Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Soaring crude oil prices are the biggest risk: Swati Kulkarni

Interview with Fund manager, UTI Mutual Fund

Firm crude oil prices, depreciating rupee and ballooning current account deficit are expected to keep the economic growth rate at around seven per cent for another year, says Swati Kulkarni, fund manager, UTI Mutual Fund in an interview with Priya Kansara Pandya. Edited excerpts:

Where are the Indian markets headed in 2012?
We are positive on Indian markets as the valuation is now comfortable at 13x FY13 earnings, which is close to the historical average. The downside from the current levels seems to be limited. However, in the near-term, we expect range-bound movement.

What are the likely triggers for an upside and what is the probability of that event happening?
Softening of commodity prices, manageable inflation levels and a pick-up in the investment cycle can lead to an upside. It is difficult to predict the probability as a lot depends on crude prices and other global events. However, given the below-normal world economic growth, the demand side support for a structurally high level of crude seems unlikely. We expect crude prices to remain range-bound.

So, that means there will be less pressure on the rupee?
The rupee is under pressure because of the current account deficit and capital flows, which have been volatile. The probability of rupee crossing 54 levels is grim. We expect it to remain between 52-54 levels in the medium-term.

What are key risks to the Indian economy?
The first and the biggest risk, of course, is the price of crude oil. I feel the budgeted estimates for oil subsidies may be inadequate. The second biggest risk we see is weak investment cycle, which has not seen a pick-up for some time now. This could affect consumption and future employment potential, which in turn could affect economic growth. As a result, this will keep our growth at seven per cent for another year or so.
However, I would like to put a caveat here that everything does not look gloomy at this point in time. All these concerns are fine when you are trading at 21-22 times. We are trading at much lower levels.

After raising rates 13 times between March 2010 and October 2011, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has not guaranteed further rate cuts after the surprise 50 basis points cut in April. Will it succeed in kickstarting growth?
We should understand that the rate hikes did not happen at one go. So, we should also be patient for rate correction and let it happen over a period of time. RBI cannot take quick steps without addressing the real problems. Currently, the base effect for inflation is expected to be favourable for some time.
But strong consumption, rising crude oil prices and current account deficit can again put pressure. By the end of this calendar year, there is a likelihood of inflation surfacing again due to supply side constraints and structural issues. Further, if fiscal deficit continues to balloon then what is the guarantee that these rate cuts will not lead to further inflation? Certain asset bubbles can be created. Thus, I feel, RBI is going in the right direction. Rather than 25 bps, having a 50 bps rate cut may have a better visible transmission.

Do you expect any more rate cuts going ahead?
We don’t expect that as fiscal correction is necessary. But at least from hereon, I don’t expect interest rates to go up further. They seem to have peaked and that trend is clear.

Which sectors are expected to do well in the coming quarters?
Besides consumption, cement and pharma sectors are expected to do well. However, energy will not do well due to price controls and stressed global petrochemical margins. Also, the engineering sector could remain subdued as order inflow momentum is yet to pick up pace.

What has been your strategy in the past six months and will that continue?
In past six months, we have reduced exposure from rate insensitive sectors like information technology (IT) and shifted to auto and banks assuming that interest rate cycle is peaking out. That would continue. Others, more or less, remain the same.

We had neutral position on consumer. We preferred cement to construction and real estate stocks. However, with likely peaking of interest rates, we may review this preference.


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