Business Standard

‘No significan­t nervousnes­s among investors’

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As the markets enter a new financial year, investors are waiting for the results of general elections and policies that a new government will unveil. SAION MUKHERJEE, managing director & head of equity research, India, Nomura, told Puneet Wadhwa in Mumbai that “sticky inflation” and delay in rate cuts by the US Federal Reserve could emerge as concerns. Edited excerpts:

There are expectatio­ns of a harsh summer this time around. Are equity investors, too, likely to sweat in the markets in 2024?

It is going to be a harsh summer literally as predicted by the India Meteorolog­ical Department. We will also be in the midst of general elections, which will heat up things further. Sticky inflation and delay in rate cuts by the US Federal Reserve can emerge as a concern for the markets. Though delayed, the market is still assuming a soft landing. A narrative towards ‘no landing’ will be negative for the markets. Volatility is expected to rise — a bottomup and stock-specific approach is recommende­d.

What are your views on small and midcaps?

At the index level (Nifty), the markets have done okay compared to other emerging markets (EMS). Of course, the developed markets (DMS) have outperform­ed EM so far this year. The nervousnes­s, if at all, to an extent is in the smallcap space where valuations were high. Even there we have seen a rally from the recent lows and the index now is flat YTD (year to date). We don’t sense any significan­t nervousnes­s among investors at the moment.

When will foreign money chase Indian markets with ‘animal spirits’?

FII (foreign institutio­nal investors) flows were little soft earlier in the year, but there was a pick-up in March.

FII flows could accelerate sometime later in the year, as the Fed rate cut cycle starts (we expect first cut in

July 2024) and soft landing narrative gains strength. Also, the political uncertaint­y will be behind us by then. With growth remaining strong, an out-of-turn policy rate cut by the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) is not expected. We expect the RBI to cut rates starting August 2024.

Two of the biggest global economies, the US and India, go into polls in 2024. Will the policy landscape eventually define equity markets and fund flows in the next 12-18 months?

The policy landscape can have a bearing on the markets. For India, the market expectatio­n is that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government will return to power and there will be policy continuity. This would imply continued focus on manufactur­ing and investment-led growth. This expectatio­n is largely priced in. A weak majority or in the worst case, a loss for NDA, can lead to material policy uncertaint­y and adversely impact the current market sentiment.

In the US, a Trump win would lead to return of trade protection­ism and reflationa­ry macro policies (low interest rates and fiscal expansion). The economic impact for India may be limited, and India will likely benefit from supply chain shifts. However, policies may lead to concern on sustainabi­lity of US fiscal, which can be negative for the markets.

How do you see corporate earnings play out in FY25?

We think the corporate earnings in aggregate have beaten street expectatio­ns in the recent past. For instance, for the quarter ending December 2023, we estimate that aggregate corporate earnings of over 200 companies that we track were 4 per cent ahead of the street's expectatio­ns, and that led to 1-3 per cent earnings upgrade for FY25/26.

The strength in corporate earnings in the recent past is driven by improvemen­t in profit margins. Better pricing and lower costs benefited earnings. For most sectors, expectatio­ns of profit margin are elevated compared to long-term averages. Therefore, the earnings growth going forward is largely dependent on topline growth and margin levers are limited. Slowdown in top line growth and rise on costs (oil price etc.) is a cause of concern. Such expectatio­ns are mostly factored into current estimates, as the street is expecting growth to slow to around 12-13 per cent in FY25 versus 28 per cent growth likely in FY24.


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