Monday, July 6, 2009

A game of patience

By Udayan Mukherjee, Managing Editor of CNBC TV18

Hope is a dangerous thing, as investors found out yesterday. If the Finance Minister was guilty of presenting an insipid budget that was low on the detail that the market wanted, investors too were perhaps guilty of expecting too much, too soon. That doesn't absolve the Finance Minister of a budget that is low on ambition, boldness and vision but at least it teaches investors to not hope for the moon going into a policy event.

The real damage was done when the FM spelt out the 6.8% deficit number implying a large market borrowing programme with little detail on how he "would get back on the FRBM path". Global rating agencies will pass their judgement in the next few days but the bond market didn't wait that long. The benchmark bond yield shot past 7% raising fears of interest rate spikes and triggering off a collapse in stock prices. At a macro level, that perhaps was the undoing of the market. At a more micro level, a lot of sectors had run up expecting substantial boosts from the budget. Education, real estate, textile and fertiliser stocks which had meaningful rallies leading up to the event collapsed completely . The surprise was Infrastructure, where stocks sold off as well, as apart from an increased outlay for the NHAI the budget was a bit low on bold moves.

Then there was disinvestment, which the market had pinned some hopes on. The pitiful Rs 1100 crore figure which the FM unveiled dashed those hopes. That number is truly inexplicable.

Not that this budget had nothing postive for the stock market and corporate India. The scrapping of FBT, extension of 10A/10B for IT companies, removal of CTT and no rollback of excise cuts were all positives, partly offset by the hike in MAT. The scrapping of the surcharge on personal income taxes may even be a limited consumption trigger. Tobacco companies were spared the axe this time and ITC was one of the few stocks that ended in the green, contrary to investor fears.

Yet what the market wanted was a green signal, that finally the drought on reforms is over. That a government, shorn of the Left, will press ahead with bold policy moves. The charitable view is to accord the FM the benefit of doubt : he didn't have enough time to unveil a big bang budget and the best is yet to come, over the next few months and in the next February budget. The cynical view is that the market is running ahead of itself; despite the electoral surprise, things will improve only incrementally and over a much longer duration than investors want. The truth, as often, perhaps lies somewhere in the middle. While investing in India, the virtue of patience cannot be overstated.

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