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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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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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Just like during the rest of his tenor, RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan avoided the theatrics and playing to the gallery with his last monetary policy. He maintained status quo on interest rates in today’s monetary policy review, much along expected lines. Going forward, whilst there will be a new RBI governor, policy decisions will be taken by a Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) and appointment of the members is under process for the same.

MPC pic

Your investments

Whilst the RBI governor did flag off some inflationary concerns due to the seventh pay commission impact, one could continue to expect a positive real rate of return due to a reduction in food inflation on the back of good monsoons. This could eventually bring down CPI inflation.The policy had an accommodative stance which means there could be a possibility of a rate cut going forward. On the domestic front there are a lot of positives like a pickup in Industrial production in May, indication of green shoots in manufacturing with Purchasing Managers and the RBIs industrial outlook indicating pick up in new orders, increased business confidence, Services sector PMI at 18 months high and early indications of a turnaround in exports. These should result in better corporate earnings in the coming quarters, supporting current market valuations which are a premium to long term averages.

On the FCNR (B) deposits maturity coming up over the next few months, RBI has said around 80-85% will be delivered through forwards and any shortfall will be adjusted from existing Foreign exchange reserves. They will intervene in case of increased volatility. The RBI will continue to support liquidity by conducting open market operations. With chances of falling food inflation on one hand and upside risk to inflation coming from the 7th pay commission on the other side, it is difficult to predict when the next rate cut will take place. Therefore, you need to have a blend of fixed income strategies in your portfolio including hold to maturity, acrrual and dynamic products where managers have the flexibility to decide where it may be most appropraite to invest.

Your loans

RBI mentioned it will analyse the impact of the MCLR (Marginal Cost of funds based lending rate) and make changes to if required. Therefore, on the loan side nothing changes unless the MCLR rate moves further down, which is expected to be a gradual process.

Way Ahead

With Raghuram Rajan’s term ending on September 4, 2016, the appointment of a new RBI Governor and formation of Monetary Policy Committee(MPC) means that we should watch out for whether we see more of the same in the next bi monthly policy on October 4, 2016, or whether there will be a big change from the past.

Image Credit: www.gograph.co

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The much awaited RBI policy came in earlier today. RBI cut the repo rates by 0.25% and improved liquidity measures. Let’s understand what it means for you?

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The much awaited RBI policy came in earlier today. RBI cut the repo rates by 0.25% and improved liquidity measures. Let’s understand what it means for you?

Your investments:

  • The rates on Bank and corporate FDs along with other fixed income instruments, will go down which means if your FDs are maturing now, you may have to renew them at lower rates. If you have deposits close to maturity or recently matured, go ahead and lock in right away if you are in a lower tax bracket.
  • The monetary policy was accommodative which means there could be a further chance of rate cuts and/or transmission. This could mean that short term bond funds and accrual funds could become more attractive. Further rate cuts would be subject to levels of rate transmission, Inflation and the monsoon. Thus, use a combination of tax free bonds, accrual and dynamic bond funds in your portfolio if you are in a higher tax bracket
  • For corporates, it could mean lower cost of borrowing, which could help improve earnings for companies, and thus a booster for the equity markets over the medium term.

Your loans:

  • A combination of lowering of interest rates and the introduction of the Marginal cost based lending rate (MCLR)  will mean lower loan rates. You can look to refinance you home loan at a lower rate. Car loans and other loans could also become cheaper.

What did RBI do?

  • The RBI has cut repo rates, the rate at which banks borrow from RBI, by 0.25%, to 6.5% from 6.75% earlier.
  • They have increased Reverse Repo, rates at which banks lend to RBI, by 0.25% to 6% from 5.75%. They have also cut the MSF (Marginal Standing Facility Rates), the rate at which banks borrow from RBI above the repo rate, by 0.75%, reducing the corridor between MSF and reverse repo from 1% earlier to 0.5% now. This reduced corridor means the overnight lending rate at which banks lend and borrow from each other will reduce. This will also mean increased liquidity in the system, making bonds attractive.
  • The Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) which Banks have to deposit with RBI, remain unchanged at 4% but the minimum daily maintenance of reserves was reduced from 95% earlier to 90% now, which could be marginally positive for liquidity.
  • Going forward, interest rate changes will depend on the monsoon and inflation. There is a liquidity deficit due to slow deposit growth. RBI will continue to provide liquidity when required and will aim to move from liquidity deficit position to liquidity neutral position.

What else has been happening?

Since Jan 2015 RBI had cut interest rates by 1.25% ( Now 1.50%), but the transmission to depositors/borrowers had taken place only partially for multiple reasons. Due to the high rates offered on small savings schemes and post offices, banks were not comfortable cutting deposit rates. Recent rate cut in small savings schemes is aiding transmission of rate cuts. The banks can now go ahead and cut deposit rates. Also RBI has introduction Marginal Cost based Lending Rate, a new method of calculation of loan rates which has come into effect from 1 April 2016. This rate will be applicable for new loans. This rate will replace the base rate which is currently used by banks. The Marginal cost based lending rate (MCLR) will be calculated based on the deposit rates that the bank is offering to its clients. In the shorter term the loan rates will be lower when calculated based on MCLR.

Watch out for the next policy on June 7, 2016

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The year 2014 was mostly a year full of positive events for Indian financial markets which caused the equity markets (BSE Sensex) gaining close to 30% in 2014 . Some of the major events that took place are as follows and our outlook in 2015:

  1. Historical electoral results – A strong, pro- growth oriented and business friendly government looks good for economic growth and for businesses. This promise has to translate into big reforms on the ground as most of the early work has been focused on getting the bureaucracy and decisions that were deferred forward.
  2. The GDP growth for Q3 2014 expanded to 5.3% from 5.7% in Q2. It is expected to pick up further to 6-6.5% YOY in FY16 with growth over other parts of the world remaining subdued and hence the gap of India GDP Growth with Global GDP growth is expected to widen as seen from the data below:

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Source:  IMF, credit Suisse Research, Dec 2014

  1. Current Account Deficit (CAD) widened in 2Q FY15 due to widening of trade deficit. However, it is expected to be in a comfort zone in FY16 with falling crude oil prices offsetting high import growth of non-oil and gold.

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Source:  RBI, Citi Research, Dec’14

  1. Fiscal Deficit for the first 8 months of FY15 (Apr-Nov) came in at 99% of the budget estimate of 4.1% for the full fiscal year. Whilst it is still possible that the government could achieve the target by controlling spending for this year, the fiscal deficit target of 3.6% of GDP in FY16 could be difficult to meet.

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Source:  Budget Documents, Citi Research, Nov’14, BE=Budgeted Estimate

  1. Earnings Growth: The private sector in India remains in a deleveraging cycle, saddled with excess debt. However, Corporate Earnings should be better than estimates as corporate margins are significantly below the long term averages and should improve gradually as capacity utilization and business conditions improve in the next 2-3 years which is when the full impact of lower interest costs and softer commodity prices will show up in corporate profits.

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Source: Motilal Oswal Research, November 2014

The outlook for equities in 2015 could be challenging, but things look promising from a longer term perspective and there is merit in increasing allocation to equities in a phased manner and staying invested. However, every investor should look at their own specific asset allocations rather than specific asset class performances.

  1. Inflation declined to a series low due to lower commodity prices, slowdown in consumer demand, low growth in MSPs and falling oil prices. CPI inflation eased to a series-low 4.4% in November 2014 from 5.5% in October 2014 in year-on-year (y-o-y) terms. This primarily reflected a sharp decline in food inflation to 3.6% in November 2014 from 5.7% in October 2014, as well as a fall in core-CPI to 5.5% from 5.9%. In fact, WPI inflation declined to 0% in November 2014.

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Source: CSO, ICRA Research

In the December Policy review, RBI kept the rates unchanged and revised the CPI target to 6% for March 2015 and also as per RBI, the risks to the Jan 2016 CPI target of 6% looks balanced. There could be concerns during the first quarter of 2015 as RBI waits for certainty with regards to lower/stable inflation, and fiscal adjustments during the budget before commencing any monetary easing and interest rate cuts. Global concerns over interest rate hike in US and movement of global crude oil prices will also keep investors guessing on the direction of interest rates in India.

Fall in inflation and slow economic growth would lead to cut in interest rates in future. As seen from the chart below, bond yields have moved sooner than policy rates more often. Currently also, the yields have fallen in anticipation of a rate cut.

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Source: RBI, Bloomberg

RBI is also targeting a real positive return on interest rates to potentially move savings from physical assets to financial assets. This could mean that a 6% CPI inflation would synchronize with a 7% repo rate – which means a 100 bps cut in repo rate over the next 18 months.

Investors will need to have a sufficiently long time horizon ( 12-24  months) when investing in duration strategies now, especially given that the first 25 bps of the expected cuts are perhaps already in the price.

Thus, we would recommend continuing to stay invested in a portfolio with a mix of longer maturities and accrual funds, which are likely to benefit as interest rates are expected come down in the next 18-24 months.

  1. The global equity markets also continue to perform well with US markets reaching new highs. Crude oil prices corrected to a 5.5 year low due to significant new supply of shale gas from U.S., slowdown in global demand, and a reduction in per unit consumption in automobiles due to better and efficient technology. So, there’s enough reason to believe that oil prices will remain favourably low. Obviously, a sharp drop in oil prices can potentially create some pressures in oil exporting countries like Russia and in market players who were perhaps overextended in trading.

Also, lower oil prices reduce inflationary pressures and current account deficits allowing emerging market central banks greater freedom to stimulate domestic economies.

We think 2015 is going to be a year of divergence in economic growth and central bank policy. While the US is leading developed markets growth, Europe and Japan are struggling for growth at this point of time and China is still in search of its sustainable growth formula. So we could have central banks across the globe moving in a de-synchronized manner where US is looking to normalize its interest rate structure, while Japan and Europe will still continue to adopt loose monetary policy conditions to fight deflation in their economy. This divergence in policy action will increase market volatility and require investors to pay more attention to risk management.

  1. Currency: Dollar strength and one of the drivers of this trend is the shale gas revolution which US is experiencing and its impact on shrinking the US economy’s current account deficit. This could pose some challenges for emerging markets but stronger fundamentals should limit the financial risks for those emerging market which have already gone through a course correction over the last 18 to 24 months.

Hence, we continue to reiterate to build a well diversified portfolio with having exposure of between 10-15% into international investments to hedge against currency risk.

  1. Gold prices could continue to remain under pressure in the short term due to the fear of interest rate hike in US. Whilst the INR currently looks a little overvalued and is expected to depreciate, Gold as an asset class could gain value as it has an inverse relationship with the Indian currency traditionally.

Hence, we continue to believe to have gold as small part of the portfolio for the purpose of diversification and hedge currency risk.

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