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India on marathon path; markets don't need steroids: Kotak

Kotak also said that one of the biggest challenges today was the history of excessive leverage by India Inc.

New Delhi: Confident that India is on a 'marathon' growth path, eminent banker Uday Kotak has said that the markets should not look for any 'steroids' even as he warned against excessive debt exposure of the corporates.

Kotak also said that it has been an "euphoric phase" since the Narendra Modi-led NDA government came into power a year ago, while there is perception emerging now that expectations were ahead of reality.

"This perception stems from excessive exuberance, which needs to be moderated. However, in reality, I am confident that growth will be steady, stable and upwards.

"I am convinced that the India Marathon story is already playing out. The watchers of the Indian economy as well as the markets should not look for steroids," the Kotak Mahindra bank chief said.

Kotak also said that one of the biggest challenges today was the history of excessive leverage by India Inc.

"This has slowed down parts of the Indian banking system. As these events unfold and unravel, I sincerely hope that it does not create any accidents and challenge the capacity of the financial system in supporting the growth of the Indian economy," Kotak said in his annual letter to the shareholders of Kotak Mahindra Bank.

Elaborating on his views about the first year of the Modi government, Kotak said, "While the euphoria may have faded, the country has made progress. India's macroeconomic signals have become stronger and stable. Crucial parameters such as current account deficit, fiscal deficit and levels of inflation have improved."

Listing out the possible challenges for the India growth story, Kotak said, "It is unlikely to be a great snapshot, but certainly will make for a wonderful movie.

"India is poised to witness stable and sustainable growth in the long term."

On banking sector, Kotak said that public sector banks currently account for about 70 percent of the savings and deposits, while private sector banks account for the rest.

"With new issues challenging the banking system, it is time for us to ponder how we structure the future of Indian banking. I believe that over the next 10 years the ratio will be equitable between public and private sector banks."

Kotak said this presents "significant challenges and opportunities" for Kotak group and it needs to "build an institution that has the capacity to defy gravity" and create a 'Bigger, Bolder, Better Kotak'.

He said that the group has already taken steps in that direction, including with the mega merger of ING Vysya Bank with Kotak Mahindra Bank that has created a combined entity with total employee base of over 40,000 and the combined consolidated balance sheet of around Rs 2 lakh crore.

Other strategic decisions include acquisition of domestic schemes of PineBridge Mutual Fund and a 15 percent stake in India's largest commodity exchange - MCX, Kotak said.

"Fourth, we are foraying into the general insurance business, which will be a 100 percent subsidiary of the Bank.

"And finally, we have agreed to invest up to 20 percent in a proposed payments bank by Airtel M Commerce Services Limited - an area where we see immense potential."

Kotak said that the different arms of the group have shown healthy growth and its asset quality has been "top notch, riding on low gross NPAs and net NPAs, and lowest restructured assets in the Indian banking sector".

"We expect our fee income from foreign exchange business, equities, brokerage, or distribution of products in the mutual fund space to grow further, as we build our franchise. We are also emerging stronger on account of our robust liabilities and assets.

"Further, we have deepened and widened our customer base, which is growing steadily. With the merger of ING Vysya Bank, our national footprint has grown. Our brand campaign 'Kona Kona Kotak' signifies our expanded reach across hundreds of towns and cities of the country.

"As I evaluate our 'Concentrated India, Diversified Financial Services' business model, I am excited about all segments of our business," he said.

Kotak said he also sees tremendous growth potential in the capital markets and investment banking businesses, while other promising businesses are life insurance and asset management.

"I see a turnaround in both the businesses as we leverage the additional distribution network. There is also some traction in our alternate asset businesses.

"Therefore, banking and financing, capital markets and investment banking, life insurance and asset management give us a complete menu of diversified financial services, which we believe will help us leapfrog to significantly higher growth rates in the coming years.

"I am a great believer in creating long-term shareholder value... If you look at the Kotak story, an investor who invested Rs 1 lakh in Kotak in November 1985 - when we just started the company, would today have a shareholding worth over Rs 1,100 crore," he said.

"The journey has been enjoyable so far and I am looking forward to an even more exciting time in the context of India's Marathon story. I am confident that brand India and the potential that it promises will provide us the platform to build an institution of global repute, size and stature," Kotak said.