Letter to Investors – Jun 2022 – Extracts

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • Trailing twelve months’ earnings of underlying portfolio companies grew by 17%.
  • NAV fell by 8.2% YTD (Apr-Jun) with 62% funds invested. NSE Nifty 50 and Nifty 500 fell by 9.1% and 9.7% respectively.
  • Inflation is high globally and money supply is getting tighter, bringing in much missed sanity to asset prices.
  • Being prepared for this, we are investing our above-average cash reserves gradually. Valuations are still high in some pockets.
  • Stance: Neutral

Dear Fellow Investors,

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

-Charles Dickens, The Tale of Two Cities

Rising global inflation and resulting tightening of liquidity has pulled global markets including Indian equities lower. While exact causes and future trajectory of inflation are neither easy nor interesting topics to discuss, the impact inflation has on businesses, valuations and investment opportunities is real and therefore deserves your investment attention. 

Intrinsic value of a business is present value of its future free-cash-flows (cash profits less investments) discounted at an expected reasonable rate of return. Inflation can adversely affect all the three elements of this value equation – (1) profits, (2) investments in working capital & fixed assets and (3) expected reasonable rate of return (aka cost of capital).

Profits – When revenues fail to increase as fast as costs during inflation, profitability suffers. There are two antidotes to this– (a) raise prices, and/or (b) control costs. There are many nuances to each of them.

Companies that sell unsubstitutable necessities such as staples, utilities etc. can raise prices without material effect on volumes. Inflation raises output prices for commodity producing companies (steel, copper, aluminium, oil etc.), but the benefits are temporary due to cyclicity – higher prices reduce demand and/or attract new supply that cool prices. For lenders, interest rates on loans are reset faster than cost of deposits and supports margins. Industries with low spare capacity can raise prices in near term without materially affecting volumes. On the other side, often regulatory caps on pricing can become a deterrent. If end consumers are seeing strain on their budgets, they will try to delay, substitute or downtrend. However, companies serving higher income consumers may be hit less.

On cost side, companies with high operating margins can maintain absolute profits without large increase in output prices during inflation. Illustration: if revenue is 100, operating cost is 30, then operating profit is 70 (and operating margin 70%). If costs rise by 10% to 33, just a 3% rise in sales price to 103 can protect absolute operating profits of 70. Whereas if the operating margins are 30%, a 7% rise in sales prices will be needed.  Continuing on costs, companies with high operating leverage (high fixed costs) can see rise in margins with rise in volumes (rise in fixed costs is slower than rise in volumes and improves margins). Lastly, a lower cost player can breakeven when others in the industry bleed and can get stronger as competition dwindle.

Finally, if inflation leads to rise in interest rates or currency depreciation, companies with high debt or imports can see sharp rise in their interest and forex cost, that can further hurt profits.

Investments – Working capital and capital expenditure (capex) rise with inflation. Rising input prices increase investments in inventory, and rising output prices increase receivables. Some of this is negated by rise in payables. Dominant companies who can keep low inventories, receive dues faster from customers and delay payment to vendors can keep working capital low. Capex heavy businesses are worst hit during inflation. Maintenance or new capex rise in line with inflation. The rise has to be paid out of profits and this reduces free cash that can distributed to shareholders. Capex and working capital light businesses are best saved during inflation. Services are generally less investment intensive than goods. Companies where large capex is already done will also be less affected by inflation.

Discount Rate: Central banks usually raise interest rates to control inflation. This raises the hurdle rate that risky investments like equities should deliver. A higher discount rate reduces present value of future cashflows. There is no running away from this for any company, but loss making companies with back ended cashflows are hit more. Higher discount rates should make us wary of paying high multiples even for strong companies. Keeping other things constant, what was deemed fair at 30x earnings during low inflationary period can become expensive during high inflation.

For a given company, the net effect of inflation on all three variables – profits, investments and discount rate – need to be studied together to understand its investment merit. High points on profitability and/or investments may be nullified by low points due to high valuations. Moreover, short term effects need to be separated from longer term effects. Pricing tailwinds for many commodity producers may be cyclical. Stronger companies may sacrifice margins in near term to capture market share from weaker ones. In short, assessing impact of inflation on intrinsic value is little messy and we need to err on the side of caution. This means accepting that the sub set of companies whose intrinsic values may rise during inflation is very small.

By threatening to adversely impact cashflows and discount rates, inflation has arrested the unidirectional worldwide rise in asset prices. This is the bad part. However after two years, barring a few sector/ companies, valuations in many of our coverage stocks are coming back to reasonable levels. This is the good part. We are changing our stance from cautious to neutral.

A. PERFORMANCE

 

A1. Statutory PMS Performance Disclosure

Portfolio YTD FY23  FY22 FY 21  FY 20* Since Inception* Outper-formance Avg YTD Cash  Bal.
CED Long Term Focused Value (PMS) -8.2% 14.9% 48.5% -9.5% 41.7% 38.0%
NSE Nifty 500 TRI (includes dividends) -9.7% 22.3% 77.6% -23.6% 49.8% -8.1% NIL
NSE Nifty 50 TRI (includes dividends) -9.1% 20.3% 72.5% -23.5% 44.3% -2.6% NIL
*From Jul 24, 2019; Note: As required by SEBI, the returns are calculated on time weighted average (NAV) basis. The returns are NET OF ALL EXPENSES AND FEES. The returns pertain to ENTIRE portfolio of our one and only strategy. Individual investor returns may vary from above owing to different investment dates. Annual returns are audited but not verified by SEBI.

 

As shared in recent past letters in the backdrop of high valuations, our efforts have been to fall less. This quarter we have started to see small progress towards that. Versus Nifty500 we have fallen less by 1.7%. What gives us satisfaction is that for capital that was introduced in last twelve months (a period of high valuation), the weighted average marked to market loss is 0.5% versus Nifty 500’s loss of 7.9% in the same period.

Our minimum objective is to beat inflation on every incremental Rupee that we invest. At one stock price this is not possible and we wait. And at another it looks possible or even better and we act. We will continue to be guided by this principle.

A2. Underlying business performance

 

Past Twelve Months Earnings per unit (EPU)2 FY 2023 EPU (expected)
Mar 2022 6.21 6.5-7.53
Dec 2021 (Previous Quarter) 5.9
Mar 2021 (Previous Year) 5.3
Annual Change 17%
CAGR since inception (Jun 2019) 10%
1 Last four quarters ending Mar 2022. Results of Jun quarter are declared by Aug only. 2 EPU = Total normalised earnings accruing to the aggregate portfolio divided by units outstanding. 3 Please note: the forward earnings per unit (EPU) are conservative estimates of our expectation of future earnings of underlying companies. In past we have been wrong – often by wide margin – in our estimates and there is a risk that we are wrong about the forward EPU reported to you above. 

Trailing Earnings: Trailing twelve months Earnings Per Unit (EPU) of underlying companies, grew by 17% (including effects of cash equivalents that earn ~4-5%).  This was in line with our start-of-the-year expectation. In Jun 2021 letter, amid very high uncertainty, we had pegged the FY22 expected EPU at Rs 5.8 per unit. Actual EPU has come at Rs 6.2.

1-Yr Forward Earnings: We introduce estimate for FY 23 earnings per unit at Rs 6.5-7.5 per unit. This wide margin is an acknowledgement of difficulty in predicting earnings during inflationary periods.

 

A3. Underlying portfolio parameters

 

Jun 2022 Trailing P/E Forward P/E Portfolio RoE Portfolio Turnover1
CED LTFV (PMS) 22.9x 20.2x 17.4% 1.4%
NSE 50 19.5x2 15.6%3
NSE 500 20.1x2 14.1%3
1 ‘sale of equity shares’ divided by ‘average portfolio value’ during the year to date period. 2 Source: NSE. 3Source: Ace Equity. 4Trailing Twelve Months. 

 

B. DETAILS ON PERFORMANCE

B1. MISTAKES AND LEARNINGS

There were no new mistakes to report this period. We continue to remind ourselves of our past mistakes:

From our two past mistakes- “Cera Sanitaryware” and “2015-16” – we learnt that unless fundamentals are extremely compelling, it is better to be gradual in selling and buying respectively. From our past mistake on “Treehouse Education” we have learnt that bad management deserves a low price, it’s seldom a bargain. In Dish TV we underestimated the competitive disruption but thankfully sold at breakeven. Tata Motors DVR taught us that cyclical investing requires a different mindset to moat investing and one needs to be quick to act when external environment turns adverse. In Talwalkars, we learnt that assessing promoter quality is a difficult job and we should err on the side of caution irrespective of how cheap quantitative valuations look. From DB Corp we learned that industries in structural decline will fail to get high multiples even if the industry is consolidated, competition limited and free cash flows healthy. 

B2. MAJOR PORTFOLIO CHANGES

We added to our existing positions in four companies. Additionally, we trimmed our position in one company in some over-weight portfolios.

B4. FLOWS AND SENTIMENTS

Sentiments and flows continue to remain weak due to fear of monetary tightening and interest rate hikes required to cool down inflation that has crossed 8% in the US and the Euro Zone. Yields of 10 year US government bonds are up from 0.5% in Aug 2020 to 2.9% as of this letter. At 7.04%, India’s inflation has remained above RBI’s target of 6% forcing the RBI to announce out of schedule hike in policy rates of 0.4%.

Suddenly, the world that has been awash with liquidity is finding capital getting costly.

In the US, Tech heavy Nasdaq Composite index is down 32% from its recent highs. Morgan Stanley’s unprofitable Tech Index – an index of loss making tech companies – is down over 60% percent since the start of 2022. Covid darlings like Peleton, Zoom and Robinhood are down 80%-90% from their Covid highs.

IPO pipelines have dried up in the world including India. Private equity and venture capital funds including biggies like Sequoia Capital are advising their investee companies to change their focus from growth to profitability and cashflows. Many startups have been giving ESOPs to attract talent. With stock prices falling sharply, and ESOPs are no longer attractive, hiring cash costs will rise for startups at the time when capital is not easy to raise without downrounds. Startup layoffs are rising.

Total market capitalisation of all crypto currencies is down from peak of 3trn$ to under 1trn$. Bitcoin’s price is down from 60,000$ to 20,000$. Tokens like Terra and Luna have collapsed and Celsius has halted withdrawals (so much for de-centralised currencies).

In India, FPI (foreign portfolio investors) outflows have crossed 33bn$ in last 9 months since Oct 2021, highest ever. Infact, monthly FPI outflows of May 2022 were just 10% lower than Mar 2020 when markets fell over 30% (In May 2022, markets fell 4%). Thanks to continued retail inflows especially through domestic mutual funds the FPI selling has not caused as sharp a selldown as in the past.

In short, while retail enthusiasm remains intact, the general mood has turned from euphoria to caution. We like that.

C. OTHER THOUGHTS

Imagining a different world

If we dial back back a year, US 10 year G-sec were 1.3%, inflation had been below 2% in the rich world for over 11 years and capital was abundant. Tech businesses scaled massively and their stocks galloped at an unprecedented pace. New concepts such as SPAC, Crypto and Unicorns became popular buzz words. Capital was a moat. First mover startups with capital backing kept on growing despite losses. It was difficult to fathom a world of capital scarcity, rising inflation or disciplined valuations. Yet imagining a pause or reversal was an important part of an investor’s toolkit to control risk.

Cut to today, most of those unimaginable things have turned to reality. Inflation is above 8%, US 10 yr bonds are at 2.9%, and capital has become cautious. Tech stock, Crypto, SPAC and Unicorns are looking weak. If capital dries up it will be difficult to see loss making startups commanding multi-billion dollar valuations. Discipline capital spending and sensible valuations are making a comeback. And if this will continue for few quarters more it lead to an exact opposite situation to the one described in previous paragraph. Lower inflation, lower interest rates, growth, will look impossible. Yet imagining them to reverse in some point in future will be an important part of an investor’s toolkit to grab opportunities.

Most things in business including growth, margins, capital availability and valuation multiples turn out to be cyclical. Investment risks can be reduced if (a) we can understand where we are in the cycle and (b) we can position for gradual reversal of the cycle. This involves going slow when bottom up valuations donot makes sense and going fast when they do. We have traversed the first part by being cautious for last 18 months and keeping high levels of cash (often looking foolish). We need to be ready for the second part!

The right discount rate

As we discussed in the opening section, intrinsic value of any asset is the present value of its future free cashflows discounted at an appropriate discount rate. The appropriate discount rate should be the realistic return that one expects from investing in that asset. Such expectation is shaped by returns on risk free instruments of similar maturity. An equity share is a long dated asset, good ones are perpetual. Many great companies are in existence for over 100 years (For eg. Coca Cola, Unilever, P&G etc). In India, the longest dated risk free instrument is the 30 year government bonds. Their current yields are 7.5%. Given that equities are riskier and longer dated than this, we need to add some spread to this. Indian equity discount rates, thus, should be above 7.5% currently, but how much above is a matter of judgement.

Financial theory tries to use past volatility to arrive at this number and involves needless mathematical jugglery. We use a 10% discount rate for quality businesses and keep raising this for lesser ones. Mind you, present values are very sensitive to discount rates. A fall of 1% in discount rates, raises the present value of a 30 year cashflow stream growing at 5% annually by around 11%-13%. Without mathematical acrobatics, our practice is to use a high discount rate. If the business looks fairly valued leave alone cheap at that rate, we become interested.

***

As always, gratitude for your trust and patience. Kindly do share your thoughts, if any. Your feedback helps us improve our services to you!

 

Kind regards 

Team Compound Everyday Capital

Sumit Sarda, Surbhi Kabra Sarda, Suraj Fatehchandani, Sachin Shrivastava, Sanjana Sukhtankar and Anand Parashar

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Disclaimer: Compound Everyday Capital Management LLP is SEBI registered Portfolio Manager with registration number INP 000006633. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. All information provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be deemed as a recommendation to buy or sell securities. This transmission is confidential and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of Compound Everyday Capital Management LLP and does not constitute an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase any security or investment product. Reference to an index does not imply that the firm will achieve returns, volatility, or other results similar to the index.

 

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Letter to Investors – Sep2020 – Extracts

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • TTM earnings of portfolio companies were up 2%. That of Nifty 50 and Nifty 500 fell by 14.6% and 19.5% respectively.
  • Our NAV grew by 31.8% YTD with 75.7% funds invested. NSE Nifty 50 and Nifty 500 grew by 31.5% and 34.2% respectively.
  • Markets continue to believe that despite current economic pain, things will get back to normal soon. We don’t know.
  • Temporary hardships make good companies available at reasonable prices. Caveat is an understanding of the business.
  • Stance: Cautious

 

Dear Fellow Investors,

What’s already in the price?

 

At first glance it seems surprising that the NSE Nifty 50 index is up 48% since March lows when economic data on incomes, jobs, consumption, and production is showing clear signs of Covid-19 inflected pain. However, if we recall that stock markets are future-discounting machines and stock prices are meant to reflect the future and not the present, this seeming Dalal street-Main street disconnect looks less puzzling.

Solutions to Covid-19 will be found and economic activity will recover swiftly thereafter. At most one year’s earnings will be washed out – not material to the intrinsic values of most of businesses. In hindsight, current prices will not look inefficient or irrational if this scenario plays out without any hiccups.

But what if it doesn’t?

Uncertainties still remain elevated. While there is month on month improvement in economic activity since April lows, Covid-19 has still not peaked out. It remains a bottleneck to supply-chains, incomes, consumption, and debt repayments. Globalisation – the fountainhead of global prosperity- is under threat due to unequal distribution of its proceeds. Unbridled money printing – probably the only economic balm to Covid distress- keeps the risk of all-illusive inflation alive even if it may be years or decades away. And the world continues to remain susceptible to geopolitical shocks. These and more continue to remain adverse, uncertain and non-zero portability events.

It seems that prices today are building in only the former optimistic version of the future and assigning zero probability to latter. Margin of safety stands reduced today and this requires us to change our stance from neutral to cautious.

Of course, different companies are affected by Covid-19 differently. Most of those favourably placed but seen sharp price rise as well as most of those structurally disrupted and seen price fall, both leave little margin of safety. Those affected temporarily but where prices are discounting permanent damage, present opportunity if one understands the underlying business. We are focussing our energies here without compromising on business and management quality.

 

A. PERFORMANCE

A1. Statutory PMS Performance Disclosure

 

 

Portfolio 2021

YTD Jun’20

2020* Since

Inception*

Outper-

fromance

Avg. YTD

Cash Bal.

CED Long Term Focused Value (PMS) 31.8% -9.5% 19.2% 24.3%
NSE Nifty 500 TRI(including dividends) 34.2% -23.6% 2.5% 16.7% NIL
NSE Nifty 50 TRI (including dividends) 31.5% -23.5% 0.6% 18.6% NIL
*From Jul 24, 2019; Note: As required by SEBI, the returns are calculated on time weighted average (NAV) basis. The returns are NET OF ALL EXPENSES AND FEES. The returns pertain to ENTIRE portfolio of our one and only strategy. Individual investor returns may vary from above owing to different investment dates. Annual returns are audited but not verified by SEBI.

 

For the half year ended Sep 2020 our aggregate NAV was up 31.8%. NSE Nifty 500 and Nifty 50 were up 34.2% and 31.5% respectively in the same period. We were invested in equities, on monthly average basis, to the extent of 75.7%. In line with your mandate, we will act when things make sense to us, until then we will be happy to wait. Individual client’s NAV and cash balance may differ from the above depending on their date of investment.

 

A2. Underlying business performance 

 

Period Past twelve months FY 2021 EPU (expected)
Earnings per unit (EPU)2 Earnings per unit (EPU)
Sep 2020 5.11 4.0-5.03
Jun 2020 5.3 4.0-5.0
Sep 2019 5.0
Annual Change 2.0%  
1 Last four quarters ending Jun 2020. Results of Sep quarter will be declared by Nov only.

2 Total earnings accruing to the aggregate portfolio divided by units outstanding. Earnings exclude extraordinary items.

3 Please note: the forward earnings per unit (EPU) are conservative estimates of our expectation of future earnings of underlying companies. In past we have been wrong – often by wide margin – in our estimates and there is a risk that we are wrong about the forward EPU reported to you above.

 

Trailing Earnings: Earnings per unit (EPU) for trailing twelve months Sep 2020 EPU came in at Rs 5.1, higher by 2.0% over last year (including effects of cash equivalents that earn ~5% pre-tax).  In comparison, the adjusted earnings of Nifty 50 and Nifty 500 companies fell by 14.6% and 19.5% (35.2% if we include Yes Bank, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Communication) respectively in the same period (source: Capitaline).

 

1-Yr Forward Earnings: Predicting FY21 earnings continues to remain difficult. Going by the in-line June quarter results of our companies, we maintain our broad estimate for FY21 earnings at Rs. 4.0-5.0 per unit. Please treat this estimate with caution. Depending on how the pandemic unfolds, it can be off reality by wide margin. Nonetheless, FY22 looks normal year as of now.

 

A3. Underlying portfolio parameters (PMS)

Sep 2020 Trailing P/E 1Yr Forward P/E Portfolio RoE Portfolio Turnover1
CED LTFV 23.4x 23.8x-29.8x 16.1% 2.1%
NSE 50 32.7x2 11.0%3
NSE 500 40.6x2 8.3%3
1 ‘Sale of equity shares’ divided by ‘average portfolio value’ during the period. There was no sale of equity shares in this quarter hence the portfolio turnover is NIL.

2 Source: NSE , 3 Source: Capitaline

 

B. DETAILS ON PERFORMANCE

B1. MISTAKES AND LEARNINGS

Assessing management quality is an important but difficult part of investment process. It cannot be reduced to numbers and remains a qualitative endeavour. Getting better at it is a continuous process and rewarding too – it aids long term returns by avoiding landmines.

One important input to assessment of management quality is capital allocation decisions. Equity value increases when management is able to invest its free cash in projects that can earn returns above the overall cost of capital. Many times, assessing this ex-ante is fogged by sweet talking optimist management whose incentives are mostly linked to growing the size of the company and not shareholder returns.

Normally, investing in (1) same line of business, (2) organically and (3) using internal accruals has shown to be more return accretive. Conversely, (1) diversification or (2) growth through expensive acquisitions, (3) that are debt funded has proven sub optimal. Of course, there can be exceptions but broadly this has held true over time and geographies. And then there are outright burglaries done using related party transactions and/or accounting jugglery.

When there are no value accretive investment projects, next best capital allocation decision is to distribute the cash back to shareholders through dividends or buybacks. Normally when share prices are low, and company has excess cash, buybacks have proven to be a better option than dividends.

We have exited from a minor position last quarter where we sensed that above cardinal rules of efficient capital allocation were violated. You will read more about it further. We hope that this sensitivity to capital allocation has helped us avoid a potential mistake.

Like always, in this section we continue to remind ourselves about past mistakes. It deflates our over confidence, warns us to remain humble and refreshes the important lessons.

From our two past mistakes- “Cera Sanitaryware” and “2015-16” – we learnt that unless fundamentals are extremely compelling, it is better to be gradual in selling and buying respectively. From our past mistake on “Treehouse Education” we have learnt that bad management deserves a low price, it’s seldom a bargain. In Dish TV we underestimated the competitive disruption but thankfully sold at breakeven. Tata Motors DVR taught us that cyclical investing requires a different mindset to moat investing and one needs to be quick to act when external environment turns adverse. In Talwalkars, we learnt that assessing promoter quality is a difficult job and we should err on the side of caution irrespective of how cheap quantitative valuations look. From DB Corp we learned that industries in structural decline will fail to get high multiples even if the industry is consolidated, competition limited and free cash flows healthy. 

B2. MAJOR PORTFOLIO CHANGES

We have completely exited from Bajaj Consumer at a loss of 0.7% of NAV. There were no other material additions or deletions to our holdings.

As we wrote in last few letters, Bajaj Consumer (the maker of Bajaj Almond Drops hair oil) was a minor position which we looked as optionality. While stock rose 50% from its Covid lows and earnings fell only 4% in Covid affected Jun quarter due to cut in marketing spends, company’s recent capital allocation decisions disappointed us and we thought it prudent to move out:

Dividend policy: The company cut down its dividend from Rs. 14 per share in last year to just Rs. 2 per share despite having surplus cash of Rs. 450 cr (Rs. 30.5 per share) as of March 31, 2020. That this happened soon after promoters reduced their pledged shares to nil, makes us more worried. In retrospect, the erstwhile high dividend payout looks like a means for personal debt service of promoters and not a shareholder value creation policy. 

Buyback: The company had a great opportunity to do a buyback given its stock was trading at less than 10x trailing earnings. Even now at 14.7x it’s not a bad proposition. Moreover this could also have led to rise in promoter’s stake (now reduced to 38% after they sold 22% stake to reduce promoter pledge) without any cash outflow from their pocket if they chose not to participate. They repeatedly opposed doing a buyback, despite stated intent of increasing promoter stake in the company.

Keenness to M&A: Instead of maintaining the dividend payout or buying back bits of their own undervalued company, management is keen to grow via acquisitions including international ones. These almost never come cheap and almost never add value.

Active capital misallocation: Management is spending over INR 70 cr in constructing a corporate office for entire Shishir Bajaj group (including Bajaj Hindustan and Bajaj Energy). Rental yields, even if struck at arm’s length, will be around 7-8% pre-tax – not the best use of surplus cash.

While the company owns a popular hair oil brand (~10% market share), has been generating good RoEs (33% +) and looks cheap (14.7x trailing earnings), the above acts (post our purchase) reduce the probability of rerating of the company. In past we have seen that when managements undermine minority shareholders’ interests, business quality and valuations become less important. The right thing during such times as minority shareholders is to take the money and run!

Of course, if management learns from feedbacks and pivots from the current stance, things may improve however we want evidence before committing money. Till then it goes back to our watchlist.

 

B3. UNDERLYING FUNDAMENTAL PERFORMANCE

Temporary Hardships

Good businesses seldom trade at bargain prices.  However some times, very rarely, they are struck by adversity that hurts earnings. In our experience the immediate price reaction to any sudden negative development for good business is mostly negative. If on a calm analysis we can conclude that the hardships are temporary and less impactful than the price has discounted, such bloopers can be a good opportunity to pick good businesses at good prices.

The obvious mistake that can be made is to misjudge permanent hardship as temporary, and structural headwinds as cyclical shifts. The only antidote against making this mistake is a sound understanding of the business and its industry.

So long as demand continues to remain robust, business debt free or has access to capital, raw material or end product prices are cyclical, and remedial measures remain in control of management, the hardships are temporary. However if there is challenge to long term sustainability of demand, or new technology brings in better and/or cheaper solutions hardships are permanent. Curiously temporary hardships have higher visibility, permanent hardships are less noisy. Management and media miss the latter or hope it to be temporary. Nonetheless, ability to distinguish between the two can be profitable. Covid-19 is a temporary hardship for many companies. Wherever prices are misjudging it to be permanent can prove to be good opportunities.

 

B4. FLOWS AND SENTIMENTS

 

Global markets continue to remain linked to the behaviour of US markets. Thanks to fiscal and monetary stimulus, liquidity remains abundant. US Dollar’s weakness against major currency basket had also increased the flows towards emerging markets including India. FIIs invested 6.3bn$ in the month of August (a decade high) in India and a total of ~11bn$ from April-Sep 2020.

 

US Fed revised its policy framework and announced that it is will target “average” inflation and will tolerate higher inflation for periods following period of low inflation. Further, it will not pre-emptively raise rates on reaching high employment unless the inflation rises. This, in effect, implies that US Fed is likely to maintain low rates for longer and will not be raising rates proactively to curb inflation.

 

Back in India, eight IPOs were launched in the month of September and seven more are slated in 2020 raising a total sum over 2.5bn$. Many of these have seen subscription to the extent of 74x-150x and opened 70%-123% higher than IPO price on listing days. Similar frenzy has been seen around the world. Either the bankers, private equity selling shareholders, and promoters to the issue (whose are insiders and incentivised to maximise the issue price) are missing something or, the investors are. No prizes for guessing who it will turn out to be.

 

After rising for over 24 months, net mutual fund equity inflows fell for two months in a row (July and Aug) by Rs.2,480cr. and Rs. 4,000cr respectively . SIP flows fell marginally from Rs. 8,500cr run rate pre-Covid to Rs. 7,792cr. in August. 

The US is entering presidential election season and history suggests that months before the election remain volatile. This is not a bad thing given our spare cash.

C. OTHER THOUGHTS

CAPITAL AND ITS COST

For valuation purposes we are concerned with average interest rates expected over the future. Near zero interest rates and abundant liquidity in most advanced nations has lowered cost of capital and supported equity valuations over the last decade. Is it reasonable to expect interest rates to perpetually remain close to zero?

It’s an important but tough question to answer. Trajectory of future interest rates will influence future returns from equities.

Policy interest rates in Japan have been zero since over two decades without igniting inflation. Higher doses of liquidity and fiscal and monetary stimulus were the only options available to the world during the 2008 Subprime crisis and the current coronavirus crisis. The costs of not infusing relief would have been fatal. Today, there are political incentives to keep kicking the liquidity can down the road to avoid/ delay recessions. Is the world, then, moving on a dismountable liquidity-tiger in the Japanese direction?

Japan may be an exception to the world today. With highest share of senior citizens, Japan faces demographic headwind – stagnant productivity, higher savings and lesser consumption. Its GDP growth rate is low and that’s why Nikkei 225, the Japanese stock index, is roughly at the same lever today as it was in 1991 despite near zero interest rates. Moreover, Japan also has one of the lowest unemployment and inequalities in the world.

Even if we believe that the EU is seeing demographic headwinds similar to Japan, the average age of the world, thanks to India and China, is still low. Youth in developing world seeks employment and improved living standards that accrue from jobs and consumption. Addressing the rising inequality is gaining political currency too. Globalisation is on retreat and producing more at home will raise cost of production. Moreover the fiscal doleouts given to the weaker sections worst hit by the pandemic will maintain demand for goods and services. US Fed has announced its tolerance for 2%+ inflation to get to full employment. Thus unlike Japan, there remains a non-zero chance that inflation can rise and ignite a rise in interest rates around the world. The timing and quantum remains uncertain.

When interest rates are low, present value of profits far into the future are roughly equal to current profits. But when interest rates are high, future profits are less valuable than today’s. What should be the fair P/E multiple for equities therefore depend on where the interest rates will be in future. Honestly we don’t have an answer. However not knowing the answer is itself an answer. It’s not 100% certain that interest rates will remain so low for such a long period. We should keep this mind and not lead the past decade to mislead about the future.

***

LESSONS FROM THE PANDEMIC

Humility and margin of safety: Covid-19 has put a spot light on our ignorance- both known and unknown – things we know/don’t know that we don’t know.  In investing and in business, despite all the research, there will be things that we will not be able to know/ plan for. This calls for humility and need to have a margin of safety. In business, this means (1) having a balance between efficiency & resilience, and (2) being prudent with debt. In investing, this means not overpaying, however rosy the future may look today. 

Timing is difficult – No one can pick bottoms sustainably. Right time to buy is when things are going down even at the risk of near term mark downs. When Nifty50 touched the lows of 7500 in March, the general expectation was that prices will continue to go down further and there was reluctance to invest. It looked like extremely uncertain time to invest. Certainty and low prices donot go together. If we wait for clouds to clear, prices will move up.

Change?: The virus has and will change many things. It’s tempting to accept everything in a flux. But that will be a wrong lesson. There will be many things that the virus will not change. Human propensity to prosper will not change. People will continue to move in the direction that makes their lives easier. This will ensure that businesses that cater to meeting growing needs will remain in force. Consumer behaviour including socialising will also not change materially. The chains of habit formed over decades will be difficult to break by what looks like a 2-3 years virus outbreak. Investor behaviour will also not change materially. Greed, fear, envy, ego and institutional limitations will continue to make prices more volatile than fundamentals.

Health is wealth – In these pages we keep talking about ways to sustainably grow financial wealth. However, as the pandemic has shown, such prosperity is incomplete without good health. It’s important to focus on health equally, or more. Eating responsibly, being physically active, taking adequate sleep and reducing stress should be paid as much attention as wealth building.

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Last six months have not been kind. Hopefully the worst is behind us. Thanks to your rational behaviour, we have made a good use of this pandemic. We continue to do what’s best for you. That’s how our incentives are designed. Thank you for your trust. Stay safe.

 

 

Kind regards,

Team Compound Everyday Capital

Sumit Sarda, Surbhi Kabra Sarda, Saloni Jindal, Sachin Shrivastava, Sanjana Sukhtankar and Sumit Gokhiya

 

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Disclaimer: Compound Everyday Capital Management LLP is SEBI registered Portfolio Manager with registration number INP 000006633. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. All information provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be deemed as a recommendation to buy or sell securities. This transmission is confidential and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of Compound Everyday Capital Management LLP and does not constitute an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase any security or investment product. Reference to an index does not imply that the firm will achieve returns, volatility, or other results similar to the index.

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Assessing Demonetisation’s Impact on Indian Equity Markets

“The more things change, the more they remain same”

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

In a surprise move India demonetised 86% of its currency notes (by value) recently. Given the current size and complexity of Indian economy, there are limited useful precedents to reference its possible impact on markets and investment landscape.

Criticisms of the current demonetisation hover around the fact that demonetisation per se is an inefficient tool to curb black money. It would, however, be unwise to assume that demonetisation will be a standalone episode. There may be further actions to take India on a path of a tax paying and cashless economy.

However, the kind and extent of future measures to curb black money remains uncertain. Hazarding a guess on long term impact on markets therefore remains an arduous task. Given this uncertainty, a probabilistic decision tree approach (possible scenarios and their probabilities) may be right way to think about possible impacts on markets.

Let’s start by an extreme first hypothesis: a 100% tax paying economy. And try to imagine the impact such India will have on its markets. Of course anything less than 100% will dilute the impact commensurately.  We may then proceed to contemplate the probability of this hypothesis coming true.

Aggregate demand is the most critical driver of long term market performance. And money, black or white, is a prerequisite of demand. What we call black too creates its own consumption and investment demand and supports many sectors, their employees and their supply chain.

Take for example real estate. A house needs over 50 agencies – cement, iron, steel, paints, plastic, sanitaryware, ceramics, furnishing, electrical fittings,  etc. All these agencies have their own vendors (for materials and machinery). Further, all these participants in turn have their own employees. In addition, rising real estate prices creates wealth effect and promotes consumption spending. Real estate, thus, has a huge economic multiplier effect.

Few more industries, in addition to real estate, that have prospered from demand generated by black money include  gold, offshore investments, luxury goods, leisure, entertainment, travel, and apparel to name a few. A large informal sector thrives simultaneously with formal economy largely due to tax evasion. These all are industries in themselves that have their own ecosystem of employees and suppliers. It will not be wrong to say that curb on black money should affect all these ecosystems materially. A curb on corruption in China, for instance, significantly affected sales of luxury watches. But before we conclude destruction of wealth in these sectors we need to see mitigating factors.

With curb on black money, large portion of wealth will flow from above sectors to the financial system in from of bank deposits and to government in form of taxes.

Money moving from dead investments like gold and real estate (land) to formal banking channel for further lending may seem like a positive impact of demonetisation. Before cheering, however, we need to subtract two negative consequences: one, the forgone consumption demand generated by wealth effect of rising prices and two, the demand loss from the ecosystem displaced (jewellery, real estate brokers, farmers’ wealth etc). Moreover banking system has its own lending inefficiencies as seen from past bad loans (NPAs).

This leaves us with the windfall going to the government. The way government spends that money, therefore, will have important counter balancing effects on economy and markets.

Let’s present our second extreme hypothesis: government will use the money in the best way. That means government will spend the money on projects that can have multiplier effects: infrastructure (roads, railways, airports, seaports, power etc.), housing for all, tourism, and direct benefit transfers under aadhar.

Displacement from real estate due to curb on black money can easily be counter balanced by public spending on infrastructure and housing. Additionally, infrastructure investing can save time and costs for all businesses.

Tourism is another sector that offers huge potential of job growth and catalysing local economies, not to mention accretion of useful foreign exchange. Countries endowed poorly with natural resources have used tourism to great mitigating advantage.

Aadhar linked subsidies can direct resources directly in hands of left out sections of economy in a leak-proof and efficient manner and sustain their demand.

If the above steps lead to kick starting a multiplier effect and tax buoyancy, government may go ahead and reduce tax rates to further put cash in the hands of people giving further boost to aggregate demand If this second hypothesis turns out to be true, the mitigant effects will be powerful enough to create an overall positive long term impact for economy and markets.

Government – the chief actor

We can see that in a white economy, government becomes the chief actor and its actions will decide long term impact on markets. Unless the government acts right, a move to a white society will not alter behaviour and fail to make much impact on markets. Let’s explore possibilities.

Take for instance real estate transactions where there is a marked difference between market values and guideline values. Unless this system migrates to one used in developed world, how will current practices change?

Take next the tax and judicial administration. Most tax evasion happen by way of understatement of sales and/or overstatement of expenses. In a fiercely competitive business environment, tax evasion led profit margins soon force all players to resort to the same. The administrative and legal machinery somewhere lets them get by. We thus move into the territory of reforming tax administration and judicial system– two of the most challenging reforms.

Infrastructure – one of the best options for public spending – has issues too. Government will need private partnership to do that. Past successes of PPP (Public private partnership) have been limited owing to issues in land and environmental clearances, lack of appropriate risk allocations, mistrust between parties and populist considerations. Focus on low cost bidding has also led to problems of quality and financial viability. While none of these are non-solvable issues, need is of the right mindset and efficient execution.

Thus for citizens to pay full taxes, major reforms are needed in public administration, judicial machinery and real estate regulations to name a few. Realism will dictate us to assign only small probabilities to these issues getting addressed soon. That leaves lot before India moves to a 100% white economy.

Thinking about another extreme side of the argument: if government fails to make best use of the windfall, a white economy will be slightly negative for markets.

High probability is of both hypotheses coming only partly true: a partially white economy and partially efficient government machinery. Such scenario would best be neutral for markets in long term. There will be costs to some sectors in the long term but those would be partly mitigated by government actions. Life would remains as usual!

Disclaimer: This article’s scope is limited to discussing demonetisation’s impact on markets. In no way does it underestimates the positive social, geo political (terrorism and counterfeit notes) and political impacts of this move. Democracy discourages bold decisions with short term pains and long term gains, for the next government may take the credit! The dare, we believe, needs a thumbs up.

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