India Transformed? Insights from the Firm Level 1988-2005

by Laura Alfaro & Anusha Chari

Overview — Between 1986 and 2005, Indian growth put to rest the concern that there was something about the "nature of India" that made rapid growth difficult. Following broad-ranging reforms in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, the state deregulated entry, both domestic and foreign, in many industries, and also hugely reduced barriers to trade. Laura Alfaro of Harvard Business School and Anusha Chari of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill analyze the evolution of India's industrial structure at the firm level following the reforms. Despite the substantial increase in the number of private and foreign firms, the overall pattern that emerges is one of continued incumbent dominance in terms of assets, sales, and profits in both state-owned and traditional private firms. Key concepts include:

  • In sectors dominated by state-owned and traditional private firms before liberalization (with assets, sales, and profits representing 50 percent or higher shares), these firms remain the dominant ownership group following the reforms.
  • Rates of return remain stable over time and show low dispersion across sectors and across ownership groups within sectors.
  • The high levels of state ownership and ownership by traditional private firms in India raise the question of whether existing resources could be allocated more efficiently and whether remaining barriers to competition jeopardize the effectiveness of reform measures that have been put in place.

Author Abstract

Using firm-level data this paper analyzes, the transformation of India's economic structure following the implementation of economic reforms. The focus of the study is on publicly-listed and unlisted firms from across a wide spectrum of manufacturing and services industries and ownership structures such as state-owned firms, business groups, private and foreign firms. Detailed balance sheet and ownership information permit an investigation of a range of variables such as sales, profitability, and assets. Here we analyze firm characteristics shown by industry before and after liberalization and investigate how industrial concentration, the number, and size of firms of the ownership type evolved between 1988 and 2005. We find great dynamism displayed by foreign and private firms as reflected in the growth in their numbers, assets, sales and profits. Yet, closer scrutiny reveals no dramatic transformation in the wake of liberalization. The story rather is one of an economy still dominated by the incumbents (state-owned firms) and to a lesser extent, traditional private firms (firms incorporated before 1985). Sectors dominated by state-owned and traditional private firms before 1988-1990, with assets, sales and profits representing shares higher than 50%, generally remained so in 2005. The exception to this broad pattern is the growing importance of new and large private firms in the services sector. Rates of return also have remained stable over time and show low dispersion across sectors and across ownership groups within sectors. 55 pages.

Paper Information