China’s Belt and Road and India’s Infrastructural Ambitions – Where is the line to be drawn?

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When in 2017, China organized the first-ever Forum on Belt and Road, almost 130 countries from all over the world, including the United States had sent in their representatives to witness and be part of the diplomatic showcase of China’s global ambitious project, which aims to create an interlocked trade, financial and cultural network stretching from East Asia to Europe and beyond. There was, however, one notable miss, India. India was always opposed to Chinese ambitions of erecting this vast infrastructural network and the primary reason was that it violated India’s state sovereignty. The showcase arm of the Chinese Belt and Road happens to be the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a $62 Billion pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping and traversing the entire length and breadth of Pakistan with nodal points in Xinjiang province of China, and Pakistan’s port town of Gawdar. CPEC is marked by modern infrastructure of transportation networks, special economic zones, industrial clusters and energy hubs, and considered China’s main plank of Belt and Road Initiative aimed to underscore China’s economic might and dominance over the Asian-Pacific seas. That a segment of CPEC cuts through the disputed territory of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir has irked India no ends, which it considers a direct, uncalled-for and aggressive nature of China’s global ambitions at the cost of state sovereignty. Though, the CPEC is yet to be fully commissioned, some segments have started to function. This is turning out to be major bone of contention between the two Asian economic giants. But, relations have a gotten a bit murkier since 2017, and two major geopolitical events have confounded matters further. 

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The first one is the Doklam Standoff between China and India. This tiny plateau nestled between China, India and Bhutan witnessed a three-month standoff between the two largest armies in the world over a road that the Chinese were building and which India apprehended would function more as a surveillance apparatus over the narrow path of land that connects the Indian mainland with the Northeastern states. Though the tension was eventually diffused, the state of affairs between China and India never really thawed as could have been anticipated. It was in 2017 that India and Pakistan became newly installed members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), having been elevated from observer states. China, anticipating an increasing amount of divisiveness within a regional economic and security organization by being accustomed to extreme comity and cooperative discussions was frustrated at India’s becoming a member state that Russia, another founder-member of SCO pushed for. Russia wanted to constrain China’s growing influence in the organization as it was concerned that post-Soviet SCO members were drifting too far into the Chinese geostrategic orbit. Moscow had long delayed implementing Chinese initiatives that would have enabled Beijing to reap greater benefits from regional trade. As China gained more clout in Central Asia, Moscow choice New Delhi’s inclusion to slow and oppose Beijing’s ambitions. It is under these circumstances that New Delhi would likely continue to criticize the CPEC in the context of the SCO because, as a full member, India now has the right to protest developments that do not serve the interests of all SCO members. The SCO also offers another public stage for India to constantly question the intent behind China’s exceptionally close ties to Pakistan.

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The second is the recent escalation of hostilities between India and Pakistan, and how Pakistan felt betrayed over China’s so-called neutral stand by asking both countries to take recourse to meaning dialogue in resolving the contentious issue of Kashmir and Terror and cease all military adventures. It is to be noted that the second convention of the Belt and Road Forum is to take place in April this year, and China is all hopeful to get India’s positive support for its infrastructural might. India’s notable absence from the 2017 meet has hit Chinese plans, and the latter wants to reverse the course this time around. Even if India were to take part this year, or send in their dissent note via an official communique, it would reliably and reasonably highlight the contradiction between China’s stated anti-terrorism goals and the reality of its policy. Most notably, Beijing has consistently looked the other way as Pakistani Intelligence Services continue to support terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, because India is particularly close to the Afghan Government, it could seek to sponsor Afghanistan to move from observer status toward full SCO membership. This would give India even greater strength in the group and could bolster Russia’s position as well.  

Lingering border disputes and fierce geostrategic competition in South Asia between China and India is likely to temper any cooperation Beijing might hope to achieve with New Delhi in latter’s inclusion at the Forum. Mutual suspicions in the maritime domain persist as well, with the Indian government shoring its position in the strategically important Andaman and Nicobar island chain to counter the perceived Chinese “string of pearls” strategy – aimed at establishing access to naval ports throughout the Indian Ocean that could be militarily advantageous in a conflict. Such mutual suspicions will likely impact Forum’s deliberations and discussions in unpredictable ways. Although India may be an unwelcome addition and irritant, China’s economic and military strength makes it far more formidable on its own – a point that is only magnified as Russian influence simultaneously recedes, or rather more aptly fluctuates. Even when India rejected Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative overture, China remains India’s top trading partner and a critical market for all Central and South Asian states, leaving them with few other appealing options. India’s entry into the Forum, however, could put Beijing in the awkward position of highlighting the value, while increasingly working around or outside of it. Outright failure of the Forum would be unacceptable for China because of its central role in establishing it in the first place. Regardless of the bickering between countries that may break out, Beijing can be expected to make yet another show of the importance, with all of the usual pomp and circumstance, at the upcoming summit in April, 2019.

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What then is India’s infrastructural challenge to Belt and Road? India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi instantiated the need for overhauling the infrastructure in a manner hitherto not conceived of by emphasizing that the Government would usher in a ‘Blue Revolution’ by developing India’s coastal regions and working for the welfare of fishing communities in a string of infrastructure projects. That such a declaration came in the pilgrim town of Somnath in Gujarat isn’t surprising, for the foundations of a smart city spread over an area of about 1400 acres was laid at Kandla, the port city. The figures he cited during his address were all the more staggering making one wonder about the source of resources. For instance, the smart city would provide employment to about 50000 people. The Blue Revolution would be initiated through the Government’s flagship Sagarmala Project attracting an investment to the tune of Rs. 8 lakh crore and creating industrial and tourism development along the coast line of the entire country. Not just content with such figures already, he also promised that 400 ports and fishing sites would be developed under the project. One would obviously wonder at how tall are these claims? Clearly Modi and his cohorts are no fan of Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” due to their obsession with “Bigger is Better”. What’s even more surprising is that these reckless followers of capitalism haven’t even understood what is meant by “Creative Destruction” both macro- or micro- economically. The process of Joseph Schumpeter’s creative destruction (restructuring) permeates major aspects of macroeconomic performance, not only long-run growth but also economic fluctuations, structural adjustment and the functioning of factor markets. At the microeconomic level, restructuring is characterized by countless decisions to create and destroy production arrangements. These decisions are often complex, involving multiple parties as well as strategic and technological considerations. The efficiency of those decisions not only depends on managerial talent but also hinges on the existence of sound institutions that provide a proper transactional framework. Failure along this dimension can have severe macroeconomic consequences once it interacts with the process of creative destruction. Quite unfortunately, India is heading towards an economic mess, if such policies are to slammed onto people under circumstances when neither the macroeconomic not the microeconomic apparatuses in the country are in shape to withstand cyclonic shocks. Moreover, these promotional doctrines come at a humungous price of gross violations of human and constitutional rights of the people lending credibility once again to the warnings of Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered…

So, is there any comparison between Belt and Road and Blue Economy? Well, pundits could draw far-fetched comparisons between these infrastructural advances, but, for the Chinese, Belt and Road is geographically much vaster as compared to Indian Blue Economy, which is more confined to domestic consumptions but do have elements of exim and trade aspects to it. Apart from that, when it comes to fulfilling these ambitions, China with its economic might have much better resources at commissioning the initiative, whereas India, with its faltering banking industry and waning investor confidence is finding its increasingly difficult to map out routes of funding and financing. On a more geopolitical note, and especially in the wake of current events between India and Pakistan, china would do well to factor in the larger perspectives of its relations with South Asia. It’s well known that China has been using Pakistan as a foil against India since the 1960s, and with its CPEC has upped its commitment to Pakistan that includes the assurances of Pakistani well-being. But can China remain oblivious to Pakistan’s scorpion-like behavior of devouring itself? On the other hand, a stable India is providing opportunities for Chinese companies to expand themselves. The reset in Sino-Indian ties following the Wuhan Summit of 2018 has created conditions which can be of great benefit to Beijing in an era when it is facing a fundamental challenge from the United States. Who knows, New Delhi may even consider supporting the Belt & Road Initiative in some indirect fashion as the Japanese are doing?  

The Banking Business…Note Quote

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Why is lending indispensable to banking? This not-so new question has garnered a lot of steam, especially in the wake of 2007-08 crisis. In India, however, this question has become quite a staple of CSOs purportedly carrying out research and analysis in what has, albeit wrongly, begun to be considered offshoots of neoliberal policies of capitalism favoring cronyism on one hand, and marginalizing priority sector focus by nationalized banks on the other. Though, it is a bit far-fetched to call this analysis mushrooming on artificially-tilled grounds, it nevertheless isn’t justified for the leaps such analyses assume don’t exist. The purpose of this piece is precisely to demystify and be a correctional to such erroneous thoughts feeding activism. 

The idea is to launch from the importance of lending practices to banking, and why if such practices weren’t the norm, banking as a business would falter. Monetary and financial systems are creations of double entry-accounting, in that, when banks lend, the process is a creation of a matrix/(ces) of new assets and new liabilities. Monetary system is a counterfactual, which is a bookkeeping mechanism for the intermediation of real economic activity giving a semblance of reality to finance capitalism in substance and form. Let us say, a bank A lends to a borrower. By this process, a new asset and a new liability is created for A, in that, there is a debit under bank assets, and a simultaneous credit on the borrower’s account. These accounting entries enhance bank’s and borrower’s  respective categories, making it operationally different from opening bank accounts marked by deposits. The bank now has an asset equal to the amount of the loan and a liability equal to the deposit. Put a bit more differently, bank A writes a cheque or draft for the borrower, thus debiting the borrower’s loan account and crediting a payment liability account. Now, this borrower decides to deposit this cheque/draft at a different bank B, which sees the balance sheet of B grow by the same amount, with a payment due asset and a deposit liability. This is what is a bit complicated and referred to as matrix/(ces) at the beginning of this paragraph. The obvious complication is due to a duplication of balance sheet across the banks A and B, which clearly stands in need of urgent resolution. This duplication is categorized under the accounting principle of ‘Float’, and is the primary requisite for resolving duplicity. Float is the amount of time it takes for money to move from one account to another. The time period is significant because it’s as if the funds are in two places at once. The money is still in the cheque writer’s account, and the cheque recipient may have deposited funds to their bank as well. The resolution is reached when the bank B clears the cheque/draft and receives a reserve balance credit in exchange, at which point the bank A sheds both reserve balances and its payment liability. Now, what has happened is that the systemic balance sheet has grown by the amount of the original loan and deposit, even if these are domiciles in two different banks A and B. In other words, B’s balance sheet has an increased deposits and reserves, while A’s balance sheet temporarily unchanged due to loan issued offset reserves decline. It needs to be noted that here a reserve requirement is created in addition to a capital requirement, the former with the creation of a deposit, while the latter with the creation of a loan, implying that loans create capital requirement, whereas deposits create reserve requirement.  Pari Passu, bank A will seek to borrow new funding from money markets and bank B could lend funds into these markets. This is a natural reaction to the fluctuating reserve distribution created at banks A and B. This course of normalization of reserve fluctuations is a basic function of commercial bank reserve management. Though, this is a typical case involving just two banks, a meshwork of different banks, their counterparties, are involved in such transactions that define present-day banking scenario, thus highlighting complexity referred to earlier. 

Now, there is something called the Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR), whereby banks in India (and elsewhere as well) are required to hold a certain proportion of their deposits in the form of cash. However, these banks don’t hold these as cash with themselves for they deposit such cash (also known as currency chests) with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). For example, if the bank’s deposits increase by Rs. 100, and if the CRR is 4% (this is the present CRR stipulated by the RBI), then the banks will have to hold Rs. 4 with the RBI, and the bank will be able to use only Rs. 96 for investments and lending, or credit purpose. Therefore, higher the CRR, lower is the amount that banks will be able to use for lending and investment. CRR is a tool used by the RBI to control liquidity in the banking system. Now, if the bank A lends out Rs. 100, it incurs a reserve requirement of Rs. 4, or in other words, for every Rs. 100 loan, there is a simultaneous reserve requirement of Rs. 4 created in the form of reserve liability. But, there is a further ingredient to this banking complexity in the form of Tier-1 and Tier-2 capital as laid down by BASEL Accords, to which India is a signatory. Under the accord, bank’s capital consists of tier-1 and tier-2 capital, where tier-1 is bank’s core capital, while tier-2 is supplementary, and the sum of these two is bank’s total capital. This is a crucial component and is considered highly significant by regulators (like the RBI, for instance), for the capital ratio is used to determine and rank bank’s capital adequacy. tier-1 capital consists of shareholders’ equity and retained earnings, and gives a measure of when the bank must absorb losses without ceasing business operations. BASEL-3 has capped the minimum tier-1 capital ratio at 6%, which is calculated by dividing bank’s tier-1 capital by its total risk-based assets. Tier-2 capital includes revaluation reserves, hybrid capital instruments and subordinated term debt, general loan-loss revenues, and undisclosed reserves. tier-2 capital is supplementary since it is less reliable than tier-1 capital. According to BASEL-3, the minimum total capital ratio is 8%, which indicates the minimum tier-2 capital ratio at 2%, as opposed to 6% for the tier-1 capital ratio. Going by these norms, a well capitalized bank in India must have a 8% combined tier-1 and tier-2 capital ratio, meaning that for every Rs. 100 bank loan, a simultaneous regulatory capital liability of Rs. 8 of tier-1/tier-2 is generated. Further, if a Rs. 100 loan has created a Rs. 100 deposit, it has actually created an asset of Rs. 100 for the bank, while at the same time a liability of Rs. 112, which is the sum of deposits and required reserves and capital. On the face of it, this looks like a losing deal for the bank. But, there is more than meets the eye here. 

Assume bank A lends Mr. Amit Modi Rs. 100, by crediting Mr. Modi’s deposit account held at A with Rs. 100. Two new liabilities are immediately created that need urgent addressing, viz. reserve and capital requirement. One way to raise Rs. 8 of required capital, bank A sells shares, or raise equity-like debt or retain earnings. The other way is to attach an origination fee of 10% (sorry for the excessively high figure here, but for sake of brevity, let’s keep it at 10%). This 10% origination fee helps maintain retained earnings and assist satisfying capital requirements. Now, what is happening here might look unique, but is the key to any banking business of lending, i.e. the bank A is meeting its capital requirement by discounting a deposit it created of its own loan, and thereby reducing its liability without actually reducing its asset. To put it differently, bank A extracts a 10% fee from Rs. 100 it loans, thus depositing an actual sum of only Rs. 90. With this, A’s reserve requirement decrease by Rs. 3.6 (remember 4% is the CRR). This in turn means that the loan of Rs. 100 made by A actually creates liabilities worth Rs. Rs. 108.4 (4-3.6 = 0.4 + 8). The RBI, which imposes the reserve requirement will follow up new deposit creation with a systemic injection sufficient to accommodate the requirement of bank B that has issued the deposit. And this new requirement is what is termed the targeted asset for the bank. It will fund this asset in the normal course of its asset-liability management process, just as it would any other asset. At the margin, the bank actually has to compete for funding that will draw new reserve balances into its position with the RBI. This action of course is commingled with numerous other such transactions that occur in the normal course of reserve management. The sequence includes a time lag between the creation of the deposit and the activation of the corresponding reserve requirement against that deposit. A bank in theory can temporarily be at rest in terms of balance sheet growth, and still be experiencing continuous shifting in the mix of asset and liability types, including shifting of deposits. Part of this deposit shifting is inherent in a private sector banking system that fosters competition for deposit funding. The birth of a demand deposit in particular is separate from retaining it through competition. Moreover, the fork in the road that was taken in order to construct a private sector banking system implies that the RBI is not a mere slush fund that provides unlimited funding to the banking system.  

The originating accounting entries in the above case are simple, a loan asset and a deposit liability. But this is only the start of the story. Commercial bank ‘asset-liability management’ functions oversee the comprehensive flow of funds in and out of individual banks. They control exposure to the basic banking risks of liquidity and interest rate sensitivity. Somewhat separately, but still connected within an overarching risk management framework, banks manage credit risk by linking line lending functions directly to the process of internal risk assessment and capital allocation. Banks require capital, especially equity capital, to take risk, and to take credit risk in particular. Interest rate risk and interest margin management are critical aspects of bank asset-liability management. The asset-liability management function provides pricing guidance for deposit products and related funding costs for lending operations. This function helps coordinate the operations of the left and the right hand sides of the balance sheet. For example, a central bank interest rate change becomes a cost of funds signal that transmits to commercial bank balance sheets as a marginal pricing influence. The asset-liability management function is the commercial bank coordination function for this transmission process, as the pricing signal ripples out to various balance sheet categories. Loan and deposit pricing is directly affected because the cost of funds that anchors all pricing in finance has been changed. In other cases, a change in the term structure of market interest rates requires similar coordination of commercial bank pricing implications. And this reset in pricing has implications for commercial bank approaches to strategies and targets for the compositional mix of assets and liabilities. The life of deposits is more dynamic than their birth or death. Deposits move around the banking system as banks compete to retain or attract them. Deposits also change form. Demand deposits can convert to term deposits, as banks seek a supply of longer duration funding for asset-liability matching purposes. And they can convert to new debt or equity securities issued by a particular bank, as buyers of these instruments draw down their deposits to pay for them. All of these changes happen across different banks, which can lead to temporary imbalances in the nominal matching of assets and liabilities, which in turn requires active management of the reserve account level, with appropriate liquidity management responses through money market operations in the short term, or longer term strategic adjustment in approaches to loan and deposit market share. The key idea here is that banks compete for deposits that currently exist in the system, including deposits that can be withdrawn on demand, or at maturity in the case of term deposits. And this competition extends more comprehensively to other liability forms such as debt, as well as to the asset side of the balance sheet through market share strategies for various lending categories. All of this balance sheet flux occurs across different banks, and requires that individual banks actively manage their balance sheets to ensure that assets are appropriately and efficiently funded with liabilities and equity. The ultimate purpose of reserve management is not reserve positioning per se. The end goal is balance sheets are in balance. The reserve system records the effect of this balance sheet activity. And even if loan books remain temporarily unchanged, all manner of other banking system assets and liabilities may be in motion. This includes securities portfolios, deposits, debt liabilities, and the status of the common equity and retained earnings account. And of course, loan books don’t remain unchanged for very long, in which case the loan/deposit growth dynamic comes directly into play on a recurring basis. 

Commercial banks’ ability to create money is constrained by capital. When a bank creates a new loan, with an associated new deposit, the bank’s balance sheet size increases, and the proportion of the balance sheet that is made up of equity (shareholders’ funds, as opposed to customer deposits, which are debt, not equity) decreases. If the bank lends so much that its equity slice approaches zero, as happened in some banks prior to the financial crisis, even a very small fall in asset prices is enough to render it insolvent. Regulatory capital requirements are intended to ensure that banks never reach such a fragile position. In contrast, central banks’ ability to create money is constrained by the willingness of their government to back them, and the ability of that government to tax the population. In practice, most central bank money these days is asset-backed, since central banks create new money when they buy assets in open market operations or Quantitative Easing, and when they lend to banks. However, in theory a central bank could literally spirit money from thin air without asset purchases or lending to banks. This is Milton Friedman’s famous helicopter drop. The central bank would become technically insolvent as a result, but provided the government is able to tax the population, that wouldn’t matter. The ability of the government to tax the population depends on the credibility of the government and the productive capacity of the economy. Hyperinflation can occur when the supply side of the economy collapses, rendering the population unable and/or unwilling to pay taxes. It can also occur when people distrust a government and its central bank so much that they refuse to use the currency that the central bank creates. Distrust can come about because people think the government is corrupt and/or irresponsible, or because they think that the government is going to fall and the money it creates will become worthless. But nowhere in the genesis of hyperinflation does central bank insolvency feature….

 

Revisiting Financing Blue Economy

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Blue Economy has suffered a definitional crisis ever since it started doing the rounds almost around the turn of the century. So much has it been plagued by this crisis, that even a working definition is acceptable only contextually, and is liable to paradigmatic shifts both littorally and political-economically. 

The United Nations defines Blue Economy as: 

A range of economic sectors and related policies that together determine whether the use of oceanic resources is sustainable. The “Blue Economy” concept seeks to promote economic growth, social inclusion, and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal areas. 

This definition is subscribed to by even the World Bank, and is commonly accepted as a standardized one since 2017. However, in 2014, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) had called Blue Economy as

The improvement of human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities…the concept of an oceans economy also embodies economic and trade activities that integrate the conservation and sustainable use and management of biodiversity including marine ecosystems, and genetic resources.

Preceding this by three years, the Pacific Small Islands Developing States (Pacific SIDS) referred to Blue Economy as the 

Sustainable management of ocean resources to support livelihoods, more equitable benefit-sharing, and ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change, destructive fishing practices, and pressures from sources external to the fisheries sector. 

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As is noteworthy, these definitions across almost a decade have congruences and cohesion towards promoting economic growth, social inclusion and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods while ensuring environmental sustainability of oceanic and coastal areas, though are markedly mitigated in domains, albeit, only definitionally, for the concept since 2011 till it has been standardized in 2017 doesn’t really knock out any of the diverse components, but rather adds on. Marine biotechnology and bioprospecting, seabed mining and extraction, aquaculture, and offshore renewable energy supplement the established traditional oceanic industries like fisheries, tourism, and maritime transportation into a giant financial and economic appropriation of resources the concept endorses and encompasses. But, a term that threads through the above definitions is sustainability, which unfortunately happens to be another definitional dead-end. But, mapping the contours of sustainability in a theoretical fashion would at least contextualize the working definition of Blue Economy, to which initiatives of financial investments, legal frameworks, ecological deflections, economic zones and trading lines, fisheries, biotechnology and bioprospecting could be approvingly applied to. Though, as a caveat, such applications would be far from being exhaustive, they, at least potentially cohere onto underlying economic directions, and opening up a spectra of critiques. 

If one were to follow global multinational institutions like the UN and the World Bank, prefixing sustainable to Blue Economy brings into perspective coastal economy that balances itself with long-term capacity of assets, goods and services and marine ecosystems towards a global driver of economic, social and environmental prosperity accruing direct and indirect benefits to communities, both regionally and globally. Assuming this to be true, what guarantees financial investments as healthy, and thus proving no risks to oceanic health and rolling back such growth-led development into peril? This is the question that draws paramount importance, and is a hotbed for constructive critique of the whole venture. The question of finance, or financial viability for Blue Economy, or the viability thereof. What is seemingly the underlying principle of Blue Economy is the financialization of natural resources, which is nothing short of replacing environmental regulations with market-driven regulations. This commodification of the ocean is then packaged and traded on the markets often amounting to transferring the stewardship of commons for financial interests. Marine ecology as a natural resource isn’t immune to commodification, and an array of financial agents are making it their indispensable destination, thrashing out new alliances converging around specific ideas about how maritime and coastal resources should be organized, and to whose benefit, under which terms and to what end? A systemic increase in financial speculation on commodities mainly driven by deregulation of derivative markets, increasing involvement of investment banks, hedge funds and other institutional investors in commodity speculation and the emergence of new instruments such as index funds and exchange-traded funds. Financial deregulation has successfully transformed commodities into financial assets, and has matured its penetration into commodity markets and their functioning. This maturity can be gauged from the fact that speculative capital is structurally intertwined with productive capital, which in the case of Blue Economy are commodities and natural resources, most generically. 

But despite these fissures existing, the international organizations are relentlessly following up on attracting finances, and in a manner that could at best be said to follow principles of transparency, accountability, compliance and right to disclosure. The European Commission (EC) is partnering with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in bringing together public and private financing institutions to develop a set of Principles of Sustainable Investment within a Blue Economy Development Framework. But, the question remains: how stringently are these institutions tied to adhering to these Principles? 

Investors and policymakers are increasingly turning to the ocean for new opportunities and resources. According to OECD projections, by 2030 the “blue economy” could outperform the growth of the global economy as a whole, both in terms of value added and employment. But to get there, there will need to be a framework for ocean-related investment that is supported by policy incentives along the most sustainable pathways. Now, this might sound a bit rhetorical, and thus calls for unraveling. the international community has time and again reaffirmed its strong commitment to conserve and sustainably use the ocean and its resources, for which the formations like G7 and G20 acknowledge scaling up finance and ensuring sustainability of such investments as fundamental to meeting their needs. Investment capital, both public and private is therefore fundamental to unlocking Blue Economy. Even if there is a growing recognition that following “business s usual” trajectory neglects impacts on marine ecosystems entailing risks, these global bodies are of the view that investment decisions that incorporate sustainability elements ensure environmentally, economically and socially sustainable outcomes securing long-term health and integrity of the oceans furthering shared social, ecological and economic functions that are dependent on it. That financial institutions and markets can play this pivotal role only complicates the rhetorics further. Even if financial markets and institutions expressly intend to implement Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular Goal 14 which deals with conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, such intentions to be compliant with IFC performance Standards and EIB Environmental and Social Principles and Standards. 

So far, what is being seen is small ticket size deals, but there is a potential that it will shift on its axis. With mainstream banking getting engaged, capital flows will follow the projects, and thus the real challenge lies in building the pipeline. But, here is a catch: there might be private capital in plentiful seeking impact solutions and a financing needs by projects on the ground, but private capital is seeking private returns, and the majority of ocean-related projects are not private but public goods. For public finance, there is an opportunity to allocate more proceeds to sustainable ocean initiatives through a bond route, such as sovereign and municipal bonds in order to finance coastal resilience projects. but such a route could also encounter a dead-end, in that many a countries that are ripe for coastal infrastructure are emerging economies and would thus incur a high cost of funding. A de-risking is possible, if institutions like the World Bank, or the Overseas Private Investment Corporation undertake credit enhancements, a high probability considering these institutions have been engineering Blue Economy on a priority basis. Global banks are contenders for financing the Blue Economy because of their geographic scope, but then are also likely to be exposed to a new playing field. The largest economies by Exclusive Economic Zones, which are sea zones determined by the UN don’t always stand out as world’s largest economies, a fact that is liable to drawing in domestic banks to collaborate based on incentives offered  to be part of the solution. A significant challenge for private sector will be to find enough cash-flow generating projects to bundle them in a liquid, at-scale investment vehicle. One way of resolving this challenge is through creating a specialized financial institution, like an Ocean Sustainability Bank, which can be modeled on lines of European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The plus envisaged by such a creation is arriving at scales rather quickly. An example of this is by offering a larger institutional-sized approach by considering a coastal area as a single investment zone, thus bringing in integrated infrastructure-based financing approach. With such an approach, insurance companies would get attracted by looking at innovative financing for coastal resiliency, which is a part and parcel of climate change concerns, food security, health, poverty reduction and livelihoods. Projects having high social impact but low/no Internal Rate of Return (IRR) may be provided funding, in convergence with Governmental schemes. IRR is a metric used in capital budgeting to estimate the profitability of potential investments. It is a discount rate that makes the net present value (NPV) of all cash flows from a particular project equal to zero. NPV is the difference between the present value of cash inflows and present value of cash outflows over a period of time. IRR is sometimes referred to as “economic rate of return” or “discounted cash flow rate of return.” The use of “internal” refers to the omission of external factors, such as the cost of capital or inflation, from the calculation. The biggest concern, however appears in the form of immaturity of financial markets in emerging economies, which are purported to be major beneficiaries of Blue Economy. 

The question then is, how far viable or sustainable are these financial interventions? Financialization produces effects which can create long-term trends (such as those on functional income distribution) but can also change across different periods of economic growth, slowdown and recession. Interpreting the implications of financialization for sustainability, therefore, requires a methodological diverse and empirical dual-track approach which combines different methods of investigations. Even times of prosperity, despite their fragile and vulnerable nature, can endure for several years before collapsing due to high levels of indebtedness, which in turn amplify the real effects of a financial crisis and hinder the economic growth. Things begin to get a bit more complicated when financialization interferes with environment and natural resources, for then the losses are not just merely on a financial platform alone. Financialization has played a significant role in the recent price shocks in food and energy markets, while the wave of speculative investment in natural resources has and is likely to produce perverse environmental and social impact. Moreover, the so-called financialization of environmental conservation tends to enhance the financial value of environmental resources but it is selective: not all stakeholders have the same opportunities and not all uses and values of natural resources and services are accounted for. 

Conjuncted: Long-Term Capital Management. Note Quote.

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From Lowenstein‘s

The real culprit in 1994 was leverage. If you aren’t in debt, you can’t go broke and can’t be made to sell, in which case “liquidity” is irrelevant. but, a leveraged firm may be forced to sell, lest fast accumulating losses put it out of business. Leverage always gives rise to this same brutal dynamic, and its dangers cannot be stressed too often…

One of LTCM‘s first trades involved the thirty-year Treasury bond, which are issued by the US Government to finance the federal budget. Some $170 billion of them trade everyday, and are considered the least risky investments in the world. but a funny thing happens to thirty-year Treasurys six months or so after they are issued: they are kept in safes and drawers for long-term keeps. with fewer left in the circulation, the bonds become harder to trade. Meanwhile, the Treasury issues new thirty-year bond, which has its day in the sun. On Wall Street, the older bond, which has about 29-and-a-half years left to mature, is known as off the run; while the shiny new one is on the run. Being less liquid, the older one is considered less desirable, and begins to trade at a slight discount. And as arbitrageurs would say, a spread opens.

LTCM with its trademark precision calculated that owning one bond and shorting another was twenty-fifth as risky as owning either outright. Thus, it reckoned, it would prudently leverage this long/short arbitrage twenty-five times. This multiplied its potential for profit, but also its potential for loss. In any case, borrow it did. It paid for the cheaper off the run bonds with money it had borrowed from a Wall Street bank, or from several banks. And the other bonds, the ones it sold short, it obtained through a loan, as well. Actually, the transaction was more involved, though it was among the simplest in LTCM’s repertoire. No sooner than LTCM buy off the run bonds than it loaned them to some other Wall street firm, which then wired cash to LTCM as collateral. Then LTCM turned around and used this cash as a collateral on the bonds it borrowed. On Wall street, such short-term, collateralized loans are known as “repo financing”. The beauty of the trade was that LTCM’s cash transactions were in perfect balance. The money that LTCM spent going long matched the money that it collected going short. The collateral it paid equalled the collateral it collected. In other words, LTCM pulled off the entire transaction without using a single dime of its own cash. Maintaining the position wasn’t completely cost free, however. Though, a simple trade, it actually entailed four different payment streams. LTCM collected interest on the collateral it paid out and paid interest at a slightly higher-rate on the collateral it took in. It made some of this deficit back because of the difference in the initial margin, or the slightly higher coupon on the bond it owned as compared to the bond it shorted. This, overall cost a few basis points to LTCM each month.

“The Scam” – Debashis Basu and Sucheta Dalal – Was it the Beginning of the End?

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“India is a turnaround scrip in the world market.”

“Either you kill, or you get killed” 

— Harshad Mehta

“Though normally quite reasonable and courteous, there was one breed of brokers he truly detested. to him and other kids in the money markets, brokers were meant to be treated like loyal dogs.”

— Broker

The first two claims by Harshad Mehta could be said to form the central theme of the book, The Scam, while the third statement is testimony to the fact of how compartmentalization within the camaraderie proved efficacious to the broker-trader nexus getting nixed, albeit briefly. The authors Debasish Basu and Sucheta Dalal have put a rigorous investigation into unraveling the complexity of what in popular culture has come to be known as the first big securities scam in India in the early 90s. That was only the beginning, for securities scams, banking frauds and financial crimes have since become a recurrent feature, thanks to increasing mathematization and financialization of market practices, stark mismatches on regulatory scales of The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Public Sector Banks and foreign banks, and stock-market-oriented economization. The last in particular has severed the myth that stock markets are speculative and had no truck with the banking system, by capitalizing and furthering the only link between the two, and that being banks providing loans against shares subject to high margins.  

The scam which took the country by storm in 1992 had a central figure in Harshad Mehta, though the book does a most amazing archaeology into unearthing other equally, if not more important figures that formed a collusive network of deceit and bilk. The almost spider-like weave, not anywhere near in comparison to a similar network that emanated from London and spread out from Tokyo and billed as the largest financial scandal of manipulating LIBOR, thanks to Thomas Hayes by the turn of the century, nevertheless magnified the crevices existing within the banking system and bridging it with the once-closed secretive and closed bond market. So, what exactly was the scam and why did it rock India’s economic boat, especially when the country was opening up to liberal policies and amalgamating itself with globalization? 

As Basu and Dalal say, simply put, the first traces of the scam were observed when the State Bank of India (SBI), Main Branch, Mumbai discovered that it was short by Rs. 574 crore in securities. In other words, the antiquated manually written books kept at the Office of Public Debt at the RBI showed that Rs. 1170.95 crore of an 11.5% of central government loan of 2010 maturity was standing against SBI’s name on the 29th February 1992 figure of Rs. 1744.95 crore in SBI’s books, a clear gap of Rs. 574 crore, with the discrepancy apparently held in Securities General Ledger (SGL). Of the Rs. 574 crore missing, Rs. 500 crore were transferred to Harshad Mehta’s account. Now, an SGL contains the details to support the general ledger control account. For instance, the subsidiary ledger for accounts receivable contains all the information on each of the credit sales to customers, each customer’s remittance, return of merchandise, discounts and so on. Now, SGLs were a prime culprit when it came to conceiving the illegalities that followed. SGLs were issued as substitutes for actual securities by a cleverly worked out machination. Bank Receipts (BRs) were invoked as replacement for SGLs, which on the one hand confirmed that the bank had sold the securities at the rates mentioned therein, while on the other prevented the SGLs from bouncing. BRs is a shrewd plot line whereby the bank could put a deal through, even if their Public Debt Office (PDO) was in the negative. Why was this circumvention clever was precisely because had the transactions taken place through SGLs, they would have simply bounced, and BRs acted as a convenient run-around, and also because BRs were unsupported by securities. In order to derive the most from BRs, a Ready Forward Deal (RFD) was introduced that prevented the securities from moving back and forth in actuality. Sucheta Dalal had already exposed the use of this instrument by Harshad Mehta way back in 1992 while writing for the Times of India. The RFD was essentially a secured short-term (generally 15 day) loan from open bank to another, where the banks would lend against Government securities. The borrowing bank sells the securities to the lending bank and buys them back at the end of the period of the loan, typically at a slightly higher price. Harshad Mehta roped in two relatively obscure and unknown little banks in Bank of Karad and Mumbai Mercantile Cooperative Bank (MMCB) to issue fake BRs, or BRs not backed by Government securities. It were these fake BRs that were eventually exchanged with other banks that paid Mehta unbeknownst of the fact that they were in fact dealing with fake BRs. 

By a cunning turn of reason, and not to rest till such payments were made to reflect on the stock market, Harshad Mehta began to artificially enhance share prices by going on a buying spree. To maximize profits on such investments, the broker, now the darling of the stock market and referred to as the Big Bull decided to sell off the shares and in the process retiring the BRs. Little did anyone know then, that the day shares were sold, the market would crash, and crash it did. Mehta’s maneuvers lent a feel-good factor to the stock market until the scam erupted, and when it did erupt, many banks were swindled to a massive loss of Rs. 4000 crore, for they held on to BRs that had no value attached to them. The one that took the most stinging loss was the State Bank of India and it was payback time. The mechanism by which the money was paid back cannot be understood unless one gets to the root of an RBI subsidiary, National Housing Bank (NHB). When the State Bank of India directed Harshad Mehta to produce either the securities or return the money, Mehta approached the NHB seeking help, for the thaw between the broker and RBI’s subsidiary had grown over the years, the discovery of which had appalled officials at the Reserve Bank. This only lends credibility to the broker-banker collusion, the likes of which only got murkier as the scam was getting unravelled. NHB did come to rescue Harshad Mehta by issuing a cheque in favor of ANZ Grindlays Bank. The deal again proved to be one-handed as NHB did not get securities in return from Harshad Mehta, and eventually the cheque found its way into Mehta’s ANZ account, which helped clear the dues due to the SBI. The most pertinent question here was why did RBI’s subsidiary act so collusively? This could only make sense, once one is in the clear that Harshad Mehta delivered considerable profits to the NHB by way of ready forward deals (RFDs). If this has been the flow chart of payment routes to SBI, the authors of The Scam point out to how the SBI once again debited Harshad Mehta’s account, which had by then exhausted its balance. This was done by releasing a massive overdraft of Rs. 707 crore, which is essentially an extension of a credit by a lending institution when the account gets exhausted. Then the incredulous happened! This overdraft was released against no security!, and the deal was acquiesced to since there was a widespread belief within the director-fold of the SBI that most of what was paid to the NHB would have come back to SBI subsidies from where SBI had got its money in the first place. 

The Scam is neatly divided into two books comprising 23 chapters, with the first part delineating the rise of Harshad Mehta as a broker superstar, The Big Bull. He is not the only character to be pilloried as the nexus meshed all the way from Mumbai (then Bombay) to Kolkata (then Calcutta) to Bengaluru (then Bangalore) to Delhi and Chennai (then Madras) with a host of jobbers, market makers, brokers and traders who were embezzling funds off the banks, colluded by the banks on overheating the stock market in a country that was only officially trying to jettison the tag of Nehruvian socialism. But, it wasn’t merely individuated, but the range of complicitous relations also grabbed governmental and private institutions and firms. Be it the Standard Chartered, or the Citibank, or monetizing the not-even in possession of assets bought; forward selling the transaction to make it appear cash-neutral; or lending money to the corporate sector as clean credit implying banks taking risks on the borrowers unapproved by the banks because it did not fall under the mainline corporate lending, rules and regulations of the RBI were flouted and breached with increasing alacrity and in clear violations of guidelines. But credit is definitely due to S Venkitaraman, the Governor of the RBI, who in his two-year at the helm of affairs exposed the scam, but was meted out a disturbing treatment at the hands of some of members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee. Harshad Mehta had grown increasingly confident of his means and mechanisms to siphon-off money using inter-bank transactions, and when he was finally apprehended, he was charged with 72 criminal offenses and more than 600 civil action suits were filed against him leading to his arrest by the CBI in the November of 1992. Banished from the stock market, he did make a comeback as a market guru before the Bombay High Court convicted him to prison. But, the seamster that he was projected to be, he wouldn’t rest without creating chaos and commotion, and one such bomb was dropped by him claiming to have paid the Congress Prime minister PV Narsimha Rao a hefty sum to knock him off the scandal. Harshad Mehta passed away from a cardiac arrest while in prison in Thane, but his legacy continued within the folds he had inspired and spread far and wide. 

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Ketan Parekh forms a substantial character of Book 2 of The Scam. Often referred to as Midas in privy for his ability to turn whatever he touched into gold on Dalal Street by his financial trickery, he decided to take the unfinished project of Harshad Mehta to fruition. Known for his timid demeanor, Parekh from a brokers family and with his training as a Chartered Accountant, he was able to devise a trading ring that helped him rig stock prices keeping his vested interests at the forefront. He was a bull on the wild run, whose match was found in a bear cartel that hammered prices of K-10 stocks precipitating payment crisis. K-10 stocks were colloquially named for these driven in sets of 10, and the promotion of these was done through creating bellwethers and seeking support fro Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs). India was already seven years old into the LPG regime, but still sailing the rough seas of economic transitioning into smooth sailing. This wasn’t the most conducive of timing to appropriate profits, but a prodigy that he was, his ingenuity lay in instrumentalizing the jacking up of shares prices to translate it into the much needed liquidity. this way, he was able to keep FIIs and promoters satisfied and multiply money on his own end. This, in financial jargon goes by the name circular trading, but his brilliance was epitomized by his timing of dumping devalued shares with institutions like the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) and Unit Trust of India (UTI). But, what differentiated him from Harshad Mehta was his staying off public money or expropriating public institutions. such was his prowess that share markets would tend to catch cold when he sneezed and his modus operandi was invest into small companies through private placements, manipulate the markets to rig shares and sell them to devalue the same. But lady luck wouldn’t continue to shine on him as with the turn of the century, Parekh, who had invested heavily into information stocks was hit large by the collapse of the dotcom bubble. Add to that when NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee presented the Union Budget in 2001, the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) Sensex crashed prompting the Government to dig deep into such a market reaction. SEBI’s (Securities and Exchange Board of India) investigation revealed the rogue nature of Ketan Parekh as a trader, who was charged with shaking the very foundations of Indian financial markets. Ketan Parekh has been banned from trading until 2017, but SEBI isn’t too comfortable with the fact that his proteges are carrying forward the master’s legacy. Though such allegations are yet to be put to rest. 

The legacy of Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh continue to haunt financial markets in the country to date, and were only signatures of what was to follow in the form of plaguing banking crisis, public sector banks are faced with. As Basu and Dalal write, “in money markets the first signs of rot began to appear in the mid-1980s. After more than a decade of so-called social banking, banks found themselves groaning under a load of investments they were forced to make to maintain the Statutory Liquidity Ratio. The investments were in low-interest bearing loans issued by the central and state governments that financed the government’s ever-increasing appetite for cash. Banks intended to hold these low-interest government bonds till maturity. But each time a new set of loans came with a slightly higher interest rate called the coupon rate, the market price of older securities fell, and thereafter banks began to book losses, which eroded their profitability,” the situation is a lot more grim today. RBI’s autonomy has come under increased threat, and the question that requires the most incision is to find a resolution to what one Citibank executive said, “RBI guidelines are just that, guidelines. Not the law of the land.” 

The Scam, as much as a personal element of deceit faced during the tumultuous times, is a brisk read, with some minor hurdles in the form of technicalities that intersperse the volume and tend to disrupt the plot lines. Such technical details are in the realm of share markets and unless negotiated well with either a prior knowledge, or hyperlinking tends to derail the speed, but in no should be considered as a book not worth looking at. As a matter of fact, the third edition with its fifth reprint is testimony to the fact that the book’s market is alive and ever-growing. One only wonders at the end of it as to where have all such journalists disappeared from this country. That Debashis Basu and Sucheta Dalal, partners in real life are indeed partners in crime if they aim at exposing financial crimes of such magnitudes for the multitude in this country who would otherwise be bereft of such understandings had it not been for them. 

Skeletal of the Presentation on AIIB and Blue Economy in Mumbai during the Peoples’ Convention on 22nd June 2018

Main features in AIIB Financing

  1. investments in regional members
  2. supports longer tenors and appropriate grace period
  3. mobilize funding through insurance, banks, funds and sovereign wealth (like the China Investment Corporation (CIC) in the case of China)
  4. funds on economic/financial considerations and on project benefits, eg. global climate, energy security, productivity improvement etc.

Public Sector:

  1. sovereign-backed financing (sovereign guarantee)
  2. loan/guarantee

Private Sector:

  1. non-sovereign-backed financing (private sector, State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), sub-sovereign and municipalities)
  2. loans and equity
  3. bonds, credit enhancement, funds etc.

—— portfolio is expected to grow steadily with increasing share of standalone projects from 27% in 2016 to 39% in 2017 and 42% in 2018 (projected)

—— share of non-sovereign-backed projects has increased from 1% in 2016 to 36% of portfolio in 2017. share of non-sovereign-backed projects is projected to account for about 30% in 2018

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Why would AIIB be interested in the Blue Economy?

  1. To appropriate (expropriate) the potential of hinterlands
  2. increasing industrialization
  3. increasing GDP
  4. increasing trade
  5. infrastructure development
  6. Energy and Minerals in order to bring about a changing landscape
  7. Container: regional collaboration and competition

AIIB wishes to change the landscape of infrastructure funding across its partner countries, laying emphasis on cross-country and cross-sectoral investments in the shipping sector — Yee Ean Pang, Director General, Investment Operations, AIIB.

He also opined that in the shipping sector there is a need for private players to step in, with 40-45 per cent of stake in partnership being offered to private players.

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Projects aligned with Sagarmala are being considered for financial assistance by the Ministry of Shipping under two main headings:

1. Budgetary Allocations from the Ministry of Shipping

    a. up to 50% of the project cost in the form of budgetary grant

    b. Projects having high social impact but low/no Internal Rate of Return (IRR) may be provided funding, in convergence with schemes of other central line ministries. IRR is a metric used in capital budgeting to estimate the profitability of potential investments. It is a discount rate that makes the net present value (NPV) of all cash flows from a particular project equal to zero. NPV is the difference between the present value of cash inflows and present value of cash outflows over a period of time. IRR is sometimes referred to as “economic rate of return” or “discounted cash flow rate of return.” The use of “internal” refers to the omission of external factors, such as the cost of capital or inflation, from the calculation.

2. Funding in the form of equity by Sagarmala Development Co. Ltd.

    a. SDCL to provide 49% equity funding to residual projects

    b. monitoring is to be jointly done by SDCL and implementing agency at the SPV level

    c.  project proponent to bear operation and maintenance costs of the project

     i. importantly, expenses incurred for project development to be treated as part of SDCL’s equity contribution

     ii. preferences to be given to projects where land is being contributed by the project proponent

What are the main financing issues?

  1. Role of MDBs and BDBs for promotion of shipping sector in the country
  2. provision of long-term low-cost loans to shipping companies for procurement of vessels
  3. PPPs (coastal employment zones, port connectivity projects), EPCs, ECBs (port expansion and new port development), FDI in Make in India 2.0 of which shipping is a major sector identified, and conventional bank financing for port modernization and port connectivity

the major constraining factors, however, are:

  1. uncertainty in the shipping sector, cyclical business nature
  2. immature financial markets

Transmission of Eventual Lending Rates: MCLRs. Note Quote.

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Given that capital market instruments are not subject to MCLR/base rate regulations, the issuances of Commercial Paper/bonds reflect the current interest rates as banks are able to buy/subscribe new deposits reflecting extant interest rates, making transmission instantaneous. 

The fundamental challenge we have here is that there is no true floating rate liability structure for banks. One can argue that banks themselves will have to develop the floating rate deposit product, but customer response, given the complexity and uncertainty for the depositor, has been at best lukewarm. In an environment where the banking system is fighting multiple battles – asset quality, weak growth, challenges on transition to Ind AS accounting practice, rapid digitization leading to new competition from non-bank players, vulnerability in the legacy IT systems –  creating a mindset for floating rate deposits hardly appears to be a priority. 

In this context, it is clear that Marginal Costs of Funds Based Lending Rates (MCLRs) have largely come down in line with policy rates. MCLR is built on four components – marginal cost of funds, negative carry on account of cash reserve ratio (CRR), operating costs and tenor premium. Marginal cost of funds is the marginal cost of borrowing and return on net worth for banks. The operating cost includes cost of providing the loan product including cost of raising funds. Tenor premium arises from loan commitments with longer tenors. Some data indicate that while MCLR has indeed tracked policy rates (especially post-demonetization), as liquidity has been abundant, average leading rates have not yet reflected the fall in MCLR rates. This is simply because MCLR reset happens over a period of time depending on the benchmark MCLR used for sanctioning the loans. 

Before jumping the gun that this is a flaw in the structure as the benefit of lower interest rates is significantly lagging, the benefit will be to the borrower when the interest cycle turns. In fact, given that MCLR benchmarks vary from one month to one year, unlike base rate, banks are in a better situation to cut MCLRs, as not the entire book resets immediately. The stakeholders must therefore want for a few more months before concluding on the effectiveness of transmission on eventual lending rates.