March 2019.Instances where the yield points are not connected in the chart suggest the unavailability of a yield point of an intermediate maturity. Over time, the Indian government issued bonds of varying maturities, and hence one can see the curve dancing to its full potential in the later years.  Pretty neat, isn’t it! The gif illustrates how India's Yield Curve has changed over the course of time, but what does it really represent? Before we get into that, here is a recap of some of the common traits of a Bond Yield Curve. a. Normal Yield Curveb. Inverted Yield Curvec. Flattened Yield Curved. Steep Yield Curve. We shall now move on to examine how the Yield Curve has changed over the course of time. 1998 - 2002 Due to the lack of enough data points, it is rather difficult to interpret anything substantial during this phase. Noteworthy however, is the fact that both the short term and long interest rates were above 10% during this period.  2002 - 2004 There is an overall downward shift in both the short term and long term bond yields throughout this period. What caused the downward shift and what does it imply? The short term rates fell from 6% to 5% - quite a significant drop. A Central Bank usually announces a rate cut to boost the economy, and/or to avoid recession. As borrowing money becomes cheaper, consumer spending tends to go up, thus further increasing the money circulation in the economy.  In recent times, we have seen countries such as Japan/EU set the interest rates below 0% - a rather severe measure, nonetheless helps revive the economy. A similar effect was felt in the Indian economy as well. India GDP growth rate shot from 3.8% to a staggering 8%.  2005 - Until Mid 2008  One wonders...if low interest rates are good for the economy, shouldn’t they be just kept low? Not really. When rates are low, borrowing becomes cheap, which means debt market shoots up, increasing the overall debt in the economy. This is what happened until 2004. 2005 onwards, until the dawn of the financial crisis, rates kept increasing, indicative of a highly distressed economy. During this period, short term rates shot up more than the long term rates indicating efforts by Central Banks to prevent inflation, which of course, was the Financial Crisis of 2008. Long term rates are not driven by the Central Bank policies. They provide an overall view of the economy on a longer term horizon. During these times, the spending decreases, and savings increase, implying trouble in the short term.  So, now we know that something bad with economy is about to happen. Too late now, though! Financial Crisis and Recovery (2008 - 2011) This chart is quite interesting. I have split it in 3 sections, all of which are equally important. It highlights the period leading to the crisis, the actions/measures taken during crisis, and the slow recovery thereon. The period until August 2008...Well, by now, the crisis had almost hit the United States, and it had its repercussions felt globally. Short term rates (6months/1 year), all shot up vis-a-vis the long term rates. A classic case of Yield Curve flattening. There is a recession in sighting! Then it struck! A sharp decline in the Bond yields. Money became cheap again - a drastic measure taken by Central Banks across to handle the crisis. A good measure indeed! Short term rates fell from as high as 9% to just below 5% within a couple of months. That is extreme! Short term rates kept falling, highlighting the Steepening of the Yield Curve. This was done to encourage consumers to borrow more and kick start the economy. Across the globe, Central Banks took significant measures to inject more money into the economy - US reduced interest rates, EU initiated the Quantitative Easing program et al.  Over the course of the next 3 years, the Indian economy tried to recover. Slowly and gradually, rates increased indicating an overall revival. Yield Curve returned to its normal shape, not flat, not steep and definitely not inverted! Curios Case of Inversion This Time (2012 - 2014)  The recovery happened, or so it seemed. After returning to its normal shape, India Bond Yield Curve went on to become flatter. Short term rates again shot up to coincide with long term rates.  From the Financial crisis, it became quite evident that a crisis is not just limited to the economy in which it is started. This time around, with rising commodity prices, and looming Euro debt crisis, the RBI had to increase short term interest rates over and over again, hence leading to the Flattening of the curve again. The Curve remained similar until mid 2013, when suddenly an inversion happened - 6 months bond yield shot up to 11%, while the 10 year Bond yielded only 9%. An extremely rare scenario! It was a desperate and deliberate attempt by the RBI to defend the weak Indian Rupee, thereby making it hard for speculators to sell currency. As Reuters summarised, The RBI’s strategy of using short-term money markets to defend the rupee seemed ideal. By anchoring long-term yields, the Central Bank could ensure that its policies to defend the currency were contained at the short end of the Yield Curve and so did not affect other borrowers and investors in the economy. Indeed, a very drastic measure taken by the RBI. Returning Back to Normalcy (2014 - 2016)  It took some time for the Yield Curve to change its course. It remained inverted until 2015, but there was a gradual decline in the interest rates across maturities. Across the globe, emerging markets economies continued to struggle. With rise in commodity prices, and oil reaching new highs, emerging market economies tumbled up until 2015. Emerging market currencies weakened against the USD. Yield Curves remained flat or inverted (in India’s case).  But beginning 2016, the Indian economy began to recover its lost sheen. Both long term and short term yields fell, with short term falling more than the long term. The Yield Curve had started to return to its normal phase, some of which could be attributed to oil prices, as it took a significant hit in the global markets. Highly depended on oil and a major importer, the Indian economy fluctuated with the rise and fall of oil prices. Now a Days! (2017 - Now) So, what’s happening these days? What can we read from the current Yield Curve? From 2017 until mid 2018, rates were increasing constantly - a sign of rising debts, heavy corporate books, banking books. As we now know of the Black Friday and the Flash Crash of September, it became evident that there was a bubble in the Indian economy, waiting to burst. In September 2018, a financial crisis in Indian Housing Sector emerged, and it extended itself to other parts of economy as well. With much at stake, and the 2019 General elections in the offing, the Central bank had to constantly lower rates to make room for cheaper borrowings. Short term rates have gone down significantly compared to long term rates, highlighting the Steepness in the Yield Curve again. This allows for cheap short term financing, further raking up the overall debt in the economy. What Next?   With the upcoming General Elections, it is highly unlikely that the interest rates will change much. As highlighted above, long term yields are generally an indicator of the economy in the longer run. In this regard, the Yield Curve is likely to become Normal again with long term rates falling faster than short term rates on back of a slowing GDP growth. Originally Published here. (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

Understanding Debt: Difference between 'Good' and 'Bad' Debt

Nikhil Arora

Credit

Today let's talk about one of finance's most feared and mis-understood concepts. Debt. Debt forms the back-bone of any economy. It is inescapable. No matter how rich you are or become, in some or other strand of your mortal existence, you would be compelled to deal with it. Either when you use a credit card, go abroad for higher studies, buy a house, or decide to scale up your company. Debt is modern society’s engine of growth. Let back-track for a moment. How does Debt work? What does it look like? Why does it transpire in the first place? If unchecked, how can it go so wrong? The concept is straightforward. Say you want to buy a car selling at Rs 10L. But you don’t wish to pay the entire amount in lumpsum. After all, Rs 10L is a sizeable amount. When you mention your concern to the car salesman, he promptly gives you an alternate. Instead of asking for Rs 10L upfront, he says why don’t you just pay Rs 1L (i.e. only 10% of the car’s selling price) and agree for a payment plan amounting to Rs 18,000 per month…and the car is all yours! Not bad huh?! Think about what just happened. For Rs 1L only, and a small monthly pay-out, your favourite Rs 10L car is yours to take home! Let us assume you agree to this option. Well, congratulations! For two things: Firstly: For your new vehicle. And Second: You just took some Debt (here known as a “car loan”). What! Yes. The alternate presented by the car salesman included a mysterious third party i.e. a bank or a financing company, which in effect paid a major share of the lumpsum amount (i.e. Rs 9L) to the car showroom on your behalf. With the remainder Rs 1L coming from you (remember?), the car showroom makes its money on day one, as it would have liked. The Rs 18,000 per month that you would now shell out, say for the next seven years, would go to the same third party (from whom you effectively “borrowed”) to repay the Rs 9L plus...surprise - surprise...Interest! The car showroom makes its money upfront. The third party makes its money over next seven years by charging Interest. You get to buy your car, right now. So, remember, when you “borrow” money…you take Debt. Why is Debt so Attractive? Well for starters, it allows you to spend more than your present capability. It allows you to invest and grow. It allows you to consume more. It lets you take home a car by only paying a small part of its total value upfront. Why is it so Risky? The fact that you have borrowed money, implies that you need to pay it back. And in most cases, you need to pay back with Interest. And if you don’t pay your dues, you’ll be in trouble. What Kind of Trouble? Let us get back to our car example. It has now been almost five months since you bought the car. You’ve made five payments of Rs 18,000 each, all on time. But in the sixth month…say your company starts downsizing…and unfortunately you end up losing your job. You don’t have an income and now the Rs 18,000 per month hurts. A month passes by…you are unable to find a new job…and end up missing a due payment. Someone from the bank calls and gives you a stern warning. You’re hopeful that you’ll get back on your feet soon, so end up dishing another Rs 18,000 from your savings, but the bank levies a small penalty this time for the delayed payment. Another month passes by…you still don’t have a job…and you start panicking. You call the bank and tell them you’re unable to pay them anymore. Your bank account is almost empty. You don’t have any savings. The bank sends a guy who takes away (or “reposes”) your beloved car. Another month passes by, and amidst all these distractions, you somehow manage to snag a new job. The pay cheques are back, and you are once again at ease. You thank your Stars…thinking the worst is over! But is it? You now wish to apply for a credit card. The credit card company rejects you. Your health insurance policy is up for renewal, and your premium spikes up. You try to take another car loan, and the Interest on the monthly payment this time is much higher than Rs 18,000 like last time! What Happened? Simple. For the banking system – you are now deemed as a risky borrower. Your erstwhile “default” on the car loan turned your good debt into bad. Anytime you need to borrow in the future, the system would remind you of your risky behaviour, either through rejection, or through a higher Interest rate. This distinction between good debt and bad debt is important. Good debt can easily turn into bad without proper planning or due to unforeseen circumstances. Debt can do wonders and grant you 'leverage' but chasing too much leverage comes with its own set of risks, costs of which can be far-reaching and far too real. Debt is a tool that works best when used carefully. Scratch that, Debt is a tool that ONLY works when used carefully.  (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We highly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

How Blockchain Can Assist With Plastic Waste Management

INSEAD Knowledge

Environment

By Michael Peshkam, INSEAD Executive in Residence, and David Dubois, INSEAD Associate Professor of Marketing Start-ups are making incremental use of blockchain to reduce plastic waste, but the technology’s power to drive real change is yet to be realised. It is always difficult for business executives to grasp when a new technology is ripe for use, and blockchain is no exception. This is ironic given blockchain is often presented as the “technology of trust”. Blockchains can be thought of as networks of virtual ledgers able to securely store and distribute data without a controlling intermediary. Unlike most digital technologies used to facilitate connectivity and duplicate processes, blockchain can tokenise, securely distribute and transfer anything of value to individuals on the network (such as a person’s vote or their financial assets). The ability to assign and transfer unique value to specific assets has proven particularly useful for helping new markets to emerge (e.g. Bitcoin and Ether) and is now being used to solve some of the most pressing global challenges. Plastic Packaging: Turning Waste into an Asset One crucial area in which blockchain may be pivotal in creating change is the growing plastic waste crisis. In 2019, economists estimated the level of plastic waste to be around 6.3bn metric tonnes (mt) with a value of $7.2tr. Around 90.5% of plastic ever made has never been recycled. At this rate, by 2050 we will have amassed roughly 12bn mt of plastic waste, enough to outweigh all the fish in the ocean, with an economic loss of more than $14tr. Digital technologies – from social media to apps promoting recycling behaviours and nudging change – have significantly raised public awareness of the challenge. Litterati, for example, has created an app to share geolocalised pictures of waste tagged by brand and item type. The app has had many successes including public institutions reportedly switching from plastic to paper packaging after students documented an overload of plastic packaging in their school’s vicinity. Beyond public awareness, a solution to the plastic waste challenge will require both a massive public behavioural shift to stop packaging leaking into the environment, and an increase of resources to change and accelerate the process of innovation. Currently, most plastic waste innovation initiatives undertaken by producers, retailers, research institutions, NGOs and waste management are siloed, which limits their impact. They are entrenched in traditional frames of thinking rather than seeking a systemic shift. Such a shift will require a change to the actual and perceived value of plastic packaging so it is seen as an asset rather than junk. Economic, societal and ecological ideals will need to be married and market mechanisms created to assign, transfer and exchange this value. This could take the form of crypto-credits or blockchain tokens. To be truly effective, these credits need to encompass all the ideals mentioned above – like carbon rewards.  Technological Advances in Plastic Waste Management Technology advances already exist to assist with each step of the plastic waste management process – from asset creation and valuation to transfer and exchange. For instance, to optimise collection and recycling (and reduce poverty around the world), Canadian company Plastic Bank has created collection centres in Haiti, the Philippines and Indonesia (additional centres are soon to open in Egypt and Columbia), which buy waste by type and weight. Participants take their plastic packaging waste to one of Plastic Bank’s collection centres and receive credits on their blockchain-based app, using smart contracts accessed from their mobile device. Another initiative that focuses on transparency in asset valuation and transfer is Circularise, a Dutch start-up founded in 2016. Circularise created a blockchain solution that provides an accurate pricing system for any recycled material and can indicate the number of times the product has gone through the recycling process. For example, in textiles and plastics, it transmits info on recycled contents to the brand owners (e.g. Calvin Klein) by leveraging both the Circularise system and a tracer made by a third party. Many other solutions are likely to emerge to accelerate and promote plastic packaging recycling practices at the company level. One example is Empower, a Norwegian start-up that uses blockchain tokens to foster donation-based recycling. For every euro donated by an organisation, Empower commits to clean up the same amount of plastic waste by weight. So, if Nestlé donates €1,000, Empower will collect 1,000 kg (€1/kg) of any Nestlé plastic packaging waste. But the opportunities that blockchain offers extend even further. The technology’s role as an enabler to create and transfer assets means it can connect each item of plastic packaging with the consumer so that it can be treated like an asset with clear monetary, social and ecological value. This could be achieved by adopting technologies such as digital watermarks, RFID, NTFS or IoT, which are currently being used to trace products through the supply chain. Another option could be a QR code printed on the packaging. A simple scan of the code could automatically link information to an app and generate a crypto-credit. Blockchain also provides the means to create for each item a “material passport” containing valuable information about the packaging features, including the material composition, the proportion of raw vs. recycled plastics, the origins of the material or even the number of times it has been recycled. The Key Lies in Adding Value to the Waste At present the near-zero value of plastic packaging after use makes any new business model almost impossible. This needs to be urgently revisited. One potential solution could be to borrow from the United Kingdom’s deposit-return scheme model. This adds a small surcharge to the total price of each product, redeemable when the empty container is returned to the store. In the case of plastic packaging, the consumer would receive a crypto-credit and become accountable for disposing of the packaging in the appropriate container. Just as microcredits have transformed global development, the simple act of assigning value to packaging and connecting it to consumers through blockchain has the potential to profoundly transform consumer behaviour and entrepreneurial projects in the coming decades. Keeping in mind the pioneers of technologies, from social media (Facebook) to e-commerce (Amazon) and e-marketplaces (Airbnb), it is clear that there are tremendous opportunities and first-mover advantages to be had by leveraging blockchain in emerging digital markets where asset valuation is under-formalised. Addressing the issue of plastic packaging pollution is no exception. What is needed is a change champion, someone from inside or outside the field who understands the opportunities blockchain presents and has the foresight and resources to use it to bring about sustainable, large-scale change. Follow INSEAD Knowledge on Twitter and Facebook This article is republished courtesy of INSEAD Knowledge. Copyright INSEAD 2019. (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.) 

Want a Better Work-life Balance? Get Your Mood Right First

Dr Foo Maw Der

Culture

Much has been said about how technology and flexi-work arrangements can help to improve work-life balance. But what if your mood — and that of your spouse — can also have an impact on that balance? While official statistics show that the number of working hours in Singapore has been on a steady decline in recent years, work-life balance remains elusive for many employees as they still spend more time at work than their counterparts in many countries. In 2017, Singaporeans worked an average of 45.1 hours a week, according to the Ministry of Manpower. The figure was higher than in countries noted for their infamous overwork culture, such as Japan and South Korea. Most discourse on work-life harmony often focuses on technology and flexible work arrangements as among the solutions, and rightly so. But the conversation tends to ignore a more intangible but no less important aspect: The moods of a working couple. For such a couple, their respective positive or negative moods can spill over from the workplace to the family setting and vice-versa — which, in turn, will have an impact on work and family outcomes. This issue of “mood spillover” and “mood crossover” among working or dual-earner couples was examined in a 2008 study involving 50 couples, who used their mobile phones to provide reports of their momentary moods over eight consecutive days. A spillover occurs when a spouse’s bad or good mood spills over from work to family, or from family to work. Thus, a husband’s anxiety about some unfinished project in the office may make him a less than agreeable companion during a family weekend at Sentosa, while a mother’s exasperation with a rebellious teen may affect her concentration at the morning office meeting. A crossover happens when a spouse “catches” the positive or negative mood of the better-half, and usually takes place within the family setting. A woman may end up inspired after listening to her husband’s enthusiastic recollection of events at work. During the study, the couples were asked to carry their mobile phones at all times and to complete a two-minute phone survey several times daily for eight consecutive days. The couples were separately asked to rate their current positive or negative moods — such as enthusiastic, inspired, or jittery, ashamed — on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely). Since phones were used, the responses were time-stamped, which offered real-time monitoring. To determine their orientation towards work and family, the  couples were also asked to rate several statements — such as whether the major satisfactions in their life come from their job or family— on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The dual-career couples, who were all around 37 years old, and on average had been married for nearly 11 years and had 1.4 children. They comprised full-time employees who held various occupations, such as managers, engineers, educators, and systems analysts. Based on the mood responses given by each spouse at different times of the day — and comparing them with the responses given by the corresponding husband/wife — the study found that spouses with a stronger work orientation were more likely to exhibit mood spillover by bringing home their negative moods — such as being upset or irritable — related to events at the workplace. Individuals with a stronger work orientation tend to deeply value their time at work and take the greatest satisfaction in a job well done. For such driven individuals to achieve greater work-life harmony, the study suggested, they will have to make a conscious effort in drawing a clearer line between work and family experiences, so that work moods do not necessarily affect their interactions with family members at home. Taking a short time to clear one’s mind before leaving the office, or doing some physical exercises before heading home are among the ways to pre-empt a mood spillover into the family domain. Employers can also do their part by putting in place family-friendly policies, such as generous parental leave or flexi-time.  The study also found that mood crossovers — which usually occurred when the spouses were physically together — tended to have a relatively short lifespan. Thus, the one with the bad mood might want to set some time alone to decompress, even if briefly, to avoid spreading the negative vibes to the spouse. While often momentary, the importance of mood crossover should not be discounted — since the accumulation of “small incidences”, such as daily mood crossover, may influence “bigger issues” such as marriage quality, the study cautioned. Other studies have shown that those with a poor marital relationship exhibit more negative feelings and moods than those with a better relationship. The study also found that the presence of children could actually have a calming effect — by reducing the likelihood of one parent infecting the other with his/her negative moods. One possible reason could be that the parents diverted some of their attention towards their children and were thus less likely to be influenced by their spouses’ bad moods. Parents may also be conscious of the need to avoid displaying negative moods in front of their children since these could be interpreted as signs of conflict and distress in the family. Exploring less well-known concepts, such as mood spillover and crossover, may help us further in our search for the holy grail of work-life harmony.  About the Author The writer is an associate professor at Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University Singapore. The research mentioned in this article is co-authored with his colleague Marilyn A. Uy, and Zhaoli Song from the National University of Singapore. (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We highly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

What is the Normal Serum Cholesterol Level: Do You Really Need to Know Your Number?

Dr Arun K Chopra

Ship Shape

One has often come across WhatsApp forwards claiming that cholesterol is no longer a matter of concern, implying no requirement for restraint in their consumption. This article is an attempt to set the record straight. Lifestyle diseases are a pandemic today. Obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and heart disease have become shockingly common, pushing for a new awareness of these conditions globally. And this has prompted people to search for answers: What drives these conditions and How to overcome them? A common strategy promoted by the medical fraternity is creating awareness through some important parameters. Over time, people have started tracking them on a periodic basis via frequent medical check ups. These parameters primarily include blood sugar, serum cholesterol, haemoglobin, serum TSH (thyroid hormone) levels, blood pressure and body weight. One of the most common investigations is the serum cholesterol or lipid profile (a set of lipoprotein levels that include HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and a few others in addition to serum cholesterol levels). That begs some questions: Does cholesterol in diet (i.e. dietary cholesterol) correlate with serum cholesterol levels?Is dietary cholesterol associated with increased risk of heart attacks?Does serum cholesterol predict the risk of heart disease?Does it predict survival? (This week we dwell upon the first two questions. The other two would be discussed next week.) Does Cholesterol in the Diet Correlate with Serum Cholesterol Levels? The average consumption of cholesterol in the diet is estimated at 200-350 mg/dl in the Western world, largely due to restrictions against cholestrol recommended by several medical associations like the AHA, American Heart Association until recently. For several decades, eggs were discouraged due to their cholesterol content (about 188mg in a single large egg yolk). However, large well-controlled studies have found no or weak associations between egg consumption and CVD (cardiovascular diseases - most common being heart attacks and strokes) risk.  The balance of data reveals that about 2/3rd of normal individuals have minimal responses to dietary cholesterol, while the remaining have a more significant increase in serum cholesterol, and also HDL and LDL cholesterol. It is estimated that the typical rise in serum cholesterol with the consumption of 1 egg per day is about 2-3%, i.e., 2.2-2.5 mg/dl per 100 g cholesterol consumed. Most human cells manufacture cholesterol regularly on their own, (about 850 mg per day for a 70 kg adult), while the body has a total cholesterol requirement of about 1000-1300 mg of cholesterol daily. The majority (called Compensators or Hypo-responders) compensate for an excess consumption by reducing the amount of cholesterol synthesised and/or reabsorbed from the gut. Those who can’t do this (called Non-compensators or Hyper-responders) develop greater increase in serum cholesterol levels, along with rises in HDL and LDL cholesterol, leading to a small increase in the LDL/HDL cholesterol ratio by approximately 0.17, and the serum cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratio being relatively unaffected. Is Dietary Cholesterol Associated with Increased Risk of Heart Attacks? Coming to the more important question: Does an increase in dietary cholesterol, as in consuming eggs regularly, lead to an increased risk of CVD? Apparently, despite being feared as a cause for heart disease for decades, it does not. This could be due to several reasons: There is a very minor change in serum levels in most individuals, as discussed above.The protective HDL cholesterol rises in parallel with total cholesterol levels.The potentially harmful LDL cholesterol does rise but is associated with an increase in LDL particle size, making it a relatively benign increase.Finally, it depends on what food is being replaced. Whereas eggs might be less healthy than fresh fruits and vegetables, they are decidedly healthier than sugar-sweetened beverages and refined or processed carbohydrate containing foods like most breakfast cereals and sweetened juices. Also, increasing egg consumption while restricting processed foods often results in weight loss, leading to a further diminution of any possible harms associated with eggs. The exception to this is seen in diabetic individuals. They seem to have a more consistent association with CVD, especially when consumed at >7 eggs/week in American, but not in European and Asian studies. While American studies generally show associations between dietary cholesterol and CVD, the same is not borne out in a large study from China this year. In summary, large controlled studies show that dietary cholesterol does not increase serum cholesterol significantly in most individuals; even in those who do get a marked rise, there is a parallel rise in protective fractions of cholesterol. The result is that there is no significant rise in CVD risk with rise in dietary cholesterol, which is why the AHA removed dietary cholesterol from the list of nutrients of concern in 2015. This doesn’t mean that one starts hogging on fried foods and snacks; it only means that eating a whole egg or two a day (one egg for diabetics) is within the ambit of a healthy diet, especially when they replace unhealthy processed foods. This is a recurring column published every Sunday. Click here to view my other articles on health, nutrition and exercise.  (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

What Causes Diabetes: Is Sugar in Diet the Real Culprit?

Dr Arun K Chopra

Ship Shape

Diabetes is one of the most pervasive lifestyle diseases as we discussed last week, with an estimated prevalence of 425 million, as per the IDF Diabetes Atlas 2017. Another 350 million people are pre-diabetic, or at risk of developing diabetes in the future. It accounts for over 4 million deaths per annum worldwide, making it one of the deadliest scourges of mankind. The Big Question However Is… What causes Diabetes?Is it a consequence of eating too much sugar, or does sugar just happen to increase the risk of diabetes in patients who are genetically at high risk (positive family history, that is)? There are two common types of diabetes. Type 1 (about 5% of cases): Is caused by an absolute deficiency of insulin production in the body and thus is diagnosed during childhood. Type 2 diabetes (over 90% of cases): Is caused by Insulin Resistance. What is Insulin Resistance?: A condition when a greater amount of insulin is required to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Needless to say, with passage of time (about 3-15 years), many of these patients also develop a deficiency of insulin secretion due to sustained over-production. Source: Power-Pak C.E. For several decades, the prevalent view among physicians was that diabetes occurred only to those at high risk, and that restriction of sugar was advisable only to those with overt diabetes. However recently, the ill effects of sugars and sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) have become better established. Guidelines have come up which restrict acceptable sugar consumption to 6-9 tsp per day. But, they still don’t clarify the important question asked i.e., is diabetes a consequence of eating too much sugar, or does sugar just happen to increase the risk of diabetes in patients who are genetically at high risk.  Throughout the 20th century, numerous textbooks and journal articles have been dedicated to this critical concept. However, there was no evidence of a direct link between sugar consumption and diabetes. This was because the consumption of excess sugar is not accompanied by simultaneous rise in blood sugar for a long time. It was realized much later that this was due to the capacity of pancreas to flexibly vary the quantity of insulin released in blood, depending on the body's intake of sugar in the first place. Different people have a different sensitivity to insulin secreted as well as the effects of sugar in diet...making any interpretation of these linkages even more elusive. During this time, the underlying cause for diabetes was thought to be obesity. Due to the incomplete "Calories In, Calories Out" model of obesity discussed earlier here and here, fat in the diet (being the most calorie rich nutrient) was thought to be responsible for obesity, diabetes and ultimately, heart disease and strokes. This was the thought which drove the restriction of fats, as advised by dietary guidelines till 1970s. The Answer… A breakthrough in this field came from Gerald Reaven, a leading American endocrinologist. Dr Reaven had been studying Insulin Resistance since 1968. In his classic Banting Lecture of 1988, he gave the conceptual framework to understand the precursor for major lifestyle diseases. Referred to as the “Metabolic Syndrome” (also called Syndrome X or Reaven’s Syndrome), this comprised a set of conditions that included: Upper body or abdominal obesityHigh blood pressureHigh serum triglyceridesLow HDL-cholesterol levels High blood sugars The presence of any 3 of these 5 criteria confirmed the diagnosis. The underlying abnormality was established to be Insulin Resistance. An inability to change one’s lifestyle significantly was postulated to be a possible cause for worsening of these conditions ultimately leading to full-blown diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and strokes. This discovery also appears to tie up the underlying abnormalities between obesity, diabetes and heart disease, namely, insulin resistance, which appears to be common to all of them. Further, we now know that the body responds to different dietary nutrients differently. Carbohydrates are associated with early taste satisfaction but result in a craving for frequent meals/snacking, while proteins and fats grant greater satiety, keeping one full for a longer duration. Thereby, excess refined carbohydrates in the diet, especially sugars is the driver for chronic overeating and obesity leading to insulin resistance (due to the repeated cycles of excess insulin secretion following frequent carb-based meals) and its sequelae - diabetes, hypertension, lipid abnormalities, heart disease and strokes. A large meta-analysis in 2015 finally reported that high consumption of SSBs, artificially sweetened beverages and fruit juices are all associated with new-onset diabetes, independent of the body weight (though individuals already overweight/obese were at higher risk). However, the data for sugar (i.e., SSBs) was more convincing than the other two groups. In summary, sugar and refined carbohydrates in the diet are associated with excess release of insulin in the body leading to insulin resistance, which is a precursor to the development of the lifestyle diseases, such as, obesity, high blood pressures, abnormal lipid levels, diabetes, heart disease and strokes. While there is no direct one to one correlation between sugar intake and diabetes, the presence of excess sugar in our diet has undoubtedly increased the risk of developing insulin resistance, that appears to be the common metabolic abnormality underlying these conditions. What should be done about this? More on this, next week. This is a recurring column published every Sunday. Click here to view my other articles on health, nutrition and exercise.  (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

K-Pop: How the Korean Government Helped Turn Korean Pop from a Backwater Affair to a Global Force

Gauri Chopra

Culture

Music as an art-form is deeply intertwined with a country’s local culture, drawing from it and giving back to it in equal parts. Thanks to the advent of globalization in mid-to-late 20th Century, music quickly became a worldwide phenomenon, with people from different countries gaining seamless access to each other’s sounds. Given its status as the world’s lingua franca, it came as no surprise when English demonstrated a natural advantage over the rest in the global music market. However, one can’t help but notice a recent change in this trend, signified by the growing popularity of local music throughout the world – specifically, K-pop. A Brief History K-pop, short for Korean pop, refers to a genre of music originating from South Korea – characterized by synthesized sounds, colorful costumes, and dance routines. The origins of contemporary K-pop can be traced back to the early 90s, when the musical landscape of Korea changed significantly for the first time, stepping away from popular American and Japanese-style ballads called ppongjjak to “more modern” styles of music. It was a group by the name of “Seo Taiji and Boys”, who in 1992, revolutionized Korean music by becoming the first to successfully bring western elements (such as rap, and the use of MIDI technology) while incorporating dance routines in their performances, a model that is to-date followed by most modern K-pop groups. Strong Backing One of the major reasons for K-pop’s rise is the role played by the South Korean government. The seed for this was sown in 1994, when the Presidential Advisory Board on Science and Technology prepared a report for the President, suggesting the government to promote media production as a national strategic industry. The report illustrated that the total revenue earned by the Hollywood Blockbuster Jurassic Park was roughly equivalent to foreign sales of 1.5 million Hyundai cars. Given that Hyundai was the pride of the nation at that time, this comparison resonated with the government and prompted it to take the idea seriously. The state quickly realized the immense scope of exporting its culture as an industry, leading to the establishment of the Cultural Industry Bureau within the Ministry of Culture and Sports. The first definite steps taken by the Korean government in this direction came in the wake of Korea’s 1997 financial crisis and the need to repay International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) $58.4bn bailout. The government laid aside 1% of its national budget for subsidies and low-interest loans to its cultural industries, launched agencies to promote and expand K-pop exports, and set up more cultural departments within universities. Investments were made under the Kim Dae Jung government (1998-2003) to build concert halls and improve visual effects technology to support the music-form. Drivers The push to the cultural industry was prompted by two primary reasons: First, the government intended to target the entertainment industry as a means to restart the economy post financial crisis, and second, an attempt to preserve the Korean culture from the Japanese. The crisis was followed by the liberalisation of Japanese imports, and this had re-awakened the colonial-era fear of Japanese cultural domination, leading the government to invest heavily on its entertainment and culture industries. While the government policies gave K-pop the initial push that it needed, it was Lee Soo Man, Founder of SM Entertainment, who took advantage of the building momentum to truly launch K-pop into the global sphere. SM Entertainment trained and managed boy-band H.O.T., girl-band S.E.S., and teen sensation BoA –who became the first K-pop acts to break into Japan and China.  Asian Domination, and Beyond The need for cheaper programming in other Asian countries such as China (considering Japanese or Hong Kong TV dramas were four to ten times more expensive than Korean dramas) further fueled the Korean cultural industry’s expansion. The term “Hallyu”, or Korean Wave, was coined in Taiwan in 1997 to refer to the global spread of Korean dramas, films, and music. Until a few years ago, the success of K-pop had been confined to Asia despite its multiple attempts to crack into the West. That however changed, with the recent and sudden explosion of boy band BTS and girl band Blackpink.  BTS frequently discusses serious and relevant issues such as mental health, the fear of failure, dreams, and ambition in their songs, which resonate strongly with youth all over the world, thus resulting in a massive worldwide fan base. Western influences in their songs and active social media accounts which keeps fans engaged, are some of the reasons for their widespread popularity. BTS’ past three albums all scored number 1 on the US Billboard 200 chart. It seems that the government’s huge investments into Korean music have brought back returns after all, with K-pop having become a $5bn industry (2017), according to a report by Korean Creative Content Agency. The market experienced a 17.9% increase in revenue growth in 2018 and was also ranked at no. 6 among the top 10 music markets worldwide, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s “Global Music Report 2019.” Bandwagon K-pop has also helped other sectors of the economy to flourish, especially the tourism and beauty industries, with BTS alone having attracted 796,000 tourists (7.6% of the total tourists) to Korea in 2017 through concerts, exhibitions of behind-the-scenes photos, and fan meetings. Exports of BTS-related products, such as albums, merchandise, and products that they endorse made up 1.7% of total South Korean consumer goods exports in 2017, according to Hyundai Research Institute. Other markets have also tried to export their culture to reap economic benefits in a similar way – case in point being the “Cool Japan” fund of 2013, which sought to promote Japanese culture through J-pop, manga, and anime, among other things, to which the Japanese government committed a sum of $500m over 20 years. However, this movement has received a lot of criticism through the years on grounds of poor management of funds and improper execution. Countries like France, Spain, Italy and Portugal have also made efforts to spread their culture globally – for instance, through language. The governments of these countries have established language-training institutions with multiple centers worldwide, e.g. Instituts Français and Alliances Françaises for French. Promoting local languages globally helps in the growth of local businesses around the world. It also causes the influx of more foreign students, with these making 60% of the total students in France. Lessons for India It is rather evident that the benefits of promoting local culture worldwide, if done properly, are immense. India, with its rich musical heritage can use this to its advantage and emerge as a soft power. There are some natural alignments such as for Punjabi music, owing to the large Punjabi diaspora in countries such as US, UK, Australia, and Canada. Punjabi musicians also emulate Western styles like EDM or rap, thereby making their music more acceptable to Western audiences. At the same time, they maintain their localized touch, which could engage the diaspora by invoking nostalgia and re-enforcing their cultural identity. Promoting local musicians on global stages is another low hanging fruit. In 1999, H.O.T. and S.E.S. performed alongside Michael Jackson at a charity concert in Seoul that was broadcast across Asia. India could do something similar, for instance, by staging cultural performances at the Cricket World Cup, which it will host in 2023. Promoting Indian music with a Westernized touch on such a platform would help people from foreign countries gain exposure to a culture which has been mostly limited to the subcontinent. Economic benefits aside, expanding its culture worldwide to become a soft power would aid India create a certain image for itself across the world, and a positive one could even help in improving diplomatic relations with other countries. In a world where there is no escape from globalization, a “glocalised” approach to preserving culture – that is, keeping its local aspect in mind while also redefining it with respect to the rest of the world – could thus prove to be very advantageous. (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

How Much Choice Should Consumers Have?

INSEAD Knowledge

Consumer Behaviour

Amitava Chattopadhyay, INSEAD Professor of Marketing. The retail sector bends over backwards to give the consumer an inordinate number of product choices, and yet, does the consumer want so much variety? Variety packs are everywhere, whether they’re multi-coloured sock packs, multi-flavour yoghurts or multi-packs of chocolate bars. Retailers believe that bundling different items together is answering consumer demand, but the reality is something else. In fact, they would do better to offer more of the same in bundled packs. We all have preferences, whether it is in terms of our favourite colour, flavour or song, and when we find ourselves in the supermarket aisles, buying in bulk, these preferences make themselves no less felt.  However, as our research shows, a lot of it has to do with how many choices we are actually making when we stand in front of the supermarket shelf.  In my paper, “The Offer Framing Effect: Choosing Single versus Bundled Offerings Affects Variety Seeking” co-authored with Mauricio Mittelman, Eduardo B. Andrade and C. Miguel Brendl, we show that when there is only one choice act to make, participants were systematically less interested in seeking variety in their product choices.  This is the case when we are looking at, for example, a six-pack of soft drinks — in order to purchase six cans, we only have to make one choice if they are packaged together — compared to buying six cans individually where we are making a choice six times over.  The implication for retailers is that you don’t have to indulge in price promotion on multi-packs because by offering consumers more of the same, they will get what they want and be happy to pay the price. Variety is the Spice of Life As individuals, when we have the option of making more than one choice, we tend to seek variety. In our first experiment participants were presented with cans of Coca-Cola and Sprite and asked to select two. Of those that were asked to make two separate decisions – choosing one can each time - 62% chose two different drinks.  However when participants were asked to make one decision and choose between two packaged drinks (either two Coke, two Sprite or a can of each) only 32% chose the mixed option. What was most interesting in our research was that of the participants who were given two choices, 12 out of 41 who had expressed a strong preference for either Coca-Cola or Sprite, made a different selection in their second choice. While none of the participants who had a strong preference and were asked to choose from the two-packs selections chose the mixed option. In a further experiment to determine how strongly the wish to make a different choice made itself felt, we went as far to pit the amount of variety possible in the choice process against the amount of variety the participants would end up with in their set of chosen items.  Here, there was once again a comparison made between having one choice to make or two choices. One set of students was asked to choose between a high variety candy selection or a low variety candy selection, where only one decision was needed. A second group of students was asked to choose six candies in two stages. In the first stage, they were given a high variety consisting of one cherry, grape and apricot candy and then in the second stage, they had to choose between a high variety bundle of cherry, grape and apricot candies (the same as they already had) or a low variety bundle of three cherry candies.  As expected, participants avoided choosing the same thing they already had and preferred to choose something different even though ultimately it meant they had less variety in the candies they owned at the end. In the first bundled option where only one decision was made, 66% of participants ended up with the high variety offering, whereas in the two-stage decision process, only 36% of participants ended up with the high variety option. This strong desire to feel that a different choice has been made during the choice process is good news for smaller stores and for retailers hoping to introduce new products to the market.  Customers who tend to shop in smaller stores are generally buying in smaller quantities and can more easily be captured as they will be more inclined to seek variety. 24/7 A further implication is for online retailers as our findings hint that more sales of the same item are likely to be made online compared to shopping in-store. This is because when purchases are made online, only one choice is needed per item — that of typing the number of required items in the designated spot on the screen.  This simplifies the purchase process compared to an in-store experience where multiple choices are made when purchasing single offerings. For bricks-and-mortar retailers, the emphasis should be on offering single serves, whereas online retailers should expect to sell more bundled items. So, whether we’re looking at the question of how the products are packaged from a retailer’s point of view, or from the consumer’s point of view, one thing is clear, choices will always be there.  The important understanding for retailers is that they have the ability to bundle or separate items depending on what they want to push —and without the need to discount as originally thought. For consumers, you should know that if you’re buying in large quantities, you can take comfort from knowing you’d be better to buy more of the same in a bundled pack with the added benefit that those pineapple-flavoured yoghurts you weren’t too keen on anyway in the multipack, will not go off in your fridge. And for consumers who tend to buy in smaller quantities, be reassured that our desire to seek variety is often stronger than our logic telling us what our preferences are.  Do we want so much variety in our shopping experience? The answer is yes and no. Amitava Chattopadhyay is The GlaxoSmithKline Chaired Professor in Corporate Innovation at INSEAD. He is also co-author of The New Emerging Market Multinationals: Four Strategies for Disrupting Markets and Building Brands. You can follow him on Twitter @AmitavaChats. Follow INSEAD Knowledge on Twitter and Facebook This article is republished courtesy of INSEAD Knowledge. Copyright INSEAD 2018. (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

How TikTok Took Over Social Media Using Artificial Intelligence

INSEAD Knowledge

Digital

By Jason Davis, INSEAD Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise A curious combination of prediction technology and human censors enables ByteDance to create a dynamic global video ecosystem. While the BAT – Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent – dominate internet browsing, e-commerce, messaging and gaming in China, one kind of success has eluded them so far. Despite their might, they have yet to gain much ground beyond China, with the possible exception of Alibaba in Southeast Asia. Recently, though, a newer Chinese big tech firm, ByteDance, has managed to secure vast consumer markets on a global scale with its video platform TikTok. Hugely popular with teenagers and millennials, TikTok – known as DouYin in China – is a social media application used for creating and sharing short videos. Lasting 15 seconds or less, the typical clip features fun music, a skit, lip-sync, dance or light-hearted humour. Users often participate in “challenges” or create “duets”, i.e. videos with split screens built on existing content. The app has been downloaded more than one billion times so far, with a global footprint including India, the United States, Japan, South Korea, European nations, Brazil, and much of Southeast Asia. In the first quarter of 2019, it was the third most downloaded app in the world after WhatsApp and Messenger.  TikTok is a consumer AI success story, as I explain in my upcoming case study, “ByteDance Beyond China: Leveraging Consumer Artificial Intelligence (AI) from Toutiao to Musical.ly and TikTok”, co-written by Minh H. Vo, INSEAD PhD candidate, and Anne Yang, INSEAD Research Associate. TikTok relies on AI technology in two ways. First, on the consumer side, its algorithms quickly learn individual preferences, as they capture not only the users’ “likes” and comments, but how long they actually watch each video. As the clips are very short, TikTok’s algorithms quickly build sizeable datasets. Secondly, on the producer side, AI also helps content creators craft viral videos. It simplifies video editing and suggests music, hashtags, filters and other enhancements that are trending or have been proven popular based on the category. This AI recipe is so effective that experts have cautioned against TikTok addiction. Similar to Facebook and Instagram users, the average TikTok user spends 52 minutes per day on the app. In that timeframe, they may watch more than 200 videos, including carefully targeted ads or offers. In short, ByteDance combines prediction-based AI and network effects on its vibrant multi-sided platform. More and more users join for a highly personalised stream of content they find addictive, and ever more producers join the ecosystem to create these quickly trending videos. Advertisers and vendors follow with well-targeted ads and offers. AI tightens the connections between players so that each can find a valuable niche in a thriving community. It is perhaps no wonder that the company became, in November 2018, the world’s most valuable start-up, estimated at US$75 billion, one year after TikTok’s international launch. Growing Pains: AI-Based Platforms Can be Victims of Their Own Success However, growing at breakneck speed isn’t without difficulties. AI-enabled content consumption and production generate their own problems as inappropriate content is sometimes created and delivered to users. In China, Bytedance has paid fines for pornographic content and fraudulent ads. In the US, the company paid a record fine of US$5.7 million in February this year to settle a charge that it had failed to seek parental consent before collecting personal data from users under the age of 13. According to a statement by the Federal Trade Commission, the company willingly chose to “pursue growth even at the expense of endangering children”. Out of similar concerns, India banned TikTok from its app stores in early April this year after one of its high tribunals deemed the app encouraged pornography and other illicit content. The court also warned that the app could expose children to sexual predators. The ban was reversed within the month but led TikTok to pull 6 million videos from its platform and quickly introduce content moderation features for the Indian market. Likewise, in Indonesia, the government blocked access to the app in early July 2018, claiming that it featured pornographic and blasphemous content. ByteDance crafted an interesting solution to these problems. Of course, it applies AI-based filtering of inappropriate content. But even a 99 percent effective solution allows thousands of inappropriate videos to seep through. Its solution, therefore, is a unique hybrid of AI and human censorship, in which thousands of employees monitor videos with AI-based tools. This curious solution has gone global, as the firm has established local content monitoring units in other countries, including Indonesia where a staff of 20 now filters videos based on local regulations and cultural values. The Emerging TikTok Strategy: Leveraging AI for Global Platform Dominance ByteDance seems to have found a winning format. Its platform calls for very short videos, letting more users easily create content. It leverages AI not only for the production of videos, but for their delivery as well. Users do not even need to specify their preferences when they join the platform. AI algorithms immediately get to work analysing their behaviour and delivering content, as opposed to simply making recommendations. In very little time, they learn enough to make stunningly accurate predictions about which videos will catch a user’s interest. In a way, TikTok soon knows users better than they know themselves as behavioural preferences may differ from stated desires. This drives user engagement – exactly the kind of audience advertisers and vendors are after. However, inappropriate content is rife on media platforms. When an ecosystem of user-generated content takes off, monitoring problems scale with it. This is even more true when an app is, in fact, designed to quickly surface the most popular content. Of course, AI can be used to filter most inappropriate content, but technology will never be perfect. Even if a tiny percentage of questionable content percolates through, it can still mean thousands of videos. The TikTok solution combines AI and human censorship in a way that is specific to each nation's culture. While ByteDance is still learning along the way, it has made astounding progress since it launched TikTok for an international audience in September 2017. Until now, the BAT trio were so dominant that no one expected a tech start-up to rival their success. ByteDance has defied conventional wisdom with its clever AI-based video-sharing platform. Who knows what new applications it may find in the future for its AI capabilities? Follow INSEAD Knowledge on Twitter and Facebook This article is republished courtesy of INSEAD Knowledge. Copyright INSEAD 2018. (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.) 

How Airlines Manage Conflicts Between Profits and Safety

INSEAD Knowledge

Aviation

By Henrich Greve, INSEAD Professor of Entrepreneurship, and Vibha Gaba, INSEAD Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship Warning: Don’t Read this Just Before Your Next Flight. Commercial air travel is an industry in which relatively small mistakes can result in disproportionately dire consequences. While it is best not to think about this when on the tarmac, it is comforting to know that safety, for airlines, is a major priority. Even so, there are limits to how much an airline can spend, and firms must balance the demands of safety and profitability to avoid running financially aground. In other words, when it comes to safety, it is not so much a matter of “how safe can we be?” as “how safe can we afford to be?” The question of safety vs. profitability is an example of the conflicting operational objectives firms face on a regular basis and the focus of our recent research, “Safe or Profitable? The Pursuit of Conflicting Goals” (forthcoming in Organization Science). The study examined how airlines balance the dual focus of safety and profits, and the influence these factors have on the costly decision of whether to change the configuration of their fleet of aircraft after an accident. Updating fleets, replacing older aircraft or those perceived to be less safe, with newer, more reliable models, is an important way that airlines ensure the safety of their operation. However, fleet replacement can be a costly transaction involving selling at a discount and buying at a premium, and decisions are not made without close scrutiny of an airline’s balance sheet. It may seem intuitive that more profitable airlines are in a better position, and therefore more likely, to replace aircraft perceived as less safe. We found that this was not the case. In fact, while more profitable airlines are generally ahead on the safety front, when it comes to making changes to their fleet after an accident, it was the less profitable carriers that were more likely to sell off aircraft and replace them with models considered more reliable. Less Profitable Firms are More Reactive To track aircraft sales and purchases, we used fleet composition data from the website www.airfleets.net, which includes full data on passenger aircraft across the industry, as well as accident records of all global airlines. We then narrowed these accident statistics down to those accidents in which an aircraft was deemed permanently unfit to fly (referred to as “hull loss accidents”). An analysis of these statistics showed that following a hull loss accident, among the group of airlines that boast above-average safety records, low-profit carriers increased aircraft sales by 55% while high-profit airlines increased aircraft sales by 29%. Profitability played an even more decisive role among airlines with relatively high accident rates. When we assessed airlines with a similar below-average safety record, firms with low profitability were 50% more likely to sell aircraft than those with higher profitability. We also examined the tenor of media coverage for each aircraft model following an accident and found that public relations, while not as influential as accident rates, were a consideration for decision makers. Less profitable airlines were more inclined to sell when the media tenor regarding their fleet was least favourable. In short, while underperforming airlines were more likely to replace aircraft in a bid to improve safety, prosperous firms were not so reactive, being less at risk and more able to survive a scandal.  Should Boeing be Concerned? These findings are particularly interesting when looking at the industry today, as airlines consider their response to the recent air tragedies involving the Boeing 737 Max. After two fatal crashes and the worldwide grounding of the model, air carriers are faced with the costly decision of what to do next. The Boeing 737 Max is a relatively new model but one that has been widely accepted by airlines, particularly low-cost carriers. As of February 2019, 376 aircraft have been delivered and another 4,636 are on order. Already, Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air and a number of other carriers are reportedly dropping or reviewing their orders with Boeing. However, given our findings and the fact that budget airlines, which make up the bulk of Boeing 737 Max’s top customers, are generally more profitable than full-service carriers, it is unlikely that too many airlines will cancel their orders. Southwest Airlines, the number one customer of the Boeing 737 Max, recently completed its 46th straight year of profitability. Ryanair, another top customer, posted a 2018 net profit of €1.45 billion, a 10 percent increase on the previous financial year. That flydubai, the Boeing 737 Max’s second biggest customer, has posted full-year profits since 2012 and came out earlier this month with assurances the aircraft remained integral to its future, further supports our findings. The Ultimate Objective is the Firm’s Survival While the results of our study may fly in the face of general expectations, they actually confirm the premise that when companies perform below aspirations (i.e. less profitably), managers become more risk averse and take actions aimed at improving their firm’s survival. This is not to suggest that nervous travellers should bypass the more profitable, industry-leading carriers in favour of their less successful competitors. There is already good evidence that an airline’s safety record will decline when its margins or profitability are low. However, aircraft sales and buys are made at the top level of an organisation, by individuals who are well aware of the safety consequences of their actions and of the consequences that any accident will have on the firm. Senior managers may even suspect that cost-cutting occurring in other areas of the firm’s operations has the potential to endanger safety, and therefore attempt to compensate for that possibility when deciding what to do about aircraft replacement. Ultimately, what our study found was that both safety and financial objectives are taken into consideration when airlines decide whether to replace aircraft models after an accident. The goal that triggers the stronger reaction is the one perceived as being more important for the firm’s survival. Henrich R. Greve is a Professor of Entrepreneurship at INSEAD and the Rudolf and Valeria Maag Chaired Professor in Entrepreneurship. He is also the Editor of Administrative Science Quarterly and a co-author of Network Advantage: How to Unlock Value from Your Alliances and Partnerships. You can read his blog here. Vibha Gaba is an Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at INSEAD. She is also the Programme Director of Leading Successful Change and Learning to Lead, INSEAD Executive Education programmes. Follow INSEAD Knowledge on Twitter and Facebook. (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

D-Mart: Something Left on the Table or All Soaked In?

Nikhil Arora

Equities

Indian equities are a diverse bunch. On one hand you have a Jet Airways or NDTV…sexy as brands but fabulously pointless as investments (thanks to their decade-long range bound share price charts), every once-in-a-while you can find a stock which investors love from day one. A company whose solid fundamentals, an almost workman-like quality, focus on efficiency, complemented by a sober and austere management adding to its aura. D-Mart, a supermarket chain listed (as Avenue Supermarkets Limited) in March 2017 fits that bill. Promoted by veteran Mumbai investor Radhakishan Damani, who directly and indirectly holds more than 80% of the company, the stock has quadrupled since issuance and remains a market favourite. Currently trading at c. INR1,300, almost 70x its 1y forward earnings, DMart’s growing retail base (from 131 stores in 2017 to 176 in 2019, major footprint in Maharashtra & Gujarat but gradually spreading all across), rising ‘per store’ earnings (from INR7.5cr EBITDA per store in 2017 to INR9.3cr per store in 2019), low leverage and ROEs regularly touching high teens is perhaps why investors love it. No doubt it is a robust business! Its “Everyday low cost – Everyday low price” philosophy i.e. to become the lowest priced retailer in the region they operate in, finds phenomenal resonance in the rapidly transforming Indian retail landscape. But Is It Trading At A “Fair” Price? Assessing fundamental value can be a lot of fun. Even more so if done quick-and-dirty and without any skin in the game. You know…spending one Sunday afternoon to put the company’s basic numbers in a spread sheet and get a feel of things. D-Mart currently trades at INR1,292 per share translating into market capitalisation of INR80,991cr, surely places it at the higher end of the retail spectrum. But it does post higher ROEs, while demonstrating discipline with leverage, so why not!? The Future Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) valuation basics: project the free cash flows (FCF) of the company and discount it by a suitable (tricky point, always) weighted discounted rate (or WACC) to get the present enterprise value (EV). Deduct the company’s net debt from EV to calculate its equity value. Let us look at its actuals then to project future FCF. Revenues: D-Mart’s revenues grew by 38.6% in 2017, 26.4% in 2018, and 33.1% in 2019. Slowing, but come on! Newstores take time to gestate. Will simply assume a 1% drop in growth every year for the next 10 years (as the base becomes bigger, growth will slow down), but still a healthy 23% expected growth in 2029 – not bad. EBITDA: EBITDA margin have been roughly between 8-9%. Taking a word from the CEO’s book of 8-8.5% margin as comfortable, let us assume a conservative and stable 8% (considering there has been some margin pressure lately). FCF: Will simply project working capital as proportion of revenues and assume the capex as 1% of revenues (again very conservative). Deducting change in working capital and capex from EBITDA and you have the FCF. Discount Rate: Don’t really have a strong view on suitable discount rates within the Indian retail space…but here are a few references...D-Mart’s cost of debt is around 9%. Considering D-Mart’s ROE is 18%, one can guess its cost of equity would be somewhere in between. As per Prof Damodaran (if you don’t know him and you’ve managed to read so far, it is your loss alone! Now go and cry in shame.), Indian equities currently hold a risk premium of 8.6%. Hence even with a beta of 1.0 for D-Mart, we’re looking at an expected cost of equity of 16%. Considering its low leverage, we can assume D-Mart’s WACC to be circling around 14%, though considering beta in real terms would be more than 1.0, we can lock in around 15%-16%. But wait, let’s plug in our numbers and goal-seek to see how investors view D-Mart’s WACC coming to its current value of INR80,991cr. The answer...drumroll...12.6%! Now that’s optimistic. Too many bubbles? In my view, yes! Think about it. We’ve assumed practically zero margin expansion, gradual growth slowdown, conservative capital spend, a status quoist approach towards working capital, and still need to apply a relatively aggressive 12%-13% discount rate (vs. 15%-16% IMHO or not less than 14% at least) to square with present market value. Don’t think much is left on the table. Nevertheless, enclosing some valuation sensitivities for you to ponder over. Also click here to view the full spread sheet.     (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

First Among Equals: Differential Voting Rights in India

Kushan Chakraborty

Legal

India has for long held the common perception of one-share one-vote, which assumes that all shares represent an equal percentage of a corporation and that all shareholders have equal rights and obligations. This common perception is likely to witness some churn in the times to come. Capital markets regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) has issued a consultation paper on issuance of shares with differential voting rights (“DVRs”) and invited public comment on it till April 20, 2019. Let’s try and unbox the concept of DVRs.  DVRs or dual-class shares (“DCS”) is a system in which a single company may issue different classes of shares with distinct voting rights and dividend payments. Typically, the shares issued to general public are distinct from the shares issued to the founder(s)-promoter(s) and investor(s) in that the latter class may have higher voting power or more control over the company. Jurisdictions like the United States have had DCS structures for a few decades now, while others like Singapore and Hong Kong have recently jumped on that bus. Still others like the United Kingdom and Australia are more circumspect about the disparity the DCS structure creates between shareholders' economic and voting rights, and have thus far, not permitted it. The American affinity to the DCS structure is, among other reasons, why certain companies like Manchester United (UK) and Alibaba (China) chose to list their IPOs on the New York Stock Exchange even though football and Alibaba aren’t as popular in the US. Others like Facebook and Google, which had huge listings in the US deployed versions of the DCS structure to great effect. On the other hand, SNAP Inc., the holding company of the massively popular social media app Snapchat by offering shares with no voting rights in its IPO, raised more than a few eyebrows. Voting is important as it provides the shareholders control over the company’s affairs. Under the Companies Act, 2013, shareholders have the right to vote in matters relating to the company’s merger, appointment of director, amendments to the constitutional documents of the company, etc. In a single-class structure of shares, A with 10 votes will exercise the same degree of control over the company as B, with 10 votes. In a DCS structure, if A holds 10 shares with higher voting power, she will exercise a higher degree of control over the company than B, who may hold 10 ordinary shares.     Interestingly, SEBI had prohibited companies from issuing shares with “superior” rights with regard to voting and dividends in 2009. This had acted as a barrier to Indian companies issuing shares with DVRs, prompting several companies to list outside India in order to incorporate a DCS structure in relation to their shares. This new step by SEBI is seen by some as an attempt to make India a more friendly jurisdiction for Indian as well as foreign companies to incorporate and list. SEBI's consultation paper proposes two routes for issuing DVRs: For companies that are unlisted but propose to list on the stock exchange with DVR structures (primary listings); andFor companies that are already listed that propose to list DVRs (secondary listings) Further, it discusses the concepts of “superior” and “inferior” rights as to shares, i.e. when shareholders receive voting rights in excess of one vote per share, there would be share with superior voting rights (SR share) and conversely, with inferior or fractional voting rights (FR share).  SR shares may only be issued by unlisted companies and that too only to promoters. The idea is to ensure that promoters maintain more control via their voting rights in addition to their economic rights before the company opts to list its shares. Once the company is listed, it can no longer issue SR shares. There are a few other conditions related to SR shares: Since they can only be issued to promoters, there can be no encumbrance over them. This means that promoters will not be permitted to pledge these SR shares for any debt funding. They are restricted to a perpetual lock-in after the company’s IPO. They can constitute a maximum ratio of 10:1, i.e. they cannot exceed 10 votes per share. They will not carry superior voting rights on every matter. On certain matters, all shareholders (including those holding SR shares) must be subject to the default rule of one vote per share. These are crucial matters that are fundamental to the existence and business of the company. In this regard, SEBI has proposed some "coat tail" provisions, under which SR shares will be treated at par with ordinary shares and FR shares on matters such as appointment and removal of independent director or auditor, change of control, entering into a contract with a person holding SR shares, alteration of the constitution of the company, voluntary winding up of the company, etc. SR shares will be subject to a sunset clause, under which they would automatically convert into ordinary shares at the end of 5 years from the date of listing, at which point their voting rights will become at par with ordinary voting rights. However, the life of SR shares may be extended for a further period of 5 years if the same is approved by a special resolution by all shareholders on a one-share one-vote Promoters, of course, have the discretion to accelerate the conversion of SR shares to ordinary shares. The addition of the sunset clause highlights that DVRs are mostly required at the initial stages of a company’s lifecycle. During and immediately post incorporation, DVRs play an important role in enabling the promoters to assume business risks without ceding control. Subsequently, once the business is more established, shares with DVRs lose their purpose and are converted into regular shares. The sunset clause also has a corporate governance play, effectively preventing promoters from exercising control over a company by holding on to a small number of shares for a large period of time. On the other hand, the paper proposes that FR shares may only be issued by companies whose shares have been listed on the stock exchange for at least a year. FR shares are usually issued to outsiders and investors who want control in the company. Voting rights on FR shares cannot exceed a ratio of 1:10, i.e. one vote for every 10 shares. Companies may pay a higher dividend on FR shares as an incentive for investors to opt for them, in lieu of lower control rights.   The paper also recommends amendments to the Companies Act, 2013 and various other SEBI Regulations such as those relating to capital issuances, continuous listing requirements, buyback and takeovers, which reflect the impact of DVRs on these legislative and regulatory provisions. (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We highly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

Fending Off Disruption: Incumbent Strategies for Digital Transformation

Prof Sia Siew Kien

Digital

With all the hype about technological disruption, companies are scrambling to jump onto the digital transformation bandwagon. An international Ernst & Young survey, conducted on over 900 companies in 2017, shows that 90% of these companies are elevating digital priorities in their strategic planning over the next two years. But more digital initiatives do not mean stronger transformation strategy. You need to understand the tech disruption scenario in your specific context when you formulate an effective and targeted transformation strategy.  Clarify your Specific Tech Disruption Scenario  According to Professor Ron Adner (Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College) and Rahul Kapoor (The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania), a specific disruption scenario is the unfolding of competitive forces between the new and the old technology ecosystems. The greater the challenges (e.g., industry resistance, regulatory constraints) confronting the new technology ecosystem, the slower the disruption. The more positive the improvement prospects of old technology ecosystem, the more incumbents will remain relevant and competitive. The different competitive dynamics would yield four disruption scenarios - creative destruction, illusion of resilience, robust coexistence, and robust resilience.   Creative destruction will take place very rapidly, where the new tech ecosystem is emerging fast, and the old tech ecosystem is no longer relevant. Illusion of resilience is a period of inactivity followed by rapid disruption, where the old tech ecosystem is no longer relevant but the speed of new tech ecosystem emerging is slow such that incumbents will continue its dominance until new entrants resolve emergence challenges. Robust coexistence occurs when incumbents and new entrants each have their respective advantages because the new tech ecosystem is emerging fast and the old tech ecosystem is still relevant. Robust resilience is the best scenario for incumbents, where the old tech ecosystem continues to be relevant and the speed of new tech ecosystem emerging is slow. Align Your Digital Transformation Strategy In the Creative Destruction scenario, passive participation is most sensible as it is too late for incumbents to develop new capabilities and old tech ecosystem is no longer relevant. Refusal to acknowledge the reality can be costly. For example, to counter the rapid rise of mobile payment in China (e.g., AliPay and WeChat Pay), ICBC, China’s largest bank, invested aggressively in its own payment app and e-commerce site, but still failed to challenge the dominance of these disruptors. Instead, incumbents should focus on their niches to do what they do best, and ensure that they are readily connectable to these platforms to participate in the growth of the disruptors.  In the Illusion of Resilience scenario, incumbents should focus on preemptive reinvention. This is what DBS Bank has done. To preempt disruption of its core retail banking business, it embarked on a radical tech transformation to ramp up its digital capabilities to be like a tech giant. It invested heavily on its people to be a 22,000 person startup. It also disintermediated itself to “make banking invisible” by embedding itself in the lives of its customers. However, preemptive reinvention is still a defensive strategy. DBS is only getting itself on par with the tech disruptors in terms of new capabilities. With the disruptors’ entrance into Singapore (e.g., Ant Financial and Grad Pay), the competitive battle is still out there to be fought. But DBS would be so much more ready to compete with these disruptors now. Under the Robust Coexistence scenario, incumbents still have some relevant old capabilities but have no time to develop new capabilities. On the other hand, disruptors have new capabilities, but they need access to some old resources. Since they each have a piece of the puzzle, incumbents should seek to develop a win-win strategic collaboration with the disruptors. Citibank, for example, has accumulated deep global treasury management expertise in enterprise banking, but it lacks new digital capabilities. Its strategy was to actively seek partners with complementary capabilities. KJ Han, Chief Executive of Citibank Singapore, coined the term “fintegration” and noted that banks will need to become extraordinarily adept at integrating the best fintech innovations into their operations.                                                              Finally, in Robust Resilience, incumbents have the opportunity to entrench their competitive position through platform transformation, given their advantageous positions. For example, Ping An, China’s second largest insurance provider, went beyond reimbursement for social health insurance to build a digital ecosystem that integrated relevant healthcare services around its customers. Ping An Health Cloud facilitated sharing of patients’ electronic medical records across stakeholders (i.e., patients, clinics, insurance providers, government). Ping An Good Doctor enabled online medical consultation and Ping An Wanjia offered offline healthcare services linking to thousands of clinics. The transformation leveraged its strong incumbent advantages - high quality medical data, extensive hospital network, and massive user base. Measure Your Digital Transformation Efforts There is no one-size-fits-all digital transformation strategy. Ask these two questions: Which tech disruption scenario are you encountering?  What should be the focus of your digital transformation strategy? Such clarity should help you establish appropriate measures to track the progress of your transformation efforts (e.g., KPIs for “platform transformation” versus “preemptive reinvention”). The truth is that your digital transformation efforts will be scrutinized! Unlike venture funding for startup disruptors, investments for incumbents’ digital transformation must come from its traditional businesses. You need to continuously justify the resource bridging from the old to the new. Having little to show after pouring in huge sum of money is the surest way to kill such transformations. You need to demonstrate real business value as you progress along. Co-written with Mou Xu About the authors Sia Siew Kien is associate professor of Information Technology and Operations Management at Nanyang Business School at NTU Singapore while Mou Xu is research associate at the business school’s Asian Business Case Centre. (We are now on your favorite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

Inside Epic Games' Fortnite Battle Royale: Is "Free to Play" the Way to Go?

Prince Thomas

Digital

Fortnite has lately emerged as the poster child for the video gaming industry, having established itself as a cultural phenomenon within the community in a very short time. Even leading entertainment outlets such as Netflix now recognize it as competition. With c. 200 million registered players, Fortnite was the biggest earner amongst video games, making $2.7bn of  revenue in 2018, as per Analyst firm SuperData. This is the highest annual earnings for any game, ever! The significance of this achievement is only escalated when one considers the fact that Fortnite is a "free to play" game and requires no initial investment from the consumer’s side. Designed around a "games as a service" philosophy wherein games are viewed as a service rather than a product, somewhat like Hotstar which with its freemium model helps you enjoy select content free of charge, while members who pay get get access to exclusive content.  Along similar lines, Fortnite releases content on a regular basis in the form of battle-passes. The release of these passes are spread out over multiple seasons throughout the year and contain cosmetic items that alter the appearance of your character and weapon models. These cosmetics can be purchased via the in-game currency namely “V-bucks”, obviously exchangeable for real life money. Paid vs Free To put things into perspective, PUBG, the top earner in the premium games category earned around $1bn in  revenues  in 2018. Note, premium games are those for which you need to pay an upfront cost, while free to play games are those that require no initial investment (like Fortnite). Thereby vs. free to play games, PUBG doesn’t even make it to Top 10. Yes! There are more than 10 free to play games making more than $1bn in 2018 as compared to only one  in the premium list. It has to be noted that while PUBG is a $20 title, it is also offered as a free to play version. In fact, a substantial portion of the money PUBG earned came from its free version that was released on mobile platforms. If we take away this portion of the revenue, PUBG won’t even cross the billion dollar mark.  An Example The success of Fortnite and other similar free to play games has attracted attention of big players within the industry. There is a moving  focus towards games as a service model with a free to play "in-game economy". A prime example of this shift would be publisher Electronic Arts’s latest release APEX Legends, one of Fortnite’s prominent competitors. The game was launched as free to play title in early February with zero publicity. Within a week of the launch, it snagged  over 25million registered players. Their shares surged more than 16% - their best single-day gain in more than four years. Yet another example would be that of publisher Valve who launched a free to play version of their popular shooter CS:GO in 2018. This shifting trend is likely to continue throughout 2019 with more and more multiplayer titles like Unreal Tournament and Total War going the free to play way. Will It Work? Fortnite’s success bears testimony to the fact that free to play model can work and work rather well. For multiplayer games that make most of their revenue through in-game transactions, charging for the game upfront makes little sense as it limits accessibility for potential players who might have tried the game had it been free of cost. Think of it this way, would 200 million players have bought Fortnite if they had to pay $20 for it? Would it bring in the same amount of money as it is bringing in now? Shifting towards a free to play model would  allow publishers to reach a wider audience, which in turn will lead to increased customer engagement which in turn is bound to increase profits. But Not Without its Challenges Apart from the success that the free to play model brings in, it also brings with it its own set of problems. A free game like Fortnite will have more trouble keeping its player base engaged than a developer who has already charged an upfront cost. These games need to keep releasing content on a regular basis to prevent the formula from going stale. Also as the developer of a new “free to play” game, you run the risk of your game not being recognized among an ocean of similar releases. The more crowded the market gets, the more difficult it will become for the game to find an audience.  Conclusion Is a company following Fortnite’s footsteps likely to enjoy the same amount of success? Not necessarily. Fortnite is a different beast in itself, it provides an environment for social interaction like none other. You can think of it as a Facebook for gaming. You log in at any time of the day, find your friends online and have a fun  time with them. But this time, the fun is more interactive and that’s what keeps bringing people back for more. The cosmetic system allows users to create unique designs for their characters and show it off to the world – a bit like Instagram this time . There have been many attempts to replicate the Fortnite formula, but until now, none has succeeded. Additionally the developer, Epic Games also puts in considerable amount of resources in the analysis of player data obtained through feedback to constantly evolve the game into something that the players want. This truly highlights their achievement in keeping their large customer base engaged since the game’s release. The benchmarks set by Fortnite might be hard to replicate as it launched into a market which had a demand, but offered little competition. However, that’s not to take away from the fact that free to play titles can’t succeed in crowded markets. Take for example League of Legends - a free to play game launched in 2009. The game brought in around $1.4 billion in 2018 in a market crowded with similar games. Thanks to Fortnite, gaming has gone from being a niche market to a mainstream one, with more players coming in every day, bringing in different tastes and preferences on the type of games they like to play. This provides the publishers with enough breathing room to make good money without stepping on each other's toes. Video Games taking the free to play route will have an opportunity to attract a wider audience, all the while bringing in more money. (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We highly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

Transfin. LongShorts Podcast E:48

We like to talk Business and Finance. Figured we should do it for a living.

Transfin. Podcast E47: Auto Deal, Recession Proof, Mega Merger

Professor S

LongShorts

Transfin. Podcast E46: Macro Headwinds, RIL's Craft, Big-Bang Mergers

Professor S

LongShorts

Transfin. Podcast E45: Credit Line, Use Case, Big Data

Professor S

LongShorts

Are We Winning The War On AIDS?

Sudhanva Shetty

LongShorts

For over four decades HIV/AIDS has spread fear and grief throughout the world. The lethal virus has claimed over 35 million innocent lives, resulted in endless trauma and discrimination, and ignited a massive public scare unlike any other disease. But today, what was once a death sentence has in fact become treatable. The virus still strikes, spreads and kills, but its body count has greatly plummetted. Today, thanks to research and scientific advances, there is reason to hope that humanity is on the verge of winning the war on AIDS - and soon. The Berlin Patient: In 1995, Timothy Ray Brown was diagnosed with HIV while studying in Berlin. What followed was a long decade of antiretroviral treatment (ART) to suppress the virus. Then, in 2006, in an unrelated development, Brown developed blood cancer. To treat this life-threatening disease a blood-stem-cell transplant would be conducted. That’s the usual procedure followed. But here’s what changed everything – the tissue-matched donor who was selected had inherited from both his parents a rare mutation (the CCR5 or CD195 cell surface receptor, if we’re being technical). This mutation helps build immunity in healthy people against HIV infections. The result? History. Three years later, though ART had been discontinued, doctors could no longer detect HIV in Brown’s blood. The London Patient: In March this year, a second person was declared “cured”. The procedure undertaken (in a London hospital) was similar to Brown’s, and the virus was not observed again in the patient though he was taken off treatment for 18 months. Doctors warn against using the word “cure” for these cases. A cure would be a final, definitive fix to kill the virus in an infected person’s body for good. In the above two cases, the virus’s reproductive chain was broken but it might resume replicating in the bloodstream in the future. That’s why doctors prefer to say the person is “in remission”. A final, definitive cure for AIDS, meanwhile, is still out of reach. But it is within our grasp  How to Tame A Pandemic: HIV/AIDS was first observed in 1959 but became an international scare only in the 1980s. The pandemic peaked in the mid-2000s, when the mortality was almost two million people each year. Meanwhile, ART was priced at over $10,000/patient/year. Fast-forward to today, about 15 years later, and you’ll find the amount of ground covered by science and humanity to be astounding. The mortality rate has halved, as has the number of new infections (two-thirds of them in sub-Saharan Africa). Access to treatment has never been more easily available. And antiretroviral therapy? In 2016, it stood at $75/patient/year for first-line treatment. Meanwhile, the efficacy of treatment has progressed significantly. The first treatments emerged in 1987; in 1996, ART revolutionised HIV care. Over time, the focus of scientists shifted from containing the progression of the disease to reversing it. And treatments have simplified too – from dozens of medications on a daily basis to single-tablet regimens. This shows the progress that’s been made and gives us reason to be optimistic for even more simple procedures in the future. Case in point: during his treatment, the Berlin patient had to be put in a medically induced coma and had nearly died. The London patient, on the other hand, was put through a milder, more tolerable experience to be “cured”, even though the procedure was a similar one. How is India Coping With AIDS?: About 2.3 million Indians live with HIV. Since 2010, annual new infections have fallen by 27% (considerably better than the global average of 16%) while AIDS-related deaths have plummeted by 57% (the global average is 33%). While our progress in the last ten years is admirable, these numbers could – and should – be much, much better. And the movement against AIDS might be losing momentum – in 2017, the number of new infections actually rose, something that’s often blamed on waning interest in the anti-HIV programme and unpredictable funding. Domestic funding of the anti-AIDS programme has skyrocketed in India since 2012, but government budgetary allocations have fluctuated. For example, in 2015-16 the budgetary allocation to the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) was slashed by 22% and a year later it was increased by 17% (in the recent budget, the allocation was boosted by 30%). These fluctuations have hurt the functioning of prevention programmes and laid off many health workers. The big obstacle India faces in eradicating AIDS is the “epidemic of non-communication”. The government’s test and treat policy provides free and guaranteed ART to patients, but only 56% of those afflicted are on this treatment. Though over 70% of the population is aware of this disease, many are unaware of its links to unsafe sex and drug use, or its treatments. This is especially critical in rural areas, where 40% of youth don’t have knowledge about AIDS. A lot of this might have to do with the societal taboos around sex and sex education prevalent in our society. New HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths in India. How Close is India to Eliminating AIDS?: Well, the UN’s goal is to end the AIDS epidemic globally by 2030. To achieve this goal, they have a sub-target called “90-90-90”, to be reached by 2020. 90-90-90 stands for ensuring that 90% of those infected know their HIV status, 90% of those diagnosed will receive sustained treatment, and 90% of those treated will have viral suppression. Against this target, India’s numbers as of  2017 stand at 79-56-X (X because data for the same is unavailable). Look How Far We’ve Come: The Berlin and London patients were milestones in the race to the Holy Grail – a definitive cure for AIDS – and experimental science around this topic has grown even more sophisticated since then. Today, DNA editing, gene knockouts and even laser technology are being used to combat HIV or research treatments. Awareness about the causes and treatments of AIDS has spread like wildfire, aided both by governments and NGOs. And even as efforts to find a cure are tantalisingly close, vaccines are also being developed and tested to prevent AIDS in the first place. Black & White: CRISPR is a field of particular interest to researchers. Its technology uses a protein called Cas9 to add or remove targeted portions of the human genome. Scientists opine that as the tech develops it could be used to target the virus in an infected person’s chromosomes. It has already been used in mice and monkeys with relative success. But with great power comes great controversy. Last year, a Chinese scientist used CRISPR to meddle with CCR5 in human embryos to create the world’s first genetically edited babies (two twin girls, and possible more children). The scientist argued that he was enabling HIV-resistant human beings, but his “project” was met with near-unanimous international backlash. It was panned as “human experimentation” and sparked a major debate on bioethics and genetic engineering.    Still Not at the Mountaintop: Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, 35 million people across the world have lost their lives to this dreadful disease. Today, 36.9 million people still live with HIV. In a matter of four decades, humanity has come a long way – from struggling to deal with a global pandemic to coming close to a cure. But while it can be said that we are winning the war on AIDS, we must keep in mind that the end is still some distance away. (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

Cricket, Uber, Huawei, Snapchat & More...

Professor S

TheWeekThatWas

  

Transfin. Podcast E36: Brand Power, Clean Slate, Human Element

Professor S

LongShorts

  Our podcast with Arjun Guleria (of Beam & Words, a Delhi-based brand communications & brand strategy firm) started with a conversation on Brands, but gradually changed course to reflect on his personal journey as an entrepreneur, the human element which is key for creative solutions, and the blessing that is his accountant! P.S. He also humoured our usual digressions towards AI/ML, the myriad evolutions of consumer tech, for better, and for worse! When Arjun started with his co-Partners, Beam & Words wanted to look at "Communications as a Whole", avoid siloes, and not become a hostage of platforms. 7 years later, seems not much has changed.  The TOC: Why Brands First, Platforms Later? We start by talking about brands and communication, the two main areas of focus of Beam & Words. Arjun tells us in detail about his “brands first, platforms later” ideology, through which the company places emphasis on identifying the story of a brand and not on the platform of promotion, which are often only momentary. Starting Business with a Clean Slate We move on to talk about Arjun’s relatable phase of imposter syndrome and feeling like the odd-one-out in the beginning, given the PR and advertising background of his co-founders, and his own in finance. It seems to have worked out to their advantage though, allowing them to start their business with a clean slate, bringing together different ideas and perspectives. This proved to be so important in the ever-evolving world of business and communication, that the company has now taken to hiring people from a variety of backgrounds! Can AI get Creative? Touching upon a topic from our previous podcast, in our last section we talk about offline versus online marketing, and similar to our previous guest, Arjun also talks about the benefits and the emotive aspect of the offline. This discussion organically leads us to the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual or Augmented Reality and their role in the marketing industry. We question whether the ever-more lifelike bots could ever replace humans when it comes to data interpretation and communication with clients, with Arjun arguing that despite being advantageous as efficiency tools, there’s still a long way to go before they can begin to offer creative advice. (We are now on your favorite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

Why is Land Acquisition in India Controversial & What are the Reforms the Modi Govt Should Implement?

Sudhanva Shetty

LongShorts

With a massive electoral victory and a second Parliamentary majority, the Modi government yet again faces a historic opportunity to review India’s archaic land acquisition laws. Also in consideration should be much-needed land reforms, with the objective to boost business and incentivise investments while ensuring stakeholder protection.  The fact that India's Land-related conflicts  impact about 7.7 million people and block $200bn in investments serves as a case-in-point.   Why is Land Acquisition So Controversial? The Triumvirate: Simplistically, any industrial project requires three basic components – land, labour and capital. Land is hence a fundamental ingredient. Moreover, it can support the capital raised by securing any debt undertaken. Too Many Laws Spoil the Broth: Unfortunately, Land in India is governed by a plethora of laws. Too many, to be precise. To illustrate, an analysis conducted by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) mapped over 1,400 land-related laws across eight states alone! Yes, more than a thousand laws driving these rules! Land acquisition alone forms part of 102 of these laws. Naturally this means laws do sometimes conflict with one other leading to avoidable disputes. For example, the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 are sometimes seen in conflict with those of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. This is not good news for an overburdened judicial system. In fact, two-thirds of all civil cases heard by India’s courts relate to land and property disputes. Holding Out For A Higher Price: Acquiring land is also difficult because of the “hold-out” problem. For instance, if you’re a business seeking to build a steel manufacturing unit on a plot owned by 50 landowners, an individual landowner or as it is more common, third party brokers, agents, civil society organisations, or political parties could hold you hostage by demanding a higher rate, knowing that you have already invested in purchasing that land. If the sellers or the aforementioned intermediaries are especially shrewd in “holding out” for a higher price, the delay and cost of negotiating could kill the project entirely. No Records Found: Then there are the problems of lack of ample land records, the challenges in offering a universally acceptable compensation (which are often government-decreed multiples of the market rate), and prohibitions on acquiring certain types of plots (such as multi-crop pieces). Moreover, arriving at a definite market value itself is a challenge, considering normally there isn’t adequate transaction liquidity in the market. Even circle rates for properties in urban areas are either outdated or ill-defined while for rural areas such benchmarks are not often present. Matters Of Emotion: The issues are not merely economic. For many Indians, especially those belonging to tribal and forested parts of the country, depending on land for their day-to-day subsistence, its value is not solely judged on financial criteria. Ongoing conflicts in this regard between state and central governments and broadly between executive and judiciary; only highlights this inherent complexity at play. Why is Land So Complicated?  The Argumentative Indian: As Amartya Sen wrote in his acclaimed book, India’s staggering diversity has inculcated in Indians a proclivity for argument and disagreement. And few things expose divisions between groups and citizens more than land acquisition. The prospect of a government taking private land for public use is a manifestly controversial one and a well-tested trigger for pursed lips and clenched fists. A Brief History: In the years after independence, India enacted several land reforms to undo numerous historic injustices. The abolition of the zamindari system, distributing surplus land to the landless, consolidation of land holdings, imposition of land ceilings – these are a few measures that were implemented. In India, land is majorly a “state subject”, implying most matters related to land governance fall under the purview of the state governments,. However, "acquisition and requisitioning of property" is on the “concurrent list”, implying its responsibility is shared between the centre and states. Thereby the varying success of India’s land reforms across states lines is natural, considering each states’ own history, culture and governance.  Land Acquisition in India Today The LARR: India became independent in 1947 but it was only in 2013 that the Parliament passed a law on land acquisition – the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR). Until then, a much-controversial 1894 colonial law governed the process, amended many times in the 120 years prior. Drawbacks Of The LARR: The LARR expanded the rights of landowners and cultivators. Though addressing an essential requirement, many commentators also decried it  as being pandering and populist in its focus on landowners’ rights at the expense of economic development. Businesses were worried with many of its components, in particular: the skewed consent clause (70% for PPP projects; 80% for private projects; no consent needed for government projects),mandatory social impact assessment, except in cases of “urgency”(which can potentially lengthen and extortionate the process) andfor setting a high price for land (up to two times the market value for urban plots and four times for rural land, including add-on solatium). Some researchers found that the new law would extend the process of acquisition by 2-3 years. What are the much-needed land acquisition reforms needed today? Some reforms may make land acquisition more practical and beneficial in the long run: Fewer laws – as explained above, India has an excess surplus of land-related laws, which are often archaic or overlapping with each other. Simplifying the legal apparatus behind acquisition will greatly simplify and speed up the process.Land record reforms – a major reason why land acquisition takes so long is because landowners often don’t have the right documents of ownership, or because of rival claims over the same plot. To avoid this, on-ground verification of records should be executed (Telangana can serve as a role model for this) and technology can be roped in to accelerate the process (like in Odisha, where drones were used to aerially map slums or in Telangana where blockchain tech was used to store land data). There needs to be a push towards transparency of transaction data to ensure rural and urban land price benchmarks can be developed.Judicial reforms – this is an indirect way of modernising acquisition. As mentioned earlier, two-thirds of all civil cases in India are land-related. Unless the judicial logjam is not fixed and India’s courts don’t shed their notorious propensity for lengthy trials, investors will think twenty times before pitching a project.Not all land acquisitions are equal – those undertaken for, say, affordable housing or in the interest of national security obviously trump others and thus should either be allowed to forego lengthy social impact assessments or be given a fast-track option.Decreasing the cost of land acquisition – presently, the LARR mandates above-market prices (up to four times the market value in rural areas), which can potentially disincentivise investment. Compensation rationalisation would be much welcome.Banning land acquisition of multi-crop lands is counter-productive in the long run. It could mean haphazard urban development/expansion.Shortening the time limit for acquisition. Presently, the upper limit is 50 months, and the Modi government previously pledged to decrease this to 42 months – that’s still almost four years. Industry Checks: On the other end of the spectrum, rules on industry requirements should also be rationalised. Often industrial corridors/parks and SEZs demand much more land than usual, thus inciting more evictions and compensations. When it comes to SEZs at least, much of the land acquired by the government for establishment of these zones (usually acquired under “public purpose”) is still unused for the stated goals of economic growth and prosperity, fuelling more discontent amongst the citizens whose land was acquired (as of December 2018, only 62% of SEZs are operational, and questions have been raised about the vitality of the SEZ programme itself). Such requirements should be adequately scrutinised and reviewed. The Perfect Balance: A major challenge in amending the LARR will be finding the perfect balance – economic development cannot come at the cost of exploiting landowners’ rights; at the same time focussing only on landowners’ rights at the expense of development projects will be detrimental to the national interest. Moreover, it must be kept in mind that just as development cannot come at the expense of human rights it cannot come at the expense of the environment. Any environmental degradation – and there will always be some - that accompanies a project should be kept minimal and should be alleviated by environmental preservation/development in another/adjacent area. The Modi government should tread these delicate balances whilst staying true to its promises of reforming India. While this is not an easy task to execute, it is by no means an impossible one. We recently had a chat with Ankit Bhatia, who works at CPR, on a broad range of land-related issues in India. You can listen to this podcast here:  (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

Transfin. Podcast E35: Secrecy First, Immersive Power, Offline Works

Professor S

LongShorts

  We sip Coffee with Shreya Soni, CEO & Founder of Delhi Secret Supper Club (DSSC) - India’s first-of-its-kind platform with a vision to enable "like-minded people to get together without an agenda". More than 6 years since inception, DSSC is now a leading curator of immersive experiences for the country’s most exclusive member base.  A former London-based Consultant, Shreya walks us through her journey as an Incognito (yes!) CEO and shares how Secrecy, even for herself, created the very hook and moat differentiating DSSC. Her thoughts on the value of curated discovery, the changing ebbs and flows of online/offline marketing, and her admirable forbearance for food and water allergies makes for a mighty interesting chat!The Agenda:  Deploying Secrecy in BusinessOur usual discussions on business acquire a different dimension in this episode, with Shreya bringing to the table a new approach – that of business executed in secrecy. We talk in detail about how she maintained the mystery surrounding the club with her innovative use of email (and even voice diffusers!), and its challenges and benefits.From Experiences to Experiential MarketingWe move on to talk about how the company organically expanded from just curating experiences to experiential marketing and creative services. Shreya tells us all about what kind of work the company does for different clients, while going into detail about its marketing model and its approach for the online versus the offline.The Return of Offline (and Authentic Regional Cuisine)After the sudden explosion of the online world and social media a few years ago, people are now moving back to the offline world of privacy, and are more conscious than ever before about what they consume online.The topic of online and offline marketing naturally leads us to this discussion, with Shreya telling us how the offline world offers a kind of intimate approach to marketing that one can never find over the internet, making her prefer the former over the latter.Lastly, we touch upon the growing popularity of authentic regional cuisine and the idea of returning to our roots by embracing what we’re known for. Oh, and also how parental pressure and food are the factors that drive her business! :) (We are now on your favorite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

Draft National E-Commerce Policy: Treading the Thin Line Between Regulation and Restriction

Professor S

LongShorts

Backdrop: The government recently released a draft e-commerce policy for stakeholder comments, barely two months post rollout of its new FDI policy which shook the nascent industry, especially major players. The Draft deliberates upon a comprehensive framework aiming to preserve consumer interest by creation of suitable regulatory mechanisms. However, like most policy actions, it walks on a fine line of managing citizen interest at the expense of creating a less-than-conducive regulatory environment for the industry at-large - one that may not allow the country to reap the maximum benefit from the rapid digitalization of the domestic, as well as the global economy. Let’s Start from the Start: India’s burgeoning e-commerce market was valued at $38.5bn in 2017 and is estimated to rise to $200bn in 2026. Electronic commerce and data are emerging as key enablers and critical determinants of India’s growth and economic development, facilitated by cheap smartphones and even cheaper data. Here’s a rundown of the key points: On Point?: Six broad issues have been touched, including i) data, ii) infrastructure development, iii) e-commerce marketplaces, iv) regulatory issues, v) promotion of domestic digital economy and vi) export. Data is the New Oil: There’s an overwhelming push for a robust administrative, regulatory and legal mechanism to control data flows. The word “data” itself has been quoted more than 200 times within the 42 page document. The principal case has been that an individual consumer/user who generates data retains ownership rights over it. Viewed in conjunction to the Personal Data Protection Bill submitted to the government (for consideration by the Justice BN Srikrishna Committee on 27th July 2018), the policy at the least envisages to regulate cross-border data flow while enabling sharing of community data (data collected by IoT devices installed in public spaces like traffic signals or automated entry gates).  Breaking it Down: No data collected or processed in India shall be made available to a third party or to other business entities outside India, for any purpose, even with the consent of the customer. Neither can it be made available to a foreign government, without the prior permission of Indian authorities. The document, however, is light on details around potential implementation mechanisms.Push for a three-year data localization requirement  Backbone: Development of data-storage facilities/infrastructure is another vital part of the value chain recognized. Data centres, server farms, towers and tower stations, equipment, optical wires, signal transceivers, antennae etc. will be accorded ‘infrastructure status’ – facilitating access to longer maturity loans, easier lending terms, and even cheaper foreign currency funding through the external commercial borrowing route. An ‘infrastructure status’ also seeks to streamline the regulation of the sector.Budgetary support to be provided for the exploration of domestic alternatives to foreign-based clouds and email facilities Supply Chain Transparency:  To streamline functioning of the e-Commerce sector under the FDI Policy, e- commerce websites/applications are required to ensure that all product shipments from other countries to India must be channelized through the Customs route.The Policy provides for integrating Customs, RBI and India Post systems to improve tracking of imports through e-Commerce.All ecommerce sites/apps operating in India must have a registered business entity in India as the importer on record or as the entity through which all sales in India are transacted.All parcels under the ‘gifting’ route to be banned, with the exception of life-saving drugs. This move comes in light of companies exploiting India’s “gifting” rule whrein personal gifts priced below INR5,000 are exempt from duties. Several red flags have been raised in the recent times over numerous “gift” deliveries being made to the same address and heavy 15 kilogram parcels being brought in with a declared value of just INR3,000.  Watchdog: Given the inter-disciplinary nature of the sector, a Standing Group of Secretaries on e-Commerce (SGoS) would be appointed to regulate the issues effectively. No standalone regulator proposed, so far. Bonus: The Policy also proposes regulation of advertising charges in e-commerce (including social media platforms), to create a “level-playing field” for small businesses, who otherwise have to allocate an excessively high proportion of their budget and working capital to advertising to find their potential customers. In our view such a stance borders on regulatory overreach and we’d be very wary of its detailed wording, whenever it comes out. In Conclusion While the draft ecommerce policy means well for MSMEs and startups who seek to break through the competitive space, it is also likely to increases their compliance costs having to restructure means of how they store and share data. Giants such as Amazon and Flipkart will likewise be hit in a significant manner, forced to make huge changes to comply with the proposed rules, even as they have often been known to find legal or other ways to circumvent potential downsides. The enhanced cost of compliance may also have an adverse bearing on the rate of investment in Indian e-commerce, specifically on FDI inflows. As for the consumers, the policy seeks to offer some respite with strong anti-counterfeiting and anti-piracy measures, pushing e-tailers to publicly share all relevant details of the sellers listed on their portals and ensuring speedy redressal of consumer grievances. While the draft at multiple instances reiterates the need for the creation of a facilitative regulatory environment for growth of e-commerce sector, it falls short of providing specific details on implementations or addressing any operational nuances.   Moreover, the manner in which the policy addresses the question of ownership of personal data has been termed as “unusually parochial”, often directly at odds with the recommendations of the Justice Srikrishna Committee and the decision of the Supreme Court in its right to privacy judgement. With the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade having kicked-off a round of stakeholder consultations on the draft policy, one can only hope that the future iterations don’t propose ham-fisted solutions to problems, rather push for a more definite and implementable framework. (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We strongly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)