London/New York: Investors are punishing stocks in India more than in any of the other largest emerging markets as government measures to curb inflation cut profits at companies from Steel Authority of India Ltd to Grasim Industries Ltd.
Steel Authority, India’s second largest producer of the metal, is valued at nine times projected earnings, 41% less than at the start of 2008. The ratio for Grasim, the nation’s third biggest cement maker, dropped 32% to 8.5.
Price-to-earnings for the entire Indian market slumped 33% as foreign investors turned net sellers for the first time since at least 2000, more than in Brazil, Russia and China, where they fell 10% to 31%, data complied by Bloomberg show.
An inside view of a Steel Authority of India plant. Due to the measures taken by the govt to ease inflation, the company is valued at nine times projected earnings, 41% less than at the start of the year (Photo by: Maitreyee Handique / Mint)
Investors are showing less faith in India—even after the benchmark Sensex jumped 13% from its March low—because companies produce fewer commodities than Russia and Brazil, the nation’s gross domestic product is growing slower than China’s and a scarcity of coal, oil and iron ore drove inflation to a three-year high.
“I’m just not finding a compelling reason to be in India,” said Uri Landesman, who oversees $5.5 billion as head of global growth and international equities at ING Groep NV’s asset management unit in New York. “With little natural resources, given their population, inflation might be a problem and the government might end up quashing some of the GDP growth.”
India is the only so-called Bric market where Landesman, 46, isn’t invested after he sold the last of his Indian stocks at the start of the month. He declined to name them. Bric is an acronym coined by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in November 2001 to encompass four emerging markets—Brazil, Russia, India and China—it predicted would join the US and Japan as the world’s biggest economies by 2050.
India is also the only Bric nation where economic growth is forecast to slow for a second consecutive year in 2008, according to the Washington-based International Monetary Fund.
Overseas fund managers pulled a net $3.03 billion out of Indian equities in the first three months of the year, Bloomberg data show. That’s the first time foreigners have been net sellers on a quarterly basis since the data were first compiled in 2000.
“There are no triggers really for the markets to move up,” said Mahesh Patil, who helps manage $8.8 billion at Birla Sun Life Asset Management Co. Ltd in Mumbai.
The declines have made stocks too cheap for some investors to pass up. Prudential ICICI Asset Management Co., India’s biggest money manager, and Merrill Lynch and Co.’s local management unit are among those betting on India’s plan to spend $1 trillion this decade on roads, railways and airports.
“We remain very positive,” said Michael Konstantinov, Frankfurt-based chief investment officer for emerging market equities at RCM, a division of Allianz Global Investors, which oversees $435 billion. “I’m looking for the right time to increase our holdings.”
UBS AG, the top-rated research firm for Asian equities in Asiamoney magazine’s 2007 broker poll, is more sceptical. The Zurich-based investment bank predicted last month that rising prices will cause India’s central bank to tightenmonetary policy, which will curtail earnings growth and end six years of stock gains that lifted the 30-company Sensex 522%.
“India’s probably going to remain out of favour,” said Geoff Lewis, the Hong Kong-based head of investment services at JF Asset Management Ltd, which oversees $110 billion. “It’s not the time to be putting more money in.”
Indian shares are valued at 10.9 times analysts’ estimated 2008 earnings, based on the median of 573 companies analysed by Bloomberg. That’s the lowest among the four Bric markets.
Makers of steel, cement and other materials have the biggest discounts, with a median price-earnings ratio of 8. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government last month asked companies to consider sacrificing some profits to help contain inflation, which doubled in the past four months. Wholesale prices increased 7.61% in the week that ended on 26 April from a year ago, the fastest since November 2004, India said last week.
Mumbai-based Tata Steel Ltd and JSW Steel Ltd, and New Delhi-based Steel Authority—India’s three biggest steelmakers—cut prices for a second time since April after meeting with Singh last week. Higher costs may cut margins “substantially,” JSW Steel said. The industry agreed last month to pay three times more for coking coal and 65% more for iron ore.
India last week said it’s also seeking to persuade cement makers to cut prices. Grasim on 29 April forecast that profit margins at its cement and yarn units will narrow this fiscal year because of higher raw-material costs. The 8.5 times estimated earnings investors pay for Grasim is the lowest since at least March 2002, compared with reported profits, Bloomberg data show. The stock lost 36% in 2008.
In contrast, valuations for Anhui Conch Cement Co., China’s biggest maker of the construction material, dropped 11% in Hong Kong. The company, based in Wuhu City in eastern China’s Anhui province, said last monthfirst quarter profit doubled because it was able to increase prices.
China, which has $1.68 trillion in foreign reserves, more than five times India’s balance, has beaten out its South Asian rival on the purchases of over $10 billion in oil and gas assets from Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Canada.
The Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) rose 123.83 points to close at 16,860.90 on Monday. The market snapped a five-day losing streak, but trade was choppy after industrial output growth slowed to a six-year low. The 30-share BSE index is down almost 17% in 2008.