The Weekly Wrap | The heat is on

If you can’t stand the heat, you should get out of the kitchen. This is as true for the actual kitchen as for the proverbial kitchen that matters to members of the Kuvera community.


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So, whatever your favourite recipe is to satiate your needs and wants—stocks, mutual funds, bonds, currencies or cryptos—chances are that you would have felt the temperature rising in the week gone by.


In a nutshell, here’s what happened this past week. Inflation accelerated. The rupee plunged. Stocks slumped. Cryptocurrencies crashed. And the mutual fund industry was rocked by a scandal.


As we have pointed out and warned in the recent past, inflation has been on an uptrend. And latest data shows just how serious the problem is. Retail inflation for April touched 7.8%, the highest level since May 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi first took office. Food inflation is even higher at 8.38%, versus 1.96% in April 2021.


The data isn’t a surprise, though. The common people knew it, the markets knew it, the analysts knew it, and the economists knew it. Is it possible that maybe the policymakers and the powers that be didn’t know it?


Well, no. It isn’t possible. This is because earlier this month the Reserve Bank of India shocked everyone by raising interest rates after an unscheduled monetary policy meeting. Clearly, the RBI and the finance ministry mandarins knew about the dangers of inflation. But they chose to ignore it, presumably to support economic growth.


So, how are India’s growth prospects? The picture isn’t as rosy as it seemed just a few months before. Multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and global financial institutions such as UBS and Morgan Stanley have all slashed India’s growth forecasts over the past few weeks.


The government’s own data showed this week that factory output grew at a tepid 1.9% in March and the manufacturing sector expanded barely 0.9%. Data released by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers show that sales of passenger vehicles in April 2022 were below April 2017 figures and two-wheeler sales were below April 2012 levels! And with more rate hikes in the offing, growth prospects will dim even further.



What’s with the Rupee?


The Indian rupee plunged to a record low this week, touching 77.59 to a US dollar on Thursday. Is it a bad thing? Well, it is for most of us and it isn’t for some of us. But first, let’s understand why is the rupee weakening after all.



In simple terms, the rupee is falling because its supply is rising and demand falling. But who doesn’t want the rupees? Foreign investors, for one. Since the start of 2022, foreign portfolio investors have withdrawn $20.5 billion from India’s capital markets as they turn risk-averse and as interest rates rise in the Western world.


In other words, FPIs have pulled out in four-and-a-half months almost as much as they invested ($21 billion) in the whole of 2020 and 2021! Add the last three months of 2021 and FPI sales cross a whopping $26 billion. This has flooded India with excess rupee liquidity.


So, what are authorities doing about it? Well, the RBI did intervene in the currency market to prevent the rupee from sliding too much, too fast. That’s reflected in the drop in India’s foreign-exchange reserves, to $597 billion at the end of April from $642 billion in September, just before the FPI sell-off started.


But there is only so much the RBI can do, and some analysts now say the rupee could even touch 80 to a dollar in the near term. That will again feed into inflation as India imports 80% of its crude oil and 60% of its cooking oil, not to mention everything from electronic components for smartphones and TVs to heavy machinery.


A weaker rupee is also bad news for Indian students and travellers going overseas. However, it’s good for IT exporters such as Infosys, TCS and Wipro. The tourism industry may benefit, too, but only if foreign visitors flock to India again after the shutdowns due to Covid-19.



Mutual funds and Axis front-running


If FPIs have pulled out more than what they invested, why aren’t stock markets back to early 2020 levels? That’s partly because of a sustained rise in domestic inflows, both directly into stocks as well as via mutual funds.


This is evident from the rise in the assets under management of the Indian mutual fund industry to Rs 38 trillion at the end of April 2022 from about Rs 24 trillion in April 2020. In fact, the share of retail investors, HNIs and domestic institutions such as MFs in local markets has crossed 23% while the FPI share has fallen below 20%.


Not everything is going well for the MF industry, though. Two years after the Franklin Templeton debt fund debacle, the MF industry was rocked by another scandal this week as Axis Mutual Fund, one of the most celebrated fund houses over the past couple of years, came under regulatory scanner.


Axis MF suspended two fund managers, Viresh Joshi and Deepak Agarwal, as it probed allegations of irregularities in managing their funds. India’s seventh-largest MF house said the two executives were involved in managing seven schemes, including Axis Arbitrage Fund and Axis Quant Fund, with total AUM of Rs 7,700 crore.


The two executives were allegedly ‘front running’, an illegal practice where a broker or a fund manager uses their position to take advantage of movements in prices of shares or debt instruments. While Axis MF is doing an investigation of its own, the capital markets regulator SEBI has also started a preliminary enquiry.



Market wrap, crypto crash


Stock markets extended their fall this week, as investors worried about inflation, rate hikes, high crude oil prices and geopolitical tensions. The 30-stock BSE Sensex and the NSE Nifty 50 fell around 3.8% each this week, after sliding 4% last week. The two benchmark indices are now down around 15% from their lifetime highs in October last year.


Activity was weak also in primary markets, where all eyes were on the IPOs of Life Insurance Corp, logistics firm Delhivery and wealth management advisory firm Prudent Corporate Advisory Services.


LIC’s IPO, which opened last week, closed with 2.95 times subscription. It set its issue price at Rs 949, the lower end of the band. This means the government raised Rs 20,560 crore instead of the targeted Rs 21,000 crore. Prudent’s IPO of Rs 538 crore was subscribed just 1.22 times. The Rs 5,235-crore Delhivery IPO was also fully subscribed.


In the US, the S&P 500 has slid more than 4% so far this week while the tech-heavy Nasdaq has slumped 6%. The S&P 500 is now down 18% year to date. The Nasdaq has already sunk into bear territory with an almost 30% decline.


The stock market weakness has spilled over to the world of digital currencies. Bitcoin, the world’s most dominant digital currency, dropped below $27,000 on Thursday to hit the lowest level since December 2020, before bouncing back to near $31,000. Still, Bitcoin has lost more than half its value over the past year.



Ethereum, another popular digital currency, fell below $2,000 on Thursday, extending its one-year loss to 57%. But the most dramatic decline was in the case of Luna, which lost 99% of its value on Thursday!



Corporate developments, earnings


Like last week, this week was also dominated by corporate earnings and the reported deal for European cement giant Holcim’s India units, Ambuja Cements and ACC. Until last week, only two billionaires were in the race—Adani Group’s Gautam Adani and JSW’s Sajjan Jindal. This week, a third billionaire threw his hat in the ring—Kumar Mangalam Birla, who leads UltraTech, Hindalco, Grasim and other Aditya Birla Group companies.


However, Birla faces an uphill task and may even run into a regulatory roadblock as he already owns India’s biggest cement company UltraTech. Adani isn’t present in the cement sector while JSW is a relatively smaller player.


The blue-chip companies that disclosed quarterly earnings over the past seven days include Reliance Industries, Tata Motors, Larsen & Toubro, PVR and Asian Paints.


RIL, India’s most valued company, reported a 20% jump in profit for the January-March quarter and a 35% surge in revenue. Annual revenue soared 47% to make it the first Indian company with sales of more than $100 billion.


Asian Paints, the country’s largest paints company, missed Street estimates as its quarterly profit was flat. PVR, the top multiplex chain, narrowed its loss to Rs 105 crore from Rs 289 crore and doubled its revenue to Rs 580 crore.


L&T, India’s biggest engineering conglomerate, reported a 10% rise each in profit and revenue but missed analysts’ expectations. Tata Motors managed to slash its losses to Rs 1,033 crore from Rs 7,605 crore a year earlier. But its revenue fell 11.5% as sales of its Jaguar Land Rover unit slipped.



Other headlines


  • SEBI proposes confidential ‘pre-filing’ of IPO documents

  • RBI likely to raise rates again in June as inflation accelerates

  • Morgan Stanley lowers India’s 2023 growth forecasts to 7.6% from 7.9%

  • Ford drops plans to make electric vehicles in India

  • Google joins Amazon in considering a bid for Indian Premier League

  • Govt relaxes rule on Covid-19 booster dose for Indians travelling overseas

  • Govt aims to build 18,000 km of highways in FY23, says highways minister Nitin Gadkari

  • Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed as new PM of Sri Lanka amid economic turmoil

  • US consumer price inflation slows to 8.3% in April

  • Saudi Aramco dethrones Apple as the world’s most valuable company



The week ahead


  • The earnings season is drawing to a close. The notable companies that will announce their results in the coming week include Bharti Airtel, DMart, Bharat Forge, Coal India Ltd, DLF, Indian Oil and IndiGo.

  • Fertiliser maker Paradeep Phospates Ltd and luxury watch retailer Ethos Ltd will launch their IPOs.

  • The government will release monthly data for wholesale inflation, FDI inflows air passenger traffic.

  • The RBI will release the minutes of its off-cycle monetary policy meeting.

  • LIC will make its stock market debut on May 17. It may list at a discount given its decision to price the IPO at the lower end of the range and indications from the grey market. So, if you bought LIC shares, be prepared!



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