Reading the tea leaves
The year 2019 is likely to be a turning point for India. A crucial general election due by May could decide the fate of the country and the health of the economy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is widely expected to return to power but recent assembly election results in favour of the Congress party suggest the Bharatiya Janata Party may get fewer seats in the Lok Sabha. Fortune India peers into the tea leaves to see what lies ahead for the political economy this year. We also look at what to expect in the world of automobiles, food, entertainment,and technology. Read on for a glimpse into the big innovations and disruptions expected in 2019.
Small is big again
The Hummer is passé, hail the Qute instead. If the frenzy over the revamped Hyundai Santro in 2018 is any indication, 2019 will see customers pick convenience over heft. Automakers across the spectrum are focussing on compact mid-segment cars. Market leader Maruti Suzuki is all set to re-launch one of its bestselling models,the WagonR,this month. India also expects to welcome a range of hatchbacks like the Volkswagen up!, the Renault Modus,and the Hyundai i30 this year, while the Honda Brio,the Volkswagen Polo, and the Ford Figo will get a facelift. While Tata’s compact SUV, the Harrier, is eagerly awaited so is Bajaj’s quadricycle, the Qute. Who says small can’t be beautiful?
Brand Modi Faces Big Test
India is preparing for one of the most crucial elections in its history. Most analysts expect Prime Minister Narendra Modi to return to power, but the stunning defeat of the ruling National Democratic Alliance in five state elections suggests the cloak of invincibility might be a bit frayed at the edges.The BJP is likely to win fewer seats in the Lok Sabha this year and the Congress party will be a political force to watch out for again after its wins in assembly polls.The BJP-led government is likely to roll out a string of sops and freebies to lure voters ahead of the election, but many see 2019 as the year of Rahul Gandhi. Political pundits also expect a third front, or a mahagathbandhan, to play a key role in the general election.
The election results will have wide implications for the financial health of the country. Any political uncertainty could impact the economy and markets, but economic growth is unlikely to slow dramatically this year.
The reforms process will also continue regardless of who forms a government, but the pace may slow down.
The next few months will see a frenzy of public spending on the rural and urban poor as well as the distressed farm sector, and numerous programmes to generate employment. “The general election will be fought on resolving the issues of rural distress and farmers’ plight and also job creation,because these are the major challenges faced by the country today,” says Sunil Sinha, principal economist and director, public finance,at India Ratings. He also says that the government’s other flagship programmes like‘Startup India’ and ‘Make in India’ will find little resonance among the masses.
Unlike 2014 when the then opposition NDA succeeded by highlighting the missteps, corruption, and other failures of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, this time the ruling party will be judged on its achievements. Hence, parading its achievements and announcing various welfare measures will be key to win over voters.
It’s already started raining freebies. Until December 21, eight states had announced farm loan waivers worth ₹1.9 lakh crore. Will these moves pay off politically? Won’t belong before we know.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to turn vegan simply because we just love our meat too much. But what if one could satiate one’s taste buds and still remain vegan? How can you do that, you might wonder. Well, faux meat is the answer. With Bollywood stars like Alia Bhatt, Anushka Sharma, and Richa Chadda flaunting their veganism,plant-based meats are slowly starting to garnish more and more menus in the country. Online services like GoodDot have already started offering vegetarian meat-based recipes and products. Food experts say this mock meat trend will grow bigger this year. It’s not just going to be popular among vegetarians,but also those who have been medically advised to curtail their meat intake. Bon appétit!
Banking on a New Relationship
All eyes will be on the new Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor, Shaktikanta Das, this year. Will the savvy former finance ministry bureaucrat bring an end to the unseemly spat between the government and the central bank? Das seems to have already endeared himself to the National Democratic Alliance government in his first few days in office. He reduced friction on the key issue of liquidity by injecting ₹60,000 crore through open market operations and opening a loan-restructuring window for debt-laden micro, small and medium enterprises of up to ₹25 crore. However, markets are keeping their eyes peeled on the autonomy of the RBI and how Das resolves the issue of the RBI’s “excess reserves”, a major bone of contention between the two arms of the government. A committee under former RBI governor Bimal Jalan is already looking into the issue. Rates are likely to be on hold as Das might re-examine the RBI’s model for inflation targeting which plays a key role in the central bank’s monetary policy. Clearly, a new beginning has been made.
Watch out for the latest form of data analytics which will provide clearer results and deeper insights by using artificial intelligence and machine learning to prepare data for analysis and remove biases in research.
Another emerging tech trend is the convergence of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and robotic process automation. Industrial robots will get better at executing their tasks, and with the help of AI, they will anticipate the next step.
This technology, already being used to transform time-consuming, centralised systems which are less secure and reliable, can revolutionise the global supply chain this year.
The race to build the ultimate supercomputer is set to intensify this year. IBM already offers a cloud-based service powered by quantum computing prototypes. Breakthroughs in quantum computing will help make processing and analysing of complex sets of data faster.
The benchmark S&P BSE
The Sensex at the end of 2019. The country’s macro environment is still positive for equities. The earnings growth outlook remains robust with high double-digit growth expected in 2019. However, rising margin pressures, stretched valuations relative to other assets, and moderating flows may cloud investor sentiment.
The $1 billion club
While entry to this coveted club is difficult, the number of Indian startups entering it is steadily rising.
Eight Indian startups entered the unicorn club in 2018. The number will
rise this year with several unicorns-in-waiting ready to hit the billion-dollar mark. The first across the line will probably be online grocery firm BigBasket, which is reportedly in talks to raise $300-400 million.
Gurugram-based logistics firms Rivigo and Delhivery, and ticketing portal BookMyShow are also growing fast and could break into the club soon. They will join the ranks of OYO, Byju’s, Paytm Mall, and Swiggy who became unicorns last year following massive funding from investors like SoftBank, Tencent, Naspers, Alibaba, and Berkshire Ha-
thaway. 2018 saw the highest number of startups in India join the club.
GLOBAL ACTION, LOCAL REACTION
Here’s a look at the global factors that analysts will watch keenly throughout the year, and how they could affect India.
U.S.-CHINA TRADE WAR
Will they, won’t they? It’s still unclear if Washington and Beijing will kiss and make up, but some analysts believe that India stands to gain from this spat. How? Many think if the Indian government were to find a way to export more produce to China, this could swing the general election in Narendra Modi’s favour. It will also help cut the trade deficit. But before you go from namaste to ni hao, remember that the conflict between the two giants could continue to impact global trade and growth adversely.
CRUDE OIL PRICES
Most experts believe that increased production of shale oil and gas in the U.S. will keep crude oil prices muted in 2019. Moreover, any serious output cut by OPEC can be made up by Saudi Arabia, which can increase the production. Hence, India, being a net importer of crude oil, stands to gain significantly if oil prices remain under control.
RATE HIKES BY THE U.S. FED
The days of cheap money are over. Most experts predict the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise interest rates at least twice this year. A rise in rates by the U.S. central bank means money flowing out of India and loans becoming more expensive here, too. When this happens, it would apply the brakes on rapidly rising consumption—one of the biggest growth drivers for the Indian economy. Get ready to tighten the purse strings.
What will March bring for May? That’s the question on everyone’s lips after U.K. prime minister Theresa May failed to broker a Brexit deal till early January. In 2016, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had told The Wall Street Journal that the U.K. was India’s “gateway to Europe”. As of now, India’s investments in the U.K. are reportedly more than what it invests in the whole of the EU; if Brexit does happen, India will have to look at separate free trade agreements with the U.K. and the EU. But Indian students may benefit; they can compete with European peers for scholarships and work visas on an equal footing.
Moving Full Stream Ahead
After ending the year on a high, the entertainment space is expected to delve into innovative and experiential viewing in 2019.
Rise of original and regional content
For Indian viewers, video streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hotstar will roll out fresh original content this year. Netflix seems to be leading the pack: Some of the new films include Chopstick sand Bulbul produced by Anushka Sharma’s CleanSlate Films; 15th August,a Marathi film produced by Madhuri Dixit; and Firebrand, another Marathi film produced by Priyanka Chopra. Other players like Eros Now and ALTBalaji are also focussing on originals, with ALTBalaji saying around 40 new shows are already in production for 2019.
Made in India, for the world
After the global success of Netflix’s Sacred Games and Amazon Prime’s Mirzapur, two more shows that could find favour with the global audience are Netflix’s Baahubali: Before the Beginning and Season 2 of Amazon Prime’s Inside Edge.
Global blockbusters one can die for
In terms of new global releases, fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones are looking forward to the final season of the series set to come out in April after over a year’s gap. For fans of superhero and action films, 2019 is a big year.The much-awaited one on the list this year are Avengers 4: Endgame,Wonder Woman 2 and Star Wars: Episode IX.
Stars to watch out for
The 19-year-old finished 2018 with a strike rate of 94.04.He is India’s secret weapon at the 2019 ICC World Cup.
In 2018, the table tennis player won two Commonwealth Games golds. At this rate, there’s no stopping hermarch into the top 30.
The Bollywood debutante made quite a splash last year with two big releases. Khan Is already part of the ₹100 crore club and will be on a roll this year. She is said to be part of Imtiaz Ali’s next film.