Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The world's happiest man

The label got my attention and I wanted to hear what he has to say and the experience was great. He is indeed a happy man and he surely teaches you how to be happy too. Happiness is a choice and if you have decided to be unhappy, it is a different case. Otherwise listen to him and increase your happiness.

Decoding the strength of Indian Rupee

USD/INR (Source:
If you take a look at the Rupee performance against USD on a 10 year chart, you will notice that the last year’s performance was really a strong one. It stopped devaluating and even went against it to regain some of the value it had lost. How do we explain this? We just need two charts to decode it.

Shrinking Trade Deficit & offsetting it: How do we get the Dollars or other foreign currencies (inflow)? Through exports, remittances, FDI, Loans based in foreign currency etc. And how do we lose dollars? Through Imports mostly and other factors are not that significant. If we take a look at Trade balance (Export – Import), India has a deficit but that has come down significantly, thanks to what happened to Oil and Gold prices. Now it is in the range of $5B -$10B a month. Our FDI, remittances are to the tune of $5B+, so many months we should be able to offset the trade deficit with our forex inflow. In net, the pressure on Rupee is off.
India's Trade Deficit (Source:

Forex reserves with RBI: When RBI buys dollars from open market, it impacts the exchange rate. It weakens the Rupee. RBI keeps dollar reserves to safeguard India against external shocks and to prevent damage to Rupee when there are sudden outflows. In that case RBI would sell their reserves to avoid volatility. But how much reserves do you really need? It was $300B three years ago but now it is close to $400B. It is enough to take care of 40 months of trade deficit. If you think of equity/debt market exits from FII, they too are fought nicely with ever increasing of SIP of Mutual Funds and EPF pumping money into stock market. So in summary, threats to foreign investments are taken care to a larger extent and it means RBI need not keep on buying dollars. On another note, how RBI buys the dollars? It has to print new money to buy it. But there is so much liquidity now, it limits the need for our central bank to do that.

India's Forex Reserves (Source:

The takeaway is, dollar outflows are shrinking while inflows remain strong and the need for RBI to increase reserves is reducing, it all points to one thing – stable Rupee. So don’t bet against it.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Where the jobs have gone?

Every month approximately 10 lakh youth come to the job market in our country and majority of them are not absorbed. Yes, on a yearly scale it is ~1% of population trying to find a job and that is way more than those retiring from the jobs. So the unemployment levels are increasing to highest levels we have ever seen. What happened to those job creation engines of India? And how this can be solved?

First of all let us see which sectors need the workforce most and what is ailing them.

Construction: This sector was a major job provider. Since skill levels do not matter much here, this sector was feeding all those with low skilled labor with low wages. Owing to unrealistic land price rise in the last decade, it was slowing down and demonetization brought it to a grinding halt. Much of the job creation got evaporated into thin air. Check with those masons, low-wage daily labors, electricians, plumbers, construction material providers and transporters, you will learn how they have lost their hopes.

Manufacturing: See Auto industry performance. Whole of last year, they saw with disbelief how their sales declined. With all discounts, unbelievable offers and intense marketing promotions, they were not able to clear their inventory and meet their targets. General Motors recently decided to wind up their India operations. In such a scenario, how will they increase capacity and what will happen to OEM (Original Equipment Makers) companies in the entire of supply-chain? When there is no capacity being added, why do you need more people? Case is the same with Steel, Cement manufacturing sectors too.

Services: BFSI (Banking, Financial services and Insurance) is the sector which gained the maximum benefits of opening up of Indian economy after 1991 reforms and created more jobs. Total services sector sped faster than Agriculture and Manufacturing (typical growth engines before 1991) and provided jobs in big numbers. It employs 40% of work force in India but now it is seeing a saturation. IT (Information Technology) which was a negligible job provider 25 years ago, grew at a faster pace during the last two decades but now has lost steam. Forget new job creation, those in the sector are striving harder than ever to survive.

Infrastructure: During last decade, Infra looked like a sunrise industry for all of those in this sector, but the sunshine did not last long for them as many of the infra projects did not make the intended money and in fact lots of big infra companies are on the edge of bankruptcy. They took their lenders (mostly PSU banks) down with them too. Take a look at the recent list of companies prepared by RBI and most of the infra companies find a mention for being a risk to economy.

Ok, India’s job creation engine is not firing on all cylinders. What can be done to improve the situation? I am no expert but being a participant in the Indian economy, I need to have an opinion and express it to shape the collective decisions we make as a society.

Govt.’s commitment to their motto: Why do ministers and Govt. officials want cars made by multi-nationals? Why cannot they drive cars made in India fully? Such actions would show their commitment to tags such as “Make in India”. And it will increase the demand for local manufacturing and its entire supply chain. You know one job created in manufacturing creates two in services sector. Investing in public transport to make it more efficient and serve more people would mean less fuel burnt overall, good to climate and lighter on import bills. The jobs created in these sectors along with productivity benefit with infrastructure upgrade would pay-off for the investments made.

Open up Corporate Bond Market: As of now, most of the load is on Banks to fund the growth story of India. But they are in bad shape. With increasing distressed assets, they are not in a condition to lend big sums to corporate. Take a look at international markets, it is the bond market which funds the corporate most and not the banking sector alone. Interest rates (or the coupon rate) is based on the risks of the borrower unlike how Banks fix a common rate to their borrowers. That would let the markets find a balance and help those with clean records to raise money from capital markets at a lower rate, build new factories and provide employment. Is not it a better way to avoid those bad performers from burning the debt they got from banks? For this to happen, RBI needs to get out of its conservative stance. But their eyes are fixed on the inflation, always. Following their intentions, it seems to be on their horizon but not as a priority yet.

Increasing public spend: Our current finance minister has done an applauding job in reducing the fiscal deficit and as a benefit we are seeing lower interest rates (as Govt. is borrowing less), a very low inflation and Rupee is stronger against USD. That is all good but whenever the economy slows down, public spending has to go up to kick-start those dead cylinders to make them firing again. I personally believe benefits of inflation do not surpass the disadvantages of lower number of jobs being created. If we maintain the status quo, rich will become richer and the poor will become jobless. That can have bad effects on the entire society. When the match is Economy against Sociology in a country with a billion plus population what will you do? Compromising on inflation (stoked by higher borrowing) for creating more jobs would not be a wrong thing to do. Why not fill in all those open positions in the Govt. owned companies at a faster pace by speeding up hiring process?

Promoting Entrepreneurship: We need more job creators and a support system to encourage them. Giving subsidies to them would bring more benefits to economy than giving fuel, fertilizer subsidies en masse. But the reality is, our country does not fare good in ease of doing business. If we want to increase the job creation pipeline, we need to make it easy for entrepreneurs.

In summary, we have answers to the problem on hand. Our youth need to find jobs. How else do we take India to next level?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review of three not so easy to read books

These three books I read in the last two weeks were not an easy read for me. Two of them were already on my bookshelf for years. I had attempted reading them in the past but could not keep up my interest for long but now I am surprised at being able to read them now. Their styles were so different and unusual, plots did not have traces of what you see in common lives of the neighborhood so it was not easy for me to connect with the characters in these novels and they were all sad portraits of life. They drain lots of energy out of you but they would make you a seasoned human being. For an average reader, these books would not make much or any sense but if you are not an ordinary one (but have literary interests) and want to see different faces of humanity, they would not fail for sure.

Vanity Bagh by Anees Salim

The story begins with the protagonist of the novel, Imran Jabbari, entering a jail being sentenced for being involved in a serial blasts case. He begins to tell his memoirs looking at blank pages in the book binding room of the jail. There was nothing close to his heart than Vanity Bagh, a mohulla of Muslim residents where his family lived. He along with his friends from the neighborhood form a group and give it unusual name ‘5-1/2 men’. They get involved in petty fights but little they knew that they would become part of far bigger crime. While some of the observations of author reflect the opinions of Muslim community but that does not make this novel communal. The strength of plot lies in how the main character reveals his past life to the readers and being surprisingly honest with it. And the style of this novel is so unique, I cannot compare with anything else I have read in the past.

The author Anees Salim, wrote two more novels to get over the pain of rejection of his first work and now he is an award winning author. He does not promote his work but expects his books to do the talking and not him. Well that is a hallmark of a genius writer and I expect lot more good work coming out of him.

The illicit happiness of other people by Manu Joseph

This is a psychological thriller. A poor family living the middle of well to do neighbors goes through an unfortunate incident. Their elder son, who was in his teens and a great comic artist, commits suicide and the reasons are not known. Then begins the journey of his father, a journalist by profession, to find out what would have led to his son to give up his life. Though he meets all of his friends and talks to them, he does not get anything satisfactory out of it. After a gap a few years, he receives the comic strip his son intended to send to someone else just before his death but it being returned. Father begins the efforts again trying to decipher what the comic was revealing. One thing leads to another. The mystery beings to unravel but the reason behind suicide was not a simple one. The boy had gone through very serious psychological explorations and the reasons for such a situation were many. The journalist learns very unusual facts of the psychological issues many people face and finally understand the reasoning with that ends the novel.

Manu Joseph is a journalist and author and his works have won him many literary awards.

This house of clay and water by Faiqa Mansab

The story is set in Lahore and revolves around three characters. One that of a housewife, Nida, married into a upper class family but tortured in life with loss of her mother, her one year old kid and seeing no true love in her life. The second character, Sasha, a woman who has an ordinary husband who cannot earn enough to fulfil her wants of luxurious goods so strays beyond her marriage to satisfy her needs. The third character is that of a Hijra (neither a male nor female) named Bhanggi, who spends most of his time in the vicinity of a dargah (shrine of a Muslim saint) and is deeply pained for the reason he was not born normal and cannot live life like others. All these characters get to know each other at dargah. They have a common thread among them. All of them are lonely and tortured in their lives. For them life is not short but a long suffering. Sasha changes her attitude of not being loyal to husband after her minor daughter goes through rape. Nida who does not have much option in her life and no one to comfort her, gets closer to Bhanggi. Nida’s husband does not approve this and gets the hijra killed. Pained further by this development, Nida leaves her family life to become a hijra and occupies the place of Bhanggi.

This novel is the debut work of Faiqa Mansab.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Book Review: Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

This is the tale of an introvert. This mini-novel (124 pages long) is written in first person. The author introduces himself and his family of father, mother, uncle, sister and later his wife in the dedicated chapters for each member of the family.

The plot begins with the story of a typical middle-class family who count every penny they spend and the hardships they go through. It takes a slower turn as the novel progresses. As the family’s income begins to improve, their lifestyle also gets better and they move out to a better house from the small house with little privacy where-in author’s mother had to battle with ants on a regular basis.

Author gets married and then things begin to change in their family. Anita, author’s wife asks tougher questions seeking the darker truths of the family. Until then, all of the family members did not question each other’s motives and remained selectively deaf and blind. That had created a bonding in the family. But the daughter-in-law questions the belief system of the family and shows that they were indeed all selfish for their own reasons.

When Anita, wife of the author, is out of town, the family gets together and the casual conversation develops among them and the old bonding feels like coming back into the family in her absence. But the conversations turn into how and why people get killed and how one could easily walk out of that mess without legally binding into it. That indicates morale of family is beginning to compromise.

After that discussion, author becomes uncomfortable. He gets out of the house and goes to a coffee bar which he regularly visits. Sitting there, he contemplates whether his wife will reach home back safely or does she get killed on the way. As that thought comes to him, he gets tensed and breaks the glass he was holding and that will injure him and he sees his own blood.

This is a classic work and gets into the minute details of how our sub-conscious thinks, adjusts and changes with the external factors. The language of this book makes it more interesting than the plot. This book is not meant for the young readers but those in the middle-age would appreciate this as the trauma of the protagonist of this book would be theirs too.

This book was originally written in Kannada but it got widely known after its translation into English. Though I would have preferred to read it in Kannada, I came across the English translation first and it became my last weekend’s read.