Market Turmoil and Basic Economics

It’s been quite some time since I put up a post and I apologize for that. Business matters such as recruiting, product development, and facilities have been taking a considerable amount of time.

However, in the six months since my last post much has happened in the global economy and even more is happening in India.

I’ve been saying for some time (since late 2007) that the valuations of stocks on Indian exchanges didn’t make any sense. The BSE benchmark index hit an intra-day high of 21,206.80 in January. Most people were predicting the BSE would hit 25,000 by March and 30,000 by the end of 2008. I had told many friends and relatives that the economic conditions were such that I saw the BSE hitting the 12,000 to 13,000 range by the end of 2008. I was wrong. 1st July 2008, the BSE has dropped to a 52 week low of 13,263.39. Is this the bottom? Not by a long shot. I believe global economic conditions will continue to drive liquidity out of the Indian market, making credit harder to come by and the BSE dropping to the 8,000 – 9,000 range in the next 9 months.

The Dollar-Rupee exchange rate touched a low of Rs. 39.12 in February of this year. The most pessimistic Indians chose to stay on the fence about where the Rupee was going. However, most people in India were talking about the Rupee going to 36. Could the Dollar at Rs. 36 be justified in this global economy? Absolutely not! Because of the fears of global economic sluggishness, investors are slowly pulling out of emerging markets like India which are perceived to be riskier than markets like the US. Already this year, foreign institutional investors (FIIs) have been selling off investments in the Indian market and moving capital back home and in many cases into US Treasury bonds.

Today (1st of July 2008), the Dollar has touched Rs. 43.40. Will the slide of the Rupee continue? Absolutely! I believe the Rupee will approach 45 to 46 by the end of this year, if not slightly sooner.

Weekly inflation numbers in India have hit 11.42%. Though the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is working to curb inflation by raising rates and also raising the cash reserve ratios that banks must maintain, it is unlikely that inflation will see single digits for quite a while. I believe inflation in India will hit 15% before the end of the year. Real inflation that customers are facing is far higher. A short auto-rikshaw trip that cost Rs. 30 a year ago is now Rs. 40. Not a big change in real terms but it’s a 33% rise in cost to the consumer. Basic groceries such as milk, fruits, and vegetables that used to cost Rs. 200 per day now cost in the range of Rs.375 and Rs. 500. That’s an increase of 187% to 250% in the last 15 months.

Now I’ll come to my thoughts on the Indian real estate market. The Indian real estate market has seen an unprecedented growth in the last five years. Some locations have seen 10x returns on the sale of property in just five years. Most of the growth in Indian real estate is a result of foreign investors putting capital to use in India and the easy availability of domestic credit. Commercial and residential properties all over India have been doubling roughly every twelve to fourteen months. Sustainable? “Absolutely” remark most real estate brokers and developers/builders. Some anecdotal evidence that I’ve seen:

  • A residential apartment in a relatively upscale section of New Delhi that was on the market approximately 15 months ago at Rs. 2.25 Crore (just under USD 520,00) is still on the market but now at a price of Rs. 3.25 Crore (just under USD 750,000).
  • An office at what I would classify as a C-class building in a popular market place was being quoted at Rs. 100 per square foot per month in December 2007. In early June of 2008, a similar office in the same area was being quoted at Rs. 135 per square foot per month

Generally, residential properties are staying on the market longer than they were a year ago. At the same time, the seller (usually some developer/builder) is raising the price of the property based on the “Time Value of Money” principle. It’s costing him something to hold the property and inflation and credit costs are also rising so he is factoring all those costs into the price of the property. The only problem is that the buyer is in some cases, losing money (or has at least given back some healthy gains) in the stock market, being pressured by higher costs of living due to inflationary pressures, and credit is harder to come by as well as being more expensive to acquire as domestic banks continue to raise mortgage rates.

Conclusions:

  • BSE to fall to 8,000 – 9,000 in the next 6 to 9 months
  • The US Dollar will strengthen against the Rupee and hit the Rs. 45 – Rs. 46 in the next six months
  • Indian inflation will continue to rise and reach 15%. Sharp rises in lending rates and reserve ratios are the only thing that can slow down inflation and risk dampening Indian economic growth. Growth could slow to the 5% – 6% range during the next twelve to eighteen months
  • New Delhi and Mumbai were recently listed as two Indian cities with the highest cost of commercial real estate rates in the world. New York City wasn’t even in the top ten. Though both cities will probably remain in the top 10 list, do expect prices to fall dramatically over the next eighteen months. Residential prices will likely fall farther as speculators and buyers will be drying up rapidly with higher borrowing costs
  • If you’re looking to invest in India, put your money in and don’t think about it for 10 years. You will likely see returns that far exceed returns in more mature markets like the US during a 10 or 20 year time horizon.
  • Short-term speculators are going to continue to feel the pain like they haven’t in a long time
  • Amateur stock pickers and real estate “investors” in India are going to exit the market in droves

I’m very bullish on India over the next 10 to 20 years. It’s the next two years that are going to be a time of bringing this market and the people back to the basics. Reminds me a lot like the fall of 1998 and the dot com bust of late 2000 / early 2001. India will be stronger and more stable after the retrenchment.

Please chime in!

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