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Why Indian Companies Are Smart to be "Short-Sighted" and "Risk Averse"

Extracts from the brilliant article by Dr. Ajay Shah:

Let us start with short-sightedness. The best firms in India are able to borrow five--year money at around 13%. At 13%, a rupee five years from now is worth 54 paisa today. A rupee ten years out is worth 29 paisa today, and a rupee twenty years out is worth 9 paisa today. In contrast, a rupee next year is worth 88 paisa today. With this kind of discounting, it is not surprising that projects that yield returns next year (i.e. 88 paisa today for each rupee of profit) are very attractive when compared with projects that yield returns 10 years from now (i.e. 29 paisa today for each rupee of profit). This difference -- between 88 and 29 paisa -- is striking. In a world with high interest rates, being short-sighted is rational.

...What about risk, and the willingness to undertake risky projects? Modern finance teaches us that when firms are able to issue equity into liquid and efficient capital markets, the risk premium that they face is driven by the `beta' of the company's stock against the index. The long run historical rate of return on Nifty is around 21%: this is also the long run historical cost of capital that the typical firm faces. A firm that has a beta of 1 against Nifty has to plan on giving a return to shareholders of around 20%. If the future is discounted at the rate of 20% per year, it makes sense to look for cashflows in one or two years. It also makes sense to look for less risky (i.e. low beta) projects. In a world with a high cost of capital, short-sightedness and a lack of venturesomeness are rational outcomes.

...If you believe that this economic reasoning explains the bulk of the short-sightedness that afflicts India's firms and managers, then there is an extremely optimistic implication: it is not very difficult to change this behaviour. If we make a transition into an environment with low inflation, low interest rates, and low risk premia, then that would give us a whole new breed of risk-taking, far-sighted firms and managers. The management gurus would even write books about the new generation of Indian managers who have developed a `new culture' of doing risky, far-sighted projects.

Dr. Shah also highlights how the solution to this "cultural problem" we Indian entrepreneurs have can be achieved through through a combination of financial sector reforms, pension reforms, fiscal strengthening and capital account convertibility.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers. Includes the Free Deal Digest Weekly Newsletter: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.

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