It was 18th Feb 2015. The Sensex had just closed at 29,320. It had been 9 months since the Modi led BJP won the parliamentary majority – they got 272 seats – to form a government. In the last one year, the Sensex had jumped from 20,536 to these levels, a gain of 43%.
An investor asked me a simple question: So what has changed on the ground and among the companies that has resulted in a 43% jump in Sensex? I just nodded, unable to express the reasons. I’d like to try to answer this today. The simple answer – NOTHING !! Most of the companies were 5-10% up on financials/ EPS in the last one year. Nothing special to report here.
So what gives? What explains the big jump? The answer is optimism and sentiment. Just like most things in life, people act on the basis of heart (emotions) and head (rationality). The Modi govt. won a resounding victory, after a bitter, negatively fought election. A lot of people now looked to the future with renewed hope and optimism, and felt we have a govt. that is cleaner, more decisive and which is thinking long term.
The positivity changed the outlook of investors. Retail bought Mutual Funds. Investors took fresh 2-3 year, long term positions. FIIs entered and took new 10+ year investments on the basis of longer term trends like consumption and housing shortages. Sensing all this, traders bet positively.
“In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.” ― Benjamin Graham
So while nothing changed on the ground, the 2 year forward outlook changed sharply. The stock market always tries to look a few years ahead. At a stock level, most large caps have 1-2 year financials baked into the prices. Mid-caps are divided into the well-known and the lesser known. The well-known firms too have 1-2 year financials baked into the prices. Since growth rates are higher here, valuations parameters like P/E and P/B can look expensive. The lesser known mid-caps and small caps can flounder at low valuations until they get discovered. Many opportunities are available here for investors to find high quality firms that can be great investments.
So what happened after Feb 2015? The 43% jump due to euphoria and positivity gave way to rationality. Whats really happening on the ground? Is business looking up? What big bang reforms are the govt. conducting? The answers were not immediately obvious. The parliament became a logjam – the lower house had things easier but the upper house blocked new initiatives. Massive industry specific issues such as coal and power can’t be wished away with a govt. owned magic wand. It takes time and resolve and good administration.
POST DEMONETIZATION POST BUDGET
By Feb 2016, the Sensex had fallen to 23,154, a fall of 21%. Post budget, once again there was optimism. The govt. has given a positive budget. No major worries. Toward Nov 2016, we had demonetization. There was confusion, discomfort and a cash shortage. Recovery from this started by end Dec. The cash shortage now looked likely to be resolved in a few months with few residual issues. Recovery was sharp, aided by another good budget in Feb 2017.
The Budget 2017 was overall positive. Small sops for the people included lower tax at entry levels. There were benefits for real estate transactions and Industry status for affordable housing. There were no major negatives, and fears dissipated. GST is likely in 2017-18.
The direction from the govt. is very clear. Black money is to be legalized and cleansed, and black money sources are to be capped. Cash and real estate cannot be a store of ill-gotten wealth. Taxation and compliance has to go up. Big ticket reforms are to be made, opening up new sectors. Foreign and local investors must be encouraged. Abject poverty has to be eliminated. The average man is honest, hard-working and follows the rules. Lets make life easier for him. Plus big changes have to be made to make the country a better place. All subsidies must be targeted using Aadhar to avoid waste. We hope that tax rates – both direct and indirect, are peaking now, and as compliance improves, rates should ease.
THE FIVE STATE ELECTIONS
The 5 state elections of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa have just concluded. Its been a strong victory in the biggest state, UP, and Uttrarakhand, for BJP. Manipur and Goa may also go BJP way per latest reports. So even the tricky UP population is convinced. In a delayed fashion, BJP will also get more seats in the Rajya Sabha. While it is unclear when BJP will get majority, but certainly over time the statewise support for BJP will increase.
These three big positives combined makes things look good for a 3-6 month period.
INDIA AND USA MARKETS:
Just like in India, there appears to be an election led upswing in the USA. The Trump administration too is looking to take bold steps. The focus is on domestic improvements. Jobs, some elements of domestic protectionism, better healthcare, etc. Optimism has shot up in USA. Rather than fearing the world, USA may move to strengthening its own country.
A quick look at Sensex and Dow Jones over the last 2 years indicates a good correlation. See figure – thanks Google Finance. Barring some big local events like demonetization, the two markets are moving in sync. This is another factor that makes me positive about Indian market outlook – its difficult for Indian indices to outperform year after year unless at least some of the global markets are also moving in a similar way.
The potential Risks or negatives that I see now are – 1) Fed rate hike expected this week – will it affect Indian Indices? 2) INR strengthening against USD – is this even possible? 3) Higher inflation – we have early signs of increase 4) Bad monsoon in 2017.
There are always risks and negatives. But at this point, we are overwhelmingly positive on the investment outlook.