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Radhika Gupta, the head of Edelweiss Asset Management
Radhika Gupta, the head of Edelweiss Asset Management

A $6 billion fund is upbeat on Indian stock markets, unfazed by run-up in prices

  • Radhika Gupta, the head of Edelweiss Asset Management Ltd, says it’s ‘risky to be underweight equities’ at a time when local stocks remain ‘heavily’ driven by liquidity

A record price-to-earnings valuation for Indian shares shouldn’t act as a deterrent for investors, according to Radhika Gupta, the head of Edelweiss Asset Management Ltd.

It’s “risky to be underweight equities" at a time when local stocks remain “heavily" driven by liquidity, said Gupta, the only female chief executive officer of a major asset manager in India. Her firm, which oversees Rs465 billion ($6.4 billion) in assets, is putting its money to work. An Edelweiss balanced fund that invests in both stocks and bonds has boosted its equity allocation to about 75%, from just 30% in March.

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“Looking at a single metric of value or P/E is not a fair way to judge the market at a point when domestic economic activity is bottoming out, and you have such high liquidity," she said. “We are buyers of businesses. We are looking at corporate earnings, the domestic economy, flows and risk appetite."

India’s benchmark S&P BSE Sensex has rallied around 90% from its low during the March swoon in 2020, hitting fresh records on the way. The rally fueled by central bank liquidity and incessant foreign inflows has the gauge trading at more than 23 times its 12-month forward earnings. That’s versus a five-year average multiple of around 18 times, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The Sensex was down 0.6% as of 10:16 a.m. in Mumbai on Monday, tracking broad declines in Asian stocks. It completed an 11th straight week of gains on Friday.

Gupta’s optimism is at odds with rising concern among many market watchers that stock prices in India have run ahead of themselves as the economy braces for its biggest annual contraction in records going back to 1952.

Source: Bloomberg
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Source: Bloomberg

Last week, the Reserve Bank of India also warned about the rally, citing a widening “disconnect" between certain sections of the financial markets and the real economy. The RBI will also start draining cash from the banking system as it seeks to revert to normal liquidity operations from pandemic-imposed emergency measures.

Gupta, on the other hand, points to improving corporate earnings and the strength shown in recent months by high-frequency economic indicators such as exports, automobile sales and manufacturing output amid an uptick in consumption. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg have revised up 12-month estimated earnings for Sensex members by about 20% since a trough in July.

“A lot of the uncertainty surrounding markets has ebbed," she said. “The second quarter was good for company earnings led by margin expansion, the tail risk for banks has been contained and a couple of government reforms in the pipeline tell you that the downside risk isn’t very high."

Foreigners continue to pile into Indian stocks, having bought a net $2.4 billion in two weeks in the new year, after pumping in $23.4 billion in 2020. That was the most since 2012.

“Vaccines and the low interest environment that we are in could be a very good thing for emerging markets" like India, said Gupta. “We are hoping to see a scenario of better-than-expected performance for the corporate sector. With lockdowns opening up, we expect revenues to come back."

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