Half of calendar year 2023 is over. Unfortunately, there isn’t much ‘feel good’ news in the world, except in India, Middle East & few countries in Southeast Asia.
The mindless war between Russia & Ukraine continues. Other than helping clear the stockpile of weapons in few western economies & securing billions of dollars of fresh orders for manufacture of weapons, it has only resulted in destroying large areas in Ukraine & displacing millions of its citizens. The war resulted in much of Europe to go into recession. From a unipolar world with United States ruling the roost since the disintegration of USSR during 1991-92, the world is getting back to a bipolar world with the 2nd largest economy of the world, the communist China supporting Russia.
While politically the world has become bipolar again, economically countries have become more interdependent than ever before due to globalisation & WTO policies. This is posing a huge challenge to different economies, particularly to the United States and to the countries in Europe.
The Indian Government has played its cards smartly. Our country is beginning to see the benefit of China+1 strategy of the developed economies, not only for sourcing their product requirements, but also because they see India as a good investment destination. This has greatly helped the Indian economy to become resilient and not be affected so far by the war in Ukraine. The best indicator is the stupendous increase in Sensex & Nifty indices and Indian foreign exchange reserves crossing US$ 600 billion again. Many senior bankers feel that for the 1st time after many many years, all sectors of business are doing well. One can only hope this good show sustains for a longer time thereby helping Indian GDP reach US$ 5 trillion, sooner than later. The spoil sport can be poor monsoon, interest rate increase and unexpected events like political turmoil.
The ruling party at the centre got the shock of its life by badly losing State Elections in Karnataka. The smart electorate of Karnataka has punished the unexpected poor performance of the previous Government, apart from succumbing to the lure of multiple freebies offered by the winning party. While this has invigorated the opposition parties against the ruling party at the centre, it has also made the 2024 parliamentary elections more unpredictable. Anything can happen. What India requires is political stability and retaining its position in the world order & the goodwill generated during the past few years. What all this means to the business is the question? Uncertainty to a great extent. One never knows when the current positive sentiments will start turning negative, though there is absolutely no indication at present.
The Residential Real Estate sector is continuing to grow in a healthy way. Financial year 2023 is the best so far for the sector. The WFH/ A (work from home/ anywhere) culture continuing in a big way in USA & Europe has created millions of square feet of vacant office space in those countries, which has resulted in cautious approach by Indian & MNC companies in the tech sector to sign up new office space. Most experts feel this could be a cyclical and temporary phenomena. The good news is many MNC companies are increasing the size of their GCCs (Global Capability Centres) in India as a way to cut costs by offshoring work thereby helping to retain/ improve their profitability. This is the saving grace for the Indian Office Real Estate sector. The data localisation policy of the Indian Government has also resulted in increased demand for Data Centres. So also, the growing organised retail business has increased the demand for Fulfilment Centres/ Warehouses.
In such a macro environment, Brigade is trying to play its cards well but carefully. We have made headway in increasing our presence in Chennai significantly. We are trying to do the same in the highly competitive real estate market of Hyderabad.
While a number of new launches are slated in this financial year, obtaining civic authorities approvals is becoming more challenging than ever before, for a variety of reasons. By adhering to the multiple rules, administrative procedures and after overcoming red tape, if one succeeds in real estate business in India, they deserve to receive accolades and a pat on their back.
Rightly, the new Congress Government in Karnataka is talking of ‘Brand Bengaluru’ – to improve the image of the city which has taken a beating due to severe traffic congestion, insufficient infrastructure planning & implementation. Bengaluru deserves much better treatment by the State Govt.
Bengaluru, which contributes more than 50% of the tax revenue of the State; should receive similar share in the expenditure budget of the State to improve its infrastructure. Bengaluru is not just a city of Karnataka, it is now a Global City, known for innovation and home to 100s of MNCs.
Hyderabad with its superior infrastructure is already breathing down Bengaluru‘s neck and sure to overtake Bengaluru as an attractive investment destination, if the Karnataka Government continues to be complacent.
The advent of ChatGPT & AI (Artificial Intelligence) into our lives, slowly but surely, will have a profound effect, not fathomed by us so far. It will become a necessary evil in the years ahead. While there would be demand for people with new skills, it may also lead to thousands of job losses. So, it is very important for people and businesses to gear up the skills to keep pace with the ever changing technological advancements.
The festival season is approaching. My warm season's greeting to all our readers.
—Jaishankar CMD, Brigade.
Reflections on Brigade Group completing 25 years.
ON 10th October 1986, the foundation stone for Brigade Group's maiden project—Brigade Towers on Brigade Road, Bangalore—was laid in a simple Ground Breaking ceremony. I started the partnership firm Brigade Investments, which created Brigade Towers, with the support of my family and two family friends. The firm was a single-project venture and the result of an earlier missed opportunity by the family to invest in a prime real estate project in Bangalore. It was formed with no clear plan or vision for the business, at a time when I was planning to diversify from the chicory processing business I had started in 1980, because of a serious industrial relations problem in 1984. (In retrospect, I should warmly thank the labour leader who created the problem!)
Brigade Towers, the first 14-storied building in Bangalore (and, at that point of time, one of the very few projects to market ownership offices) was an instant success. This was one of the few real estate projects to be marketed in a planned manner; ours was the very first real estate advertisement released in India Today! What was a one-project venture became two projects, then four, then eight … growth continued slowly but steadily. Then a lack of consensus on growth strategy with a partner led to the partnership firm Brigade Investments being dissolved in 1997, to be restructured as Brigade Enterprises Pvt Ltd in 1998, at the height of the real estate recession.
The new millennium brought cheer to the real estate sector and Brigade Millennium—Bangalore's first integrated enclave project, launched in 2002—brought cheer to Brigade Group. We have not looked back since then. Of the 20 million square feet promoted by the Group since inception, 90% (comprising a wide range of projects) was completed in the last ten years. We are proud of every project we have executed, confident we have given our best each time. Many of our projects belong to the ‘first-of-its-kind’ category in Bangalore and Mysore. Our best project yet is probably Brigade Gateway, undoubtedly the most integrated city-centric mixed-use project. Nowhere in the world does one come across residential apartments, club, offices, school, mall, hotel and hospital, all within one campus close to the centre of the city. A fine example of the concept of 'Live-Work-Play', it is the perfect answer to many traffic-related problems in urban centres.
The real estate sector is full of challenges, the primary one being dealing with multiple civic authorities. If one were to have projects across Bangalore, we would have to deal with at least eight planning authorities (before 2007 it was 13!), each with a different set of building bye-laws—not to mention another nine authorities for NoCs and utilities. Also, the business is bombarded with multiple taxes and duties. Ours may be the only industry where the transaction of marketing a house / apartment by a developer is considered a 'sale' by the state revenue department; a 'works contract' by the state commercial tax department and a 'service' by the central service tax authorities—attracting stamp duty, vat and service tax along the way. This is doubly strange when you think this is a sector catering to one of the basic needs of mankind: shelter. It is shocking to know that 40% of the cost of an apartment goes towards direct and indirect taxes. If this be the case, how will the government policy of 'housing for all' succeed?
After the 2008-10 recession in the sector, the second major one in 15 years, the developer community was expecting a boom in 2011. But the financial turmoil in the western economies and rudderless governance in our own country (leading to inefficiency and very high interest rates) has subdued business prospects. One can only hope that quick corrective steps will be taken by the government to avoid further slippage. A silver lining for the real estate sector may come in the form of higher NRI investments and improved earnings for the software sector due to a weaker rupee.
THE nice part of the real estate business is the tremendous satisfaction one derives from creating a long-lasting edifice and in the contribution one can make to satisfying the home-owning aspiration of so many people. While developers should act as 'trustees' of the life savings of clients, in many a case it has become a huge challenge to meet the ever-increasing expectation of today's informed customer. Increased construction activity during the last decade coupled with overall improvement in the economy has led to a tremendous shortage of manpower and managerial talent in the sector—for which there doesn’t seem to be a solution. Substantial mechanisation is yet to happen; when it does it will also lead to increased costs. With India's trillion dollar GDP expected to more than double in the next ten years, I shudder to think how solutions to the complex problems facing the sector would be resolved.
The governments at the centre and various states should invest time, money and effort to upgrade the quality of town planning for hundreds of towns and cities in the country, which will help improve the quality of living. Chandigarh and New Delhi—and Brigade Gateway at the project level—have shown what good planning is all about. Improved quality of life and opportunities in smaller towns will reduce urbanisation and the pressure on utilities. But this may end up remaining a pipe dream with the lack of attention shown by authorities to urban planning and the redevelopment of old congested areas in the cities.
The immediate internal challenge for Brigade Group is to launch and complete 30 million sft of new projects across seven South Indian cities. The Group will continue to focus on real estate and hospitality in the immediate future. We intend taking the concept of integrated townships to the next higher level in our Brigade Orchards project, near the Bangalore International Airport.
I am very glad our Not-for-Profit initiative in education—Brigade Foundation— has made a mark in imparting quality education through its three schools in J. P. Nagar, Malleswaram and Mahadevapura, all in Bangalore.
As part of Brigade Group’s Corporate Social Responsibility, we will be supporting a Museum of Music (a first of its kind in the country), promoted by the Indian Music Experience Trust. To give back to society in our own field, we will also soon be setting up a Not-for-Profit company to take Social Housing projects to the urban poor. At an appropriate time, the company will also initiate vocational training and management development programmes in the construction field. I hope these initiatives will receive the generosity of the general public and will also help motivate others to take up similar initiatives.
I would like to record my sincere thanks to team Brigade, directors, shareholders, to our family of associates (architects, consultants, contractors, bankers, suppliers, officials in the civic authorities and government), friends, well-wishers and, of course, all our customers, who have shown their confidence and support in me and the organisation during the last 25 years and helped in shaping Brigade Group.
With 31st December 2011 fast approaching, many will be happy that a most forgettable year is coming to an end. As usual, one hopes the New Year will bring good cheer and happiness to our lives.
I wish all readers a great 2012.