SANDIP SABHARWAL
Stocks,shares, finance, money, profit and the economy
I had written a piece on decoupling a couple of weeks back. Too may people are asking me today, where is the decoupling. It is those people who did not go through my argument properly.
First and foremost is the fact that in panic and euphoria all markets are linked and as such if the US markets fall 4% no market will remain unscathed. This was also true when the Indian markets were shooting up during the first half of this year when the outlook for the economy as well as earnings growth was not very great in India.
My view on decoupling is very clear and the logic for the same are
• Low and controlled inflation which will be driven by extremely low commodity prices. For example crude prices have corrected by nearly 60% over the last one year thus giving a push of nearly Rs 400,000 Crores via savings on crude imports on a full 12 month run rate basis. Companies are reporting record margins despite poor capacity utilization. As growth picks up the Operating Leverage will come into play and inflation is unlikely to come back soon. Even on food prices moderate MSP increases and small steps towards improving productivity and wastage will help in the short run. Over the long run further supply side measures will be required.
• Strong Government Finances which are reflected in recent numbers that have shown Indirect Taxes increase by 39% in July. This combined with reduced subsidies will aid government finances, help them push capital expenditure and reduce crowding out from the markets and help bring down interest rates.
• Improved investments which are reflected in much greater enquiries with companies, better execution as well as a revival in due to just pent up demand as we are seeing in the Commercial Vehicle segment where sales are growing at nearly 25% right now. Various Public sector units are also pushing for greater investments as their cash flows improve. For example railways will save hugely with the way diesel prices have come down. That accompanied by reduced leakages will boost Capital Expenditure. Similarly Oil PSU’s are seeing huge improvement in cash flows which will go into investments.
• PSU Banks recapitalization combined with promises of greater autonomy and less interference can drive not only a huge value creation cycle in these banks but also provide much needed growth capital in the Economy.
• Large funds flow into equity are likely to continue from domestic investors driven by lower interest rates on fixed income, non performance of gold as an investment and a likely stagnation in the performance of Real Estate.
Besides this the bogey of Yuan Depreciation has to be understood by people properly. Since the end of the last boom in 2007 the Yuan has appreciated by 20% and the Rupee has depreciated by 60% against the US Dollar. Even now when the Yuan has fallen 3% the INR has fallen 5%. This noise should be totally ignored.
The other big noise to ignore is that of the hike in rates by the US FED. As the FED hikes rates, whenever it does we will see a huge capital flow into growth assets as this move will be driven by confidence in economic recovery. The FED fears are similar
Decoupling will play out over a period of time and it will play out for sure. Decoupling is not for traders but investors.
 
MARKET OUTLOOK
Markets are likely to find a panic bottom soon. In all probability it will be this week. This is a market correction it is not a collapse. Economic outlook continues to improve in India, Europe and the US. China has its own issues and growth should slow down continuously for the next decade. I believe that 7800-8000 levels are great levels to buy in India. The panic will soon subside and markets will recover. Many global markets and commodities are now as oversold as they have ever been. Global funds flows always create situations where markets either correct more than they should or go up more. This happens in Euphoria and Despair as we see today. This shall also pass.
The markets are giving BUYING OPPORTUNITY for investors as traders panic.

Stock Markets after ending flat for the first half of the year as I had expected started to show some life in July before cooling off driven by a Global Market correction as well as volatility inherent during the results season. The non performance or lack of movement in the parliament on various reform bills has not helped matters. Now we need to consider the key takeways from the results season, global events as well as domestic events to see how things will move for the rest of the year.

The first important data point to consider is the fact that investors in general have been wary of stock markets since the beginning of the year in the global context. Latest figures indicate that US Focussed Equity funds lost a whopping $ 113 billion since the beginning of the year and the out of favour European Equities got inflows of $ 86 billion. The inflows into Europe has been also driven by the continuous fall in the value of the Euro which is supposed to be supportive of growth in Eurozone as the weak currency provides competitive advantages all across at a time of low wage inflation. Emerging Markets have seen outflows of nearly $ 27 billion since the beginning of the year although India has seen inflows of around $ 7 billion. This explains the relatively muted flows of FII’s into the Indian markets over the last few months as EM’s on an overall basis have seen large outflows. On the other hand domestic flows into Equity especially into Mutual Funds have been strong and have averaged Rs 5000 Cr per month.

Now on funds flow the most likely scenario going forward is that domestic flows will continue at this pace. However global flows into equity are likely to pick up very sharply after the fears of the US FED’s rate hike go into the background after the first hike (mostly) in September. The Fear is so great that after the event the global equity markets  will see a big return of investor money.

The results season has been interesting as they have been very mixed. For example in the Consumer goods segment while Dabur, Godrej Consumer etc companies reported strong growth with good margins we saw growth was muted for many other companies. However the margins of the companies despite slow growth have moved to almost record levels due to low input costs. This was very evident in a company like Britannia Industries. The same phenomenon was seen in Auto companies where margins have moved up sharply. Capital Goods companies have not seen a revival yet and due to muted growth margins have also not expanded as they should have given low input costs. However the outlook here might improve significantly going forward. Telecom companies have reported decent results and Pharmaceutical Companies have reported mixed results with outperforming companies like Dr Reddy continuing to outperform. Cement company results have been poor due to low volume growth, low capacity utilization despite input cost benefits. As expected metal and commodity companies have not done well at all given global commodity collapse. Private sector banks have done well and the key takeaway from large PSU Bank results have been the cleanup in the balance sheet and the government’s  announcement of recapitalization i.e. putting more money into these banks which will be supportive of growth.

Mid cap results have been mixed with some high flying mid caps reported muted results and some companies doing very well. Although the greatest opportunity in the markets as the economy recovers lies in the mid cap side of the market the biggest risk also lies here as we see a large number of companies moving up without any fundamental basis and manipulation take place on a large scale. The other big risk is pump up the stock and then do a placement like QIP after which the stock collapses. I do not want to take names on a public platform however there are many such companies and investors need to be very wary.

The biggest kicker for the Indian economy is the low commodity prices and expected normal agricultural production. The collapse of crude prices provides a fillip of nearly Rs 400000 Crores to the Indian Economy on an annual basis, similarly Coal, Iron Ore, Steel, Edible Oil etc prices are at multiyear lows and India saves a lot in imports of these commodities. This combined with high margins that companies have despite low growth will make sure that inflation will not pick up even as growth picks up as companies will have Operating Leverage i.e. fixed cost spreading over larger production which is positive for margins and profits.

Our interaction with many companies also indicates a significant pick up in ordering and tendering activity across segments. Although its impact on the economy will be seen next year in a big way but some impact of a move in stalled projects is already being seen. I still believe that from September onwards we will see improved numbers coming from the Economy. Although RBI has been slow in cutting rates interest rates are on the way down and will further aid the economy.

Too many people are perturbed on the non passage of bills in parliament. The reality is that recovery and growth will happen either ways.

IN CONCLUSION

In conclusion I believe that the markets are well position for an upmove from now till the end of the year and beyond. The Fear of FED rate hike is a good opportunity to build positions in the markets as funds flow will accelerate after the event. The Indian economy is moving forward slowly and will accelerate through 2016. The upcoming festival season should be good for Automobile and Consumer Good companies. The risk is in some mid and small cap stocks although many companies in this segment offer huge value too. We should see a 10% upside to around the 9300-9500 NIFTY levels by the end of 2015. 2016 outlook should be better than 2015.

More than a year back, in December 2013 I had written an article titled “Don’t Fear FED TAPER for the right reasons” (http://www.sandipsabharwal.com/?p=974) . At that time there was extreme fear all around as to what will happen once the FED stops buying bonds from the markets. However given that the FED was taking the step due to the fact that it was no longer required and incremental benefit of the same was no longer positive enough for it to be continued and it was also inducing a sense of complacency in the bond market participants it was the right move. FED Tapered, ended bond buying and the markets continued to rally.

We are today in the same situation of the Fear of Fed tightening.
A central bank tightens policy under two circumstances.

1. The negative reason for tightening is that excessively loose monetary policy has lead to the formation of Asset Bubbles and high inflation and this forces the central back to hike rates. This is something that we saw in the US in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s in the Volcker era and in the Indian context both during the late 1990’s as well as after the 2008 crisis when there was a phase from 2010 to 2013 when inflation in India was out of control.

2. The positive reason for tightening is that the target of a looser monetary policy has been achieved i.e. growth has picked up, unemployment has gone down and there is greater confidence that the recovery will continue even if interest rates are higher. Inflation is well under control and unlikely to breach the comfort zone anytime soon.

Today when the FED Chairperson says that we will increase rates from, mind you ZERO percentage to 0.25% it is instilling a huge fear in the minds of people. This is mainly due to a lack of understanding of their actions. The reality is that as the bond buying was wound down by the US FED well in time they are starting the process of normalizing of monetary policy also well in time. Please understand, a good central bank is one which is proactive and not reactive. Already there are fears that excessive bond buying by not only the US FED but also the ECB and the Bank of Japan have created a bond bubble. A slow movement towards a normal monetary policy is not only desirable but also necessary as economic activity picks up and unemployment has gone down.

Now what happens in India due to the start of the rate hike process in the US. There is absolutely no need to be fearful. If inflation moves up in the US and is actually moving down in India is it necessary that just because the US FED increases policy rates interest rates in India will also go up? No it is absolutely not necessary and we will see this happen over the next two years. Inflationary pressures in India will continue to be low due to lower commodity prices which are driven more by Chinese slowdown rather than anything that is happening in any other part of the world.

US policy rates are likely to move up by 1% every year after the initial hike this year. As such if inflation does not pick up substantially in the US we will see the policy rates at 2-2.5% two years from now. Even these rates will not be restrictive for growth. Rates will need to go up much more before they start impacting growth negatively.

The story of India is that of
1. Economic Recovery- Which is well on the way in India and will only pick up pace over the next few months and year. Given the slack available in manufacturing capacities along with subdued input prices we are unlikely to see a pick up in manufacturing inflation any time soon.
2. Low Inflation- Raghuram Rajan’s policies have led to low inflation as well as low inflationary expectations for the future. The global scenario creates a situation where mild growth will keep inflationary pressures low. The only joker in the pack in India is always food inflation where also mild increases in Minimum Support Prices should keep this part of the inflation controlled. Sustained low inflation means low interest rates.
3. Improved Government Finances- Government revenues are seeing a strong uptick due to normalization of indirect tax rates. As economic activity picks up direct tax revenues will also pick up. With lower leakages, reduced subsidies, lesser corruption we should see the uptick in government revenues continue strongly. GST when introduced will also aid this process as well as push higher growth. An improved fiscal position of the government will lead to less crowding out due to the government and better liquidity availability for the private sector. This will also help the government push investments and aid economic recovery.

We are at the lower end of growth as well as earnings growth in India today. Recovery is around the corner and should sustain for a few years atleast. This is not the time to be fearful. Do not listen to the fear mongers. The time for fear will come but it is still a few years away. Equity is going to generate significant wealth for those who can look through short term events. Economic and Stock Market trends are long term and we are at the cusp of an upcycle. Do not fear the FED as long as they are doing the right thing.

Once there was a person, his name was Greece. He had a habit of extravagant spending and once his own money got over he used to borrow and spend. He had a large number of well to do relatives who were happy to lend him money (Eurozone Countries). He kept on borrowing and they kept on lending to him till he almost became bankrupt.

Now all his relatives knew that there is no way that this person is going to return the money. However they were afraid of telling this to their own families as well as outsiders otherwise their own credibility and financial standing would come under cloud. They then looked at Indian PSU Banks and hit on this great idea of “Restructured Loans”. They were amazed at the ability of these banks to evergreen their loans and decided to do the same with Greece. They restructured the loans of Greece to very far back into the future. Their bet was that when the repayment becomes due they would all be dead and the liabilities would need to be paid to the next generation.

However what they did not realize was that Greece was so used to spending beyond his means and the loans on him were so great that he was borrowing more and more to live everyday. Eurozone then forced him to cut spending, sell his assets etc. He would show them that he is doing what they are saying but would always go back to the old ways. Eurozone tried to instill fear in Greece by threatening Greece however this lead to people questioning their own credibility of poor credit appraisal.

Greece knew that he has nothing to lose. However he is sad as he cannot spend as much as no one is willing to lend him more. He is now frustrated, he wants more money but no one is giving him money. He starts threatening his borrowers and carries out a referendum in his house on whether we should cut down our expenditure and do a more austere living. Obviously his entire family says NO,NEVER. He goes back to Eurozone and says “My family says they cannot change how they live so give me more money”.

Eurozone tells Greece, buzz off. If you need more money give us a guarantee that you will repay in the future. For this shift some of your assets to a Special Purpose Vehicle which will sell these assets and repay the money to us. Also give us written commitments from your family members that you will cut your expenses. Since you have always gone back on your promises we need guarantees now.

So this is where the Greek saga is now. It is a big family problem which has nothing to do with the rest of the people or the world. Greece owns most of his money to his extended family. If he does not repay them it will only weaken his other family members. The only risk would have been if his non repayment would weaken the financial position of of his other family members so much that they in turn would not be able to repay the people who they have borrowed from, which is not the case.

GREECE IS A NON-ISSUE FOR REST OF WORLD. Please move beyond it.

I had become negative on the markets at the start of the 4th quarter of 2014. The reasons were not any long term negatives related to India but mainly because of the fact that the markets had run ahead of fundamentals, the expectations were  too high, the new government had just taken over and the mess that UPA had created required 12-18 months to resolve and the uncompetitive INR was making Indian export uncompetitive and this was a drag on the earnings of many export oriented companies.  The global risks were also being underestimated.

At the beginning of the year my view was that the first half of the year will be tough for the markets.  However as things would play out the second half would be much better. As I write we are almost flat for the year till date.

As we look forward the things look much more benign.  The green shoots of recovery are now evident with a slow increase in the reported Industrial Production data. This recovery is likely to gain steam going forward and I expect that from the month of September we should see reported IIP figures moving up to high single digits. This will be contributed by many factors which include

  • A pick up in consumer demand with lower inflation and lower interest rates boosting consumer sentiments and demand for both consumer durables and non durables.
  • A nascent recovery in the investment cycle as the impact of the start of many infrastructure projects as well as some amount of corporate capital expenditure will start getting reflected in reported figures
  • With the INR giving up some of its appreciation and uncompetitive move against other currencies we will see some pick up in exports

The services side of the economy will also start showing traction as a strong fiscal position of the government will push government expenditure which will have a multiplier affect. A better fiscal position due to better revenue collections will also reduce the impact of crowding out due to excessive government borrowings and will improve market liquidity and make more money available for the private sector.

The other big factor that will boost the economy will be the clear control on inflation that has come through now. The Consumer inflation is unlikely to pick up and given the excellent start to the monsoon season there will be less tendency for middlemen to jack up prices in the expectations of a poor agricultural production. Lower inflation always has a virtuous cycle impact on the economy. Not only will it give space to the RBI to cut rates further it will also improve consumer sentiments which have been depressed for a long time.

The other factor then to consider is then the impact of global factors where we are facing two issues today

  • An expected increase in interest rates by the US Federal Reserve. This is a huge bogey in my view. The increase in rates is not due to the formation of a commodity or financial bubble but due to an improvement in economic growth prospects and better employment. It will be supportive of equities and not negative. I will write in detail on this issue separately.
  • The Greek issue. This issue can have a sudden and sharp impact on markets. However it is unlikely to have any meaningful impact on global markets due to two factors. The first is that the current market capitalization of Greece is just $ 20 billion and as such no major losses are likely for equity investors out of Greece. The second is the total debt of $ 324 billion of Greece, which is huge but almost entirely held by the Europeans themselves and the IMF. There is unlikely to be any long term impact of the same on either the Indian economy or the stock markets.

IN CONCLUSION  I would say that the probability is very high that the worst of the markets is already behind us. My expectation of a bottom around 7900-8000 for the Nifty seems to be playing out. There was always a probability of a slip to 7700 levels however this seems to be a lower probability event now. I am a buyer in the markets now. The second half should be decent

We are now 5 months into 2015 and the Indian Markets have gone up by just around 1.5% in these 5 months in INR terms and are almost flat in US Dollar terms. This, I accept is somewhat better than the scenario I initially thought would play out. However we still have one month to go in the first half of the year which I expected to be tough for the markets as on a broad basis the performance was running well ahead of fundamentals. June could be an interesting month given that we seem to be at the cusp of a global stock market correction and it might be difficult for Indian markets to perform in light of that. However any global sell off is likely to be short-lived as long as the Greek crisis is contained.

The results season has almost come to an end. This was by far one of the worst results season that I have seen in many years. Technology sector companies faced margin headwinds and growth jitters and as such most underperformed expectations. Auto company results were mixed but on a broad basis in line with reduced expectations. Telecom companies outperformed expectations. Most PSU banks reported horrific results with continued pressure on the balance sheet while Private sector banks reported healthy numbers and balance sheet. Industrials showed improved margins and some companies did surprisingly well. Most consumer companies saw a significant slowdown in growth in Sales, however due to lower input costs most showed better margins. On the whole the results season saw more downgrades than upgrades of future earnings.

On the mid cap side of the markets the picture was the same. Some companies that did well were handsomely rewarded with strong stock price moves, however on the whole it was not a great performance. Too many mid caps that are fancied are trading at valuations that are not justifiable by any valuation parameter. On the other hand we do have value picks that are not fancied and as such provide investment opportunities.

I am confident on a good second half performance by Indian Markets; however the month of June could face issues related to

  • A global stock market correction which could impact funds flow. As it is Foreign Investors have been significant sellers in the month of May
  • A peaking of the Greek crisis, before the solution is found. We have seen this play out several times over the last 5 years where brinkmanship takes the shape of last minute resolutions
  • A less than satisfactory progress of the Monsoons which could create short term growth and inflation concerns while having not much of a long term impact

The second half performance of the Indian Markets is likely to be driven by improved macro’s in terms of improving investments and growth numbers starting September 2015 as well as directional moderation of inflation irrespective of a possible spike due to higher food prices if the monsoons fail.  The impact of various government actions on growth will start becoming visible between September 2015 and March 2016.

We have now seen a period of nearly one year when the markets on a point to point basis have not moved up much. As such a silent time wise correction has been on. However results of companies have also disappointed on the downside thus prolonging this entire sideways to corrective move. As I have written earlier, if Rajan cuts rates and moves on improving liquidity on 2nd June we could bottom out more near the lows of 8000 seen on the Nifty, however just a 25 basis point cut might disappoint the markets where expectations are too high and this could create a further 3-5% downside.

In conclusion I believe that we are now at the last stages of a time wise and value wise correction in the Indian markets. The lows seen over the next few weeks are likely to be the lows for the year 2015 and the second half of the year should see decent returns which could be in the form of low double digit gains from the bottom that is made.

I had written about my prognosis for the economy and the stock markets on the 20th of April via my note “The Juggernaut is rolling”. The thesis for the same remains and over the last few days we have seen the stock markets sell off quite a lot. The Nifty and Sensex have now reached levels that were seen in September 2014. As such we have not only had a selloff of 10% from the top but have also had a time wise correction of around 8-9 months. This was my thesis to start with. The markets had run way ahead of fundamentals and it is difficult to predict markets over short periods of time where momentum has a greater impact, however over the medium to long term markets are and will always be slaves of earnings.

The results season till date has been mixed. A lot of companies are still to report, however a large number of Technology stocks have reported and the earnings and outlook is not exciting with the companies facing challenges related to currency moves as well as pricing pressures. Their businesses are in the midst of a churn which should eventually settle down. Besides this telecom stocks have reported and here the outlook is decent. Results of a majority of high flying mid caps have been muted or just about met lofty expectations. There also are indications of significant inventory build-up in some companies that recently reported, like Kajaria Ceramics and Exide Industries. On the auto side Maruti reported very good numbers and as I write this article their April numbers have also come out which are very strong. Banking sector results have been surprisingly resilient and reflected in the near term outperformance of the Bank Nifty. Cement company results have been disappointing. Most capital goods, pharmaceuticals and consumer companies are still to report.

Overall, as expected the results are nothing to write home about.
The markets have also come under pressure due to the continuous offer for sale by either promoters or by strategic holders and we saw sales from Infosys, HCL Tech and a huge sale in Sun Pharma by the erstwhile owner of Ranbaxy. Besides this there have been other big sales too. All of this has had a technical impact on the markets where lot of the funds have got absorbed in these sales. Indian markets became the darling of global investors post the formation of the new government at the centre and India became a huge overweight in most global portfolios. We are now seeing a correction of the same with increased allocations to China, Russia, and Brazil etc. Growth has not picked up as expected by most trend following investors (it was never going to) and on top of that we again have chaos created by the Finance Ministry and IT Department on MAT taxation, retrospective demands etc which has had an impact on sentiments. A lot of noise is also being made out of possibly bad monsoons. Unseasonal rains have impacted rural demand in the short run, however these rains could help retain soil moisture and come to the aid of farmers in case of deficient monsoons.
However all of these things are what would eventually create the much required correction in the markets. Stock market participants and experts always find a reason for the correction after the correction has happened. The important thing is to see it with a perspective of the future.

Consumer inflation is unlikely to pick up- Monsoons or not I do not see consumer inflation pick up in any big way. Historically food inflation is driven by MSP increases and not by rains, unless and until they are really bad. Global food stocks are at historically high levels and at 25% of global production as against a normal level of 15%, Edible oil prices are subdued and Global Dairy product prices have crashed nearly 60% over the last one year. Real Estate and housing inflation is totally absent and with low input prices and slow demand there are unlikely to be any major price increases by companies across the board and we could actually see discounts. Crude prices are still half of what they were a year back despite the recent rally. Major spikes here are also unlikely. Overall CPI will remain muted and RBI will cut rates further which will drive economic growth.

MARKET OUTLOOK
Growth revival is now around the corner and it’s a matter of a few months. There are positive triggers for the markets like the passage of the GST bill which should be taken very positively by the markets. The Land Bill is difficult to call and we need to see which way it goes. Some sort of global correction seems to be building up across the developed world markets like the US, Europe and Japan. It is possible that the heavily overbought Chinese markets could also sell off sharply in a short period of time. This will impact global fund flows and Indian markets in the very short term.

However I believe that these things will play out over the next two weeks. Indian markets do not have much downside from here and my base case view is that the markets should bottom out around the 7900 levels. This level will be a good entry level irrespective of the case even if we see a further selloff in the markets. Any correction below this level will be very temporary and a one or two days phenomenon.

Panic is around the corner and it will be the time to BUY and play the Indian markets as the “JUGGERNAUT FINALLY STARTS ROLLING”

Sugar is one industry and sugarcane one crop which should ideally be beneficial to both farmers and sugar mills. Sugarcane is a cash crop which is very durable, requires low upkeep and relatively less prone to the vagaries of weather. In case of sugar mills it is a business where the risk of what they are buying is low, by-products are profitable and ongoing investment requirements are low. However continuous political interference in the way the industry operates has bought it to a situation where it is on the verge of financial collapse, especially in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Typically farm support is given to several crops in India in the form of Minimum Support Prices (MSP) i.e. the price at which government agencies would buy the produce from the farmer if he is unable to sell at a higher price in the market. The calculation of MSP derives itself from the Cost of Products determined by the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) which determines the MSP from their analysis of various input costs and a minimum profit for the farmer. This has worked well in commodities like Wheat, Rice, Cotton, Pulses etc.  The MSP is determined by the Central Government. The government agencies will normally buy part of the produce at the MSP and the rest of the produce is sold in the market at market prices.

Sugarcane is one agricultural commodity where the government agencies do not procure anything i.e. the government does not put any of its own money on it. However the government comes out with a Statutory Minimum Price (SMP) or Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP). Given below is the movement in the same over the last few years

Sugar Season SMP (` per quintal) Basic Recovery Level
2005-06 79.50 9%
2006-07 80.25 9%
2007-08 81.18 9%
2008-09 81.18 9%
2009-10 (FRP) 129.84 9.5%
2010-11 (FRP) 139.12 9.5%
2011-12 (FRP) 145.00 9.5%
2012-13(FRP) 170.00 9.5%
2013-14(FRP) 210.00 9.5%

 

As is clearly visible politics has entered into the FRP calculations from 2009-10 and the FRP has gone up at a CAGR of 21% over the last 5 years.  Only in the current year the increase is just to Rs 220.Even if we assume a cost increase of 10% every year this is way higher than what pure economics would determine. In the meantime global sugar prices have fallen 60% since 2011.

On top of this the State Governments came up with their farmer appeasement measure called State Advised Price (SAP) which has been 20-40% higher than FRP.

In the initial phase of the introduction of FRP and SAP the sugar mills adapted as their by-products like ethanol and power were profitable and the lower profits from sugar were compensated. However as sugar prices crashed over the last two years this has not been possible and compromised the financial viability of the entire industry. It is absurd for State Governments to ask private mills to pay a price higher than what is viable for a final product where the pricing is market determined and there is no Support Price. Private enterprises are being made to subsidise the vote bank politics of State Governments.

THE SOLUTIONS

  1. The solution to the problem has been well documented as per the report of the Rangarajan Committee which proposed linking sugarcane pricing to the final product price and also some benefits from the by-products. Pure politics has prevented its implementation.
  2. The direct conversion of sugarcane juice to alcohol is still not allowed in a majority of states. This should have been implemented, this way in surplus sugar years more of alcohol would be produced and vice versa and take care of the demand supply balance. Forcing sugar mills to make alcohol only out of the by-product Molasses is hurting the industry.
  3. The Ethanol Blending program has been a still born one. Despite law mandating a 5% blending only around 0.6% has been implemented till date. Oil companies should be made to comply with the law by the book or pay a fine for non compliance.
  4. If a state government advises a SAP then it should also be willing to buy sugar from the mills at cost or production plus a base profit.

These are the durable solutions. Others like increasing import duties, giving export subsidy; buffer stocks etc can only be stop gap measures which do not resolve the structural issues.

Farmer arrears have already reached Rs 19000 crores and due to the artificially high SAP’s farmers have moved more and more towards sugarcane which has led to excess a record production of nearly 27 million tonnes this year. This has further pressured sugar prices at a time when global sugar prices are at multi year lows.  Most sugar companies are making huge losses and are unable to repay their bank loans. It’s a vicious circle which needs to be broken at the earliest.

As we enter into the 11th month of the new government, the initial feeling of Euphoria is giving way to some despondency and a feeling that nothing much has changed and there is no move forward.  While it is true that there are elements of policy as well as implementation that could have moved faster the fact is also that a lot has been done and the impact of the same will be seen on the ground over the next 3-6 months.

An economy is like a huge boulder, when it is moving in momentum it moves smoothly and without friction. However when it has been bought to a standstill, like what happened during the UPA regime then it is difficult to move it initially, however after an initial impetus has been provided then gaining further speed is relatively easier. I do believe that the government has moved on several directions and the impact of the same will be seen in terms of growth going forward.

Reasons for a slow pickup initially are as follows

Consumer growth is subdued- Consumer demand has continued to be subdued despite inflation coming off and there being a feel good factor. The reason for this is simple. We had a period of nearly 5 years when Consumer Inflation was more than 10%. This was also a period when economic growth was slowing down. In such a situation most people used their surpluses to consume. Consumer demand continued to be strong even when inflation and interest rates were high in the initial period and cooled off subsequently. Similarly even when inflation has come down and there is a huge stimulus due to lower crude oil prices the pickup in consumption demand will take time as people need to be more confident of the sustainability of the move. Salary growth has lagged inflation over the last few years and this is now having a delayed impact. Rural demand has also been hit due to poor weather and low agricultural commodity prices.

Investment demand pickup is low- Most companies today have excess capacity driven by a long period of below par growth. The only thing that can contribute towards a pick up in investment demand is the infrastructure sector. Given the issues around the Land Bill as well as various issues plaguing stuck infrastructure projects is has taken time to get things off the ground. However now we see activity in several sectors especially roads.  A lot of projects stuck due to regulatory issues have also got cleared. As the investment cycle starts we will see capacity utilizations across the board go up and the virtuous cycle will eventually lead to corporate capital expenditure pick up. We could have seen some faster movement in this segment, however nevertheless there is decent traction now and the impact should be seen in the second half of the year.

Banks are wary of lending and interest rates have been slow to come down- Inflation and inflationary pressures have come down substantially over the last one year. Some of it has been due to the crash in global commodity prices and the rest due to subdued demand in the economy as well as a high base of agricultural commodity prices in the previous year. Despite ample liquidity and RBI rate cuts banks have been slow to pass on interest rate cuts mainly driven by the poor state of their balance sheets. Private Sector banks have benefited due to the poor asset quality of PSU Banks and have been able to expand their Net Interest Margins. However the passthrough  is happening now. Contrary to fears about a potential spike up in Consumer inflation due to unseasonal rains it is unlikely to happen as extended cool weather as well as soil moisture will lead to higher summer vegetable production. Monsoons are the joker in the pack and we need to see which way they go. However lending rates are likely to maintain a downward trajectory for the foreseeable future. The worst of bank asset quality will also be seen in the current results season. This will set the tone for better transmission and an impetus to growth going forward.

Overvalued rupee has hit exports- An overvalued INR driven by optimism around India’s growth revival as well as an improved Current Account Deficit has hit exports big time. High interest rates relative to global rates combined with the overvalued rupee has made Indian Exports uncompetitive. This has hit the growth in the external sector.

The way forward

In my view a combination of the steps that the government has taken legislatively combined with the impetus on boosting investments will start showing in growth numbers in the second half of this year. As inflation remains low and interest rates trend down we will see that translating into greater consumer as well as investment demand.  Exports on the other hand will continue to be an area of concern.

The progress of the Land Acquisition Bill will be interesting to watch. I see it similar to Manmohan Singh’s conviction on the India-US Nuclear deal for which he staked a lot. PM Modi seems to be taking a similar stance on the Land Bill. A success here will be very positive. The other key bill is the GST Bill which could actually pass through much more peacefully.

The Bureaucracy is still slow to move as the amendments to the draconian provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act are still be passed by parliament. This has been in limbo for several years now. Most people underestimate the impact of this on decision making given that several bureaucrats have been pulled up and charged despite no personal benefits over the last few years.

Taking into account the lead factor of 12-18 months I see a strong revival in the economy panning out just a few months from now. This will translate into higher earnings growth for corporate India and give a boost to stock market performance.  The markets have remained in a range for the last 6-7 months and are now more or less at the same levels at which they were in September 2014. That was also the time I had become somewhat wary about the way the markets were getting delinked to the economy. The current corrective move should provide a good opportunity to get into the markets to ride a better second half.

The Elephant has started moving, there is acceleration ahead.

We are at the end of the first quarter of 2015 and it has played out more or less like I thought it should. The NIFTY went up by around 2.5% this quarter. After an initial up move during the month of January the markets cooled off significantly. This was driven by reality of a slow economy and low earnings growth setting into the market.  This has been despite very strong global cues where we have seen most European Markets rise 15% plus and a strong performance by the US and Chinese markets. India to that extent has been an underperforming market. However if we take into account the fact that the INR actually appreciated in a quarter when most currencies sold off big time against the US Dollar in USD terms the performance of the India markets is not as bad.

The current quarter saw outperformance from Telecom, Infrastructure, select Auto and private sector banking stocks. A vast majority of PSU Banking stocks sold off sharply this quarter with the likes of PNB, BOB, Union Bank etc down 30-40%.

Markets look decently poised at this stage. Although there are chances of a further downside of a few percentage points the longer term outlook now looks better with low oil and commodity prices sustaining. The global risks also have moderated with ECB QE and the fears of Greek Exit from Euro zone getting built into the system. However, an actual exit if it happens will create volatility for sure. The Government could finally move ahead with legislative action during this quarter and we have also seen economic activity start in some segments of the economy, although a broad based recovery is still lacking. The Global economy is also slow but no longer decelerating, which is a welcome change from last year.

The pulls on inflation at this point of time are downwards on the commodity and manufacturing side, while food inflation could rear its head up again due to unseasonal rains and if monsoons are below par again. However this is not the base case scenario. The entire benefit of oil price and the follow through fall in prices of oil derivative products is yet to play out and will keep overall inflation low. Iran’s deal with the world powers and easing of sanctions on that country will keep the oil supply strong and prices low for the foreseeable future.

The April Quarter should finally see the impact of RBI easing flowing into the economy. RBI should most likely ease liquidity in some way going forward so that the economy benefits from the interest rate cuts. The government was also holding on to cash in order to meet the 4.1% Fiscal Deficit target (as government accounts are on a cash basis). We should now see significant liquidity release due to Government spending into the system.

The current results season is unlikely to be exciting and we could see specific pressure in PSU Bank results as there will be no trading gains and increased NPA recognition. However now one can be reasonably sure that we are at the peak of the NPA problem and from here we should see a phase of sustained recovery.

The year 2015 will be challenging as I pointed out during the beginning of the year, however there is a realistic possibility that the upside from the markets could play out much stronger in the second half of 2015. I will keep on monitoring and writing on that going forward. We will also identify ideas accordingly.

For the absolute short term RBI’s monetary policy on the 7th of April is quite crucial. RBI needs to take steps for rate cuts to percolate down into the system. Lack of any such measures could create a short term downside.

The next leg of the market up move is likely to be led by Capital Goods, Infrastructure, Banks and Telecom companies. Besides this stock specific opportunities on the mid cap side will be there for sure.