“Trend is your friend” is a phrase commonly heard in the financial sector. While the adage may not have universal application, it does throw light on just how important it is to be on the right side of trends in a global market. Two observations from the business world, one from the United States consumption market and one in Indian investments, help provide unique insights into changing trends.
The first trend emanates from the issues the food giant Kraft Heinz has been confronted within the United States over the last couple of years. The second trend is the increasing interest in Infrastructure Investment Trusts (InvITs) in India by mutual funds, so much so that they have poured in Rs 8,528 crore in the first nine months of the calendar year 2019. The first trend is indicative of how crucial general market trends are for even the best of investors; the second one illustrates a pattern that both investors and developers of infrastructure assets in India must be cognizant of.
The issues that the food company Kraft Heinz has faced have broadly revolved around a significant shift in the consumer preference in the US towards healthier foods and away from processed foods (a key focus area for Kraft Heinz) and a focus by the owners of Kraft Heinz on cost-cutting as opposed to innovation. Considering that Kraft Heinz share is down 50 per cent year-to-date and has seen an even more significant decline over the last two years, underscores the importance of being on the right side of the trend. The trend here is, as stated above, a move towards healthier eating option.
Kraft Heinz is a behemoth in the consumer market given the size of its business, and hence, the decline in its prospects demonstrates just how difficult it is for even the largest and savviest of companies to prosper when being on the wrong side of the trend.
More importantly, when one considers that Kraft Heinz was owned by marquee investors such as Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital, it is apparent that regardless of the best resources, “trampling” trends is a difficult task. Broader structural shifts in the consumer market are of such force, that being able to ride the trend can provide significant benefits, while being on the wrong side of the trend can be extremely problematic. The real skill is deciphering the trends to ensure that capital and resources can leverage their full potential.
In the context of the issues, Kraft Heinz has faced, it is also vital to note that social dynamics structurally drive financial and business trends. While a move towards healthier food options has adversely affected the prospects for processed food companies of late, decades back, a rise in women’s work participation and the availability of economically viable packaging had propelled the rise of the processed food industry in the developed economies. Therefore, not only is riding the trend essential but so is realising what socio-economic dynamics transformation is underway.
The second trend of importance is the gradual inflow of funds into InvITs in India. While this trend is encouraging, there are some critical lessons from the trend that need to be kept in mind to ensure that increased participation in InvIT type structures can help the infrastructure ecosystem flourish. For infrastructure developers, they must utilise InvITs further to source capital. The focus must be on building a track record for themselves in the InvIT ecosystem to generate capital at a relatively low cost.
Increased InvIT participation will also require well-managed InvITs with extremely high levels of corporate governance that can deliver consistent returns for investors. The primary reason that InvIT structures are beginning to see the increased interest is because there is a need for a platform that can help finance infrastructure in India. Traditional equity and debt have limitations regarding how much of long-dated infrastructure can be funded using them. Therefore, the trend is of prime importance.
The trend of increased participation of mutual funds in InvITs is a healthy sign. However, that said, investors in InvITs must be aware of the nature of the assets in terms of both sector and liquidity. Broadly speaking, the trend of increased participation in InvIT type structures is essential for India to finance the significant infrastructure needs eventually. Given India’s infrastructure requirements around telecom, water, ports, and roadways, ensuring that the trend of growth of capital market platforms in India is sustained is essential.
While distinct, both the trends mentioned above point towards the importance of being aware of changing trends and ensuring that trends that are deemed to be positive are further built upon by market participants.
(The views expressed in this article are personal and that of the author. The author heads Development Tracks, an infrastructure advisory firm. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Taponeel on Twitter)