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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Bear Market? Is this a good time to invest?

Article from Moneycontrol
 
A few weeks ago there was absolute chaos in the market with news of a fire sale at Bear Stearns, fifth largest US investment bank. This was despite the fact that the US Federal Reserve Bank stepped in during the weekend to try to restore confidence in the financial-services sector.
 
JPMorgan Chase immediately announced that it would acquire the Wall Street giant for a mere $2 per share in a stock-swap deal and it was evident that our markets would face severe pressure.  After plunging almost 47% a day earlier, Bear Stearns plunged another $26.39, or 87.9%, to $3.61 the following morning. The speedy collapse came as a surprise to many including it's own employees.
Bear Stearns India exposure was around Rs. 265 crore and almost all stocks in it's portfolio were sold and it was one of the key reasons for Indian markets 5+% fall (Orchid Chemicals which was a part of Bear Stearns portfolio came under severe pressure due to margin calls on the stock getting triggered. The stock was down 38-40% in a single day). Everyone (like some learned people who by the way thought 25000 Sensex level will be shortly achieved because the Chinese market was trading at rich valuations and we being the second fastest growing economy should at least trade at 50% of that) was now sure that the market would touch 9000 and hence there was hesitation buying equities. Most people who waited for a sharp correction couldn't dare enter again. 
 
So where does this all leave us?
 
Like I had mentioned in my previous column, global news is still not favorable. Next in the line could be a European institution or a large US based Hedge Fund. The Fed is however using all tricks available right from infusing liquidity to cutting interest rates and bailing out financial institutions like it did through the forced buyout of Bear Stearns.
The point is that we do not know how many more such institutions could go belly down and if one does indeed go will the Fed bail it out. The Fed seems to be very confident of handling these situations and is likely to inject a lot of liquidity in the system through bailout programs and aggressive interest rate cuts. The point is not to paint a pessimistic picture when the going is bad but to bring the situation to you as it is and ensure that we do not take any rash decisions. Markets go beyond fundamentals whether on their way up or on their way down.
 
Any piece of bad news (whether it be as inconsequent as Chicago Business Confidence) has the propensity to take the markets to lower levels. The previous weekend saw Council of ICAI (Institute of Chartered Accountants of India) come up with an announcement that read, "Certain issues have been raised with regard to the foreign currency derivative exposures of various corporate that are not being fully accounted for. These exposures may translate into heavy losses due to fluctuations in the foreign exchange rates". This along with higher than expected inflation numbers and global news have acted as a triple whammy on market sentiment and might have the market retest previous bottom.
 
Even though the bad news has been coming from the US markets, it seems to have outperformed ours by not falling as much as the Indian markets have. At some point of time, sentiment will improve on realization that if the epicenter of the problem is not tanking as much, why should an emerging market like India with evident growth opportunities (unlike the US) tank continuously.
 
What should be your strategy and outlook?
 
One of the things that you need to keep in mind is always park only long-term money in equities and not short-term money required in 6 months to 2 years.  Only invest money that you might require 5 years down the line and this should essentially be the bare minimum time horizon for making any equity investments (whether in bullish or bearish markets). Hence there is no reason to worry about investments unless there is something fundamentally wrong with them. If you have invested in good companies with consistent growth and competent managements, then there is not too much to worry.
Equity like PPF and real estate are long-term investments and should be thought of in the same light with similar time horizons in mind. The only difference being that fluctuations in market prices can be seen on a daily basis. These market fluctuations can test the patience of many people.
 
This is no time to panic and there is no need to change your investment strategy (if you have indeed been following one) because the market has been behaving in an irrational manner on its way down.  Sooner or later sense will prevail and markets should be back in order as things settle down. Though this might take a little longer than anticipated, things will certainly get back on track. There is absolutely no need to alter your investment strategy. Just like you do not check real estate prices for several months or years, take at least a few weeks off from looking at equity prices. The prices might not provide any comfort and could prove to be a hindrance in buying at these mouth-watering levels. If 21000 was a good level to invest, today is certainly an excellent level to invest.
Despite all the negative news, one thing that has not drastically changed is the fact that our GDP if not at 8.8 - 9% might grow at 8% in the next few years. An increasingly wealthy and developing India with all its infrastructure needs, rural development and domestic consumption would argue for good GDP growth in the next couple of years. There is a lot of liquidity in the market even today but there is an absolute loss of risk appetite. This can be clearly seen through the successful US $ 17.9 billion VISA IPO. The key question is WHO WILL BELL THE CAT.
 
Investors already in the Market: Ignore the bad news around you and just stay put. New Investors can start off a combination of one time and systematic investments in the equity market. The first leg of the upward move will generally be in large caps and hence initial investments should be done in large caps. Once pull back happens, you can look at taking exposure to mid caps. Though mid caps have been hammered and are cheaper, it will be prudent to opt for large caps initially followed by mid caps.
I cannot certainly say who will bell the cat first but with a reasonable degree of confidence I can say that sooner than later people will start belling the cat.
- Amar Pandit
 
The author is a practising Certified Financial Planner. He can be reached at amar.pandit@moneycontrol.com
 
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