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Analysis

A view through an infrastructure investor’s prism

Active policies to address the three issues revolving around the value, scarcity and contract enforcement that investors utilise to determine both investments and the required rate of return can help make policies useful.

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Perspectives on infrastructure assets vary widely: While investors focus on investment returns, policymakers analyse both financial and socio-economic benefits. It would be worthwhile for policymakers to view things through an investor’s investment prism because an understanding of the critical factors that shape investment decisions will help frame better policies to expedite Indian infrastructure creation.

The “raw value” of an infrastructure project is what a potential investor evaluates first. For example, in a renewable energy wind project, the wind potential of a site is what an investor evaluates. For a transportation project, the investor evaluates the potential passenger traffic. This so-called “raw value” is a huge determinant of the financial viability of a project.

Segregating infrastructure sectors and projects by such “raw value” can help government and industry alike to work towards directing infrastructure capital more optimally. Additionally, such analysis helps in framing policies for those sectors that deliver very substantial social and economic value but are not financially viable on their own.

A robust framework that helps determine “raw value” can aid all the stakeholders, especially the government, to work with investors and multilateral trade agencies to find financing solutions for such socially and economically relevant projects. Eventually, India needs to create an information repository of sorts that provides the global investor base information and access by asset type and investment potential.

Once the “raw value” of a project is determined, an investor tries to gauge what is called its “scarcity value”. Take, for instance, transportation projects. If the transportation potential of connecting City “A” with City “B” is attractive, then is building an airport to connect the two cities the most optimal infrastructure asset? That is, in spite of the traffic potential, is an airport a “scarce” enough asset to deliver attractive returns?

The investor will gauge whether the airport is likely to face competition from a competing train network or a highway. Being cognizant of the long-dated nature of infrastructure assets is important. Hence investors will have to gauge the “scarcity value” of the asset to determine the attractiveness of the asset over the long investment horizon and, therefore, eventually decide on their willingness to invest in the asset.

It is essential for the government to find a balance between allowing investors to make returns commensurate with the risk taken and allowing the public to have access to a well-priced and high-quality infrastructure asset. The twin objectives of consistency and transparency in policy are crucial in this regard.

The government’s ability to formulate and communicate the strategy effectively regarding not just sectors but individual assets is vital. To indeed expedite infrastructure creation, granular policy across industries will be needed, more so for much-needed greenfield infrastructure projects.

Apart from “raw value” and “scarcity value”, an investor considers a third factor: The quality of the underlying contracts signed for the asset. Investors look for high-quality counter-parties with whom to sign contracts. More importantly, the government’s ability to deliver a robust legal system for contract-enforcement, as also a more efficient system for conflict-resolution, will attract more significant investments.

Lowering the risk perception for Indian infrastructure assets is essential not merely to attract more investments but also to attract investments at lower financing costs. Reducing the cost of capital is going to be a significant driver of infrastructure projects through their improved financial viability.

Another area that merits attention is the possibility of the government working even more closely with Export Credit Agencies of various countries to offer foreign exchange hedges, while “importing infrastructure investments”. Solutions that not only reduce the legal risk in investments but also partially eliminate the foreign exchange risk can help boost investments significantly.

Active policies to address the three issues revolving around the value, scarcity and contract enforcement that investors utilise to determine both investments and the required rate of return can help make policies useful.

Policy frameworks can potentially be refined using these three key factors that shape investment decisions. Most importantly, one does not need to improve concurrently on all three fronts for all infrastructure sectors; incremental improvement on one element can provide a significant fillip to infrastructure investments.

(Taponeel Mukherjee heads Development Tracks, an infrastructure advisory firm. Views expressed are personal. He can contacted at [email protected] or @Taponeel on Twitter)

Analysis

Invest in Augmented Intelligence for digital transformation: Gartner analyst

Gartner predicts that by 2023, 50 per cent of major enterprises will use digital twins of the organisation in combination with digital business platforms.

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New Delhi, Nov 16: Companies should focus on “Augmented Intelligence”, digital product management, and in creating a digital twin of an organisation (DTO) for their next level of digital transformation and boost in growth, a top Gartner analyst has said.

Augmented Intelligence is the step beyond Artificial Intelligence (AI), where you marry AI with human capability, Partha Iyengar, Vice President and Gartner Fellow, told IANS in a telephonic interaction.

The concept refers to implementation of AI not just as a replacement of human work through automation, but as a means to augment their abilities.

“Augmented Intelligence could be applied across processes, across verticals and even across job functions,” Iyengar said, adding that some organisations in India, including Indian Oil, have already started focusing on AI augmentation in a big way.

Globally, Singapore is at the forefront of implementing AI augmentation, according to Iyengar.

“They have created DTO where the organisation happens to be Singapore itself and there they are using Augmented Intelligence for a better future — providing healthcare, emergency services, improved citizen services, etc.”

With digital twins, organisations can simulate business processes and change things with the digital model first before supplying within enterprises, thereby helping them take better business decisions, Iyengar said.

Gartner predicts that by 2023, 50 per cent of major enterprises will use digital twins of the organisation in combination with digital business platforms.

According to a Gartner report, AI augmentation will generate $2.9 trillion in business value and recover 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity by 2021.

AI will create 2.3 million jobs in 2020, while eliminating 1.8 million, the report, titled “Predicts 2018: AI and the Future of Work”, said.

Starting in 2020, AI-related job creation will cross into positive territory, reaching two million net-new jobs in 2025, it added.

“In general, technology adoption in India is keeping pace with global trends. Increasingly, business leaders are thinking that technology could be a strong determinant for growth of their organisations and we are seeing that happening in India as well,” Iyengar said.

“The earlier separation that existed between business leaders and IT personnel are disappearing in Indian enterprises. That will accelerate technology adoption,” he added.

Implementation of AI augmentation could be all pervasive in India in three to five years, he said. But there are still a few barriers to technology-adoption in India, the biggest among which is culture, Iyengar added.

“The biggest obstacle is culture. The technology is the easier part, but adapting your enterprise culture to embrace and completely adopt the technology is the first barrier that we see,” he added.

Finding people with the right skills is the second barrier to technology adoption, he said.

“The third is the danger of chasing technology for technology’s sake. You need to have the organisation’s readiness in place before implementing new technology. You need to have very specific business use-cases to which you want the technology to be applied,” he added.

The silver lining, he added, was that Indian companies continue to have the highest technology budget in the world for the sixth year in a row.

“Technology budget is different from the IT budget. And even in IT budget, Indian companies lead the world,” he added.

According to the findings of the “2019 Gartner CIO Agenda survey”, the transformation toward digital business is supported by steady IT budget growth. Indian IT budgets are expected to grow by 3.9 per cent in 2019, which is less than the 7.4 percent growth rate of the previous year, showed the findings presented at the ongoing Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Panaji, Goa.

This slowing can be attributed to the larger macro-economic situation concerning slow economic growth, corporate earnings and market volatility, the study showed.

Despite the slowdown, Indian IT budget would still be higher than the global average. Globally, CIOs expect their IT budgets to grow by 2.9 per cent in 2019, the findings showed.

IANS

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Analysis

Lakhs of towels, bedhseets missing from AC coaches – passengers are suspects

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New Delhi, Nov 15: Affluent AC passengers are the prime suspects as over 21 lakh towels, bedsheets, blankets and other items went missing from air-conditioned coaches during 2017-18 an official said.

The passengers are suspected to have made off with precisely 21,72,246 “bedroll items” — including 12,83,415 hand towels, 4,71,077 bedsheets and 3,14,952 pillow covers — from trains across the country in the last fiscal.

Besides, the Railways found 56,287 pillows and 46,515 blankets missing from the AC coaches in this period.

“Together, the missing items are estimated to cost over Rs 14 crore,” a senior Railway Ministry official told IANS.

While the theft of toilet mugs, taps, flush pipes and mirrors are also reported on a regular basis, the missing bedroll items in substantial numbers has posed a challenge for the Railways, which is trying to provide better amenities to upper class passengers.

Currently, about 3.9 lakh sets of linen are provided daily — this comprises two bedsheets, a towel, a pillow and a blanket for each passenger in the AC classes.

“The maximum number of items stolen are towels, followed by bedsheets, as reported by coach attendants at the end of each journey,” the official said.

In the light of the thefts, especially of towels, the Railways has decided that the face towels given to passengers travelling in air-conditioned coaches will be replaced with cheaper, smaller, disposable, takeaway napkins, said the official.

The Railways has already started changing the cover of blankets in some sections while the frequency of washing is being increased from monthly to fortnightly and weekly.

There is also a move to increase the frequency of washing of blankets to begin with and replacing the existing ones with the newly designed lightweight blankets made of soft fabric in a phased manner.

The plan envisages improvement of linen management with the aim of providing clean, hygienic and good quality linen to passengers travelling in AC classes, the official said.

Among the 16 zones of Indian Railways, the Southern zone alone accounted for the theft of 2,04,113 hand towels, 29,573 bedsheets, 44,868 pillow covers, 3,713 pillows and 2,745 blankets.

In the missing list, South Central zone has registered 95,700 towels, 29,747 pillow covers, 22,323 bedsheets, 3,352 blankets and 2,463 pillows.

In the Northern zone, 85,327 towels, 38,916 bedsheets, 25,313 pillow covers, 3,224 pillows and 2,483 blankets were found missing.

In the East Central zone, 33,234 bedsheets, 22,769 pillow covers, 1,657 pillows, 76,852 towels, and 3,132 blankets were stolen last year.

In the Eastern zone, 1,31,313 towels, 20,258 bedsheets, 9,006 pillow covers, 1,517 pillows and 1,913 blankets were reported missing by attendants after the end of the train journey.

The East Coast railways has registered 43,318 towels, 23,197 bedsheets, 8,060 pillow covers, and 2,260 blankets as missing.

IANS

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Analysis

Investment policy: Looking at 2019 and beyond

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Given the current economic scenario of India, it would be prudent to have our eyes on the pressing issues that need the attention of the government over the next six years. Policy changes, new policies and an environment that facilitates investment will be vital.

The recent renewable energy auctions, which failed to attract significant bids, bring to the fore the crucial question around price caps. While providing low-cost electricity is essential, so is a sustainable power sector. The issue that merits more debate is whether a free-pricing market with a regulator that ensures no cartels are formed is a better solution in the long run than price caps.

This argument applies not only to renewable energy, but all sectors. Investors in any sector face variable dynamics across a variety of factors ranging from input prices, credit costs, research and development costs and foreign exchange risk. “Pricing” of a product or a service needs to consider all that goes into making or producing the product.

To give an example, drug pricing for a patented drug involves significant research and development costs. Therefore, the price of a drug needs to factor in a fair amount of analysis to determine the price over and above raw materials.

Similarly, for other sectors, it is vital that the rapid pace of growth and expansion can continue so that risk-taking businesses can get rewarded adequately. Extreme measures to control prices can lead to sector problems, thereby discouraging investments and research. Therefore, over the next few years, it is essential to strike a balance between low-cost products and services, and sustainable industry dynamics.

In the financial markets, India needs to further embrace mark-to-market valuations in the corners of the market that still utilise hold-to-maturity accounting. Banks hold certain financial instruments as hold-to-maturity from a regulatory perspective. Besides these instruments, the quicker the rest of the fixed income product universe moves towards mark-to-market regulations the more robust a capital market India will have.

While increased mark-to-market regulations might lead to an initial slowdown in the bond markets, the long-term benefits of a transparent credit pricing market far outweigh any short-term costs. The most significant advantage of stringent mark-to-market regulations will be the ability of market prices to be a better indicator credit risk of products, thereby encouraging effective risk management by investors and financial institutions alike.

Divestment of government assets to create new infrastructure will be crucial. The recent decision to approve the divestment of the government’s stake in the Dredging Corporation of India and the in-principle approval of the PPP model for six airports is a step in the right direction. However, to deliver valuable infrastructure, the government must ensure that non-tax revenue is used to develop infrastructure in the specific sectors where the divestment occurs, or the PPP happens. Enabling infrastructure creation that is industry-specific regarding both the divestment or partnership and in creating new assets will add significant value.

The agriculture sector will require focus with renewed vigour over and above minimum support prices and farm loan waivers. The sector is vital not just to improve the lot of farmers (who are at the riskiest end of the farm-to-fork model) but also to create avenues to feed a sizeable consuming population. The farm-to-fork model is much spoken about and needs a step-wise approach to succeed in the long-run.

A good start would be to choose sub-sectors within agriculture that are amenable to a farm-to-fork model so as to create a “model template”. A farm-to-fork model would involve procuring the original product, processing, storage and transportation, and merchandising the product. Choosing the low-hanging fruit to create templates will help expedite the process. More importantly, user-cases will help spot the gaps within the agricultural supply chain.

Government policies that create an effective pricing environment and avenues for revenue generation to enable investment and infrastructure will be crucial going forward. More importantly, long-term sustainable growth will require a balanced approach to help promote a broad spectrum of sectors such as energy, finance and agriculture.

BY  Taponeel Mukherjee

IANS

 

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