Numerous alternatives make India FDI magnet, says CPPIB’s John Graham

A mix of scale and breadth of investable alternatives throughout asset lessons as various as toll roads and workplace blocks, renewable vitality, ecommerce and fintech, and a constructive setting for overseas direct funding are the highest attracts for deploying capital in India, mentioned the chief govt of one of many greatest retirement funds on the planet.

“As we proceed to scale, it will be significant for us to construct capabilities and infrastructure to spend money on one of many world’s largest economies — and in addition among the many quickest rising — to have the ability to take part in international development,” John Graham, CEO of the Canadian pension colossus CPP Funding Board (CPPIB), informed ET in an unique interplay. CPPIB manages greater than $500 billion (?33 lakh crore) of property worldwide, however solely 3.06% of the corpus has been deployed in India thus far. “For us, it’s necessary to have a portfolio that’s diversified by geography and diversified by way of asset class. India gives each the breadth of scope and class of the market,” he mentioned.

Throughout his five-day maiden journey to the nation since taking on CPPIB early final yr following the controversial exit of his predecessor Mark Machin, Graham met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, dined with company captains and even soaked within the “excessive vitality vibe and pleasure” of younger entrepreneurs and VCs, breaking bread with them over breakfast.

Machin needed to step down following his journey to the United Arab Emirates to obtain a coronavirus vaccine regardless of federal guidelines banning inessential journey, and a protracted line of older and immunocompromised residents ready for his or her photographs. That resulted within the elevation of Graham, a former bodily chemistry doctorate who spent virtually a decade as a analysis scientist at Xerox earlier than turning into an asset supervisor at CPPIB in 2008 and subsequently constructing its sprawling credit score enterprise for near a decade.


Since 2018-19, CPPIB has been constructing its publicity to rising economies — and China specifically — within the hunt for juicier returns. Greater than 85% of its funds are invested exterior of Canada with Asia Pacific being the second largest geographical cluster, after the US. Plans to extend publicity to Asia’s greatest financial system and allocate as much as 20% of its property to the nation by 2025 are nonetheless on observe, Graham mentioned.

“It’s actually necessary to be international and diversified. Now we have mentioned we are going to deploy as much as a 3rd of our property into rising markets, together with China,” Graham mentioned. “That’s totally different from a 3rd. However even then, if we see an incredible scope to deploy capital we are going to. We shouldn’t have a set allocation.”

This diversified, international unfold and suppleness additionally helps coping with large swings or shocks just like the Covid pandemic and the continued battle in Ukraine that has taken a giant toll on international macroeconomic prospects.

Graham mentioned Covid didn’t impression the long-term funding technique however by the pandemic, the agency was tactical and invested in “distinctive” alternatives that introduced themselves.

“Early in Covid round March 2020, there was a possibility to spend money on credit score markets that had been dislocated. As liquidity got here again, that chance went away. So we now have been agile in adjusting,” Graham mentioned.

Globally, pricing throughout international capital markets additionally grew to become engaging however Graham mentioned “the swiftness and magnitude of fiscal and financial interventions by numerous central banks and governments” additionally made these prospects very short-lived.

However with international rates of interest tightening, does he see the necessity to tweak his funding thesis? “Now we have been navigating inflation and rate of interest hikes previously fiscal yr and our technique is inbuilt a manner that it stays sturdy in opposition to any macro-economic backdrop – Covid or geopolitical uncertainties triggered by Russia-Ukraine…It’s actually necessary to have long run investing beliefs, not make strategic choices by way of disaster or be too dogmatic,” he mentioned.


However in occasions of flux bets on actual property – airports, actual property, infrastructure and even equities present some safety in opposition to inflation and volatility.

Graham, although, acknowledges that pockets of actual property, particularly the business phase, will get impacted as hybrid office fashions turn into commonplace as individuals step by step come again to their workplaces. “Some sectors have been beneficiaries of Covid, some have been affected,” he mentioned. “For us, one of many tenets of investing is we’re a bottom-up, detail-oriented, deep-diligence, deal-by-deal investor and our workplace portfolio has sometimes leaned towards top quality, tier-1 property with pedigree companions and tenants. This has proved to be largely resilient whilst hybrid fashions are inclined to turn into extra widespread post-Covid, in contrast with Tier 2, tier 3 cities and property,” he mentioned.

This assertion comes on the exact same day CPPIB introduced a Rs 5,300-crore three way partnership with Tata Group arms to develop business actual property.

Far smaller than mega asset managers corresponding to BlackRock, Blackstone, Brookfield or Vanguard, CPPIB banks on regular quarterly inflows from the greater than 20 million Canadian staff who put their pension cash into the fund — a key plank of the nation’s retirement financial savings system. Thus, it turns into an excellent greater fiduciary duty to “leverage the breadth of our funding capabilities to ship the perfect returns”.


In that context, CPPIB’s large bets in excessive threat, digital and tech startups the world over, together with Indian unicorns or soonicorns like Byju’s, Flipkart, Delhivery or information aggregator Dailyhunt, have raised eyebrows. Know-how utilization was arguably the one vivid spot in the course of the well being disaster, spurring improvement and uptake of issues corresponding to grocery supply and on-line schooling. CPPIB opened an workplace in San Francisco in 2019, its second within the US after New York, bringing it nearer to Silicon Valley. It was one of many anchor buyers within the Paytm IPO simply days earlier than the problem imploded, thereby highlighting the risky nature of backing early-stage corporations.

“Totally different property play totally different roles inside our general portfolio,” mentioned Graham. “Now we have publicity to low volatility, money producing property and there is a crucial place inside our portfolio for development and we try to have a steadiness between development and worth inside our portfolio. It’s necessary to dimension it correctly throughout the broader portfolio after which much more necessary is we decide the correct corporations to spend money on.” Speaking particularly about Paytm, Graham mentioned he was not too fussed about “short-term occasions however was targeted on the intrinsic worth of an organization over a longer-term horizon,” which may final for even a number of a long time.

Drawing comparisons with Asian tigers South Korea or China, Sujeet Govindaraju, CPPIB’s head of India Workplace, highlighted the web financial system has an enormous potential to stimulate home and family consumption that in flip creates giant, invaluable corporations in sub sectors.

“We search for such sub-sectors and the way they’re trending. Ecommerce penetration is 5.5% in India versus China the place it’s 27-28%,” he mentioned. “Even when the Indian market doubles, there may be room for giant corporations.”

That is very true in fintech, the CPPIB management believes.

“As a substitute of sharp volatility in inventory costs, we fear about administration functionality to monetise the client base that they’re constructing,” added Govindaraju. A digital moat, in accordance with him, based mostly on worth addition, comfort and client knowledge is way extra sturdy for the long run.

The opposite space of focus for the agency is sustainability and helping old-economy cement, chemical substances, metal and manufacturing corporations to wean away from fossil fuels and make the transition to internet zero.

“India is certainly a goal marketplace for our Sustainable Energies Group and our funding in ReNew Energy is a sign of that. We’re enthusiastic about ESG and the transition to internet zero,” mentioned Graham. CPPIB’s present renewables portfolio is C$7.67 billion ($6.08 billion) and represents 1.54% of the full fund. “However the plan is to double that publicity within the inexperienced transitioning of property by 2030.”
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