Jim Rogers: Both Congress, BJP have not been and will not be good for India9 min read . Updated: 15 Nov 2013, 07:50 AM IST
Jim Rogers says he won't invest in India till the country opens up more
Singapore: Hedge fund manager Jim Rogers has always been an India bear and a critic of the policies of the Indian government. The chairman of Rogers Holding who moved to Singapore in 2007 because he believes the centre of the world is moving to Asia, lashes out in an interview at both national political parties and dismisses Goldman Sachs’ recent report on how it was turning bullish on India because of the possibility that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Narendra Modi could be the country’s next prime minister. “I won’t invest in India" till the country opens up more, said Rogers. Edited extracts:
What do you think of the whole controversy regarding the Goldman Sachs report titled “Modi-fying our view: raise India to Marketweight". Do you agree with what the brokerage firm said on change?
Firstly, India has been badly managed for the past 60 years. I am not talking about just the two main parties in India—get rid of all the politicians. Who knows as to who is the worse between the ruling party and the opposition. Both Congress and BJP have not been and will not be good for India, until they completely open its economy and catch on to how the world really works. India will continue to suffer—I am not saying that the opposition will be better. Everybody who has had anything to do with running India in the past so many years have failed India.
Now, it is a different issue if Goldman Sachs be allowed to comment. If they can’t comment, then can newspapers from outside (India) be allowed to comment? What Indian politicians are saying if you criticize is that you can’t comment if you are an outsider. That is one of the problems for India, and this is why India has been a disaster for so long. It keeps fouling up—telling anybody they cannot criticize or comment is a terrible, terrible mistake for India. Does that mean only Indian media can comment on what is happening there? Are politicians trying to say you can’t comment unless you agree with what they say? I find India’s reaction to the Goldman Sachs report ludicrous. I’m no fan of Goldman Sachs, but India’s reaction to the report is embarrassing. Indians should be embarrassed to have politicians who react like that to a report.
Has the BJP said or done anything revolutionary, or said anything different? They say we like business people better than Congress, but can they do anything other than making some cosmetic changes? Yes, if they (BJP) win, Goldman Sachs will be happy; they can buy stocks and markets will go up. But a year later everyone will look around and say that nothing has changed. It will still be impossible to do business in India unless you are in bed with politicians and bureaucrats. It will still be impossible for people to buy and sell currencies the way they want to…. I can buy gold nearly anywhere in the world, but not in India because I am foreigner. What kind of garbage is that?
Do you expect Modi and the BJP to win the elections?
Each party is as bad as the other. Maybe on the margin, one may be better, but Indian politicians have not shown any vision for the last 60 years. In 1947, India started off as one of the most successful countries, relative to everyone else in Asia. Since then, India has declined dramatically when compared to many other countries. Neither Congress nor BJP has done a good job. BJP is in power is some states and they are not doing a good job either. The best run Indian state has not done as well as the worst run Chinese state since 1980. All parts of India have not done well under the present set of politicians. So, I am saying, throw all existing politicians out and find a new set from wherever or however and start all over again. India won’t do that, but this is my view.
How do you view the market in a run up to the general elections?
They will have a rally if the BJP wins and Goldman Sachs will then buy Indian shares. But I don’t see this rally last. Yes, even if the markets continue to go up, inflation is terrible, so the value of real money continues to decline. Indian markets will go up, but this is based on artificial printing of money. I will say again, in my view, if India threw out the whole lot of its politicians and brought in leaders who understood the world, then investors will be very excited about investing in India.
Other than on a short-term trading (basis), for the markets, it does not matter who wins India’s election. I see no leader in India on the horizon and who can come in and do the reforms, make it easier to do business in India and get rid of restrictions in several sectors.
You mean, India should bring in technocrats? What about India’s new central bank governor? He is the former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund.
The fact is he (Raghuram Rajan) is from the US. The US has been doing as bad a job as the Indian government; it is the largest debtor nation in the history of the world. They are printing more money than anyone else. That cannot be the role model by any stretch of imagination. They are part of the problem. The problem with India too is that debt is keeping on going higher as well as the inflation. Whether, he (Rajan) will do better, I don’t know. Needless to say, what he said he will do, and what he will really do will rarely be the same. I can’t think of technocrats who have done a great job. The Chinese tried technocrats and they did not do anything different. The problems with technocrats is that they face the same set of problems that politicians face. I am not suggesting it, but if you can give someone the power to make changes, and that person makes the right changes. China’s Deng Xiaoping had the power and he made the right changes when he opened up their economy after the country faced 300 years of decline. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore had enough power and he made the right changes.
But India is a democracy.
I did not say that (you need a dictator). What I am saying is that if a guy has enough power to make the right changes, especially if he is elected. Democracy is the best form of governance we have, it is the best thing that the world has conceived, but democracy is just less bad than other forms of governance. What India needs, or what everyone needs is a leader with enough power and vision to do the right things and get them done. India needs to be changed dramatically like Deng Xiaoping changed China.
Many people think (Gujarat chief minister and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate) Modi is that man.
He may be better than others, but in my view, India currently does not have any leader that can take on such a challenge, and is capable of solving all its problems.
You have to admit that as an administrator, Modi has done a good job in Gujarat.
I don’t want to rate him on that alone. India is far more challenging. I hope Modi is the salvation that India badly needs, but I am deeply sceptical.
Over the last couple of months, India has taken several steps towards reform—dollar purchases for oil marketing companies, currency swap measures, faster clearances for projects…
These steps are too small to matter and these are all temporary measures. Too little and too late. All India is trying to do is take some temporary steps to get by till the elections. But these are not going to get investors back. In 1991, India said it would be privatizing, and in the next 10 years, they privatized just one company. It is laughable and they should be embarrassed.
What is your outlook for Indian equities in the near and long term? And what’s your view on foreign brokerages being optimistic on Indian equities. What are your preferred sectors in India?
I won’t invest in India till they open up more. It is almost impossible for me to invest in its stock, bond, commodity or land market. If I were to invest in Australia or Germany, it is so easy; it can be done on the phone. I am not optimistic on Indian equities. Yes, if the BJP wins, there will be a rally. Preferred sectors? I wouldn’t buy except to sell short. If government changes, there will be a rally, but it will be just that and won’t last.
From gunning for near double-digit growth, India is expected to grow at less than 5% this fiscal year. Can it get back to its earlier growth path?
Did you believe the earlier numbers in the first place? Numbers are made up in the most parts of the world, including the US. You should get another job if you believe government statistics. Even the Chinese numbers are made up. But the major difference is that we do know that China has boomed and India has not in the past 30 years; whether China has grown 9.1% or less or more is just irrelevant. Just go there and see. If you had gone there in 1983 and now, it is staggering what has happened. If you had gone to India in 1983 and 2013, you don’t see that much of a change. I see government numbers as propaganda, especially the figures put out by the US.
Where would you invest? Emerging Asian countries appear to have withstood the current crisis. Is the next round of crisis round the corner?
Russia. I’ve also bought few shares in China recently. That is all for the moment. I’ve invested in Myanmar five years ago, but I am not buying new in Myanmar now. If something new comes up in Myanmar, I would like to invest. I would love to invest in North Korea, but I cannot as I am American. Most stock markets around the world are artificially high because of the artificial sea of liquidity that is going on, and this ocean will run out. It may not dry up for the next three years, but I am not rushing in and buying.
No, I don’t think the next round of crisis is coming soon; individual countries may have some problems. I don’t see a global crisis coming soon because everyone is printing money. In America, there is no constraint on printing money and there is no constraint on government spending because of recent actions. Japan is not going to slow down printing money. There are no constraints on this madness that is going on. But, this is madness and will end in disaster. The disaster may not come till 2017.