Eternal Sunshine From An Optimist Mind

India is a complex and noisy democracy full of contradictions. Sample map of India below. The borders depict the states but if you look carefully, the names are NOT the state names but names of countries.

S. Sriniwasan, Managing Director, Kotak Investment Advisors Limited

This is based on the population of each state! Also, please note India has as many languages as the map depicts. Being aware of the cultural nuances that go with this complexity is another aspect to be kept in mind. Of course the British, gave us the gift of English language which makes doing business easy.

In fact Bollywood movies and English language are the only two things that most of India would agree. All other aspects are up for a noisy debate.

With this backdrop, in 2009 when I went to LPs to talk about India I started with a slide, which said I-N-D-I-A which stood for I will Never Do It Again! This was on the back of investors’ helicopter investing in the market and licking their wounds after the GFC. There was of course the usual gripe about lack of transparency and blaming regulatory authorities for bad investment decisions.

Now, a decade later, the market is dramatically different and there is proof of the pudding in terms of the scale of the opportunity. There is evidence that returns can be generated if a disciplined investment approach is taken. Managers have successfully invested and harvested to show track record and the men have been separated from the boys.

All of this has been possible due to a number of key enablers. First of all the regulatory environment has been clear and investor friendly.

As practitioners, we are aware of how the Government and the Securities regulators engaged deeply with us to pave the way for India’s first REIT listing.

A lack of consistency in benchmarking and measurement methodologies across geographies has understandably been a frustration for investors and the REIT community

I must add APREA, played a key role in engaging with stakeholders here!! Second, market discipline and transparency have come in due to a plethora of regulations like the Real Estate Regulatory Act and the new Insolvency and Bankruptcy code empowering lenders and homebuyers as well ensuring financial discipline on developers. More is on the way and I am optimistic about the Governments response to current issues and genuine intention to resolve them to pave the way for a more conducive investment environment. While all of this is good news, we are in the midst of a credit crunch and there’s a crisis in the Non-Bank Finance Companies primarily from asset liability mismatch and poor credit underwriting on loans to Real Estate developers. Coupled with a slowdown in home sales and price correction, we are staring down the barrel. However, the silver lining is India has never wasted a crisis! And we are in one right now!

Based on the industry’s engagement with Government and other regulators I am confident that appropriate measures are afoot to bring back confidence and induct liquidity. This too shall pass and give way to a more healthy market.

If one were to pick the common threads and summarize the key to successful investing in India, my take would be:

  1. “Boots on the ground” and a team which has operated in this market, along with a keen sense of smell for trouble.
  2. Take your time, be choosy in Partner selection for investing alongside or creating a platform, and be willing to pay for quality and governance.
  3. KISS principle (Keep it Simple and Straight) and clear documentation of commercials. Esoteric structures are neither understood nor appreciated by courts or regulators.
  4. Focus on following not just the letter of the law but the spirit of the law as well and not rely on “cute” aggressive interpretation by advisors. Ask the simple and dumb questions.
  5. After 34 years of operating the Indian market, my firm does not do stuff that looks too good to be true and I would urge investors to follow that mantra.

 

Incredible India does not look good as a still picture, but as a movie it’s as enjoyable as a Bollywood Blockbuster! IF you follow the above I-N-D-I-A could become IndiYEAH!!

Namaste!!!

About the author

S. Sriniwasan

Managing Director

Kotak Investment Advisors Limited

S. Sriniwasan (Srini) has been with the Kotak Group since 1993 and currently heads Kotak Investment Advisors Limited (KIAL), a wholly owned subsidiary of Kotak Mahindra Bank. 

Srini also oversees Kotak Private Equity, Kotak Infrastructure Funds, Kotak Special Situations Fund and Kotak Listed Equities. Overall, Srini manages about USD 2.7Bn in AUM across asset classes. Srini has played a crucial role in setting up and building the Alternate Assets business at KIAL. He established one of India’s first real estate funds in 2005 and steered the growth of the business since its launch.  

As one of the earliest fund managers to raise and invest capital in India, Srini has introduced significant financing, financial structuring and negotiating skills in the alternate assets industry. 

Srini joined the Kotak Mahindra Group in January 1993. He was a part of Kotak’s investment banking joint venture with Goldman Sachs from inception in 1995, and was also co-head of Kotak Investment Banking till 2005. At Kotak Investment Banking, Srini advised leading domestic and international companies on capital raising, M&A and strategic divestitures. 

Srini is a member of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) committee for policy initiatives on Foreign Direct Investment and REITs and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) subcommittee on Capital Markets. He also serves as Chairman for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), South Asia Valuation Professional Group Board. He is also a Board member of Asia Pacific Real Estate Association Limited (APREA) India Chapter and a member of the Governing Council of Global Real Estate Institute (GRI) – India Chapter.  He is a Member of the Executive Committee at the Indian Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (IVCA).   

Srini holds a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from Delhi University and an MBA from the Institute of Management Technology (IMT), Ghaziabad. 

Download Article