GEF on the Indian Retail Sector

india-lf.gifI have to say that the lads and lasses over at Morgan Stanley's Global Economic Forum really are pushing my buttons at the moment. They are churning out so many quality articles at the moment which feed directly into my postings here at Alpha.Sources that I am having trouble keeping up. I don't always agree of course but that is another story.

This time around though I am sure I agree pretty well with the piece by Chetan Ahya about the retail sector in India; or as it is named - The Retail Revolution; The Macro Story. I feel like I am creating a real little niche here at Alpha.Sources in my postings about the Indian retail sector and to that end Chetan's piece quite simply demands attention.  

So should we get started then?

What is initially interesting for me is the detail by which Chetan describes the domestic industry since I, in my postings, have been more preoccupied with the problems foreign investors such as Wal-Mart, Tesco, and Carrefour have of entering the Indian market because of a de-facto FDI ban in the retail sector. As a consequence you might say domestic investors are taking up the clout in the absence of direct foreign interference (licensing, franchising, and joint ventures are still viable entry modes). 

Even as the government continues to delay the decision to allow FDI in multi-product retail chains, the fast-emerging Indian retail sector is becoming widely recognized among domestic entrepreneurs and investors as one of the biggest opportunities in India. Apart from existing players (such as Pantaloon) ramping up their retail chain store operations, many large business groups, including Reliance Industries, Birla Group and Bharti Enterprises, have announced their intention to cumulatively invest over US$10 billion over the next five years to capture a share in the fast-growing pie of the organized retail sector. In addition, various foreign players like Walmart and Tesco have announced their intention to enter the domestic market via a joint venture with a domestic Indian player.    

Note especially how the 'retail revolution' takes place on the supply side as major retailers gradually replace the former loosely defined small shop business environment in India.

Currently, Indian retail distribution is completely fragmented, with about 12 million players. The majority of these are very small players operating from small shops (below 50 square feet in size) and handcarts. These retail outlets are spread across the country in over 5,000 towns and 600,000 villages. In the absence of complete data related to the distribution of current mom & pop retail shops, distribution of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) distribution could be used a proxy, in our consumer analyst’s view.


The retail revolution, involving an increase in input of capital, technology and new management practices, can potentially reform each and every part of the retail business chain over the next few years. It will restructure: (a) the retail distribution via higher asset turnover and better inventory management; (b) intermediary and logistics management; and (c) production management in the case of both agriculture and manufacturing.  Although total spending through organized retail chain store format is likely to be only about 10% of the addressable market by F2010, the impact of this trend on productivity across the retail food chain can be more than proportionate, in our view.

I don't want to reproduce the whole piece with comments but just say that if you have been following this there is no escaping this overview; read it!

However, before leaving you I would like to dwell with some of the points taken up in the end of the article; Firstly concerning the investments in infrastructure. As such it is a well known fact that India is struggling with its infrastructure. Even more pertinent in this is it that infrastructure and its quality is very important for any organized large scale retailer. This is consequently a two-way street; India can expect a investment from private retail businesses but does this mean that the government can let the retail pave India in its place. Well, according to Chetan, note quite;

Although we expect some push to infrastructure investments from the private sector as it attempts to build an organized supply chain, there is clearly a need for a strong response from the government in building the infrastructure needed for quick transition in the supply chain. We believe that the primary responsibility for development of infrastructure lies with the government.

Secondly, we have the whole story about the restrictions on FDI. Some progress has indeed been made but we are still not quite there yet. Moreover, there is obviously a political game here with strong interests trying to push for the continuation of the restrictions because of the wish to maintain the current dispersed nature of the retail sector in order to preserve jobs. However, Chetan (and Morgan Stanley) thinks otherwise;

In January 2006, the government approved new FDI norms for the retail sector and allowed up to 51% FDI in single-brand retailing. However, the decision to allow FDI in the multi-product retail chain stores has been delayed and remains a politically sensitive issue. There are some political groups who are opposing this decision due to its perceived implications on the mom & pop shops. We believe that not allowing foreign players is hardly resolving the issue as the domestic private sector is continuing to ramp up retail chain stores in any case. Indeed, if participation of foreign players is allowed in partnership with domestic players, it can help evolve the sector in a more efficient manner as these foreign players bring technology and expertise. Increased presence of the foreign players can also potentially help Indian manufacturers participate in the international goods outsourcing market. 

And lastly; I also believe that the need to induce faster property development is an important point to watch out for:

The government needs to create an enabling environment in many areas to ensure swift development of the sector.

Various states are yet to implement legislative reforms in property-related laws such as the Urban Land Ceiling Act, Stamp Duty laws and the Rent Control Act. These laws have been slowing property development in the country and hence have been one of the factors resulting in rising property prices (and hence rentals). These high prices could prove to be a major hurdle for the organized sector retail players in acquiring the necessary real estate.

In addition, the government also needs to ensure quick implementation of the reform in the inter-state trade-related taxation law.

Oh and did I mention the utter necessity for you to read the whole piece?  

Indiaclaus vistesen