For the past three years, it has become tradition for me to pick a ‘story of the year’ at the conclusion of every financial year. The idea is to take stock of the year and then drown out all the noise in order to identify the story that truly caused or causes a structural shift in my opinion. On March 31st 2019, I wrote:
“Narratives and stories drive investment outcomes in the short run. For the most part, they provide us with shock therapies with complete elasticity. The effect of the story is felt temporarily and over a period of time we are back to business as usual. Yet there are few stories that alter the course of business and cause a structural shift. As an investor with the intent of long term wealth creation, we need to ignore the stories with elasticity as noise and focus only on those few that create a change bringing about a new or an enlarged addressable opportunity. “
In March 2019, we picked the surge in Active Ingredient (AI) and Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) manufacturing in India due to firms wanting to indigenise supply chains as well backward integration in pharmaceuticals, chemicals and agrochemicals as our story of the year.
March 2020, though dominated by the headlines on the onset of the pandemic, saw us pick the corporate tax cuts announced earlier in September that year as our story of the year. It was a decisive regime change that truly enabled the clarion call for ‘make in India’,
Getting swept up in the strides made by the Indian pharma industry, in March 2021, India emerging as the most critical pharmacy to the world was our story of the year. We went a step further and made a call for the coming few decades to belong to advances in biology just as the decades post World War II belonged to advances in physics.
What happened in FY22?
It is almost impossible to talk about the headlines we saw this financial year and not start with the Russia-Ukraine war. Albeit some would argue we could end the discussion there itself and award the title of the story of the year to the conflict. At first, I too was tempted to decree this the story of the year. It demonstrates the emergence of a multipolar power structure in the world again, the decay of the American hegemony on world politics. Yet, this shift has been simmering for quite some time now. It would be unfair to lay the causation of this structural shift in global power structure to this event. It is merely another piece of evidence.
America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan; yet another. The fall of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban again shows the cursed geography of the land. Time and again those who sought to conquer that land have failed and eventually withdrawn. So it is certainly not the seismic shift we hope to see in our story of the year. This one simply follows the established pattern.
At the start of the year, it would have been impossible to see these geopolitical events happen beyond the headlines of bed and oxygen shortage and the horrendous second wave of COVID-19 that we endured as a nation. It, however, did not break us. We bounced back stronger; with the largest ever vaccination drive witnessed in the history of mankind with over 183crore vaccine doses administered.
We watched in awe as billionaire citizens, Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos raced into space (some believe our future lies as an interplanetary species); we watched in shock as our CDS General Bipin Rawat’s helicopter crashed into the hills near Coonoor. The recent state elections consumed us as yet another stand up comedy artist took helm of a government. But a version of all of these events have happened in the past and are largely ‘elastic’ in nature; i.e. business soon continued as usual.
Story of Year FY22
If we have labeled Putin and the Taliban as noise, well then what is it that made us pause in our shoes? For the first time, we have a tie for the gold. Our story of the year is shared by ‘the largest ever Indian contingent to be sent to the olympics’ and ‘the maharaja of skies returning back to the Tata fold’. The reason for the tie is that they both speak of a new India.
While the finale of Neeraj Chopra striking first gold for India in athletics was enthralling, the two plus weeks of the Olympics had me coming into office early just to catch the games before getting down to work. It is not just about that gold in athletics or any of the other 6 medals we won. It was about knowing that we competed so well and were real contenders in so many sports, and in so many categories- even when we did not get a podium finish. This symbolizes the rise of a new India. An India that has aspirations, an India that seeks to go beyond the mere routine, an India that is enabled to compete on the biggest stage of displaying what humans are capable of, an India that does not simply satisfy the basic requirements but chooses to dream.
These aspirations would have meant nothing if we didn’t see a stable regulatory environment to enable it. The disinvestment of Air India, the maharaja of the skies back to its home- Tatas, with a 100% stake being sold to the Tata Group (a departure from the usual stance of disinvestment where the government retains a part of the company), speaks of a regulator that does not wish to clip wings but be the wind beneath. A government that recognises that it has no business doing these businesses, letting private enterprises and individuals thrive on their own accord, is what makes our aspirational quality so special.
The scale of our aspirations as a nation of over a billion human beings, coupled with a regulator and a government eager to enable rather than get in the way makes India one of the most attractive destinations in the world today. The developed world has stable regulators, yet are content and lacking in aspiration. The other emerging nations that do have aspirations, have governing authorities dowsing them rather than stoking.
Air India and our Olympic Contingent, together demonstrate an India that emerges, perhaps for the first time, in our independent history as a growth story that every global investor wants to be a part of. We are the chart toppers, and that is a seismic change.
Leave a Reply