Global Investing

Trading the new normal in India

After a ghastly 2011, Indian stock markets have’t done too badly this year despite the almost constant stream of bad news from India. They are up 12 percent, slightly outperforming other emerging markets, thanks to  fairly cheap valuations (by India’s normally expensive standards)  and hopes the central bank might cut rates. But foreign  inflows, running at $3 billion a month in the first quarter, have tapered off and the underlying mood is pessimistic. Above all, the worry is how much will India’s once turbo-charged economy slow? With the government seemingly in policy stupor, growth is likely to fall under 7 percent this year. News today added to the gloom — exports fell in March for the first time since the 2009 global crisis.

So how are fund managers to play India now? According to David Cornell, who runs an India portfolio at specialist investor Ocean Dial, they must simply get used to the “new normal” — subpar growth and high cost of capital. In this shift, Cornell points out, return on assets in India has fallen from a peak of almost 14 percent in 2007 to less than 10 percent now. While that is still higher than the broader emerging asset class, the advantage has dwindled to less than 1 percent as companies suffer from margin compression and falling turnover. Check out these two graphs from Ocean Dial:

Cornell is playing the new normal by focusing on three sectors — consumer goods, banks and pharmaceuticals. These companies, he says, have pricing power and structural barriers to entry (banks); provide access to still-buoyant demand for services such as mobile phones (consumer goods) and are well-run and profitable (pharmaceuticals). And the export-oriented pharma sector is also an effective hedge against the weakening rupee.

If cost of capital is high, you want to avoid leverage, you want to be in banks which have pricing power. In pharmaceuticals you have 20 percent earnings growth and transparent accounting. In an uncertain environment these sectors should perform well. (Cornell says)

 

In general, fund managers seem to be fairly positive on India despite the economic gloom and the government’s best efforts to drive them away via ill-reasoned initiatives such as attempts to retrospectively tax some investment gains.

BRICS: future aid superpowers?

Britain’s aid programme for India hit the headlines this year, when New Delhi, much to the fury of the Daily Mail, described Britain’s £200 million annual aid to it as peanuts. Whether it makes sense to send money to a fast-growing emerging power that spends billions of dollars on arms is up for debate but few know that India has been boosting its own aid programme for other poor nations.  A report released today by NGO Global Health Strategies Initiatives (GHSi) finds that India’s foreign assistance grew 10.8 percent annually between 2005 and 2010.

The actual sums flowing from India are,  to use its own phrase, peanuts. The country provided $680 million in 2010. Compare that to the $3.2 billion annual contribution even from crisis-hit Italy. The difference is that Indian donations have risen from $443 million in 2005, while Italy’s have fallen 10 percent in this period, GHSi found. Indian aid has grown in fact at a rate 10 times that of the United States. Add to that Indian pharma companies’ contribution – the source of 60- 80 percent of the vaccines procured by United Nations agencies.

Other members of the BRICS group of developing countries are also stepping up overseas assistance, with a special focus on healthcare, the report said. BRICS leaders meet this week to ink a deal on setting up a BRICS development bank.

What fund managers think

Bank of America-Merrill Lynch’s monthly poll of around 200 fund managers had a few nuggets in the June version, aside from the usual mood-taking.

Gold is too expensive.  A net 27 percent of respondent thought it overvalued, up from 13 percent in May. Then again, the respondents to this poll have reckoned gold is too pricey since September 2009.

The fall in the euro should be tailing off. A net 14 percent reckon the single currency is still overvalued, but that is way down from the net 45 percent who thought so in the May poll.

Nowhere to hide

Shampoo, margarine and medicine – surely some things will be okay in a recession?

Unfortunately, the concept of defensive stocks is taking a big knock along with so much else this time round. Companies making the stuff are themselves no longer certain what the future holds.

Unilever’s decision to scrap its financial targets sent its shares skidding this week and raised the spectre that more companies may follow suit.

from Davos Notebook:

Bankers – Ever thought about working for Big Pharma?

    Are you an out-of-work banker looking for a new job with
some stability? Considered the drugs industry?

    Daniel Vasella, chief executive of Swiss pharmaceuticals
company Novartis, reckons his sector is a pretty good place
to work when compared to "mercenary" banking.

    "We are not in a banking industry, where they fire a
thousand investment bankers
and then a year after they hire
a thousand investment bankers," Vasella told Reuters.