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The shift in RBI’s stance came, but not in the repo rate as most people were expecting today.The Monetary Policy Committee ( MPC) decided to change the stance from neutral to “calibrated tightening” of monetary policy, which in plain English means that rate cuts are probably off the table, and RBI can decide on when to raise or not raise rates depending on how fresh data comes in.

Whilst a 0.25% hike in the repo rate was the consensus view of the expected MPC action today, with some even expecting a 0.5% hike, the policy statement surprised markets – bonds positively, equities and the rupee negatively, with RBI choosing to do nothing, as MPC members voted 5:1 in favor of an unchanged repo rate at 6.50%. This was also probably driven by the fact that there have been two consecutive rate hikes in the last two MPC meetings.

They stuck with their primary mandate i.e. controlling inflation, with the objective to achieve medium term target for CPI inflation of 4 percent within the range of +/- 2%, while supporting growth.

Since the last MPC meet in August 2018, the Indian basket of crude oil has increased sharply by US$ 13 a barrel, whilst global economic activity has been able to withstand ongoing trade tensions thus far. Food inflation has remained unusually weak, which imparts a downward bias to its trajectory in the second half of the year. The risk to the food inflation from a 9% deficit in the monsoon, is also probably mitigated by higher production of major kharif crops for 2018-19 than last year’s record. An estimate of the impact of an increase in minimum support prices (MSPs) announced in July has been factored in the baseline projections.

The projected inflation in Q2:2018-19 is at 4%, 3.9%-4.5% in the second half and 4.8% in Q1:2019-20 with risks on the upside, which were lower than earlier estimates.

With risks broadly balanced GDP growth projection for 2018-2019 was lowered at 7.4% against 7.5 % in August due to strong base effect.Private consumption has remained strong and is likely to be sustained even as the recent rise in oil prices may have a bearing on disposable incomes. However, both global and domestic financial conditions have tightened, which may dampen investment activity. Rising crude oil prices and other input costs may also drag down investment activity by denting profit margins of corporates. This adverse impact will be alleviated to the extent corporates are able to pass on increases in their input costs. Uncertainty surrounds the outlook for exports. The recent rupee depreciating could be negated by slowing down of global trade and the escalating tariff wars.

Global headwinds in the form of escalating trade tensions, volatile and rising oil prices, and tightening of global financial conditions therefore pose substantial risks to the growth and inflation outlook.

Your Investments

As we see change in stance from neutral to calibrating tightening signals that rate cuts are off the table. Concerns seem to be around crude oil prices, global interest rates and the ongoing global developments on the trade front. Equities continue to trade at a premium and whilst it may be very tempting to buy lumpsums as equities have fallen substantially, equity valuations in India continue to be elevated vis a vis long term averages. A gradual entry strategy or a continued SIP/STP strategy is most suited to the current market scenario. It may be a good idea to add fixed income exposure through a combination of largely ultra short term, short and medium term strategies focused on high credit quality portfolios, to avoid any spillover of the continuing bad loan cycle on your investments.

Your Loans

After hiking the repo rate twice in a row, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has kept the key policy rates unchanged. However, the central bank has changed its stance on the key policy rates to ‘calibrated tightening’. This indicates that RBI is of the view that there is upward pressure on interest rates which means your EMIs are likely to continue ti go up. Expect banks to raise rates gradually even though RBI kept rates constant today.

Way forward

The next policy is due on December 5, but don’t be surprised for mid course corrections if the data so warrants. Ultimately that’s what caliberated tightening probably alludes to.

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Today marked the 3rd Bi-Monthly policy statement by the RBI for the FY 2018-19 with members voting 5-1 in favor of a rate hike.

This was largely in line with market expectations and was already priced in, as post the release of the minutes of the monetary policy bond yields did not move much in either direction.

However, the MPC also continued to maintain a neutral stance, indicating that it is trying to play a delicate balance between inflation and growth, and decisions are being taken with the objective of achieving the medium term target for CPI at 4% within the range of +/- 2% and future data prints

The MPC mentioned that domestically various indicators suggest that economic activity has continued to be strong. Significant turn around in the production of capital goods and consumer durables, Progressive monsoon and increase in MSPs of Kharif crops are expected to boost rural demand by rising farmer’s income. Vehicle sales augur well for urban income growth.

Retail inflation i.e. CPI grew to 5% in June from 4.9% in May, driven by an uptick in inflation in fuel. Food inflation remained muted due to lower than usual seasonal uptick in prices of fruits and vegetables in summer months. Adjusting for the estimated impact of the 7th central pay commission’s house rent allowances (HRA), headline inflation increased from 4.5 per cent in May to 4.6 per cent in June. Low inflation continued in cereals, meat, milk, oil, spices and non-alcoholic beverages, and pulses and sugar prices remained in deflation. Factors mentioned above have resulted marginally downward revision in inflation projections for Q2 vis-à-vis the June statement. However, projections for Q3 onwards remain broadly unchanged on account of uptick of 20 bps in inflation expectation for 3 months and 1 year ahead horizon survey of households by RBI’s. RBI’s industrial outlook survey also reported higher input costs and selling prices in Quarter 1 of 2018-19. Input cost of companies polled in services PMI in June also stayed elevated. Farm and non farm input costs rose significantly in June.

The central government has decided to fix the minimum support prices (MSPs) of at least 150 per cent of the cost of production for all kharif crops for the sowing season of 2018-19. This increase in MSPs for kharif crops, which is much larger than the average increase seen in the past few years, will have a direct impact on food inflation and possible secondary impacts on headline inflation. Uncertainty around the full impact of MSP on inflation will only resolve in the next several months once the price support schemes are implemented and procurement by the government is visible.

Based on an assessment of the above-mentioned factors, inflation is projected at 4.6 per cent in Q2, 4.8 per cent in H2 of 2018-19 and 5.0 per cent in Q1:2019-20, with risks evenly balanced. Excluding the HRA impact, CPI inflation is projected at 4.4 per cent in Q2, 4.7-4.8 per cent in H2 and 5.0 per cent in Q1:2019-20.

The MPC notes that domestic economic activity has continued to sustain momentum and the output gap has virtually closed. However, uncertainty around domestic inflation needs to be carefully monitored in the coming months. In addition, recent global developments raise some concerns. Rising trade protectionism poses a grave risk to near-term and long-term global growth prospects by adversely impacting investment, disrupting global supply chains and hampering productivity. Geopolitical tensions and elevated oil prices continue to be the other sources of risk to global growth. On account of these risks, RBI governor stated that by keeping the neutral stance, the Monetary Policy Committee have kept the option of further rate increase or decrease open and dependent on future data.

With an election year upon us and possible fiscal risks emanating, along with global outflows on the back of higher US interest rates and a falling rupee, this may not be the last of the rate hikes in our view.

Your Investments

Financial markets have continued to be volatile and driven mainly by monetary policy stances in advanced and emerging economies and geopolitical tensions. Globally, equity markets have been volatile on trade tensions and uncertainty around Brexit negotiations. However, it also important that public finances do not crowd out private sector investment activity at this crucial juncture.

Capital flows to Emerging Economies declined in anticipation of monetary policy tightening in Advanced Economies. Also currency of Emerging economies have depreciated against the US dollar over the last month on account of strong USD supported by strong economic data.

Equities continue to remain overpriced from a price to earnings perspective in spite of recent corrections and a better growth outlook. However, good results so far by many companies, along with good growth expectations and better capacity utilisation bode well for earnings growth going forward.

Real rates continue to remain positive.The rising G-sec yield makes dynamic bonds and long term bond funds unattractive and the exposure to the same should be minimized. Bonds with a shorter duration of 3 months to 2 years are ideal in the given scenario. We therefore, continue to believe that investors should continue to have fixed income exposure through a combination of lower duration and short term strategies.

Your Loans

With an increase of 25 basis points by the RBI, the deposit rate of the banks could further increase which would be followed by lending rate hikes. Thus we suggest looking at prepaying or raising EMI amounts on your loans to negate the interest rate hike and future hikes that could follow.

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Today marked the first Bi-Monthly policy statement by the RBI for the new FY 2018-19.

The MPC notes that there has been a recovery in growth on a domestic level and various structural reforms introduced will support further long term growth. The MPC recognizes the downside risk to private financing and investments as well as growth on both a global and domestic level is brought out by deteriorating public finances and rising trade protectionism.

The MPC stated that the GDP growth is projected to strengthen from 6.6% in 2017-18 to 7.4% in 2018-19 with H1 2018-19 reflecting growth in the range of 7.3-7.4% and 7.3-7.6% in H2 2018-19 supported by revival in investment activity and global demand.

The MPC revised down the CPI for FY 2018-19 to 4.7-5.1% in H1 and 4.4% in H2 (inclusive of the HRA impact) keeping in mind that factors such as the revised formula for MSP (minimum support price), impact of HRA, further fiscal slippages, a weak monsoon and volatile crude prices could all pose upward risks to the near term inflation outlook.

Amongst the midst of global and local market volatility in both the equity and bond markets, the monetary policy committee maintained their neutral stance and kept the policy repo rate and the reverse repo rate unchanged at 6 percent and 5.75 percent respectively.

5 out of 6 members voted in favor of the policy while one member voted for raise in rates by 25 basis points.

The 10 year G-Sec fell sharply from 7.3% levels to 7.12-7.13% indicating that the market is putting to rest any near term rate hikes.

Your Investments

While the RBI does talk about economic recovery as well as a possible sustained long term recovery one can not ignore the volatility brought about by the juxtaposition between global recovery and the possible trade war between the United states of America and China.

Equities continue to remain overpriced from a price to earnings perspective in spite of recent corrections. Real rates continue to remain positive and interest rates (benchmarked by the 10 year G-sec) have cooled down from their high ranges of 7.7-7.8%.

We continue to believe that investors should continue to have fixed income exposure through a combination of accrual, short to medium and hold strategies. Considering a large state loan calendar interest rates could revert back to an upward movement scenario and thus we recommend maintaining only a 10% exposure to dynamic bond fund that have the flexibility to move across bond maturities.

Your Loans

For the first time in 2 years banks started increasing interest rates indicating a change in rate cycle. This rise in lending rates was brought about by the rapid increase in bond yields.

The RBI has maintained status quo on rates and has allowed banks to spread their bond losses over 4 quarters. This action by the RBI could cause lending rates to stabilize.

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Inflation concerns mean rates stay as is…

As was broadly expected, The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) on Wednesday left the policy repo rate and reverse repo rate unchanged at 6 percent and 5.75 percent, respectively. Out of six members, five members voted for no rate cut and one member voted for 25 bps rate cut. RBI continued to maintain its view that the 4% target on inflation remains its focus. Retail inflation measured by year-on-year change in the consumer price index (CPI) had recorded a seven-month high in October, and with an indicated range of 4.3% to 4.7% for the next two quarters, along with higher inflationary expectations getting built in through the possibility of higher oil prices and some possible fiscal pressure, this was very much in line with expectations. Surplus liquidity in the system has also continued to decline, reducing chances of rate cuts going forward.

Focus on the real rate of return

With the RBI referring to possible green shoots on growth starting to appear in the economy, it does seem that whilst they will continue to track data closely, strategies that are focussed on interest rates getting reduced are likely to face pressure. However, considering that real rates of return (returns from fixed income investments less inflation) continue to be significantly positive, we continue to believe that investing in fixed income is attractive.

Your Investments

Considering positive real interest rates, and equities continuing to trade at significant premiums to long term price to earnings ratios,  it may be a good idea to continue to have fixed income exposure through a combination of largely accrual, short to medium term, and hold to maturity strategies. For investors willing to continue to look at interest rates heading downwards, dynamic bond funds that have flexibility to move across bond maturities, can be explored for a small portion of the fixed income portfolio.

Your Loans

The RBI’s decision to hold rate cuts could indicate that there is unlikely to be any impact on existing lending rates, especially home and car loans by banks. Whilst the transmission of the rate cuts for bank loans over the last couple of years has only been partial, we believe that interest rates may not head down much more going forward.

Way Forward

Considering that the next policy meeting on Feb 6 and 7 is likely to be post the Union Budget, one will need to track how the government manages its fiscal policy and its focus on growth going forward. Global interest rates headed upwards, will also continue to drive RBI’s decisions on interest rates.

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India is currently among the most watched Emerging Market nations. To top that, the Indian Equity Markets have witnessed unprecedented growth in the recent months. The YTD returns for Sensex alone has been 26% (data from BSE India). The euphoria and high confidence on the Indian Equities has continued to remain, especially from the institutional investors both foreign and domestic.

This is also leading to make many individual investors question whether they should invest in equities or sit on the sidelines. While individual risk appetite and time horizon would be some of the basic factors to understand before investing, there are many other fundamental factors to track. While the debate has been raging on as to which indicators should be looked at or ignored to make sense of the valuations of the Indian equity markets, the following factors can help bring some sense of clarity to the overall picture. Factors such as:

Current Price to Earnings Ratio (P/E Numbers): One of the most traditional tools used globally at gauging the valuations of an equity market of a country. In the last one year alone (based on data from Oct 16 to Oct 17), the P/E Ratio for S&P BSE Sensex has averaged close to 22 times in comparison to its historical average of approximately 17 on a trailing basis. For the BSE Mid Cap and Small Cap of the same period, the P/E valuations are at an average of 33.8 and 81.13 times.

Corporate Earnings: P/E Ratios are directly linked to the corporate earnings of the country. As per Kotak Institutional Equities Estimates, the Expected Earnings for companies representing the Nifty 50 Index are approximately 2% in FY 2018. A variety of reasons are attributed to these low earnings expectations, most famously discussed are the implementations and effects of Demonetization and Goods and Service Tax (GST).

Crude Oil Prices: Nearly 80% of India’s energy needs are import dependent. A direct consequence of this is the risk to the country’s inflation rate if the prices of crude oil are to rise. A rise in oil prices results in lower cashflows/profits for companies and higher prices for consumers. Brent crude oil prices are currently firming up at prices upwards of 60$ per barrel. This is a definite concern from an Indian economy perspective.

Exchange Rates: The Rupee is currently considered overvalued basis its 10 year average (Source: Kotak Research). This has a dual impact on the economy i.e. (A) it increases attractiveness of imported products, resulting in increased competition for domestic companies and lower profits; (B) it decreases the value of exported products and therefore hurts the margins of export based industries such as the IT sector. Both have resulted in muted growth prospects for these respective industries.

Bond Yields: In an growing economy like India, both equities and bonds compete for capital. In a equity bull rally, money is taken out from bond markets and pumped into equities, forgoing risk to capital for riskier investments. Currently bond yields are inching up to the mid 2017 high of 6.987% yield for the 10yr G-Sec. However there has only been net inflows into fixed income. Foreign Portfolio Investments into Government Securities have already reached 83.94% of their allotted limit (data dated as per 6th Nov NSDL)

Inflation Rate: Inflation brings about it own risks to the stock markets. In the last Monetary Policy Committee meeting, the RBI revised the inflation projections for the rest of FY 2018 upwards to 4% – 4.5%. This may indicate a stop to future rate cuts, freezing any possibilities of reduction in lending rates. Medium term consequences for companies could possibly mean dearer than expected debt to  service, resulting in subdued profits and revenue.

Role of FIIs: The way that Foreign Institutional Investors park monies in the market can give an indication to the current picture of that market. While FIIs were very bullish on Indian Equities for most part of the calendar year, starting June they slowly but surely tapered inflows in equity, finally resulting in net outflows in the month of September and October. (Source: moneycontrol)

Global Scenario: On a global scale, economies are starting to look up, with further growth expected. According to IMF Economic Outlook, average expected GDP growth for FY 2017 is 2.5%. Globally, equity markets have participated in this growth including India. What probably may need to be put in perspective is that the rally in Indian Equities may be partly due to the global rallies taking place. Therefore the Indian equities are associated with risks in terms of foreign external factors like outbreak of war in the Korean Peninsula. Such events are likely to have negative impacts on the domestic markets.

Keeping in mind the above mentioned factors, Plan Ahead Wealth Advisors has a definite view that current equity markets are over valued and investors should exercise caution. The not so positive indicators from these mentioned factors should mean a significant correction cannot be discounted, keeping us wary of diving too much into equities without first educating investors of the potential risks in the short to medium term horizon.

 

 

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Whilst there was a consensus view of RBI cutting repo rates today, with only the extent of the rate cut being questioned (would it be 0.25% or 0.5%?), Urjit Patel or rather the monetary policy committee (MPC) sprung a surprise by keeping rates unchanged. Both equity and bond markets reacted negatively to this as they were pricing in at least a 0.25% cut.

RBI was probably concerned by multiple factors – volatility in global financial markets that could be caused by a Fed rate hike, issues in the Eurozone, oil price rises, and the potential stickiness of consumer inflation around non food components.

One needs to remember that inflation targeting continues to be the core role of the RBI moving forward, and any risks to inflation are likely to result in a more conservative approach, tilted towards managing inflation in the inflation growth trade off.  In addition, the focus towards management by data is a significant positive, as markets can sometimes allow emotions to override incoming data, that may be to the contrary.

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Your investments

The demonetisation impact on the Indian economy continues to be rather speculative in our opinion, with a very wide range of possible outcomes,. and data around the same is likely to continue to throw up surprises. For example, we have seen over the last few weeks, the quantum of cash deposits that have come back to the banking system have been significantly larger than originally anticipated. In light of the need to take portfolio investment decisions basis data, it may be prudent to look for broader trends to capture through your investment strategy for example fixed income products continue to offer a real rate of return in the region of close to 2%, continuing to make fixed income investments an attractive option. With liquidity continuing to be significant, it would be prudent to look at locking into current interest rates, through a combination of accrual oriented short term and medium term funds, tax free bonds and to also cover reinvestment risk. A portion of the fixed income allocations can continue to be allocated to taking the benefits of falling interest rates, by investing into dynamic bond funds where the fund manager has the flexibility to move portfolio durations driven by incoming data. Equity investors may need to enhance exposures gradually through a combination of rupee averaging and value averaging strategies, as the potential slowdown on the back of a US rate hike and a consumption slowdown driven by demonetisation, is balanced by possible liquidity flows from Japan and the EU, as well as equity prices, especially of large cap indices, now at levels much closer to fair value after the recent correction.

Your loans

With the expectation of cost of funds for banks coming down post demonetisation, banks’ lending rates are likely to continue to slide further down. Since April 1, 2016, when the MCLR was introduced, most banks have been reducing it gradually as their cost of funds came down. The huge inflow of funds post demonetisation could make them cut MCLR  further. Thus one can expect loan rates to continue to head downwards, creating some additional consumption or investing surpluses for families with loans.

Way Ahead

The RBI is clearly aware of the danger to the GDP growth rate and possible liquidity outflows, driven by the twin impact of demonetization and higher interest rates in the US. Thus a wait and watch policy may actually be a great idea. Whilst everyone will await the next policy on Feb 8th, one needs to remember that action by the RBI can also be done prior to that if necessary, and therefore should not be ruled out. After all, surprises and the independent nature of the RBI are back in fashion.

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