Seven Indian conglomerates — Bajaj, Lalbhai, Wadia, Murugappa, Emami, Godrej and Torrent — have delivered superior returns of between 22% and 32% to their shareholders in the last 15 years compared with their pure-play (companies that focus on a single business) counterparts in Asia, according to a study.
This assumes significance when conglomerates in India and Southeast Asia, for the first time in 15 years, have underperformed their pure- play counterparts in their markets on core financial performance, according to a report by global consulting firm Bain & Company.
However, from 2007 to 2016, the total average annual shareholder return (TSR) dropped to 11% for conglomerates in Asia — slightly less than the 12% for pure-plays but enough to signal changes ahead and raise questions about whether Asian conglomerates have reached the end of the road.
Begin to underperform
Bain & Company’s third comprehensive study of 102 conglomerates and 287 pure-plays this year, including India — another market dominated by conglomerates — finds that conglomerates no longer hold an advantage in total shareholder returns over pure-plays that they once did and have begun to underperform in revenue growth and margin improvement. Initially, Southeast Asia’s conglomerates had many things working in their favour — easier and earlier access to opportunities, particularly rights to natural resources and advantage in regulations, talent, and capital.
However, in 2014, as Asia’s markets developed, those benefits steadily diminished and the conglomerate premium compressed. At the time, Bain & Company predicted that further development of these Asian economies would continue to erode conglomerates’ historical economic advantages and financial performance.
Ultimately, conglomerates in India and Southeast Asia would be forced to reinvent themselves and their sources of competitive edge in order to survive.
“In India, and in Asia at large, given conglomerates have always played a larger-than-life role in our everyday lives, their recent underperformance relative to pure plays has a large impact.
It’s not all doom-and-gloom, though. There still are conglomerates in top-quartile performers but what they need to focus on is different, and the bar they have to clear is higher, said Nikhil Prasad Ojha, partner from Bain office in Mumbai and co-author of the report.
Fortunately, conglomerates can look to the actions of the top-quartile performers in India and Southeast Asia, which performed significantly better than the others, achieving average TSR of 25% vs.−3% for the bottom quartile from 2007 to 2016, said the report.
The report suggested that core business growth depends on a company’s ability to create a transformational roadmap in which they excel in four distinct areas of finding a compelling ambition, maintaining a parenting advantage, enable growth across the portfolio and make the best financial choice.