I am planning to start a new monthly post with the topic – what's on my mind. It's more likely to be a brain dump of my thoughts – more for myself – to check back in future as to what I was thinking (or smoking J ) at a particular point of time. This should help me cross-reference some of the investing decision I took at the time.
It's a natural tendency to look at decision after they play out with a fair amount of hindsight bias. Like others, I too have a tendency to forget the key factors which played into my decision and color the history based on present information. Anyway, more on this bias in a later post.
The US is now running a deficit of almost 1.4 trillion (that's 1000 billion and 1 billion = 100 crores). That's a lot of zeroes. The deficit is almost 10% of GDP and projected to continue for some time. A deficit of this proportion would land (and it did in 91) a country like India in serious trouble very quickly. If we had to borrow as much to fund our deficit, we would have a crisis (as we did in 1991).
Now the US dollar is a reserve currency and they get to print it and hence can monetize their debt. In addition, it's a rich country, so other countries are ready to lend to the US. However there is finally a limit to everything and something which cannot go on forever will stop some way or other. In the usual case, a country incurring such a deficit could see its currency depreciate, cost of debt and inflation shoot up and contraction of its economy if it went too far. The US has been able to avoid all this as it is still the largest economy and other countries do not really have too much of an alternative.
That said, it is appear likely (atleast in the long run), that the currency will keep depreciating. That does not mean, that we will not have episodes (as in 2008), where the currency strengthened. However in the long run a country with a large deficit and growing debt can fix it in 3 ways – inflate, raise taxes and cut expenses. Inflation (via currency depreciation) is easier politically and hence looks more likely to happen.
All of the above is a conjecture, but still a probable scenario. Now, you may ask, how does it impact us? A few points come to my mind
- Our currency is still a managed currency and everytime the dollar has depreciated, RBI attempts to control the appreciation of the rupee. This has in general resulted in high liquidity in the domestic markets which results in asset bubbles – spike in real estate and Stock markets etc.
- Higher inflation due to higher commodity prices as most of commodities are priced in dollar
- Reduction in margins for IT and export oriented companies due to stronger rupee and weaker growth in export market such as US
The problem with macroeconomics is that you may be right in the long run, but in the short run be completely off the mark. In addition, it is easy to guess, but difficult to arrive at specific investment decisions based on these macro-economic mumbo jumbo.
All said and done, I am worried about the implied (based on current valuations) bottom line growth for IT companies and the head winds faced by them.
The growth for the current quarter is likely to be high due to the base effect (dec 2008 was bad) and hence the market may still react positively. However in view of the valuations, I have already started reducing my position in maruti. Need to make up my mind on Ashok Leyland, which has appreciated quite a bit
Overall market levels
I am not sure if the market are overvalued at 22 times earnings, but at the same time I have started reducing my Index ETF positions. I do not look at chart and any other technical indicators. As I have said in the past, when the market has fallen below 12 times earnings, it has generally been a good time to buy the index and a market level of 23 and above a decent time to sell. Its not a precise approach, but makes decent sense from a valuation perspective.
Fixed income investing
I would prefer to buy short dated debt (short term deposits) or floating rate funds. I think that inflation is likely to go up and hence it would better to buy floating rate funds than fixed rate ones. Again, no specific analysis as to why I think that inflation will go up – only reason is that the government has a stimulus package and low rates. Once the inflation starts creeping up, RBI may have to raise rates again.
Not many attractive ones. So I am currently just studying some companies such as Tata sponge and others from a learning perspective. This should help me pull the trigger when the valuations are right. I need to avoid trying to be too clever for my own good.