Trash to cash?

Would you invest in a company that could turn trash to cash?

I have to make two apologies straight away here, the first of which is to my British readers for the Americanism, and the second of which is for generalising. Of course it would depend on whether another company could do it more cheaply, profit margins, and so on and so forth. The broad point stands strong, though: at first glance, it sounds like a business model with legs.

Recently, I’ve come about a company that does just this: EQTEC (LON: EQT). The Irish minnow specialises in gasification, a process that converts biomass to combustible gas, namely producer gas, or syngas. This is itself a fuel and can be used for a variety of applications, generating, for example, heat energy in the industrial sector. To me, the share price has a significant way to go from here on a relative value basis (compared to rivals such as PowerHouse Energy) and also of its own accord. This is because it has secured multiple projects and because its technology is proven to work and is already operational.

Their projects include one at Billingham, where it partnered with the energy company COBRA for the 25 MW £150-180m project. This looks to be a headline cash cow in the future. There also exists a proposed “1.18 MW net biomass gasification power plant project in Gratens, France”. All of this, of course, is in addition to their numerous Spanish projects, including Movialsa, that have already run for over 111,000 hours without major issue. Despite these developments, the market capitalisation remains at a measly £33.37m as of 13 August 2020!

Of course there has to be a reason for pessimists to justify the low valuation, and in this case it is the financials (mostly). The company is still loss-making, which may turn off some prudent investors. What I would say in response is that a recent equity placing to the tune of £10m leaves the company fully funded. Moreover, Align Research projects the company to reach profitability in FY2021, with a €5.39m pre-tax profit.

A caveat to this is that should the company not reach this optimistic projection, we as (hopefully!) diligent investors should not fret. This is, of course, so long as the company continues to expand its list of potential projects and memorandums of understanding, with significant signs of converting these leads to hard cash. I, personally, can stomach free cash flow a few more years into the future so long as it is worth the wait. After all, the world’s central banks seem determined on keeping that risk free rate as low as possible, so future cash flows are still highly appetising.

At a broader level the global waste-to-energy market is projected to grow by $12.26b from 2020 to 2024. Covid-19 is poised to turn the wheels of ESG revolution, which brings companies like EQTEC all the more to the forefront globally. Though the sector is growing and, in my opinion, will grow for a long time into the future, investors haven’t yet been too keen to agree with my prognosis. PowerHouse Energy, a waste-to-energy company with, to be kind, many fewer projects in action, is currently valued at a lofty £121.27m on the Alternative Investment Market. I believe EQTEC’s proven technology, strong deal flow, and cash at hand position it to close this valuation gap, and to grow as the market grows. It’s why I topped up on my initial position a few months ago.

Though I initially purchased at 0.18p, which looks like a downright steal today, it is my firm belief that EQTEC has much further to go, and for a 3-5 year investment (at least!) it presents an extremely strong investment opportunity. You don’t often see a green tech company’s potential pre-tax profit five years down the line exceed its current market capitalisation.

Of course, tailwind risks do include further dilutive equity issuance (although if this is to fund more projects you might even be grateful for it). In addition, EQTEC partners with China Energy for the Billingham project. If you’re of the persuasion that Western governments will rip off the China band-aid (or, to be more accurate, the full limb), you may have your reservations about this. EQTEC is also facing a lawsuit from Aries Clean Energy LLC in the US for patent infringement (though EQTEC has denied this in the strongest possible terms and I, personally, find it an opportunistic and baseless claim).

If you find yourself disappointed by the line of risks, it’s the reason why I’m remaining cautious with this investment (it doesn’t take up nearly as large a share of my portfolio as Seeing Machines, for example). AIM investing is a rollercoaster and it’s inevitable that you’ll sit through a few peaks and troughs trying to find the diamonds in the rough. But with EQTEC, a company that quite literally is the future, I’m willing to endure them.

Disclaimer:
All content provided on Shrey’s Notepad is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site.

The owner of Shrey’s Notepad will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, financial or otherwise, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.This article does not constitute financial advice in any way, shape or form.

I currently hold shares in EQTEC (LON: EQT). 

 

Blue Prism and the rise of robotic process automation

One company that caught my attention recently is Blue Prism (LON: PRSM). Listed on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM), it creates robotic process automation (RPA) software. This essentially automates manual data entry, which is both low return and high risk to a firm. I invested in the company (on a virtual portfolio) at 877p a share, and since then it’s returned around 80%, with (in my opinion, at least) further potential to grow. Much of this return has come over the past two days, where the share price has gone up around 30% off the back of impressive FY2019 results. Major highlights include 83% higher revenue, allaying concerns that the business could not scale significantly enough to justify its valuation.

RPA is of course an industry that is in vogue, however beyond the media hype there is a significant reason why the sector, including companies such as UiPath and Automation Anywhere, is so highly touted. The market for RPA is set to reach $3.11bn by 2025, at a CAGR of 31.1%. Businesses from small shops to the largest multinationals could see significant efficiency gains from implementing such technology, and moreso save on the salaries of individuals employed for such a function. It fills a gaping lacuna in the centre of firms’ back office functions, doing so in a way that is both cost effective and that minimises errors.

It comes as no surprise, then, that PRSM’s revenues would see an uptick. However, in addition to this, I find a number of green flags in its most recent report. In addition to customers rising by more than two thirds to 1,677, its customer retention rate sat at 96%. This implies to me that a large proportion of revenue is “sticky”, and the products offered are clearly satisfying clients. Hence the fact that losses more than trebled to £80.7m, from £26m the previous financial year, is not a significant factor given the investment undertaken through the year.

Initially, I invested in Blue Prism as it traded on around 10 times the year’s expected revenue. Compared to its peers UiPath and Automation Anywhere in the same industry (based on estimates as these companies are private and venture-capital backed), their sales multiples are 25 to 30-times, a massive premium to Blue Prism. Analysts at Shore Capital, having done similar calculations, came to an even bolder conclusion: ‘Taking the average of the recent private equity valuations for UiPath and Automation Anywhere implies a short-term fair value for Blue Prism of $2.4bn (or £27 per share).” I see no reason for this to have changed in light of the recent rise in share price (although am eager to hear opinions to the contrary!)

Given that the business assuages a fundamental need across industries, the company should definitely continue to increase revenues (and, eventually, profits), with contained variation due to the business cycle. If I am right (hopefully!) then over a number of years revenue will continue to grow at a fast clip as the company matures and ventures into profitability.

An interesting question, however, is the impact of RPA on the economy in general. There is no doubt in my mind that the technology has the potential to make redundant the most vulnerable in society. With the continuing trend of automation this threat was always going to get larger as we move into the 20s. Hence, for policymakers, a challenge is faced on a level not really seen since the Industrial Revolution. To me, the solution lies in state-funded re-training programs to make the labour market more flexible. In addition, a universal basic income as proposed by Andrew Yang in the Democratic primaries makes a great deal of sense to me as automation progresses, because primarily it gives workers the flexibility to retrain and prepare themselves for the long-term.

Overall, then, to me Blue Prism is a solid investment in a truly exciting growth company. Robotic process automation is a great example of creative destruction, however in a broader sense policymakers need to consider certain impacts of this technology. Questioning themselves on how to avoid a sustained rise in the unemployment rate may lead to some off-the-beaten-track initiatives, which have the potential to safeguard the most vulnerable while ensuring firms continue to increase efficiency and the economy continues to grow.

Disclaimer:
All content provided on Shrey’s Notepad is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site.

The owner of Shrey’s Notepad will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, financial or otherwise, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.

This article does not constitute financial advice in any way, shape or form.

I currently hold shares in Blue Prism (LON: PRSM).

The EU needs to change. Here’s how

It’s the 1st of January, 2002. 12 European countries have officially began to use Euro notes and coins as legal tender. It was seen by some then as a sign, a sign of the peace and togetherness which being a member of the European Union engendered, and a sign of the success which the European Union was enjoying.

Oh, how wrong those people were.

Since the beginning of 2002, 7 more countries have joined the eurozone, Greece has gone back and forth from the depths of economic hell, and a refugee crisis has threatened the very fabric of what the EU stands for.

Oh, and there was that whole Brexit thing.

It’s not an exaggeration in any sense of the word to state that the past few years have been eventful for the EU. However, in truth, much of the blame for the EU’s tumultuous past lies squarely on the shoulders of the EU itself. From the sheer stupidity of the idea of uniform monetary policy for almost 20 countries to the EU’s resistance to compromise with member states on almost anything, it’s fair to say that the organisation has not done itself any favours recently. However, the Union’s death-knell has not come yet. It is possible that if the EU introduces key reforms in significant areas, they could snatch stability from the jaws of disintegration. However, these reforms need to be sweeping, and come sooner rather than later, starting with the abolishment of the eurozone entirely.

Essentially, what the eurozone is is a monetary union which currently comprises 19 of the 28 EU member states; intuitively, all of these countries therefore use the euro as their currency. The monetary policy of the eurozone countries is decided by a large organisation known as the European Central Bank (or ECB). You might already see what the problem with this is, which is that a one size fits all policy cannot possibly work with 19 different countries with completely different economic and financial circumstances to each other. Whilst globalisation has made these countries more interconnected than ever before, there still remain considerable differences; one wouldn’t liken the financial situation of Greece to that of Germany, for example. If one country’s central bank heads wanted to raise interest rates, they likely couldn’t get the ECB to; it has the interests of 18 other countries to think about as well. The result of this is lacklustre growth, accompanied by growing discontent within the eurozone directed towards the ECB, and each other for acting as barricades to collective success. Therefore, the EU is left with two possible choices: ditch the euro, and let each country’s central bank dictate monetary policy, or take control of the fiscal policy of each eurozone country themselves. Given the large political and diplomatic consequences which the latter would have, it would be wise, nay, essential for the euro to go, leaving each country to synergise their own fiscal and monetary policies, facilitating the increased growth and prosperity of these countries and therefore the EU as a whole.

Moreover, the arrogance of the EU in forcing austerity upon countries such as Greece to meet their budget deficit targets, when these countries are already in recession, is confusing at best and asinine at worst. Austerity during a period of recession simply dampens consumer confidence and spending even further, creating a negative cycle of economic contraction and reduced prosperity. Proponents of Keynesian thought here would say that what Greece and countries like it require would be large fiscal stimulus packages to help trigger a positive multiplier effect and bolster the economy through long run economic growth. Having not followed this route, Greek annual economic growth rates are still firmly negative, and showing no signs of changing anytime soon. Had Greece not gone down the road of austerity, it could have potentially trimmed its budget deficits during a period of growth, rather than shatter consumer confidence and therefore any prospect of economic growth in its short-term horizons. For the EU to not see this, even now, is hinging on delusional and suggests that they see their ideas as worth more than recent evidence; the last thing you want from a respectable political institution. This arrogance and blind faith in the powers of austerity needs to go, and soon.

Complementing this arrogance is a string of inefficient directives and rules that have misallocated funds and endangered key sectors of European economies. For example, the famous CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) regulates price levels of food, artificially inflating them and therefore resulting in an oversupply and wastage of food. Arguably, some EU legislation introduced such as this is counterproductive rather than constructive, and the EU member states would do better without it. Granted, almost all countries have that element of bureaucracy within themselves, but if the EU wants to go back to competing with the likes of America, China and India on the global stage, it needs to cut down on these regulations to ensure the most efficient allocation of resources possible within its borders. Compared to its euro and austerity problem, however, this is relatively minor, and should the EU change its policy stance drastically in the way outlined here, it could potentially live to see another day. If not? Well, let’s just say that the dream of EU economic prosperity could be just that, a dream, shunned from the gates of reality by its own stupidity and stubbornness.

The choice is theirs.

Could globalisation bring developing countries and their financial systems to their knees?

PHOTO CREDITS: Dieu-Donné GameliPhoto licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

If one was to rank recent economic issues by the division and depth of debate they cause, globalisation would surely be up there at the top. Whilst the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, amongst others, has spearheaded efforts to thwart the rise of globalisation, liberals around the world argue that the increasing interconnectedness and interdependence of our world today can only be a good thing. However, the actual answer to the question of the impacts of globalisation is not so clear-cut; if any answer exists at all, it would lie firmly in the grey area. But what is globalisation? In essence, globalisation is the process by which economies around the world become more closely and deeply integrated with one another. In a way, it can be thought of as a border-killer, bringing countries that are physically thousands of miles apart firmly together,. Is this desirable, though? A point frequently made is that the effects of the 2008 financial crisis in developing markets were magnified to a great degree by the increased integration between the financial systems of different countries, and without this, the effects would have been far more localised to developed markets. Is this true? Perhaps, although it has to be said that those who use this point as a catch-all of sorts are perhaps not thinking broadly enough. In this article, we can begin by analysing the effect globalisation has on the financial system of developing economies in the context of regulation.

One way in which globalisation has impacted the global economy is an increase in the velocity of international capital flows. While this can entail an increase in money put in to financial markets in developing countries, what it can also do is facilitate an increase in capital flows out of these developing markets, resulting in an increase in uncertainty and volatility in their financial markets. A direct impact of this is that a shock in one country that, at first glance, wouldn’t affect the developing market too much, could result in irrational behaviour and herd mentality driving money out of developing capital markets in bucketloads. The control that these countries so desperately need over their own destiny, is as a result forfeited to a degree due to globalised economic activity; a small shock in the United States could result in large percentage swings in some African markets, for example. This drives away the certainty needed for a long-term sustainable financial system to develop; in this way, it could be argued that the increase in the velocity of cross-country cash flows could actually serve to the detriment of developing economies.

However, a positive impact of the aforementioned variability in foreign direct investment (FDI) is also that the pressure of foreign buyers acts as an economic incentive for the governments of developing countries to solidify their financial system in order to attract and keep foreign capital. The threat of financial contagion should a global shock take place would, in theory, incentivise key individuals within developing countries to make sure that their underlying fundamentals are solid enough to withstand a global depression without too much long-term damage. If key markets are solidified soon enough, a virtuous cycle of investment and further growth could potentially be triggered, blurring the lines between these developing countries and their developed counterparts. Whilst the element of uncertainty and doubt will still be present, if the country is foresighted enough to secure their future prospects, the risk from this should be offset by the potential influx of foreign direct investment that could occur. Even if it does not work out, the meritocratic aspect of this scenario is still something to be commended and looked upon as a positive; countries will gain foreign direct investment if they see it as a rational economic decision to strengthen their financial system.

With the increase in available capital for corporations operating within developing countries to use, it is also important for regulation to be put in place such that the prevalence of moral hazard with regards to the risk/reward ratios of banks reduces. In a developing country, with arguably less financial infrastructure present than a developed one, it is somewhat easier to sign legislation that ensures that banks cannot operate in an unreasonably risky manner. As shown by the political lobbying of banks in the UK, USA and elsewhere, once a massive financial system has been built up, it is extremely hard to get major financial institutions to change their ways. Hence, if government puts its foot down quickly enough, it is possible that the developing countries of today could potentially have less of a glasshouse of a financial system than even the developed countries of today possess. The question of this article initially was “Could globalisation bring developing countries to their knees?”, and the answer to that is a resounding yes. Replace the “could” with a “will”, and you have an answer which depends on a multitude of factors, including primarily the quality of the country’s governance. If government manages itself correctly, globalisation could bring about rapid economic development and the bolstering of financial systems across the developing world. If not? Well then, we’ve all got ample reason to worry.

 

Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” has failed. But why?

Who would have thought that it would be in the Land of the Rising Sun that three arrows could miss their target so wildly?

Of course, I’m talking about the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe’s, three arrows of fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reform that were intended to claw Japan out of a dangerous cycle of recession and deflation. At the time, it seemed like the perfect policy, with fiscal stimulus intended to increase demand for goods and services and monetary easing by the Bank of Japan intended to generate the 2% inflation that Japan has so longed for, increasing aggregate demand and therefore triggering a virtuous cycle of economic growth. In addition to this, the structural reform intended to increase the competitiveness of Japanese industry with regards to the world as a whole should have ideally bolstered and healed Japanese companies’ future prospects, after years of sluggishness. Yet as so often turns out, while Abe’s plans seemed to be worth their weight in gold on paper, they have failed to revitalise Japan and return it to the supreme economic status which it once had. Amongst a whole host of other indicators, Japan’s inflation rate fell to -0.4% in July 2016, lowering the proverbial coffin into the ground of another seemingly great set of economic policies. But why has it failed when it looked so good on paper? How has Abe fallen flat yet again? Could external factors be preventing the three arrows from working their magic?

Well, when you take into account Japan’s rapidly changing demographic, the answer to the latter question would be resoundingly in the affirmative. Since 2010, Japan’s population growth has been negative and birth rates have steadily declined while life expectancy continues to rise. On the health side of things, this is a massive breakthrough for the country, but economically, what it means is that Japan now is faced with the problem of a gradually dwindling labour force. Hence, although Abe is injecting billions upon billions of fiscal stimulus into the economy, the decline in labour force has resulted in a decrease in consumer demand in spite of his policies, due to less people having the money in their pockets to actually spend in the first place. In this regard, what Abe could further focus on is spearhead a further push for immigration to bolster aggregate demand and consumer spending, in turn boosting growth before the arduous and potentially unfruitful wait for Japanese societal norms regarding children to change (he has made great strides towards this with his Abenomics 2.0 programme). Perhaps in the case of Japan, this policy would be far more beneficial to her than any fiscal package that Abe could come up with; it would certainly at least be worth a try.

One side effect of recent Japanese economic policy (in particular the monetary policy of setting negative interest rates) has also been a devaluation of the Japanese yen, allowing Japanese firms to become complacent in the face of high profits. Due to the weak yen increasing Japanese firms’ revenues from abroad, the result is a lack of incentives for these firms to innovate and increase productivity. Due to this, the economy’s productive capacity has stagnated, hindering its potential for long run economic growth. Recent reports indicate that distinguished figures such as former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, declaring that “monetary policy is reaching its limits” in many developed countries. Due to this, it is feasible that the cut in interest rates to negative levels, while effective on paper, has not worked so well in reality because it disincentives innovation within Japan, and without innovation, it is extremely difficult for a capitalist framework to thrive and prosper. Therefore, perhaps an appreciation of the yen against the dollar would not be as disastrous as many pundits claim, and instead, may indeed provide a route by which Japanese firms can finally move forward.

Social attitudes in Japan currently are also not exactly conducive to economic progress. Due to many of the current Japanese young generation having known nothing but economic stagnation, deflation (or very low inflation), and failed government policy, these young people, traditionally some of the big spenders in a modern economy, have failed to provide the Japanese machine with a much needed boost. It has gotten so bad that one individual said to the Financial Times that she feels as if she is “more conservative than [her] grandmother.”, such is the backwards direction which Japan has gone in with regards to spending. The solution to this is much less science than it is alchemy, and the only way which Japan can really try and fix this problem is a bottom-up approach to incentivise spending amongst young people. In my opinion, this could be achieved by portraying spending on goods and services as some sort of natural duty, invoking patriotic sentiment and therefore triggering spending to lurch from its slumber. However, Japan’s problems are both deep and wide ranging, and will take years, or perhaps even decades of consistently successful government policy to solve. While Abenomics is well-intentioned, it simply has and will not work in practice, and perhaps what Abe and his fellow policymakers need to do is to think a little bit outside of the box.

How will Obama be remembered?

This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license – The photographer is Will White.

On January 20, 2009, the United States of America finally turned its back on George Bush and appointed Barack Hussein Obama as their 44th President. At the time, it was looked at as a landmark occasion; the first African-American President in the history of the most powerful country in the world. Many now say that this victory for equality has been overshadowed by backwards, regressive policy that has gone against the very agenda of progressivism that Obama stood for election for. However, others instead espouse the idea that Obama has laid the proverbial stepping stones for future progressives to unite America through economic policy. Regardless of whichever side you take, it’s undoubtable that the Obama administration has divided opinion like almost no other in contemporary politics and economics. Obama’s tax cuts for the wealthiest in society are something which have been campaigned for by many in the past, but some on the left side of the spectrum still regard him as far too business-friendly to be in any way compatible with the vision of equality for all Americans. In this regard, many of his policies have not necessarily been the most popular, yet it is still important to take into account the economic climate which the 55-year-old inherited from his Republican predecessor; the images of widespread depression and angst certainly add context to the debate, context that is needed when analysing any presidency from an economic perspective.

Today, in a global economic environment of stagnation and extraordinarily low interest rates, many are justified in claiming that we have never really escaped the proverbial wreckage of the Great Depression. Yet more economists than not claim that Obama’s Keynesian fiscal stimulus package to the tune of $787 billion, largely in the form of tax cuts to families, was instrumental in making sure that America did not stuck in a period of prolonged economic stagnation, amidst an environment of lesser trust in the prospects of the economy, and therefore less investment. According to James Feyrer and Bruce Sacerdote of Dartmouth College, the multiplier effect (the increase in final income arising from any new injection of spending) was between 1.96 to 2.31 for low-income spending, 1.85 for infrastructure spending, and finally in the range of 0.47 to 1.06 for stimulus as a whole. While this was not the only study carried out on Obama’s fiscal stimulus package, the methodology of the survey the two economists used is significant because they not only compared employment growth at state and county level, but they also compared month-by-month data to see how employment figures were changed at the point when the stimulus was injected into the economy. The significant upward trend generated by the stimulus here is thereby significant as it supports heavily the claim that the package was needed in order to usher America out of the stagnation that it previously endured; so Obama doesn’t seem to have done too badly so far.

The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Bill also was a significant piece of legislation that Obama signed during his presidency. Described by the Washington Post as “the most ambitious overhaul of financial regulation in generations”, there’s no denying that the Bill has had and will continue to have significant effects on the way financial firms think about their operations going forward. However, it does not ameliorate the problem of the massive moral hazard which banks are allowed to possess when analysing whether to cut down on their portfolio risk or not. In the former Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King’s book “The End of Alchemy: Banking, the Global Economy and the Future of Money”, King argues that this is precisely what could lead to another catastrophic recession, and argues instead for a “pawnbroker for all situations” solution, one in which banks have to take significant measures before having any chance of being bailed out. Whilst I would suggest that one reads King’s book for more insight into this claim, the fundamental underlying principle is that banks will take risks if you allow them to, putting taxpayers at risk of having to bail them out once again, and for this reason, I argue that the legislation Obama approved has not gone anywhere near far enough.

And now we come to perhaps the most contentious issue of all: Obamacare. Although the program still has its glaring faults and areas where it should really be improved in order to improve the accessibility of healthcare for every American, it has to be said that the healthcare program has had overwhelmingly positive effect. For example, businesses with over 50 employees are required to have a health insurance program, with tax credits for these businesses also being put in place to help them finance this program. In my opinion, this strikes a near-perfect balance between stamping the need for increased healthcare coverage for the most vulnerable members of society and easing financial constraints on business, allowing these firms to flourish and expand their operations. If I had to summarise Obama’s economic policy in a few words, I’d use the phrase “getting there”. Whilst the African-American has made key policy moves that have steered America in the right direction, there are still large gaps that need to be filled and policy moves that need to be implemented to progress America’s economy further. He hasn’t done it all, but he’s definitely laid the foundations.

Shrey Srivastava, 16

On obstacles to poverty alleviation in India

Step foot (carefully) on the streets of the Delhi megalopolis and you’ll find an explosion of colour and a cacophony of all sorts of weird and wonderful noises. In some ways, it’s the archetypal developing city, with disorganised shops lying around in wide, bending alleyways that look almost as if they’re the fruits of a child’s imagination. In others, however, Delhi has its own unique aura, the quintessential, all-encompassing Indian tinge that has had foreigners from the Mughals to the British flocking like flies to its soil throughout history. Despite this, however, there is an elephant in the room, lying wearily beneath the glitz and glamour of a hugely unequal and somewhat segregated Indian society. You probably already know what it is: poverty. 2012 Indian government projections suggest that 21.9% of the Indian population are below its official poverty limit – to put that into context, it means that almost 1 in 4 Indians are affected by the scourge of poverty. Despite substantial amounts of aid being given to the Asian country to help solve the problem, it’s not even remotely close to going away at all. This is because of deep and wide-ranging problems in the framework of poverty alleviation projects in India, one of which is information failure in the microfinance sector leading to excessively high interest rate loans.

Primarily in Indian rural communities, a large problem with regards to supplying loans to low-income  households is that loans are advertised at lower interest rates than they are in reality. Given the relative lack of education in these areas, exploitative moneylenders can easily demand money unlawfully from families, citing a higher interest rate than the borrowing family had initially thought. Hence, this asymmetric information between lenders and borrowers, combined with the high operational costs of face-to-face lending to these communities in the first place, results in interest rates that frequently reach levels above 50%. To combat this, it’s logical that the government could introduce subsidies for microfinance institutions to reduce overall costs, thereby resulting in the pushing down of interest rates through the competition of the free market mechanism (the sheer numbers of microfinance institutions involved makes this method viable for application). Furthermore, the Indian government could make efforts to introduce a database of sorts for each rural community, spearheaded by a government-appointed official, detailing each microfinance institution and the details of the loans that they are providing to people in these communities, decreasing the potential for exploitation of borrowers. Given that corruption is such a prevalent problem within almost every Indian institution that exists, deterrents such as substantial jail sentences should be given to anyone exploiting the system, along with many avenues for which people to complain about unjustly high interest rates without fear. Obviously, this wouldn’t solve the problem entirely, but it would go a long way to decrease interest rates and therefore provide a more sustainable alternative revenue stream for families starting businesses on the back of this loan.

Moreover, while children going to school and sitting in classes matters, the end goal of all of this is for them to have an education, gaining transferable skills which they can take to work, boosting the standard of living for themselves, their families, and the wider community. In India, however, while the number of children going to school has been increasing, the number of people getting an education is a greatly different story. In 2009, India ranked 73rd out of 74 countries sampled with regards to the extent of the children’s knowledge regarding various subject matters, indicating that although children are going to school, they are actually not learning very much at all. This is in part because teachers believe that they can get away with not working as hard as possible to educate their students, due to no system of rewards or punishments being in place to provide either positive or negative incentives to teach. Therefore, what I propose is as follows: establish a more rigorous, practical system of testing for Indian children by an independent organisation to each class in schools, with positive incentives in the form of bonuses being paid to teachers whose class performs significantly well. Due to negative incentives promoting negativity and eventual apathy in the school environment, it would be unnecessary to include them with the same frequency as positive incentives, however if a teacher’s class has been doing badly for a sustained period of time, they should take a compulsory training class and be forced to accept a decrease in wages, or leave the school entirely. To make the whole system fair, classes should be allocated based on a test conducted to determine each student’s aptitude when they enter the school, making sure that the aptitude levels of each class are relatively similar. Whilst there is no suggestion here regarding how to make more children go to school, this is because it is already happening in India on a large scale, and so therefore we now must focus on how to maximise learning from going to school itself, in order to pull more and more families out of poverty.

Infrastructure has developed hugely in India since the pro-market reforms of 1991; nowadays in India, people have more opportunities than ever before due to more alternative routes to success. However, despite this, the lack of aspiration shown by some of the poorest people in India has continued on from previous years; they feel that high profile, white collar jobs that can pull their family out of poverty are out of their reach. This is because if the poor’s attempts to find a source of income do not work out, the loss that they could have faced both in time and monetary value could cripple them further than they already have been. While there is no silver bullet to fix this problem, the only way in which it could be somewhat ameliorated is through exposing the poor in these communities to people who have succeeded in the past. There is the potential that the effects of supplying information through media to these communities could have little to no effect, as the potential consequences of failing are so crippling. Hence, it is important to focus on other reforms so that people are more and more exposed to others who have succeeded, and the idea is that the allure of success would eventually drive some people to take risks, catapulting them out of the poverty trap. The most difficult thing about this process is the start; once we have a start, there will be a virtuous cycle, hence the burning need to focus on other ways in which to overcome the Indian obstacles to growth.

While growth continues in India at a breakneck pace, the most important thing now for the country is to increase the quality of living of the poorest within society. That can only be done through overcoming inherent obstacles; maybe, just maybe, once we’ve beaten these, growth and prosperity will increase like never before.

What do you think? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts, whether you’ve been attracted or repulsed by my propositions.

Why central banks should target 4% inflation

Photo by Remy Steinegger

It is October 29, 1929 , also known as Black Tuesday. The Great Depression, one of the largest economic downturns in history, has just begun. Unbeknownst to the everyday man and woman, this will last a backbreaking decade, during which these everyday people will see their dreams slashed in the face of lower wages. That is, if they even find a job in the first place; unemployment will reach almost 25% in America at the height of the depression in 1933. During this time, it’s obvious that we will start looking to policymakers for solutions to this problem, however, even they have been silenced by the lunacy of the gold standard: there are no solutions in the pipeline.

Time for a voyage into the future. 1990, specifically – New Zealand. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand has just introduced a pioneering measure that will shake up monetary policy: the inflation target. They say they target a rate of price increase of 0 to 2%. Fast forward 22 years, and on the 25 January 2012, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the most famous central bank in the world, the Federal Reserve, has introduced a 2% inflation target. Nowadays, the magic “2” is the norm, with central banks from the Bank of England to the Bank of Japan adopting the target. The problem? Well, there’s more than one, but the most arresting drawback is that we’re veering into very dangerous territory should we be even slightly amiss in meeting these targets.

Say we undershoot from our inflation target. That can happen, right? People make mistakes – even big, bad central bankers. If prices, therefore, appreciate by only 1% a year, that’s not too bad. But say we adjust the degree of error even more, and then we’re veering dangerously into deflationary territory – a nightmarish decrease in prices. In both my opinion and the opinion of many others, deflation is far worse than even high levels of inflation. This is because a deflationary slump in an economy causes people to think twice about purchasing goods and services, reducing demand for these goods and services, decreasing their prices to levels lower than they already are. Intuitively, this causes job layoffs as the reduction in demand causes a corresponding reduction in corporate revenue, and so the freshly unemployed aren’t very likely to buy non-essentials like a bottle of Coke or a packet of gum, let alone a new house. The ensuing vicious downward price spiral amidst a plethora of redundancies has historically been extremely difficult to get out of; deflation can batter an economy like nothing else. Where do we look for an example of this? Back to the past, that’s right – the Great Depression, where prices plummeted and redundancies soared due to a collapsing banking sector.

Moreover, recessions happen. We can’t prevent all of them, and it’s a fact of life that the average person is overwhelmingly likely to experience at least one or two in their lifetimes, if not many more. It’s how a central bank deals with the recession that defines how strong and robust their monetary policy is, and when you can only decrease interest rates by a small amount, then you’ve got a problem. Take the Bank of England. Interest rates currently sit at staggeringly low levels: 0.5%, to be precise. Let’s assume they meet their inflation target of 2%, and so the nominal interest rate (the interest rate when we don’t take into account inflation) will be 2.5%. Now, let’s hypothesise that they increase their inflation target to 4% and meet it (I know, I’m optimistic about their abilities). Now we have a wiggle room of a whole 4.5% should we face a recession, so we have a greater chance of stimulating the economy and getting it back on track. Even taking into account that central banks may not meet these targets, it’s logical to believe that they’ll at least achieve a higher inflation rate than before, and so regardless of the scenario, the overwhelming likelihood is that we’ll have more chance of beating back a recession than before.

Finally, we need to lend the companies that are the backbone of our economy a hand in being able to dish out nominal wage increases. Again, let’s take a scenario whereby we have higher inflation, say 3% (due to central banks undershooting the 4% inflation target) and the nominal wages of not very productive employees operating in, for example, McDonalds rise by 2%. In reality, they’ve still got 1% less purchasing power than they did before, however McDonalds’ 2% rise in wages keeps them happy and satiated; they won’t go on strike or resign or do all the things that corporations fear so much. Say we had a much lower inflation rate, perhaps 1%. Now, McDonalds is in hot water because they can only increase wages by a small, small amount, risking the ire of its employees. If the inflation rate went even lower, then we have even more of a problem; McDonalds cannot hand out relatively large nominal wage increases, as if they were to do so, their costs would increase, therefore enabling a reduction in profits. So now we have annoyed corporations, annoyed employees and perhaps an economy on the verge of recession, with very little room to alter interest rates when we enter one. All because of those dastardly low inflation rates.

Since 1990, the inflation target has become one of the key symbols of monetary policy and central banking. We need to increase it; I think it’s time to change this symbol for the better.

Do you?

Shrey Srivastava, 16

Scandinavia is not a socialist triumph

Sorry, socialists; Scandinavian success isn’t your trump card.

While Scandinavia has emerged as one of the world’s leaders in terms of how to run an economy, many advocates of socialism claim that its success is down to large numbers of socialist economic principles. This fanciful perception could not be any more untrue; in fact, the Scandinavian countries extol the virtues of the capitalist economic ideology more than anything else. The fact that even figures such as Senator Bernie Sanders, who claimed that America should look to countries “like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway” for their purported socialist beliefs, believe this woeful and misguided claim, comes as a shocking challenge to the belief that socialism in itself cannot bring about economic prosperity. In theory, this is all well and good: differing ideas are needed to promote healthy, beneficial economic debate which allows countries to further develop. Despite this, when one side of the argument persists with making claims that are inherently flawed and against basic facts and statistics, the debate becomes much less healthy than toxic and useless, and this intuitively benefits no one. Hence, while it could be argued that Scandinavia has some socialist principles that have helped it grow economically, it is completely asinine to brand the whole region with the “socialist” moniker. Frankly, it’s akin to saying that socialism alone works in the first place.

Free market capitalism is perhaps most strongly enforced in the countries which Sanders seems to so idolise. While it is disputed whether laissez-faire economics works in the long term or not, it is a testament to these countries’ resilience and principles that they do not intervene and let large companies go bankrupt if they are not performing or have mismanaged their finances. For example, Sweden allowed Saab, an automobile manufacturer, to go bankrupt, even when there was considerable pressure to bail the company out. Many similar occurrences have taken place with the other Scandinavian nations, affirming the ethos of economic competition that these nations hold so dear. This competition, that is so prevalent in these societies, allows companies to make more and more efforts to innovate and gain a comparative advantage over their rivals, thus increasing the prosperity of these companies, which gives the state more income through taxation with which to fund social services such as healthcare and education. This also results in a reduction in unemployment, again increasing the wellbeing and happiness of the country’s citizens. It stands to reason, therefore, that Denmark is the world’s happiest country. And a large proportion of this has nothing to do with socialism.

The reason why countries such as Sweden have evolved into such developed and financially stable economies is also due to capitalist ethos, and most definitively not socialist ones. In the latter half of the 1800s and the early 1900s, Sweden was floundering financially, with it being very poor and economically destitute (1.3 million Swedes left Sweden for America during this time). The capitalist reforms which were then instituted by the Swedish government spurred economic development and growth, incentivising creativity and encouraging investment into small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). At this point, the country’s taxes were far lower than the majority of Europe’s, raising serious questions to socialists who propose higher levels of taxation. Therefore, despite the fact that the welfare system in Sweden is amongst the best applications of socialism in the modern world, this is only a small cog in the wheel; and to a large degree, has only been made possible through the wonders of capitalist reform that swept the country. After all, the system could have only been financed through money, money which would have been in high relative scarcity had Sweden continued the way it was going.

Scandinavia has also been made into a pseudo-utopia by some socialists, a place where everything is perfect and nothing has ever gone wrong. However, while the region is a massive success story, it is not as prosperous as some would claim it to be. For example, the United States has a higher economic output per person than Sweden, Denmark and Finland, calling into doubt those who claim that the few socialist policies have resulted in an increase in productivity in the Scandinavian region. Moreover, the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) also states that the average Dane has an average household debt equal to 310% of his or her disposable income, again making the claim that Scandinavians are more financially prosperous than others seem highly dubious. According to Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report of 2014, the wealthiest 10% of people in Norway, Sweden and Denmark possess between 65 and 69% of the wealth of those countries, displaying staggering levels of wealth inequality. While low inequality is frequently espoused by proponents of the socialist economic system as a virtue of Scandinavia, these figures prove that that is not the case, and that, like much of the Western world, Scandinavia also has serious problems regarding wealth inequality.

We do have our share of problems, I admit. Scandinavia is a great place to live, I admit. What I don’t admit, however, is that they’re perfect or that socialist policies have got them to where they are thus far; it’s, in fact, capitalism that has again, saved the day.

Shrey Srivastava, 15

Could the FTSE 100 see new highs post-referendum?

Photo by Raimond Spekking

When the bombshell arrived last week that 51.9% of our country voted to leave the European Union, the prognosis for the FTSE 100 looked bleak. Indeed, on Friday itself, the index initially fell by as much as 8.7%, wiping off almost a tenth of its total value. The financial sector was among the hardest hit, with shares of banks such as Lloyds Banking Group dropping by as much as 19.93%. All the cards were in place for a further drop in the index, so in characteristic stock market fashion, the FTSE surged and reached 6577.83 on Friday, reversing completely the drop made last Friday. This unexpected rise isn’t just due to investor irrationality, however; there are some solid fundamentals behind why the FTSE 100 rose this much, and these fundamentals also mean that there is reason to believe that the index could rise even higher. Another sustained gain such as that seen this week could, indeed, see it push beyond the 7122.74 intra-day high made at the end of 27 April last year; it’s definitely within the realm of possibility, especially given the recent actions of the Bank of England.

On Thursday, the governor of the UK central bank, Mark Carney, suggested that the Bank of England may cut interest rates to levels below the 0.5% of today, given Brexit concerns and uncertainty. Intuitively, this decreases the rate at which banks can borrow money, making borrowing cheaper for these financial institutions. Coupled with the £3.1 billion cash injection into the UK’s banking system, the future for banks operating within the UK became a little brighter, causing shares of banks such as Barclays to rise. Given that financial institutions constitute a major proportion of the FTSE 100 companies, this boost to their immediate and future prospects caused their share prices to appreciate not just on Thursday but also on Friday, in turn causing the FTSE to rise by a considerable amount. Whilst there remains considerable doubt over the long term prospects of banking given the worldwide recession which some reputable economists are forecasting, the Canadian’s actions will go a considerable way to ensuring their short-term prosperity in the event when a Brexit finally materialises later down the line. Thus, there is solid reason to believe that banking shares could rise in value, hence causing the FTSE to upswing in the same vein.

After our country sensationally voted for Brexit, many were sure that Cameron would immediately trigger Article 50, beginning our withdrawal from the juggernaut trade bloc. Instead, he announced that he was to resign as Prime Minister in October, plunging both his party and the future of our country as a member state of the EU into a multitude of uncertainty. The subsequent race for the next leader of the Conservatives is overwhelmingly likely to be won by the Home Secretary Theresa May, who has a reputation for prioritising safety and stability above radical change. Her comments in her recent speech that if she were to become Prime Minister, Article 50 would not be triggered by the end of the year also meant that, at least for some months, companies who would be drastically affected by a Brexit (ergo, most of them) have some degree of certainty regarding their short-term future prospects. In addition to this, the fact that once Article 50 is triggered a Brexit would likely take up to 2 years to materialise, ensures that these companies have some time in which to decide on their future prospects, and to formulate a plan for when the inevitable exit from the EU finally happens. This means that they will be ready for the short-term economic consequences of the event, and with knowledge of this, investor sentiment towards these companies could heighten, causing both their individual share prices and the FTSE 100 to rise.

Given that the constituents of the FTSE 100 are almost exclusively large-cap transnational corporations, a large amount of their revenue is earned from abroad. Carney’s aforementioned comments and the short-term economic pounding that would ensue following our European exit have caused the British pound to decline and to be projected to decline in future; our credit rating downgrade from S&P has done nothing to alleviate this. On Friday, after a staggering initial drop following the EU referendum and Carney’s comments Thursday, the pound was worth $1.33, a far cry from the $1.48 it was worth last Thursday. This sudden and large drop in the value of the pound means that the value of the revenue of the multinationals comprising the FTSE suddenly increases, in terms of the pounds. For companies that display revenue on balance sheets in terms of the pound, this increased revenue could be seen as a strong sign of potential future success by investors, thus perhaps causing the share prices of these companies and the FTSE 100 as a whole to appreciate. In a world where no one really knows what’s going to happen next, at least big business can do well, right?

Shrey Srivastava, 15