Earlier in May, when I had asked Sajjan Jindal, chief of JSW – the group with the best appetite for capital investment – when the private sector would begin investing, he had replied that we were poised for an imminent renewal in sentiment for private investment. Recently, Ajay Piramal, head of Piramal Group and Shriram Group, reflected that a higher GDP number would initiate private investment flow into the economy. And, the World Bank projects that gross fixed capital formation (GFCF), which indicates investment demand in the economy, will grow by 6.8 per cent in FY18 and 8.8 per cent in FY19.

However, the situation appears to be suboptimal currently. According to CMIE, announcements of new industrial and infrastructural projects remained muted in the first quarter of 2017-18. Only 448 projects were announced during the quarter. This is the lowest quarterly project announcement seen since June 2014, the time when the last capex cycle bottomed out. Further, the completion of projects has dipped over previous consecutive quarters. Lower project initiation and a falling commissioning rate will be a double whammy – the only way to change this situation is to enhance the rate of commissioning of the project pipeline and, at the same time, improve the launch of new infrastructure projects. Stalled projects have also not seen any significant resolution. Ideally, the current government is in the best position to resolve and move this rapidly. If the RBI has recognised the need to resolve the mountain of debt through insolvency resolution professionals, why not seek help in resolving stalled projects too?

Foreign funds are keen to invest in toll-operate-transfer (TOT) projects so they can realise the toll yields on completed projects. Hence, NHAI is preparing to offer such completed projects and generate liquidity. Further, the Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code will help quicker consolidation as companies find a solution for bailing out. L&T’s results also indicate that larger companies with stronger balance sheets can take on the burden of stressful financial cycles as contracting for infrastructure is essentially becoming a big boys’ game. There is a need for out-of-the-box solutions to resolve the infrastructure growth gridlock.

So, if private investment is yet to make its mark, what is keeping our engines sputtering if not humming? Public spending. Government spending grew by 13 per cent, year-on-year, in the two months April-May 2017 to touch Rs 4.6 lakh crore against Rs 2.9 lakh crore in April-May 2016. Capital expenditure for infrastructure creation and other assets rose 63 per cent in April-May to Rs 54,000 crore from Rs 33,000 crore in the same two months a year ago. With GST affecting working capital cycles, government spending will be needed to keep the economy pumped up.

Set for growth

Last month, in a swift move at the recommendation of  NITI Aayog, the government reversed the misery of construction and infrastructure companies. In this column last month, I had pitched for a resolution to the impasse on matters stuck in arbitration, disputes and appeals. So while the ruling has now provided that the company in question is not squeezed to death of its finances and left to dry, and this takes care of the financial disease such companies come down with, the core attitudinal shift causing this legal pileup has not been addressed.

That said, the ruling has led to the rerating of construction and infrastructure stocks at the bourses. Companies planning InvITs will see better valuations. Huge funds are likely to come back into the system to companies like HCC, Patel Engineering, Sadbhav, IRB, etc. While this augurs well for equipment companies, there is also likely to be a shift in the list of bidders for EPC and hybrid annuity contracts issued by MoRTH
and NHAI.

Meanwhile, real-estate companies are experiencing rough weather as the consumer protection movement is gaining momentum. Several companies like Unitech, Supertech and Parsvanath have been instructed by courts to return the money invested by those who have booked flats where either the companies have not presented a ´true and fair´ picture of the offering when they raised investments from buyers or violated deadlines for delivery. The Real Estate Regulation Act (RERA) has sent a shiver down the spines of developers as rulings have begun to send developer after developer behind bars for violations and misrepresentations, non-delivery and unfair practices. Consolidation is already in progress in this sector as several stressed developers have made alliances with financially stronger partners to bail them out. Ajay Piramal´s real-estate fund initiatives have rescued many of them too. New money is coming in under changed conditions seeking fresh rules for play.

The Smart Cities mission has released 27 additional cities, taking the total number of cities selected under the mission to 60. The new cities are from 12 states and have proposed to invest a total of Rs 66,883 crore under their respective city development plans. The amount includes Rs 42,524 crore in area-based development (79 per cent of the total) and Rs 11,379 crore (21 per cent) in technology-based pan-city solutions. With this, the total investment proposed for the 60 cities selected has now gone up to Rs 144,742 crore. Several of these cities are now readying DPRs; RFPs for some projects have already been readied and launched by Pune, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, etc. Another Rs 45,935 crore has been approved by the Ministry of Urban Development under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT). In addition to 68 projects launched in 14 smart cities this June, another 134 projects have been identified, of which 114 are under bidding. The pace of urban renewal has been stepped up under these initiatives and is likely to accelerate in the coming year.

Growth has been initiated by eliminating bottlenecks and making structural changes. Liquidity released through the Pay Commission, OROP and government spending will add to the buoyancy likely to emerge as a result of the above normal monsoon, which will hopefully provide a bountiful harvest in the coming season. Obstacles are being eased with the initiatives enumerated above and the scenario is set for a revival. It indeed augurs well for the festive season ahead  Happy Diwali!