Thursday, April 20, 2017

Outlook For FY18

Dear Readers
It has been more than 15 months since I last posted on this blog. Going in for a recap, the markets shrugged off its fear and moved on to scale new highs.

I had indicated that base metals and banking stocks would lead the rally and that happened. However, the gigantic leap that the indices have taken was definitely far beyond my expectations.

As I always keep saying, history has a hidden engine and can reveal patterns. For all practical purposes, the bull party for now is in this last stage for now. Going back to the 2010-2014 pattern, Nifty had peaked at 6338 in Nov '10 and then went on to touch 4550 levels; from here it scaled 6415 to fall to 5200 levels in Aug '13 and then came the big bang rally with BJP taking in power.

Without taking any externalities into account, a pure pattern extrapolation gives me the following picture

A top around 9338-9357-9415 levels for now with the technical bottom set at 7800 levels. IMHO, Nifty will retest these levels over the next 18 months before resuming the next major leg up. That leg will coincide with the May '19 election outcome. Assuming status quo, the BJP is set to win the next election as well; should the same happen, the new high on Nifty will be in 5 digits; [10425 is my target on Nifty and 34500 on Sensex]

Most of the trend experts also agree on the same; the only question is the timing. A large section of analysts believes that the 5 digit mark will be surpassed this year as well. Though not impossible, I have my reservations. [Reasons will be covered later]

The reforms on the economic side have been largely positive. A lot of revenue leakages in the PDS have been plugged due to use of Aadhar. The exchange rate has strengthened but my contrarian view is that the dollar is headed to an exchange rate of 72 vs rupee and hence its time to go Long Rupee-Short Dollar

The demonetization drive is a positive for the very long term. A lot of people are harping about the positive effects of GST roll-out but we need to be pragmatic. The positive aspect of the GST is that it will greatly change the supply chain and distribution networks. The number of warehouses and distribution centres will drastically come down and generate economies of scale. Coastal shipping will see a big bang [albeit positive] explosion; the pilot successes that we are seeing right now are a tiny fraction of what the real game will turn out to be

On the downside, I personally do not view the GST as a big success as the media and government are portraying it. If we look at our Asian peers that implemented GST/VAT [Thailand and Singapore are my role models for the same], they kept the rates at 4% to 7% [except for items tobacco products, liquor etc]. The whole idea of GST/VAT in a country is to keep as low a marginal tax rate as possible and have a tax net as wide as possible.

For instance, a standard FMCG supply chain would be
Factory -> Distribution Centre -> Super-Stockist -> Stockist -> Point of Sale
In the conventional GST / VAT setup, when goods move from factory to the point of sale, each time ownership of cargo is transferred, GST/VAT is applied to the value of the sale. When the tax rates are kept in low single digits, the incentive to cheat on taxes greatly diminishes. Rather than forge account books, hire a chartered accountant, hide the cash somewhere else etc, the entity in the supply chain decides that it is better off paying the low taxation rate.

The stated purpose of India's new GST regime is that the tax evasion must be curtailed. Sorry Mr. Arun Jaitley and team, your new GST proposal does nothing to remove the threat of tax evasion. Every time this issue is raised by the media, the government offers a rebuttal saying that demonetization was implemented in parallel; fine that was for the tax evaded earlier. Earlier, the evaded tax was hidden in denominations of 500/1000; now the same will be done with the 2000 rupee notes. If we want to genuinely widen our tax net, the marginal rates of taxation should be extremely low barring a few products.

One of the most positive developments in the Indian banking space is the merger of all subsidiaries of Statebank into one single unit. However, this is just the beginning. What now needs to be done is a massive restructuring with more automation, rationalization of headcounts and branch offices. It does not make sense to have 8-10 small branch offices, all displaying the new SBI logo. That is just a cosmetic change; unless there is a complete overhaul of the backend, people won't receive the intended benefits. Another major positive of this exercise is that it sets a positive for other PSU banks to carry out a similar exercise. Rather than many small/medium sized banks, India needs a few large scale banks.

For the securities market as a whole, a major positive has been the rise in SIP collections of mutual funds. The advantage of SIPs is that one can reap benefits of crests and troughs of the indices and still come out on tops [of course the fund selection is critical]

From time to time, people in my network ask me why I ask them to continue with SIPs if I have a conviction of correction; the answer is simple - nobody can predict the market with certainty. By keeping an SIP with constant fund and variable units, you can take advantage of both peaks and troughs.

From a stock specific perspective, base metals and commodity stocks have generated 300% returns or more in the last 18 months. Hindalco had its old great wall of support at around 210 levels [pre-2010 levels]. When this broke down with conviction, it went all the way down sub-100 levels also. Hence I see a very good chance that Hindalco is on the verge of topping out. Similarly for Tata Steel, going beyond 625 is challenging.

IT segment will be subdued till the new laws are fully clear with regards to outsourcing. FMCG will be sluggish due to the onslaught of Patanjali. Whilst the markets are looking at the positives of banking sector, the cleaning of balance sheets and resource rationalization will come with its share of negatives.

Global Uncertainties
The picture post-Brexit will only be clear after the UK elections in June. It is a positive for UK citizens but we can expect a lot of turbulence from the Euro-zone in 2017. The EU has a succession planning challenge unless the countries decide to go ahead with an extended term for Merkel. The threat of a Euro-zone blowout still looms on the global economy. The situation is "Who will bell the cat"? The entire PIIGS fraternity wants to opt out but no country wants to be seen as the first to do so. UK managed to do that because it has its own currency GBP. That being said, such downsides on the economy will be short-lived. Eventually all countries will bounce back. I have always maintained that currency devaluation eventually brings out a lot of positives. When the Asian Tiger currency crisis took place, a long-term development was that a lot of people started taking vacations to Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia etc. The revised exchange rates favored the same and there have been numerous instances when a Mumbai-Singapore or Delhi-Bangkok flight ticket has been cheaper than a domestic sector. The day is not far when we will be taking vacations in Greece, Italy Ireland at almost the same cost as we do for Singapore!

The real challenge will be the geopolitical stability over the next couple of years. There is a strong correlation between a Republican president coming into power after 2 consecutive terms of a Democrat president. Almost every time this has happened, a major terrorist attack follows within 12 months and wreaks havoc. What we are seeing now in wake of Trumpism is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a very strong possibility that we will see a repeat of 9/11 soon.

Nevertheless, we can take it in our stride in India at least. The longer term trend is positive. If the current central government keeps its momentum and follows up on the measures, a 2nd term is almost a given. If that happens, then we can see the dream of Nifty breaking the 5 digit barrier.

Happy Investing - focus on largecaps now