India - more on ban on foreign direct investment - more insight on tobacco market ..

April 15, 2010 - After much deliberation, India has banned further foreign direct investment in the cigarette business. (India - cabinet decided to bar foreign direct investment (fdi)in cigarette manufacturing..)

That seems to be a blow to the likes of Japan Tobacco and British American Tobacco, which were lobbying to expand their small presence in the growing and increasingly affluent market. But the protectionist move should hardly come as a surprise, especially given that ITC, which has nearly 80% of the cigarette market, is 34%-government owned through state-run insurance companies. And it should give companies time to think if they really are missing out.

Despite rapid growth in disposable income and massive migration of people from rural to urban areas, cigarettes are the choice of only a slim segment of Indian tobacco users. Many prefer chewing tobacco. Among those who smoke, hand-rolled leaf tobacco is favored; a mere 15% smoke cigarettes.

And profit margins are tight, in part because of competition from contraband cigarettes smuggled across the borders and illegally made local smokes. Though there are no specific estimates of how many such smokes circulate in the market, ITC says they are its biggest challenge.

On top of that, New Delhi, particularly the Health Ministry, is increasingly vocal about curbing smoking. Even before the formal investment ban, the government had rejected proposals by foreign players to increase their presence in India. Existing rules use licenses to cap the number of cigarettes a company can produce in a year, and there are loud calls for higher tax rates to reduce tobacco use. The country's tobacco tax already represents 69% of the retail price of a cigarette -- among the highest percentages in the region, according to the Tobacco Institute of India, a trade group.

And cigarette makers bear a disproportionate share of the tobacco tax. Though cigarettes represent only about 40% of India's $12 billion tobacco market, they generated 80% of the revenue collected from the tobacco industry in 2007-08. The non-cigarette industry is fragmented, consisting of many small-scale players.

Certainly, global companies may have hoped a market like India -- where cigarette consumption is growing around 5% a year, according to Datamonitor -- could offer growth potential they lack at home. Japan Tobacco is hunting for new markets as its domestic market shrinks due to a declining population and fewer people lighting up.

But when the smoke clears, foreign firms may see India's protected market has its own shortcomings.

Reference: Cigarette Makers' India Pipe Dreams by HARSH JOSHI,, 4/13/2010; Govt bans FDI in cigarette manufacturing, Business Standard Reporter, New Delhi/kolkata, 4/9/2010.

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