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'I Don't Think A Crash Is Imminent'
Securities expert Sanjoy Bhattacharya on why the Indian stock market is sizzling hot

Ghosh Subcontinental Drift's Aparisim Ghosh presents Conversations

Listen to the full conversation streamed in a choice of audio formats...

Two-Faced: India's real threat comes not from Pakistan but China, says defense analyst Brahma Chellaney

Sanjoy Bhattacharya is a Bombay-based fund manager and one of India's foremost securities analysts. He spoke with TIME Asia associate editor Aparisim Ghosh recently. Excerpts from the interview:

TIME: Indian technology stocks have fallen in recent weeks. Did you anticipate the fall? And do you think they will drop even further?
I don't think there were too many of us who foresaw the magnitude of the fall. But now that people have come back to somewhat more rational expectations of growth in the information technology sector, the valuations of I.T. stocks are beginning to look more sensible. That said, I believe that if you're a long-term buyer of the Indian I.T. story, there is still absolutely no margin of safety. By long-term, I mean 2-3 years; there is no way to understand what would be the key drivers for software services companies more than 3 years down the road. There will probably be a bounce back [in I.T. stocks] as growth continues; many of these companies will grow in excess of 100% over the next 12-18 months. So I don't think a crash is imminent. But, unlike 3 years ago, this is not the sector where big money is to be made. You aren't going to see stocks multiplying 10 times, 20 times, 40 times. Last year, Infosys multiplied 9.5 times; this year, I don't see it gaining more than 80-90%.

The Subcontinental Drift message board -- sound-off about the news in South Asia to TIME

TIME: For foreign fund managers, the tech sector is the place to be in India. But in concentrating on that one area, are they missing out on good opportunities elsewhere?
Undoubtedly. I think that realization has begun to take root among some of the smarter and slightly more long-term oriented investors abroad, particularly in the U.S. For instance, it came as a revelation that Janus, which is one of the largest U.S. funds, had bought 5.6% of [textiles giant] Reliance Industries--which has nothing to do with the New Economy. There are world-class Indian companies outside the tech sector, even if they are few and far between. For instance, Hindustan Lever is an outstanding opportunity.

TIME: Why?
There are two news angles to Lever. One is that they are beginning to use the Internet as an alternative medium of distribution. Second, they are tailoring the range of their existing line of products by changing the packaging, pack sizesŠand repositioning these for the affluent rural consumer. So, for the first time, the rural consumer is getting to use not just bread-and-butter Lever products, like low-cost detergents, but also premium products like face creams. Lever recognizes that the urban market is saturated, that growth in that sector won't exceed 5%, so it is turning to the rural market, where there is growth potential. To come back to your original question, Lever is a company that uses I.T. well. As an investor looking for I.T.-related opportunities, you shouldn't just look at I.T. companies--you have to buy the companies which benefit the most by using I.T. In that sense, India is one of the best markets in Asia. This is one of the few real economies in Asia outside of Korea and Japan. The others are very concentrated economies, they're not real economies. They haven't got the broad swathe of industrial activity that India has. For instance, most Asian economies have no pharmaceutical sector and no light engineering sector worth talking about. These sectors are big users of I.T. If you can spot companies that use the Internet, applications and software, there are great opportunities.

TIME: Are there examples of Indian companies using the Internet to go global, to sell their products and services outside of India?
Visibly, not as yet. But I think there are a number of people who are planning to do so. It will happen.

TIME: Over the past couple of years, technology stocks have propped up the whole market. Now India faces a drought, which traditionally hurts Old Economy stocks. Will technology stocks be hit too?
No. The fate of the Indian I.T. sector over the next 6 months will depend very significantly on the sentiment of investors on NASDAQ, and on the ability of the frontline companies to meet the incredibly ambitious expectations of institutional investors here in terms of growth.

Subcontinental Drift: The Tax Test
Musharraf must show he is tougher than Bhutto and Sharif
- Thursday, June 1, 2000

Subcontinental Drift: What's The Deal?

Delhi should tell the world what it can offer Kashmiris
- Thursday, May 18, 2000

Subcontinental Drift: Call Delhi's Bluff
Why Kashmir's rebels should negotiate with the Indian government
- Thursday, May 11, 2000

Subcontinental Drift: Come Together
India and Pakistan should join hands to help Sri Lanka
- Thursday, May 4, 2000

Subcontinental Drift: The Original Cybercity
What Mahathir and Richard Li can learn from Bangalore
- Thursday, Apr. 27, 2000

Subcontinental Drift: Strategic Redeployment
How Delhi can show it wants peace in Kashmir
- Thursday, April 20, 2000

Subcontinental Drift: Crooked Cricket
And how the Gentleman's Game can be saved
- Thursday, April 13, 2000

The story behind today's news from the editors of Asiaweek

From Our Correspondent
Personal perspectives on the news
TIME: If you had to pick three winners for the next six months in the Indian stock market, would you go for technology plays or non-technology stocks?
They'd all be non-technology stocks. [Motorcycle maker] Hero Honda would be my first pick. This is a company that has been consistently growing something like 30%, for the past three years. It has demonstrated its ability in manufacturing terms, by launching products which are completely state of the art for the Indian market--way, way ahead of anything the Indian consumer would expect. It has upstaged Bajaj Auto, which was a dominant market leader, in the span of 5-7 years. And it is an incredibly efficient user of capital. The average return on capital employed for the past five years has been in excess of 35%. This is truly impressive in the Indian context. This company is trading at 11 times next year's projected earnings. That's a throwaway price. It's selling for around $20. In my view, it should be close to $33.

TIME: Your second pick?
It is a company that has a monopoly, has great earning power and is vital to the ability of Indian companies to export in a competitive way. It's called Container Corporation, and it's majority-owned by Indian Railways. It is in the business of containerized transportation of goods, and 80% of its business comes form exporters. By virtue of its ownership, Indian Railways has a great stake in providing it the railway infrastructure--wagons, engines and so on--so Container Corp. doesn't have to make significant capital commitments, which it would need to do if it were a private-sector player. It has zero debt.

TIME: What's the going price?
$3.30. The problem lies in the perception that people have about public sector companies--Container Corp. is being tarred by that brush. How long it will take for that sentiment to change is difficult to say. We may well find, 12 months later, that it's still at $3.30 because as long as that perception doesn't change, the PE multiple will not be re-rated. Everyone knows that it is an incredibly strong company. The third company would be Otis Elevators, which is a part of United Technologies Corp. in the U.S. Here again is a dominant manufacturer, with more than 65% of the elevator market. It has a huge base of installed elevators, which means that even in lean years, the after-sales and service income makes it less vulnerable to downturns. It has recently slashed its staff by around 35%, so it is very lean. New players like Hitachi, Schindler and Mitsubishi have had some success in the institutional market--hotels, commercial complexes and so on--but Otis is not threatened in its stronghold, the residential market. The company's other strength is its state-of-the-art Bangalore plant. United Technologies is beginning to source some of its older-generation designs for the whole of South Asia from this Bangalore factory. If Otis is able to increase exports, a number of positive things will happen: it will get tax breaks, it will become much less dependent on the Indian economy, and it will become more cost-conscious in order to compete abroad.

TIME: And where is the stock now?
Around $6.70.

TIME: And where should it be?
I'd say $11.70. With luck, maybe $15.70.

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