Property is to Delhi what stocks are to Mumbai. Everyone and his uncle books, buys and sells houses as if they are some small-time mid-caps. A new flyover coming up is speculated like a central bank rate cut and a regime change in the states boosts the prices of projects by a certain builder. Under construction properties are like pre-IPO investments and the flats in the vicinity of the Yamuna Expressway are the latest multi-baggers.
This hyper-interest and activity in the real estate seems to have pushed the capital’s capital market to a periphery in the public mindscape. As a result, the debate on capital market issues is shallow. At least, that is the feeling I get in my few weeks here. If one excludes the regulators and experts who occasionally fly in from the West coast, the debate is often dominated by a handful of smart locals. As I start counting, I realise I will find it difficult to even fill one hand. I managed only three names that seem to have a firm grip on the capital. Let’s see what they had to say over the past week.
First is Thomas Mathew, a senior bureaucrat. Last week, someone from one of the industry lobbies even called him the father of the qualified foreign investors (QFI) “movement”. Mathew, who heads the capital market division of the finance ministry, has some simple, but strong views. According to him, Indian economy will be the largest in the world by 2050 in PPP terms. Since we have democracy and demography on our side, our stock markets can only go up. He rubbishes even some genuine concerns of market players as complaints of some under-confident minds. “Everyone except Indians are confident about India,” he quipped recently assuring investors that, “all is well,” advising them not to “focus on wrong targets” and warned that “it’s time we understood our confidence.” He even prodded his God’s Own Country cousin C J George of Geojit not to tell the potential QFIs on the road-shows anything bad about the Indian market. Mathew’s capital market views are thus influenced by his commitment to make a success out of a movement, he has allegedly fathered. He makes no bones about his desire that the media, intermediaries and even ‘foreign investors’ have to toe the view.
The second important figure in the capital’s market scene is the man with Rs 30,000 crore of shares to sell before March — Mohammed Haleem Khan, the disinvestment secretary. Compared to Mathew, Khan is quieter and less forceful but he is still a bull. Nobody with that much stock to sell can afford to be anything else, at least in public. Khan is, however, a little more nuanced. He agrees that there were outflows of capital and market is not doing well but he tried to establish that this was more because foreign investors are cramped for liquidity. He also tried to justify our fiscal deficit by saying rather than just looking at the number, one should look at the quality of expenditure and quality of borrowing.
“No capital market event in the capital is complete without Jagannadham.T,” that is the introduction he got in one of the seminars last week. Thunuguntla has managed to amplify the attention his unusual surname gets by churning out some timely research reports, sporting a disarming smile and attacking the unsuspecting audience with some Bollywood jokes. Speaking in a seminar after one of the government bulls had sold the India growth story, Delhi’s own market superstar promptly invoked his Bollywood counterpart: Salman Khan ek din ladki dekhne gaya. (Salman Khan went to see a girl for marriage.) Seeing him the girl’s mother fainted. People woke her up and asked what happened. The mother said, “Bees saal pehle mujhe bhi dekhne aaye te ( He came to see me too, twenty years ago).” JT quickly adds “India’s growth story is like that.” As the audience goes gaga, he apologises for his “jovialness” and moves on to his presentation.