When it comes to size, only one country can compete with China and that's India. Unlike China, however, India hasn't been able to get its growth mojo going. That's largely the result of internal issues, which is why the just started elections are going to be closely watched by giant international miners like BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP), Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO), Vale (NYSE:VALE), and Peabody Energy (NYSE:BTU).
The China comparison
India remains an Asian also-ran compared to China. However, with a population that's on par with China, it isn't hard to imagine India picking up the global growth baton where China appears to be leaving off as its growth begins to ebb. Indeed, both countries have large rural populations living in relative poverty and the goal of urban migration and industrialization.
China, however, is managed from the top-down and India from the bottom-up. That's why the current round of elections are so important. China can simply dictate what's going to happen; Indians get to vote on it. Only the election process helps to show why India has had such a hard time getting itself into growth mode.
In India, there are nine rounds of elections over a five week period. Genom Tekseng, an official in India's election office, told Bloomberg that seven government employees will be sent to oversee voting in one town, "...for only two voters." There's a reason why India is having a hard time jump starting growth.
Who could win?
Forget who the political haves and have-nots are; the real winners could be the miners. Why? Because as Jai Mrug, a political analyst in Mumbai, told Bloomberg, "People are restless for growth and development." That will require more steel and power.
The country is the perfect example of Peabody Energy CEO Gregory Boyce's push to end, "Energy inequality..." It's common sense; you can't develop as a nation without access to electricity since the modern world runs on, well, electricity. Peabody Energy urging world officials to ensure power for all is totally self-serving, since Peabody is one of the largest global players in the thermal coal industry.
But it's a real issue and coal -- dirt and all -- is an easy and relatively low-cost solution to the problem. Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, and Vale all mine coal, too. To give an idea of the potential, thermal coal imports to key Indian ports increased an impressive 22% during the country's recently ended fiscal year. Imagine if that rate of growth kept going.
More than electricity
Only electricity isn't the only issue when it comes to growing an economy. You also needs roads, bridges, trains, and buildings, among many other things. That requires steel, copper, and other natural resources. Around three quarters of Peabody's business is thermal coal, but it also mines metallurgical coal out of Australia. Met coal is used in the steel making process and India's imports of this type of coal advanced 18% last year.
Vale, BHP, and Rio are also big in met. However, that compliments their iron ore operations. All three are giants in that space. And while China remains the big talking point, BHP is clear to point out that after China, India and the rest of Asia will be the driving force in global iron ore demand. If India can kick its growth up a notch, this trio wins... big.
However, it isn't just iron ore. All three of these global miners also dig up copper. You can't expand access to electricity without copper, from power lines to power plants to tech gadgets. This helps explain why Vale is looking to more than double its copper production between 2013 and 2015. China and India will both be key markets.
Is the growth nigh?
Is this single election going to put India on the growth map? Probably not. But the country is increasingly important on the global stage and the population appears ready to push the growth envelope—elected officials will eventually make it happen. That, in turn, will mean increased demand for the materials that Peabody, Vale, BHP, and Rio sell. If you are interested in the miners, you should be paying attention to India.
Reuben Brewer has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Companhia Vale Ads. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.