Investor Participation in Corporate Governance

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Monetary Policy and Inflation

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The announcement of Monetary policy is awaited by businesses and investors alike, who are eager to know the impact of the change in policy on their savings or on their business. Here we look at how monetary policy impacts the economy.The objective of Monetary policy is to control the supply of money to boost economic growth while keeping inflation within acceptable limit.

Some tools of monetary policy that are used by the central banks are:

  1. Lowering of short-term Interest Rates: This is the first tool used by the central banks around the world. When interest rates are lowered, it becomes cheaper to borrow money and less lucrative to save.  This brings about a decline in savings, individuals and corporations are encouraged to spend; more money is borrowed, and more money is spent, thus increasing the overall economic activity.
  2. Open Market Operations: Under OMO, the central bank buys bonds (from banks or general public) in the open market.  By exchanging bonds for cash, the central bank increases money supply in the economy. Due to increase in the supply of money relative to demand, money can be borrowed at lower interest rates. This means that the short term interest rate for borrowing decreases. Conversely, if the central bank sells bonds, it decreases the money supply, drains liquidity and increases short term rates. Different countries have different ways of conducting OMOs. In India, effective instruments for OMOs are Liquidity Adjustment Facility (LAF) and Market Stabilization Scheme (MSS).  Repo and Reverse Repo rate constitute the LAF system. Securities purchased and sold in OMOs are dated securities, T bills.
  3. Reserve Requirement: The central bank has the ability to adjust banks’ reserve requirements, which determines the level of reserves a bank must hold in comparison to specified deposit liabilities. By adjusting the reserve ratios, the central bank can increase or decrease the amount of money that banks can lend.
  4. Quantitative Easing: When interest rates are near zero but still the economy remains stalled, then central banks start supplying money from their reserves to the financial institutions by purchasing assets. The central bank purchases assets (government securities or other securities from the market) by spending the money it has created. Through QE, the central bank increases the quantity of money supply and that results in increased spending and in increased consumption, which increases the demand for goods and services, fosters job creation and, ultimately, creates economic vitality. Quantitative easing is generally used a last resort by policy makers. Though both QE and OMO involve purchase of assets, but QE involves purchase of longer duration assets, and mortgage backed securities.

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The Case for Raghuram Rajan and Economy of India

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Recently in an article in the Economic Times, popular Indian columnist and novelist Ms Shobha De, touted the newly appointed Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan, as the ‘rock-star economist’, the ‘Poster Boy of Banking’ who can easily top easily top ‘India’s Most Desirable’ lists and is also expected to pull India out of the financial mess.

RRThe post has attracted lot of media attention and has succeeded in flaring up imagination and  varied emotions of the readers, ranging from interesting, to disgusting or even revolting! To add substance to the article, it might have made better sense to also look at some of the problems facing India’s economy and the challenges that Rajan has to deal with while he tries to walk his talk. Let’s have a go at those less appealing aspects that are actually the areas of concern for all Indians.

The economic problems in India can be attributed more to the country’s fiscal policy and other government policies than to monetary policy of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The central bank often finds itself reacting to the consequences of inaction and policy conundrum of the government.

 

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Shareholder Engagement or Activism ?

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Continuing from my last post ‘ Is shareholder engagement good for companies? ’,  here we look at the scope of shareholders engagement and different approaches to shareholder engagement.

What is the scope of shareholder engagement?

Shareholders have a legitimate role in areas pertaining to:

  • Corporate Strategy – such as mergers, diversification, restructuring, non core asset sale.
  • Capital Structure – such as capital allocation discipline, use of cash on balance sheet.
  • Governance – such as audit-related issues, board structure, managerial remuneration.

However shareholders are not expected to micromanage companies. Nor is it desirable that shareholders push for short term profitability over sustainability and long term value creation. It is important that shareholders and board members engage effectively in the shared pursuit of high quality governance.

What are the different ways in which shareholders engage with companies?

Shareholders can either have a proactive approach for engagement with a company or may adopt a passive approach towards a company.

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Passive investors sell off their shares if they are dissatisfied with the corporate decisions.

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On the other hand, active investors engage proactively with the management, prior to a corporate decision being affected, in order to change the outcome of the decision. While the term ‘shareholder engagement’ is used to describe a collaborative approach, ‘shareholder activism’ refers to the use of a more assertive approach by the minority shareholders to affect changes in management and strategy of a firm. Read more

Is shareholder engagement good for companies?

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Shareholder activism has increased significantly in the last few years, particularly after the financial crisis of 2008. However, it has since then been a debatable topic, as it is difficult to quantify “appropriate” level of shareholder engagement, which is desirable for achieving effective governance, while adding to business value. Quite often there is an apprehension that excessive shareholder intervention may consume a lot of valuable management time and result in short term profit orientation.

Why should shareholders engage with company management and boards?

A business needs capital to finance its growth Shareholders are the providers of capital to a business and as such are part owners of the business. Shareholders invest in the business hoping for a higher potential return from the investment while accepting a greater potential risk than other providers of capital. As shareholders own a share of the organization in which they have invested, this entitles them to ownership rights (i.e. rights to profits and assets in proportion to their shareholding) and in most cases control rights (i.e. rights to have a say in the running of that company, e.g. they may vote on key issues).

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Management makes use of the capital to run the business and has an obligation to do so in a fair and transparent manner while maximizing value for the shareholders.  Read more

Currency crisis in the Emerging Markets

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The year 2013 has seen a global sell off resulting in the fall of currency in most emerging markets including Brazil, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Turkey. The charts below show the currency movement of the emerging nations versus the US Dollar in the last 5 years. (Source: http://www.xe.com/currencycharts )
 
 
 
 

Brazilian Real has fallen more than 14%  against the USD.

 

 
 

Indian Rupee has fallen about 20% against the dollar in 2013 and hit a lifetime low 68.85 per USD.

 

 
 

South African Rand hit the R10/$-mark for the first time since 2009, the lowest value in four years as poor economic data and labor market tensions weighed on sentiment.

  
 
 

Indonesian Rupiah has slid nearly 12% in 2013.

  
 
 
 

 The Turkish Lira has fallen to a record low of 2 to the US Dollar, the lowest level record since 1981.

  

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Companies Bill 2012– Giving Voice to Minority Investors in India

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The passing of The Companies Bill 2012 by Rajya Sabha on 8th August 2013,  is a step forward towards transformation in the corporate governance practices of the country. The new bill that requires President’s assent for it to become law, replaces the Companies Act of 1956. The bill, when enacted will bring in reforms to enhance corporate governance by giving voice to the minority investors in India, strengthening the role of independent directors and expanding the responsibility on auditors.

A key objective of corporate governance in India has been to strike a balance between the rule of majority shareholders and the protection of the rights of minority shareholders. The protection of minority shareholders rights is particularly critical given the often concentrated ownership of Indian companies.

Unlike in the developed countries such as US & UK, where ownership of a company is widely dispersed and is generally separate from the management of the company. In India, listed companies are usually parts of a large business group, characterized by a promoter or a controlling shareholder.

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US Immigration Bill – impact on Indian IT industry

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The Indian IT industry will be cautiously following the US immigration bill to be introduced this week by the US Senate, with the objective to provide for comprehensive immigration reform, increase visas for skilled workers; and beef up border security.

Passage of the bill could be a boon to high-tech companies like Intel Corp.  or Facebook Inc., who would be able to hire more highly skilled workers from abroad. But the US immigration bill is likely to impede the operations of the Indian IT services cos.

The IT services industry grew rapidly in the 1990s.  Due to the Y2K hype, businesses were apprehensive about their IT systems and so there was demand for IT service providers. Once the Y2K hype was over, the customers became conscious of their IT spending. Consequently, the suppliers had to hire overseas, particularly in India, and that paved way for the off-shoring trend that is currently seen.

Indian consulting firms like TCS and Wipro introduced off-shoring by charging lower prices per consultant. These firms basically enjoyed the labor arbitrage due to large number of consultants working in India enjoyed and competed in terms of pricing. Big IT consulting houses like IBM and Accenture had to hire IT professionals in India and charge similar prices per consultant.

In order to maintain their cost advantage, besides deploying a large pool of offshore resources, the Indian IT services companies also paid lower wages to employees travelling to the U.S on H-1B or L-1 visas, as compared to equivalently skilled Americans.

The proposed US Immigration bill proposes wage parity between guest workers in the U.S. and equivalently skilled Americans. As such the Indian outsourcing companies that have a large no of on-site employees on US work permits, will need to pay them higher salaries. This will negatively impact the cost advantage that the Indian IT services companies have enjoyed so far.

As per the proposed bill, the companies will have to pay a $10,000 fee per additional worker if the employer has 50 or more employees and more than 50 per cent of these workers are H-1B or L-1 employees without a green card petition pending. Domestic companies like TCS, Infosys and Wipro will have to pay USD 10,000 for each additional H-1B employee they would be hiring.

On the positive side, it will also enable 11 million workers in the US including 2.4 mill Indians to obtain American citizenship. Another proposal is to award residency to those who earn doctorates from U.S. universities in mathematics, engineering, science or technology.

Management of Indian IT services companies are concerned about the increase in compliance cost and higher turnaround times, which would fundamentally affect competitiveness and the margins of these companies.

As it will take a few more months for the bill to be implemented, the Indian government, and outsourcing industry will be closely following the debates. Meanwhile the Indian IT services companies may need to look at revamping their business models to remain competitive.

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