|» INVESTING IN INDIA|
The Indian stock markets have been on a roll.
The BSE 30 Index was stuck in the 8,000 to 10,000 range for 5 months between October 2008 and March 2009. At the 8,000 levels many mutual fund managers and individual investors did not invest. They believed the market could slip to 6,000.
When the market hit 10,000 (5 times in that 5 month period) everyone believed that it was on its way to 8,000. They were right 4 times - each rise of the market resulted in a sharp decline (see Graph 1).
------------------------ Stock markets are on a tear... ------------------------
But, after breaking the 10,000 barrier in March, the market marched on relentlessly to 12,173 on May 15th - the last trading day before the election results.
This rise was so rapid - and against the mainstream thinking - that most people were left out. In fact, many lost money by going "short" - betting that the markets would decline.
Now there is no Mayawati or Karat to upset the national political equations. The Index has surged - and after 13 successive weeks of gains - stands at 15,104.
This is 85% above the low of 8,160 reached on March 9th, 2009.
Not only has the uncertainty of a Third Front government been removed, but global capital is willing to take "risks" again and foreign investors are buying India.
There were a few problems with the surge of foreign buying which the Ministry of Finance was blind to. The RBI, to its credit, did send out warnings. But central bankers are treated like the headmaster: every "No" should be defied.
The first problem was much of this USD 17 billion of foreign money that came into India in the year 2007 was mostly speculative money. Not long term capital that large pension funds invest with a 10 year and 20 year time frame. But quick, in-and-out money that hedge funds were happily gambling with. The swine flu of the western capitalist society had invaded India.
The second problem was that this "hot" money was, in many ways, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The USD 17 billion that came into India in the calendar year 2007 began to fund highly irrational ventures - like this concept of land banks accumulated by various real estate developers. But the injection of this money itself made the irrational, look rational. Every barren piece of land stolen from illiterate villagers was seen as a glossy township with billions of dollars of future cash flow.
Money illusions can hide the reality underneath - for a while. A surge of liquidity gives the false impression of stronger fundamentals.
Banks like ICICI Bank can get more funding and they grow larger - but they grow larger doing the same thing. ICICI was famous for lending to gain market share - with a flawed risk assessment. Just because they got more foreign money to grow, did not mean they were doing the right thing.
Or take a Pantaloon - rushing to open malls as if every Indian had buckets of cash to spend every weekend.
Or a Tata Motors, buying Jaguar and Land Rover for future technology - and being able to do so because money was cheap.
The third problem was that, when India did actually face a threat and problem from the global economic crisis and financial meltdown, the policy makers were caught with no clothes. They were naked and devoid of any ability to act. India had not built a sufficient set of counter-cyclical actions to offset the negative global economic environment. Because, like hedge fund managers, our policy makers had focused on the quarterly performance of our economy and the stock markets. So, when the global crisis hit - India, one of the lesser affected economies - was one of the worst hit stock markets in the world.
The foreign gamblers (P-Note holders) scrambled for shelter and sold every share that could be sold. Our government and policy makers were like timid deer caught in the glare of spotlights: frozen and unable to do much. To be fair, the fact that we were to hold a general election limited their ability to act rapidly.
A market that can reach a new peak
The Indian stock markets wobbled from their January 2008 peak largely because of the fears of inflation. The price of commodities including oil and wheat had surged. India was seen to be a victim of a high inflation environment.
The horizontal line across Graph 2 is the 14,000 level of the Index. If oil had stayed at USD 100 plus; if wheat, rice, and all the other commodities had stayed at their peak levels for a year - one can argue that the market would have fallen by, say, -50%. From its 20,873 peak to a 14,000 level.
But the markets fell to 8,000.
Inflation is not a threat to India - or to anyone in the world.
The budget is the next trigger
The budget to be presented in early July will decide what the markets will do in the next few months.
A "bad" budget will bring the market back to the 14,000 levels.
And, if companies report better-than-expected profits for the quarter ending March 2010, the market could be at a new peak - irrespective of the budget.
So, if you missed putting new money into the stock market when it rallied from 8,000 to 15,000 - you can still invest. Buy steadily over the next few weeks; not in one shot.
But recognise the inherent ability of stock markets to surge and slump at very short notice - and for very few real reasons.
My advice stays the same: keep aside enough money in "reliable cash" to maintain a lifestyle that you enjoy for 6 months, 12 months, 18 months, or 24 months. That is a function of how you can handle sleepless nights caused by market swings.
Everything else - the money you have left after that - should be invested 80% in equity and 20% in gold.
It is not fun to know that you missed an 85% surge in 5 months. But there is a possibility of a 50% gain in the next 12 months.