Jio is Unstoppable

Reliance Industries (RIL) this past week held its 42nd Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Nariman Point. Mukesh Ambani broke the meeting into 3 parts:
1. Oil & Chemicals
2. Jio
3. Reliance Retail

The Oil & Chemicals division is the money maker that allows Reliance to expand into new unrelated markets like Jio.

Jio was the star of this AGM and rightfully so, they have 350 million paid connections and on a growth path to 500 million connections. Their GigaFiber service is what everyone is waiting for. I’m on their free GigaFiber trial service and it’s been an absolute delight – 100Mbps download AND uploads. Because of GigaFiber we have cancelled our traditional coaxial cable connection and now watch everything via OTT apps like Amazon Prime, Netflix and YouTube.

When I used to work at Cisco Systems 20 years ago we talked about the Triple Play – Voice, Video and Data over the same connection. Here we are in 2019 and Jio is finally delivering the holy grail of connections. The connection speed will be upto 1Gbps to allow for the large amount of data that is required for broadcast quality high definition TV. The amount of traffic that is taken up by a single voice call is next to nothing and hence Jio is willing to say voice calls are free for life.

The Indian telecom industry has been completely decimated because of Jio. Idea had to merge with Vodafone and many of the smaller players had to merge as well. Airtel is still the largest wireless company but I’m sure will soon be eclipsed by Jio. It’s clear Jio has become what it is because of Mukesh Ambani and Reliance, their on-the-ground execution is unmatched. If they want something done, they figure out a way to clear the decks to make the policy match their goals – not a bad way to work!

What’s unclear is how much money they have spent on building out the infrastructure and the overall cost of getting Jio up and running. But that has always been the style of Reliance, don’t ask too many questions and just watch the stock price continue to go north. Jai Jio!

During the AGM they did several demos of new technology and they were quite cool. The only funny part it is when they did a video conference to someone in New Jersey where it was 2am in the morning yet it was a bright as hell – maybe some new virtual reality stuff!!

Incredibly Inept India

Last month I had the chance to visit the Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh (MP) for a tiger safari and it was quite amazing. Bandhavgarh is a 1,500+ square kilometer park known for its large population of royal Bengal tigers and other animals like monkeys, leopards and deer. Some of the pictures taken were stunning:

I could go on and tell you how fantastic the safari was but this is not a travel blog post.

My wife and I went to Bandhavgarh with several friends and we all came back with the same conclusion that the state could do much more to generate additional tourism revenue. Tourism is a big part of the revenue for the state of MP but like so many other things in India, they get to 80% of something and feel that’s good enough.

A very simple example involves the check-in process for every safari drive. You have to go to the safari park office to get a tour guide and show your ID. This facility as you can imagine is run down and a typical Indian government office which means its crap. While our driver entered the office we sat in the the open air Maruti Gypsy (think Jeep) and on average waited 10-15 minutes. This Park office was usually 20 minutes away from the safari park gates.

Why not turn this safari park office into an amazing tourist visitor center with a coffee shop. Sell trinkets like books, t-shirts and stuffed animals for the kids. The people waiting are a captive audience who have nothing else to-do and will most likely spend money since they are excited to begin their safari journey.

Another similar opportunity to monetize is at the actual safari park gates. Many of the vehicles would line-up 30 minutes before the gates open so they can be one of the first vehicles to enter the national park. Of course, we just sat in the vehicle but again they could have built a tourist center here and bring in more revenue.

Spell check anyone? Check out the spelling for Madhya Pradesh on the back of the bus.

When I saw the above vehicle in the park with the misspelling of the state, I just chalked it up to the mantra of “hey, at least we got 80% right.” Actually, they got 12 out of the 13 letters right, which is 92% but sometimes that’s just not good enough.

In another attempt at getting 80% right. The sign says “Zero Compromise Towards Safety” and the ceiling above the sign is literally a clusterfuck waiting to happen. This was at the Jabalpur Airport, JLR is the airport code. And yes, another missed opportunity for monetization…JLR…as in Jaguar Land Rover (JLR). JLR is an Indian-owned company and their Land Rovers are known for their amazing off-roading capabilities and ruggedness. Yet, over the 5 days I was in Bandhavgarh I saw only one Land Rover Discovery…I mean, how is that possible???

I get it, governments move slowly but when it comes to creating more jobs and adding additional revenue to the state coffers they should move quicker to capitalize on the opportunity.

Index Funds Finally Get Some Love in India

I must say, I was pleased to see the headline in the Economic Times talking about investing in index funds (article link). And really shocked they mentioned an allocation of 25% to passive index funds. When people ask me for investment advice, I usually roll out the passive index fund speech and literally with 14 seconds people just tune out. Why? Because passive index funds (or ETFs) are boring to talk about.

It’s more exciting to talk about some hot-shot fund manager that someone has found that can outperform the markets. Remember Prashant Jain of HDFC who had the HDFC Top 200? Years ago, he WAS the talk of the town and basically was the hot shot who ran one of the best performing mutual funds. But, it was renamed Top 100 and the fund is still struggling with performance. The reason is because as a fund gets bigger and bigger they need to deploy that money and finding opportunities that outperform the general market are tougher to find.

I remember an investment professional once told me that index funds don’t work in emerging markets like India. That is absolutely garage. Most financial advisors and anyone on CNBC-TV18 will never talk about index funds or ETFs because the commissions are so low. Did you know the largest mutual fund in India is the SBI – ETF Nifty 50 at over Rs. 51,800 Cr. and the expense ratio is only 7 bps that is friggin’ crazy talk.

The tide is turning and more people are looking at these passive index funds because if you are not actively tracking the market then these instruments are great. Investing in a passive index fund is a general bet that the market/economy will do well and that’s pretty much the future of India.

Taxes, Tariffs, and Testarossas

Ferrari Testarossa

A couple of days ago there was an article in the DNA newspaper, an Indian daily, discussing how the high import tariffs/duties on luxury vehicles are killing the growth of high-end car sales. Well, I can’t argue with that!

But, that’s not the point of this blog post, it’s to review why there are tariffs/duties on certain products/markets and the thinking behind it. The basic idea of a tariff on imported goods is to protect the local market and give them an edge. Some may call this protectionist or nationalist but, pretty much every country does this to protect certain industries in that country. India is no different in that regard.

India has import duties on mobile phones so that local brands like Micromax have a price competitive edge over Chinese brands like Oppo and Vivo. To be price competitive, the next logical step would be for a foreign company like Oppo or Vivo to set up a manufacturing facility on the ground in India and avoid the import duties on fully assembled phones. The premise is that even if Oppo or Vivo send a large chunk of their profits back to their mother country of China, at least Indian workers have jobs. Not only are jobs created but all the other ancillary businesses would benefit from a manufacturing facility such as retail stores, restaurants, logistics companies, construction companies, etc.

Another market that India puts heavy import duties on is the automotive industry. Again the idea is to have the local companies like Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors and other local players benefit. My issue is that I don’t see Maruti Suzuki competing in the same space as Mercedes, Ferrari or a Lamborghini.

This is where the Indian government’s logic is flawed. Imagine you bring down the import duty to 50% then the sales of these high-end cars will increase. Again, consumers that are buying a Mercedes-AMG G63 are definitely NOT looking at a Maruti Vitara Brezza as a viable option. So there is no chance of Mercedes cannibalizing the sales of Maruti. In fact, you will be creating a larger ecosystem for these brands which will mean more salespeople, more mechanics, more spare parts, more locations, etc.

car-import

The import duties are around 240% of the cost of the car. As you can see from the above example, if the cost of the car is imported at $100,000 then you will pay $240,400 in duties. For a total of $340,400 not including registration, transportation, insurance costs and the customary flower garland that is put on new cars! And of course, don’t forget about the manufacturer and dealer margin as well.

According to the article, Lamborghini sold 26 new cars last year across India…that is pathetic for a country with a population of 1.3 billion people. I’m guessing if the duties were cut to 50%, they would sell 10x more cars and would need more infrastructure to handle it. Which would generate more jobs and taxes for the Indian government. Looking at the raw revenue numbers from the import duties is misleading since you miss out on the entire ecosystem that is created in the process.

A big thanks to Gautam Madnani of Lamborghini Mumbai who patiently answered my 754 questions on pricing! He also was the first guest on the Performalux Podcast.

ETFs in India

WhatsApp Image 2018-09-05 at 2.01.32 PM

A cousin of mine who is pretty savvy with the stock market sent the above WhatsApp message to me. I was a bit surprised he had no idea about index ETFs, then it dawned on me. ETFs are like the stepchild of the Indian investing world…no one wants to talk about them.

First of all, ETF is an acronym for exchange-traded funds. So what is an ETF? I’ll let Investopedia explain:

An ETF is a marketable security that tracks an index, a commodity, bonds, or a basket of assets like an index fund. Unlike mutual funds, an ETF trades like a common stock on a stock exchange.

Think of it as a basket of stocks that trade throughout the day. Mutual funds are similar but they only trade at the end of the day.

I personally think ETFs are a great investment vehicle for people that want exposure to the equity markets but have no clue. Even when you pick a mutual fund, you need to know about the fund house, the manager, the investment thesis, etc… By picking one of the Nifty or Sensex ETFs you are essentially saying I want to participate in the equity markets and I’m betting on the growth of the India story.

For the longest time, the mutual fund of choice was the HDFC Top 200 managed by Prashant Jain. It recently got renamed to the HDFC Top 100 with total AUM (assets under management) of around Rs. 16,000 cr (USD 2.4 billion). HDFC Top 100 and Prashant Jain were like the Fidelity Magellan fund in the US and Peter Lynch, they could do no wrong. But over time they stumbled and started to lose their sheen. That’s where an index ETF instrument is great because you are not betting on a sector, company, region, etc…you are betting on the entire country. If you don’t believe in India, then you got bigger problems.

The ETF fund I always recommend to people is the SBI Nifty ETF, as the name implies it tracks the Nifty index. The fund has about Rs. 41,000 cr (USD 5.9 billion) in assets and it’s the largest ETF or mutual fund in India by AUM. More important than AUM, is the total expense ratio (TER) of the fund and this one is 0.06%, which is very, very low. Compare that to the HDFC Top 100 which has a TER of 2.21% (almost 37 times of the SBI Nifty ETF).

ETFs by design have a low TER and it’s one of the reasons you will never hear about ETFs on CNBC-18…there is not enough money to be made if you are an advisor. Just look at the numbers above comparing the TERs of the SBI Nifty ETF to the HDFC Top 100 fund. It’s similar to fixed deposits (FDs), your financial advisor or wealth advisor will NEVER talk about FDs because they make no money on them and in fact that money is blocked from investing in other products.

I would highly encourage anyone that is looking to diversify their portfolio to look at index ETFs as a simple and inexpensive way to access the Indian equity markets. Then as you gain confidence in the equity markets you can look at investing in mutual funds and then finally move to picking stocks based on your own research. Just start.

 

My New Podcast – Performalux

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They say the third time’s a charm, well I’m hoping my latest podcast is the one. Podcasting has been gaining a lot of traction over the past 2 years and my first brush with the technology was back in 2010. I launched my first podcast called “Semper Chai” with a buddy, Mike Martin, out of Los Angeles. We did about 3 or 4 episodes and then we retired from the game!

Then I came out of retirement in 2013 and tried podcasting for a second time with a friend from Bombay – Sahil Parikh. We were going to talk about about technology and called the show “The DotMatrix Show” – connecting the dots of business and technology. That also lasted about 3 or 4 episodes and then we stopped.

Throughout all of this I continued to blog and have been for 14 years. I told myself that in 2018 I wanted to try a different media. That meant either video (vlogging) or audio (podcasting). I know all the cool kids are vlogging but I decided to try podcasting and see how that goes first.

My third attempt at a podcast is about performance and luxury or simply known as Performalux. I will be interviewing owners of super cars, car enthusiasts, car dealers and automobile manufacturers. Cars are my passion so this podcast just aligns so well with it.

Without further adieu, below is the first episode of The Performalux Podcast. I interviewed Gautam Madnani of Lamborghini Mumbai.

To subscribe to future episodes, you can use the links below or wherever you get your podcasts from.

iPhone
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-performalux-podcast/id1367228628

Android
Stitcher- https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/performalux/the-performalux-podcast
Google Play Music – https://play.google.com/music/m/Iyqode7c4qx5lj5idjka44o63hy?t=The_Performalux_Podcast
YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1fwmYjec18&list=PL6-pF-IU-94eCTLzGvtMtHjjnAVXhbw9m

My Dad’s Charity Work

Earlier this month was International Women’s Day and an Indian news channel wanted to interview my dad for this charity work. His charity has given many loans to women and hence they wanted to highlight the work he has done to help women.

Once the news clip aired we shared it on YouTube, Facebook and WhatsApp and the outpouring of support was amazing. The video is below:

What most people don’t know is that for the past 6 years my dad has slowly been working near his village of Shujalpur, Madhya Pradesh to help people in need. He has helped over 50 families and given out interest free loans of around Rs. 10 lakhs (USD $15,000). The default rate on these loans is something that not even a top banker at ICICI Bank can touch. He has had a single default of $60 because the person passed away before they could pay back the loan back!

My dad tells me it’s not about the money for many people, they need guidance. A simple example is someone wanted to open a small provisions store and so may dad gave them a loan. After a month, my dad went back and asked about the sales. That person didn’t keep track, so my dad said get a diary and write down all the sales. Once this person did this, he could see a pattern emerge and realized what sold and what didn’t.

To most people this would seem standard to track daily sales but for many people that’s not the case. This person was able to figure out that certain days were consistently slow, so he would close the shop and go into town on that day to buy more goods. A clear example of where money helped but the guidance and knowledge was much more useful.

For the past 6 years, my dad has kept a blog describing all the people he has given loans to. The stories are really interesting to read, visit ShantiSeva.org to read more.