Indian companies find it very hard to generate shareholder returns – over the last 20 years, 80 per cent of Indian companies have not been able to deliver real returns (i.e. returns better than the rate of inflation) to their shareholders. However, given that the country has grown at around 15 per cent per annum (in nominal terms) over this period, this means that the remaining 20 per cent of companies have delivered very significant real returns. So, how does one systematically identify these magical 20 per cent of companies? That was the homework exercise my colleague, Gaurav Mehta, and I set ourselves two years ago.
Our research lead us to the ‘greatness’ framework i.e. a way of identifying companies which grow their businesses over long periods of time in a consistent and calibrated manner. What these ‘great’ companies do is very easy to describe – they invest systematically in their businesses, turn investment into revenues, revenues into profits, profits into cashflows and cashflows into further investment. The good news is that because the country is growing at roughly 15 per cent per annum, the ‘great’ companies are able to grow their toplines, bottomlines and assets at around 25 per cent per annum. High school maths tells us that if a company grows at 25 per cent per annum, it becomes a 10-bagger in 10 years (even without any P/E re-rating).
The fact that only 10 per cent or so of the BSE500 companies are able to stick to the ‘greatness’ framework over a 5-6 year period does not surprise us – the negative political, social and economic influences prevalent in the country make consistent and calibrated development difficult for any Indian institution in almost any facet of Indian life.
What does surprise us though is that very few large cap stocks are able to stick to the ‘greatness’ framework – the only Nifty stocks in our 40-stock ‘greatness’ portfolio for CY13 are ITC, Asian Paints and Lupin. So why is this? Why is it that the vast majority of the biggest companies in the country are not able to grow in a consistent and calibrated manner? This is a question which we are currently investigating. Answering this question is important as it could explain one of the other conundrums that had puzzled us – why is it that every 10 years the Nifty ‘churns’ by around 45-50 per cent, a much higher ratio than other major developed and developing markets.
My current thinking is that large and successful Indian companies tend to hit at least one of the following roadblocks which brings them to a juddering halt:
So, how does one beat this trap? Look for Indian companies operating in niches which: (a) are unlikely to invite regulation or foreign competition; (b) have natural barriers to entry based on brand, distribution or technology; and (c) create a natural incentive to invest steadily (eg. the need into expand a new region). Examples: TTK Prestige, Bata, Whirlpool, Jagran Prakashan, Asian Paints, Carborundum, Cummins India and Balkrishna Industries.
(Saurabh Mukherjea is the Head of Equities at Ambit Capital. The views expressed here are his own and not Ambit Capital’s.)