India of 2018 is a very interesting case study of contradictions in many ways. We have a government that was taken to be long term, at least till 2024, but with the election results this week it is clearly under siege. We have an opposition buoyed and flush with the recent electoral success but pulling in too many directions that may militate against it mounting an effective challenge. We are the fastest growing large economy in the world but our GDP growth rate is again under pressure. With so many things happening in the society, economy and politics, how are our markets likely to react?
Let us take society first – it is easy to see that we live in deeply divided times. The fault lines between different parts of our society is very clear. In terms of religion, the division is wide among Hindus and Muslims with both feeling they are hard done by. The non decision by the courts on the Ram temple issue has clearly caused a deeper divide and is like a festering wound that is now taking a heavy toll on communal harmony. The cow slaughter issue is central to a lot of disharmony and is not being handled properly by the governments. People today lack faith in law and order and are increasing taking the law into their own hands as evidenced by the spate of lynchings across the country, the latest being the sad death of a policeman. Religion is only one side of the coin though, caste is the other. Even today the dalits are treated atrociously in India and that is a great shame. As they get better educated and relatively improve their economic state, they are becoming more assertive, obviously to the chagrin of the upper castes. In general the society is also high on aspiration, education and jobs being the prime drivers. Sadly there is a clear disconnect between them and a lot of educated youth are not finding any avenues to use that education. Changes must be brought through an entrepreneurial revolution but even with government financing the success here is mixed as yet. This is leading to increased demand of more and more reservations, which obviously is not a solution. The societal disparities are also staggering and while the overall per-capita income and living standards rise have reduced poverty, the difference in how the various classes of society lives is mind boggling. All of these create a society in constant tension, reflected by so many unsavory incidents we get to hear of almost daily.
Coming to the economy, agrarian distress is definitely a cause for great concern. A lot of people even today depend on agriculture in our country and the reality is it is virtually impossible to make a living out of it, unless things are changed drastically. Elimination of middlemen and focusing on streamlining of the supply chain is the need of the hour but the vested interests are way too strong for it to get done easily. The focus therefore wrongly shifts to loan waivers which is akin to applying balm when you really need surgery. GST has been a much needed tax reform but the implications of it are that people need to pay taxes honestly after declaring their incomes – again something that most Indians are wont to do. It has to be accepted now that demonetization had a lot of short term pain for the economy and people, it unfortunately was also not followed up properly to get the tax windfall that was quite possible to achieve. Our GDP growth could easily have hit 8 % but for this step and the country is paying a heavy price for it. The tax system has really had no reforms other than the GST and compliance, though improved, have not really led to any game changing tax collection buoyancy. Finally, corporate earnings are still languishing and do not enthuse the markets. So if you had to evaluate the overall economy over the last 4 years, you will probably see a lot of long term initiatives but no great short term performance.
What of politics then? Well, about a year back BJP pretty much ruled most of India and it was a foregone conclusion that they will come back to power in 2019. However, the scene has changed rather dramatically in the last few months culminating in the Congress win of 3 states. BJP or NDA might still come back to power but it will be a tough battle and one they may well lose too. In democracy that is not an issue but the two opposing sides are so bitterly opposed to each other that any change of government will create a fair bit of upheaval throughout the country. Turbulent times ahead as the opposition will seek to hammer home the advantage they have got and BJP will try to take initiatives to win back the goodwill of people.
How will the markets take in all this? To begin with the markets have taken the BJP losses rather well as they were probably factored in. Over the last year the indices have not really gone anywhere, the mid caps and the small caps having taken the biggest hits. FII participation has been lukewarm at best and looks to continue in the same vein with other markets looking more attractive than India. SIP money coming in regularly into the markets courtesy retail participation has been a saving grace for the markets this year and this may well continue. As I see it the markets will take a pause for now and Nifty will be range bound between 10400 and 10800, maybe touching 11000 on the upper end. By the time we get into the budget exercise the markets will react one way or the other. BJP will be forced to take populist measures and this may cause markets to react negatively. My sense is that Nifty can get down to 9500 or so at the lower end and is unlikely to cross 11000 at the upper end. This will hold true till May, unless the budget is significantly positive for corporate India. The other aspect is of course the annual results and earning growth which is unlikely to be very enthusing. Beyond the May 2019 elections, markets will rise as long as there is a stable government.
So what should you do about your investments then? I will write about it in the next post.