India: The 'quiet' growth machine

Will economic expansion and positive demographics keep stocks higher?

By InvestorPlace Apr 10, 2012 10:03AM

By Jim Woods

 

This is part of a four-article series discussing the outlook for and ways to invest in the BRICs countries.

 

It has been more than a decade since Jim O'Neill, Chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, released a report titled "Building Better Economic BRICs." Rarely has there been a thesis that has generated more buzz, more imitation and more profits than Jim's BRICs, which describes the booming emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

 

At the heart of O'Neill's argument was the premise that the rapid growth of the BRIC countries at that time would continue, and that would make them collectively a much larger part of the world economy by 2010. O'Neill's most optimistic scenarios called for the combined share of global GDP to reach about 14%. Well, right now the BRICs account for about 19% of global GDP -- much greater than his original thesis.

 

China has been the biggest BRIC in the global economic wall over that time, but contributing significantly to that collective growth has been India. The only vowel country in the acronym is second only to China in terms of growth, and according to the CIA World Fact, the nation's GDP grew by an estimated 7.8% in 2011. That's just below China's 2011 GDP growth rate estimate of 9.2%. India's growth rate last year is impressive, but it's certainly not new. In fact, it has been going on now for more than two decades.

 

In the early 1990s, the country embarked on an economic liberalization campaign that included industrial deregulation, privatization of state-owned enterprises and reduced controls on foreign trade and investment. The diversity of India's economy is one factor contributing to its strength, as there's traditional village farming, modern agriculture and a wide range of modern industries including information technology. Outsourcing services are perhaps the biggest sector, and they account for more than half of India's total economic output.

 

Other factors contributing to India's positive economic milieu are a large educated English-speaking population, and youthful demographics. Nearly half of the country's roughly 1.2 billion people are below the age of 25, with the median age of 26 years old. As this young population matures and earns increasing larger incomes, domestic consumption is sure to catch up. That means major opportunity for companies of all sorts, but particularly for durable goods such as automobiles.

 

India also will have to bolster its infrastructure the way China has if it wants to really compete on the global stage, and the country has plans to do just that. Total Indian infrastructure spending over the next half-dozen years is estimated to be about $750 billion -- most of which is likely to be in power, roads and telecommunications.

 

Now, all of these positives for India might sound compelling, but the country also faces a number of headwinds. In fact, India's economic growth in 2011 slowed from 2010 because of persistently high inflation and high interest rates. There's also been little recent progress on economic reforms due to political infighting and corruption scandals that slowed down legislative work.

 

According to accounting firm Ernst & Young's quarterly Rapid Growth Markets Forecast, India's growth rate is expected to slow to just 6.1% in calendar year 2012. The firm says growth should pick up in the second half of 2012, with the proviso that the global economy does not experience a further shock. Other long-term headwinds include still widespread poverty, as well as scarce access for the masses when it comes to quality basic and higher education.

 

As investors, we can look at India in a couple of ways. First, the country's growth prospects and demographics mean it's a caldron of opportunity for companies catering to this growth. Yet we also should keep in mind that if the Indian economy stalls for any of the aforementioned reasons, it could cause investors to run away from Indian stocks. This kind of fearful exodus of capital from the region means that stocks and funds tied to India's fortunes will falter.

 

So far in 2012, Indian stocks have done anything but falter. The global bull market of 2012 has been a boom for exchange-traded funds pegged to the Indian market. Let's take a look at how the following funds have treated investors so far this year, with the performance data for each of the following Indian ETFs year-to-date:


  • WisdomTree India Earnings Fund ETF (EPI), +21.4%
  • iPath MSCI India ETN (INP), +19%
  • PowerShares India Portfolio ETF (PIN), +13.4%
  • iShares S&P India Nifty 50 Index Fund ETF (INDY), +17.5%


As you can see, the performance of these India ETFs has been impressive. In fact, the benchmark WisdomTree India Earnings Fund ETF has performed better than its BRIC brethren. Over the same period, the iShares MSCI Brazil Index (EWZ) is up 9.5%, while the Market Vectors Brazil Market Vectors Russia ETF (RSX) has climbed 12.75%. The iShares FTSE China 25 Index (FXI) is up just 4.3% over said time period.

 

Getting diverse exposure to India's equity markets is simple thanks to the aforementioned group of ETFs, but not all investors like to buy a basket of stocks. Some prefer the targeted approach of buying individual stocks. The problem here is that there are relatively few Indian stocks traded as ADRs (and therefore easily accessible to U.S. investors). Though the spectrum here is limited, there still are several strong companies worthy of checking out if you're a fan of the India thesis.

 

Tata Motors (TTM) is an Indian-based auto maker offering cars, utility vehicles, trucks, buses and even defense vehicles to the Indian consumer. The company also owns luxury brands Jaguar and Land Rover, and has plans to expand these luxury brands in emerging markets to help drive growth. If successful, Tata could be the go-to provider of luxury vehicles to a burgeoning BRIC consumer.

 

Another standout Indian company is Wipro Limited (WIT), which provides information technology products and services, and consumer care and lighting products. The company's IT products segment includes hardware such as desktop computers, servers and notebooks, while the consumer care and lighting segment manufactures and sells light bulbs, baby care products, soaps, deodorant and even skin and hair care products. Wipro essentially is a combination between Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Proctor & Gamble (PG).

 

Other standout Indian companies in leadership positions in their respective industries are enterprise and consumer Internet services firm Sify Technologies Limited (SIFY); banking and financial services giant ICICI Bank Ltd. (IBN); pharmaceutical maker Dr. Reddy's Laboratories (RDY); and nonferrous metals and mining firm Sterlite Industries (SLT).

 

The bottom line for investors is that India is a still-growing BRIC nation, though that growth is likely to slow in the short term thanks to headwinds such as inflation and political gridlock. Yet once the economic boost of youthful demography really kicks into high gear, this is one BRIC that could really help you build your wealth wall.


As of this writing, Jim Woods did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.


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