“Source: Economic Times”
NEW DELHI: Billionaire investor Prem Watsa proposes to invest another $5 billion in India in the next five years, doubling what he’s put in thus far, and says the country offers an “unusual opportunity,” while shrugging off slowdown worries.
Hyderabad-born Watsa, often described as Canada’s Warren Buffett , said his company has invested $5 billion in the country in the past five years. He was in India for less than a day to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi
“I think this is the number one country in the world,” the chairman of the $70-billion Toronto-headquartered Fairfax Financial Holdings told ET in an interview on Thursday. “India contributes nearly 3% of the world’s GDP but has only a 1% share of global investment money. If this figure were to just double to 2%, that would mean nearly $3 trillion of investments flowing into India.”
Watsa said Fairfax was open to participating in the Indian government’s asset-monetisation and divestment plans. “The government has said they want investment in oil and gas. Canada is a big oil and gas producer,” said the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, alumnus. “So we will look at all of that. If it’s oil and gas, we need someone who has expertise in Canada to come and be partners with. One of the things we want to do is bring good Canadian and American companies and tell them that this is where you should come.”
Watsa said his company would “check” the government’s disinvestment plan for national carrier Air India though he cautioned that Fairfax did not have expertise in the sector. “We have small interest, not significant. We will check it out. We check everything out,” Watsa told ET.
‘India Offers Unusual Opportunity’
The India-born Canadian billionaire was generous in his praise for PM Modi. “This country is so lucky to have a business-friendly man like Modi who is so focused on what’s good for the country,” Watsa said. “Mr Modi has an outstanding 13-year record in Gujarat and a five-year record as Prime Minister. This exceptional experience is highly unusual for a world leader.”
Downplaying worries about slowing growth, Watsa painted a rosy picture of the future of the country, describing its 1.2 billion population as a source of economic prosperity and progress.
“India offers an unusual opportunity,” Watsa said. “I travel all over the place. You know China and the US have some trade questions. Where do people want to put their money if not India? They want to put money in a large market, democracy, in a place that has rule of law.”
A few minor tweaks in government policy and some measures to open up the economy will bring the global investor community to India’s doorstep, he said “I see economic growth coming back to 10%. I cannot say when, but I see it happening,” he said.
Fairfax employs 350,000 people in its companies in India and has investments in sectors such as travel, transportation, warehousing, banking and financial services.
It owns controlling stakes in Bengaluru International Airport, Thomas Cook India, Catholic Syrian Bank (CSB), Quess Corp, National Collateral Management Services, Saurashtra Freight and Privi Organics. It’s the largest shareholder of Nirmal Jain-promoted India Infoline group (IIFL). Fairfax also owns a 43% stake in the Chennai-based Sanmar Chemicals group and has a stake in vessel operator Seven Islands Shipping.
The company will route its investments in India through Canada-listed Fairfax India Holdings and examine investment opportunities through Thomas Cook India, the travel company it acquired in 2013 and having operations in 29 countries.
Watsa said he was bullish on the lending business, despite liquidity constraints in the nonbanking finance firms sector. “Banking is a good business to be in,” he said. “You have to be careful that you don’t lend without discipline.”
With regard to the holding in CSB, “We have been given 15 years to reduce our stake to 15% (from 51%),” Watsa said. This is the timeline the Reserve Bank of India has given Fairfax to pare its stake in the Kerala-based CSB as per the rules.