Are we still in a Bull market?

In several discussions about our stock markets, the inevitable question that comes up is – Are we still in a Bull market? At times the people asking the question are really not aware of what a Bull or a Bear market is, they are merely articulating what they have read somewhere or heard on the TV channels. In this post let me try and define these a little, in the context of our markets over the last 15 years or so.

So let us start with the basics – the long term returns for Nifty has been in the range of 14% over the last 3 decades or so. You can define a Bull market as a period of time where the returns were significantly higher than this. In the 2003-2007 period the returns were in excess of 30% as Nifty went from about 2000 to 6000 odd levels. This period can therefore be definitely classified as a Bull market. The corporate profits grew 4 times in this period and the PE ratios approached the high 20’s by the time the run ended.

Contrast this to the period 2008 to 2015. The annualized return on the Nifty was well below the 14% mark. Though the markets went up and down the overall trend was negative. Volumes were generally muted and the overall sentiment was a negative one. This was very clearly a Bear phase of the market. This phase ended in 2015 December and since 2016 beginning we are in a Bull phase again.

It is important to note that in a Bull market there is often a possibility of fairly deep corrections, often more than 10% and at times even to the extent of 30%. In the last Bull run of 2003-2007 there were more than 10 such corrections. The recovery of the markets from such corrections ranged between 2 and 6 months. Even in the present Bull market which started in 2016 there have been 3 instances of such deep corrections. In each of these cases there was recovery in the markets and it went up more than it had fallen.

So, coming back to the main question of the post, are we still in a Bull market? There is a very interesting twist to this answer. For front line stocks ( say top 100 ) the profit multipliers have not been great yet and neither are the PE ratios at a very high level. So the indicators do not signify an end to the Bull market soon. From all available data it seems likely that the run will last till 2020 end or even more. Of course, unexpected events such as the incumbent government losing power can signal an abrupt end to it. In the meantime there will be deep cuts from time to time and investors should use it as an opportunity to buy more.

The broader markets with Mid cap and Small cap stocks are a different story though. Here the individual stocks have been battered down quite badly, in some cases being down by 40 to 60 % from their peak price. Though the recovery may yet happen, it is likely to be rather slow. In case it goes into a deep time correction without recovery then we will have to say that a Bear run has started for this part of the market. As Indian companies grow at different levels this may well become the norm where different part of the markets exhibit different buying levels and interest.

On the whole though, I am inclined to think that we are in a Bull run for the overall market – maybe more so for the large caps and less so for the others. Unless BJP loses 2019 polls, it is very likely that the run will continue till 2022 which will be the mid point of the next government.

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