Published on: 25 Jan, 2019
80% of the content in Indian newspapers is irrelevant for investors; the other 20% is very useful. The latter 20% focuses on: (a) the actions (not words) of Indian promoters and politicians; and (b) narratives about the majority of Indians whose lives are less comfortable than ours. Furthermore, these narratives suggest that not only are Indian politicians less relevant than potrayed by the media, their impact on the lives of ordinary Indians is often less malign than many imagine it to be.
“You do not have to read newspapers for UPSC Prep for the sake of it. You have to read it in a mission mode! Avoid anything on Politics, Sports, Entertainment. Avoid making notes in the first reading – you are likely to find everything important and create a parallel newspress of your own! Remember that newspapers are written with a very specific formula: the who, what, when, where, why, and how always come first. As an IAS Aspirant, you are required to focus on the underlying theme or issue rather than specific newsbytes..” – From ‘3 Key Points on How to Read Newspapers for Indian Administrative Services Prep’ (Source: https://www.civilsdaily.com/how-to-read-newspapers-for-upsc/)
Most people under 40 who have a job no longer seem to read newspapers; basically, only people who grew up before the mid-1990s read newspapers. As a result at Marcellus only the forty-something people read newspapers. Leaving aside age, another reason very few of our colleagues read newspapers is that 80% of the content in Indian newspapers has little relevance for investors. Even those of us who read newspapers find that most Indian newspapers can be read cover to cover in less than ten minutes. There are three notable exceptions to this which are discussed below. Before we get to those glorious exceptions, it is worth highlighting why one can skim most of the content which appears in Indian newspapers.
One can safely discount what politicians and promoters are saying – most of what they say they don’t actually mean. So when a promoter says that “I am committed to investing in the India story” it does not mean very much and certainly does not mean that he’s actually getting reading to commit capital expenditure. This also applies when the promoter says negative things such as “I am increasingly worried about the rising level of regulatory intervention in India.” Such discounts can also be applied to what politicians (of all shades) are saying. Most people who are promoters, CEOs or politicians rarely say what they mean and they certainly don’t mean what they say. That means you can skip 50% of the printed matter in Indian newspapers.
Next – unless you are interested in restaurants, electronic gadgets, film stars, holiday destinations, Virat Kohli’s latest century and yoga tips – you can skip another 20% of a typical Indian newspaper.
Then come the Op-ed columns which with very rare exceptions contains views from sundry members of the Indian elite. These are typically upper crust people with elite education and/or a career in upper echelons of either the Indian civil service or a well known company. They are more clued into what is happening in London or New York than in Dhanbad or Dhanaulti. Often they reside full time in London or New York whereas it is highly unlikely that they will ever visit Dhanbad or Dhanaulti. Their default world view is that India is going from bad to worse thanks to greed & corruption. If you read too many op-eds in Indian newspapers you will be convinced that the country should have fallen apart five days after the British left the natives to their own devices.
That brings us to the final 20% of the Indian paper which is worth focusing on, namely:
If you consume the output spewed out by India’s many media outlets in a conventional manner you are more likely than not conclude (incorrectly we believe) that the country is heading in the wrong direction. This is because the media consists of people like you and me whose view implicitly references India against the West or with cities like Singapore, London and New York. If on the other hand you read the Indian media selectively with a particular focus on narratives about the 80-90% of Indians whose lives are nowhere as comfortable as ours a very different picture of the country emerges. Whilst life is unrelentingly tough in this other India, the underlying trends seems to be in an upward direction regardless of which political party is ruling the roost. This upward trend seems to hold true even in states perceived as backward, notably, the Hindi speaking belt.
Similarly if you read promoter or CEO-speak in the Indian media, you are likely to conclude that without more reforms the economy cannot move forward; this is the persistent refrain of India Inc and the media has played-up this line for as long as we have been alive. And yet, the same promoters are investing in Indian start-ups, in Indian private equity funds and (still) buying upscale residences for themselves in Mumbai or in the countryside. The politicians through their family offices are also making similar investments albeit a little bit more discreetly. Hence it makes sense to ignore much of what these people say and instead focus on their actions.
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Saurabh Mukherjea is the author of “The Unusual Billionaires” and “Coffee Can Investing: the Low Risk Route to Stupendous Wealth”.
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