Do not invest because someone tells you that markets will rally and you will mint money. See equities as a long term wealth building opportunity rather than a short term cash cow
Every Indian who has seen the stock markets rally over the past six months, but didn't invest, is definitely upset over missing this great opportunity to make money. In fact, Indian stocks were not even seen as a serious investment about nine to 10 months ago. There were all kinds of difficulties experts spoke about, that include low growth rates, high inflation, high fiscal deficit, a depreciating rupee, no confidence in the Government and so on. Today, despite equities gaining aggressively and trading at the higher end of valuation parameters, there are experts out there who say that this is the 'once in a lifetime opportunity' to buy Indian equities. So what has changed in the past six months that has turned what was not even seen as an opportunity into Gold?
The Sensex has risen from about 18,000 in August 2013 to 25,000 in May 2014, around 40% in eight months. Stock markets are said to be reflectors or indicators of hope in the economy and that is true, there is definitely a great pick up of hope. Several stocks in the infrastructure, capital goods, manufacturing, oil & gas and power segments that were not even seen as prospective investment bets have now turned into the most attractive stocks. Take examples of IRB Infrastructure, Sadbhav Engineering, IL&FS, DLF, BHEL, Coal India, JP Power, Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), ONGC, and Indian Oil. All these stocks have more than doubled in the last 6 months. One can call these speculative moves. However, when you look at public sectors banks like Canara Bank, Bank of India, Corporation Bank, or for that matter the State Bank of India (SBI) itself, they have rallied by 60%-70% in the past two-three months. Not long ago, experts were apprehensive of a price-to-book multiple of one in SBI, quoting their doubts on bad debts, and today we see strong advices on investing into the country's largest lender even when it trades at two times its book value.
There is a definite desperation to bring the retail investor back into the stock markets. This reminds me of 2007, when the stock markets hit all time highs and there was a euphoria across the nation. Just then, Anil Ambani's Reliance Power entered the markets and its initial public offering (IPO) was a super hit. People queued up to open demat accounts and invest in this company. Even those days, news articles, advisers, and experts set massive targets and said that it was a lifetime opportunity for retail investors to buy stocks. The stock market indices were already at their lifetime high then. An article on Rediff.com targeted the Sensex to hit 27,000 in 2008, another said Sensex will hit 100,000 in 15 years, Morgan Stanley said it would cross 50,000 by 2018 and JP Morgan said that it would hit 30,000 by 2013. We all know what happened after that in 2008 and how the retail investors who entered the stock markets lost money. There could be some investors who held on to their investments and made money, or at least be at the break-even point but a large number of them booked losses.
Now, we are in a similar situation again. The Sensex is trading at a lifetime high and the experts are saying that this is the best opportunity for the retail investors to get into the markets. Two months ago, Deutsche Bank saw the Sensex at 24,000 by the end of 2014, but now, they project it will touch 28,000, Goldman Sachs projects the Sensex will hit 28,000 by end of 2014, Karvy sees it at 100,000 by 2020, Ambit Capital sees it at 30,000 in FY15, BoFA-ML sees it at 27,000 by end of 2014, Edelweiss says 29,000, and so on. How different is 2014 from 2008?
When the Sensex hit an all time high in 2007, it traded at a price-to-earning (PE) of 25 times. In January 2008, the Sensex hit 20,800, its all time high then, and traded at 26 times its earnings. Unfortunately, after that, things went haywire and by January 2009, the Sensex was trading at about 9,000 levels, at 12 times earnings. Soon, the stock markets picked up and the Sensex was again trading at 20 times earnings during 2010 and 2011. However, in 2012 and 2013, the Sensex consistently traded at 17-18 times earnings. Today, at 25,000, the Sensex is trading at 18.5 times earnings. Thus, it is clear that we are not seeing an overvalued situation like in 2008, where it traded at more than 25 times earnings. Moreover, in 2008, the world was also on the verge of witnessing the US mortgage crisis followed by the global financial meltdown, which hit investor sentiments.
But then, it may be interesting to note that the retail investor is not showing much interest in the stock markets despite a desperate attempt by brokerages, mutual funds and other financial firms dealing in equity markets to attract them. May be the retail investor has not recovered from 2008. In fact, even when the Government of India launched the Rajiv Gandhi Equity Savings Scheme (RGESS), there was a muted response despite the fact that the investor was promised taxation benefits. Its a different story that whoever did invest under this option would have minted money in the last one year. There is absolutely no doubt that the retail investor is keeping a watch on all this but is still not ready to take that the plunge. Companies will have to ponder what is keeping them away.
One point definitely is that savers and common investors do not understand the functioning of equity markets and how or why or what makes the prices of stocks move. That is the major reason why investors and savers have stayed away from getting into equity investments. Even mutual fund investments have been dull for the last five years. The average assets under management (AUM) have remained at around Rs7 lakh crore for a long period, except the appreciation that we have seen recently. India has a abysmal retail participation in equity markets. However, there is a huge opportunity here, and none of the companies have been able to crack it. Even if 1% of our population (12 million) invest Rs1 lakh each in the stock markets, that will be Rs1.2 lakh crore. This makes good for the total foreign institutional investor (FII) inflows in the Indian markets for 2013.
So all considered, what do we do now? I would stick to the standard answer that has held good across ages and economic cycles. Do not invest because you are seeing the markets go up or down. Do not invest because someone tells you that the markets will run and you will mint money. Do not invest because you are desperate to join the rally. Spend time, read books, go through content on equities, economy and related pieces, learn and explore more, get an understanding, and then, take the call. Equities have undoubtedly outperformed almost every asset class in the long run. Most often, we spot gold only after it glitters. After all, that itself is its prime feature. So, do not try to jump the bandwagon or time the markets. Markets are always full of opportunities. That is exactly why they are termed markets. See equities as a long term wealth building opportunity rather than a short term cash cow. Take your investment decisions on your own. You are the best fund manager your money can have.
One of Prime Minister Modi's poll promises was to end this 'tax terrorism' and give relief to not just individual taxpayers from the middle classes, but also to business and small entrepreneurs all across the country
Encouraging and building a non-adversarial tax regime is one of the most pressing needs in India today. Tax laws are complicated, convoluted and often redundant. The officials charged with administering the tax system make arbitrary judgments and commit to rash decisions. Tax-evasion may not be a direct result of this opaque tax regime but it may owe a part of its origin to this. Let us look at the various problems and complexities of the current taxation environment with a special focus on businesses.
Multiple and numerous taxes:
Tax payers are aggrieved due to high and multiple kinds of taxes, duties, levies and cess etc. making compliances and payments difficult and cumbersome resulting in huge wastage of time and manpower. In fact at least 20% of the total official time is wasted only on this account.
Due to numerous laws, taxes, duties and levies, one inspector/officer or the other from multiple govt agencies is always sitting on the head of the businessman/industrialist harassing him or directing him to attend to his office to make all sorts of unnecessary enquiries, probe the books and records and somehow find some fault/ irregularity or unintentional lapse/omission to create a case to demand graft. Most of these public servants who treat themselves as Super Boss having powers of arrest and prosecution neither think nor are taught that in absence of business and industries; the govt will get no revenue to pay for their salaries and for other purposes.
High Incidence of taxes:
An entrepreneur somehow arranges interest bearing capital by mortgaging his assets, invests the same in business with great risk, works tirelessly for the success of his business, faces great harassment in the hands of public servants/bureaucracy, pays excise duty, VAT, TOT, trade licence fees, Octroi, profession tax, P.F, ESI and so many other taxes; and then is forced to cough up income tax @34% of whatever profit is left to himself.
No person feels comfortable in paying such huge income tax particularly considering the fact that if his business falters and start making losses due to any reason; the government or the tax agencies will neither rescue him nor give him any relief. Hence the incidence of income tax needs to be suitably and equitably reduced for better compliance and the govt should strive for higher revenues by adopting the simple business technique of maximisation of profits through high volumes with lower margins.
Large portion of Tax payment gets wasted:
The other genuine grievance of tax payers is that a big portion of his tax payment goes waste in payment of salaries of govt staff, interest on loans taken by governments, gets plundered in the distribution chain of numerous government schemes and subsidies or on wasteful revenue expenses and is not productively utilized .
One of Prime Minister Modi's poll promises was to end this 'tax terrorism' and give relief to not just individual taxpayers from the middle classes, but also to business and small entrepreneurs all across the country.
Albert Einstein once said, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is tax.” Let's hope the government takes quick steps and proves Einstein wrong atleast on tax.
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Building a Better India-Part1: How to create a smaller and smarter government
Building a Better India-Part2: Transforming political landscape
Building a Better India – Part 3: Bringing systemic changes in constitutional bodies
(Kolkata-based Dalbir Chhibbar practised as a CA till 1990 and later started his own buinsess)
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