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Along with China, growth in other key economies has also barreled ahead, with the strongest acceleration
coming through the Eurozone. The latest PMI prints paint a picture of further improvement. However, what
is puzzling is despite the improved growth and record low unemployment rate, wage growth has stayed
persistently weak which in turn is feeding into muted inflation. The undesirably low inflation, but improved
global growth and asset price gains, is complicating the task of major central banks that have thus far stayed
put on their ultra-accommodative monetary policy. With improved growth and easy money, financial
markets remain buoyant.
India has seen a host of pertinent structural reforms in last couple of years such as wide-scale
implementation of direct benefit transfer, GST, crack-down on black money, Pension fund investing in the
equity market, drive towards financial inclusion, phasing away of the fuel subsidy, real estate regulation act
(RERA), Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) , UDAY, revamping of crop insurance, digitizing land records,
e-auction of natural resources, focus towards single window clearance and so forth. They were much
needed reforms to bring in productive efficiency and ensure more efficient utilization of resources. But in
the interim, it has undeniably disrupted the operating template of the Indian businesses and led to a deeper
growth shock than anyone would have anticipated. At the same time, while the Indian policy makers have
won the battle on twin deficits (current account and fiscal deficit), both government and RBI are still
grappling to resolve the twin balance sheet issues of high corporate leverage and non-performing assets
with the corporate lenders particularly public sector banks (accounting for 60% of the bank lending).
In the near-term, we may see pressure building on some of the macro parameters. Stress is visible in the
government’s balance sheet and both Centre and State may find it difficult to stick to their stated deficit
targets for FY18. The rapid fall in oil prices was positive for Indian macro. Now, with oil prices inching up, an
important driver has gone. Indian exports have not been able to keep up with the improving global trade
cycle. Jury is still out on the role of appreciating rupee in sluggish exports. While rupee had appreciated
against dollar in 2017, it has depreciated against some of the other key trading partners such as euro and
yen. Despite that, Indian exports have been languishing when compared to other Asian peers. Some of the
sector-specific challenges such as in IT and Pharmaceuticals, where India had its inherent competitive
advantage are also contributing towards weaker than desired exports growth. At the same time, Indian
exporters are grappling with the pending input tax credit under GST which has led to a sudden jump in their
working capital needs and inhibits their ability to take more orders. We expect India's current account deficit
to be wider than last year on the back of a stronger rupee, weak export orders and expectation of higher
import demand once GST related uncertainties are put to rest.
Investment continues to remain very weak. Given the twin balance sheet problem, uncertain growth and
excess capacities, private capex will take some more time to revive. As the private investment remains
elusive and government face limited space to stimulate the economy, earnings growth is likely to stay
challenged for some more time. We have already seen substantial downgrades in earnings projection for
this financial year.
Indian equities fell for second month in succession. NIFTY fell by 1.3% during the month. FIIs pulled out US$
1.8 billion in September while domestic mutual fund invested US$ 2.7 billion. YTD, NIFTY has delivered
19.6% in local currency terms and 24.4% in USD term. YTD, MSCI EM index is up 25.5% in USD terms.
Helped by robust mutual fund inflows, valuations continue to stay rich (Sensex is trading at 20 times 1 year
fwd earnings). We believe that the near term growth challenges will overshadow the benefits arising from
the long term structural reforms, and keep corporate earnings in check. Further, as these reforms create
higher transparency in the economy, monopoly profits are likely to get destroyed and India Inc as a whole
should settle down for relatively lower return ratios.
Hopefully, initial wrinkles in reforms such as IBC, GST and RERA should iron out over the next year and place
India on a higher productive potential. Higher growth on the back of the productivity gains resulting from
structural reforms should be longer lasting. While the long-term India story remains intact, markets underestimated
the cyclical challenges. Given the abundant liquidity and ongoing near-term disruptions, we
remain focused on bottom-up approach in picking stocks.
While the demonetization and other related reforms have impacted the economic growth, it is leading to
financialization of savings and other interesting consequences. While real-estate sector is struggling for
growth, mortgage lending is touching the record highs. Retail credit, too, is rising at a rapid pace. We are
witnessing a surge in the balance sheet of Non-banking Finance companies (NBFCs), Micro finance
institutions (MFIs), Housing Finance Companies (HFCs) and Small finance banks. Payment banks will join
soon. On the supply-side, mutual fund inflows into bond funds have also been surging, which has helped
drive a boom in corporate bond issuance. This is why total credit growth has been running well above the
relatively depressed growth in bank lending.
Undoubtedly, household’s balance sheets are relatively healthy and under-leveraged. It has been a growth
driver when government and corporate balance sheets are under strain. However, if history is anything to
go by, faster than normal growth in any sector may lead to challenges later on. Capital is chasing players
with low experience. We have seen the same earlier in case of Indian telecom and power sector. Hence, it is
absolutely pertinent to go with players which have enhanced underwriting capability and risk management
In the latest monetary policy meet held last week, the RBI kept policy rates unchanged. The central bank is
dealing with two divergent developments. On one hand, growth has weakened and this raises the prospects
of output gap widening which itself will have benign impact on inflation. On the flipside, is the build-up of
generalized price pressures in July and August CPI data and the added risk of fiscal slippage, both for states
and the central government. Given that inflation is the primary objective for the MPC, it is only logical that
the MPC should hold out on rates till data makes it clear that inflation likely to remain close to its target.
To sum, the recent macro-developments has set a somewhat higher hurdle for further rate cuts in the near
future. So unless significant downside inflation surprises continue, market participants will likely be hesitant
to price in another rate cut just yet. Further, the rising risk of fiscal slippages (both from Centre and State) is
making the market concerned on the deterioration of demand-supply dynamics. We expect fiscal related
pressures to gradually dominate market moves, with a material possibility of additional market borrowings
over the 2H of FY17. Anticipating these demand-supply challenges, we had tactically reduced the duration in
our fixed income portfolios and would be likely building them again at the opportune time.
(Mutual funds’ investments are subject to market risks, read all scheme related documents carefully.)
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