Indian Inflation

india_map.png The talk over the past several weeks has been about inflation in India and how it affects the common man. The reality is the common man always gets the short end of the stick in India, however in recent elections the ruling party lost key seats because of inflation. Because of that, all the political figures are getting involved and trying to cut inflation in flash, which never happens. The first thing they did was look at the commoditiy markets and banned several commodities (rice and wheat to name a couple) from trading – they blamed the speculators in the market. Poor planning on the governments part? Probably, but it’s easier to blame the traders.

It’s the equivalent of blaming real estate brokers for the rise in real estate. Which brings me to the next big government move. Housing prices are also rising, so the government wants to curb those prices by banning exports on cement.  Which will lead to an artificial supply in India and hopefully prices will fall in cement and make houses cheaper to build…oh wait, the cement companies could just adjust their output and keep prices inline.

All these so called inflation buster moves have done one thing and that is make foreign investors re-think their India strategy. Take a look at the wild price-action movements in the equity markets over the past week. The proposed cement ban is a throwback to the “license raj” era and very much against the free market perception the government has been trying to build ever since 1991.

HSBC retreats from the US

hsbc_logo.pngIn 2002-3, HSBC was looking to expand outside of the emerging markets where it was gaining market share and wanted to go after the US market. They jumped right in by acquiring Household International Inc. in 2003 for USD 15.5 billion, now called HSBC Finance Corp., it lent money to people who were termed risky. Although highly lucrative, it’s equally risky to offer these sub-prime loans (an article from the NY Times  about the market). With the stagnation in housing prices and with interest rates going up, people with these notes are now having to re-finance and can barely afford the new mortgages.

Back at HSBC, many of the top executives who gave the green light for the acquistion of Household Int’l have been let go� Which is expected when you bet USD 15.5 billion on an expansion plan that goes haywire. However, there Asian operations are still rolling along and the bank has reported a net income of USD 7.06 billion, while bad loans ballooned to $10.6 billion, mainly in the U.S.