Rising crude prices, record inflation levels and higher interest rates have sent the stock market careening downwards. After riding the bull run for almost five years without a serious setback, mutual funds are suddenly finding new money difficult to come by; this is evident from the poor collections of some of the recent NFOs. A market downturn can separate the smart funds from the not-so-smart ones. This is why we decided to look at the performance of funds over the past one year, to pick out those that are able to negotiate the downturn better. We have looked at the performance of all equity diversified growth funds over the past one year but excluded institutional plans and those which have been launched less than a year ago. This left us with 167 funds for which we compared performance over a one-year period between 1 June 2007 and 24 June 2008. The results, as usual, have not been very inspiring. Just 28% of the funds (47 funds) managed to outperform their benchmarks over a one-year period. The benchmarks for two funds were not available.

The Winners
In our annual study of the best fund houses this year (MoneyLIFE, 22nd May) Deutsche Mutual had emerged as the best performing fund house. It fully justified its emergence at the top. The performance of its DWS Investment Opportunity Fund over the past one year has been simply outstanding. This Fund was up 31% handsomely beating its benchmark, the BSE-200 Index, which returned just 8%. It is a small fund with just about Rs119 crore in assets under management. Interestingly, it is almost fully invested (95% in equities and the remaining 5% is in cash) at a time when the market is headed lower by the day. Among its top equity picks are Reliance Industries, Infosys Technologies, Tata Steel, Cairn India and Bharti Airtel; while it recently added GE Shipping and Idea Cellular to its portfolio. The next best performance over the past one year came from IDFC Premier Equity Fund (bought over from Standard Chartered) which was up 26% between June 2007 and June 2008. This Fund too is benchmarked against the BSE-200 Index which was up 8%. With Rs785.32 crore in assets under management, this Fund is 73% invested in equities, 10% in debt, 11% in cash and the remaining 6% in money market instruments and other current assets. Among its top equity picks are Educomp Solutions, Axis Bank, Shriram Transport Finance, SREI International Finance and Suzlon Energy while it recently entered Gokul Refoils & Solvents. Though these are among its top equity picks, its largest exposure, accounting for almost 6% of its net assets, is classified as other equities the break-up of which is not available.

A winners’ list without a fund from Reliance Mutual looks incomplete. Reliance RSF Equity Fund returned 25% over a one-year period, outperforming its benchmark, the BSE-100 Index, which was up 9%. It manages Rs709 crore in assets of which 81% is invested in equities while the remaining 19% is held in cash -- a strategy which is paying off well in a severe market downturn. Among its top equity picks are Pratibha Industries, Reliance Industries, Divi’s Laboratories and Maruti Udyog. Even in the case of this Fund, other equities form 4.6%, a sizeable chunk. Among its more recent picks are IndiaInfoline, Biocon, Reliance Infrastructure, Wipro, Shiv-Vani Oils and Titan Industries.

With a one-year return of 23%, the BOB Growth Fund came next among top performers among equity diversified growth funds. The Fund is benchmarked against the Sensex which was up just 6% between June 2007 and June 2008. This, however, is a very small fund with just Rs7.27 crore in assets under management. The Fund turned lucky buying Reliance Industries, Reliance Communications, L&T, Ranbaxy and Hindustan Unilever and has recently added Maruti Udyog, MIC Electronics and Mercator Lines to its portfolio.

The last among the top five performers was SBIMF’s Magnum COMMA Fund. The Fund was up 22% over the past one year beating its benchmark, the BSE-200 Index, which returned 8%. This Fund manages over Rs637 crore in assets with 79% invested in equities, 1% in deposits and 21% in current assets (the break-up of which is not available). With so much money kept in cash, the Fund is well placed to take advantage of the market fall. Among its top equity picks are Tata Steel, Reliance Industries, SAIL, United Phosphorous and Jaiprakash Associates. Of the above-mentioned five, we recommend Reliance RSF and SBI’s Magnum COMMA Fund as the best picks.

The Losers
The worst among the lot in terms of performance was Kotak’s Lifestyle Fund which was down 18% between June 2007 and June 2008. Benchmarked against the CNX 500, the Fund’s returns were way below the 4% returned by its benchmark. Out of the Rs172.19 crore that the Fund manages, 91% is invested in equities, 2% in debt and the remaining 7% in other current assets. Among its top equity picks are Bharti Airtel, HDFC, ITC, United Spirits and Zee Entertainment while it recently entered Dabur. Clearly, the Fund failed to capitalise on other ‘lifestyle’ stocks such as Evinix or Godfrey Philips which have done better than the stocks it chose. The next among weak performers was ABN AMRO’s Future Leaders Fund. It was down 17% between June 2007 and June 2008 failing to outperform its benchmark, the CNX Midcap, which was up 9%. A relatively small fund with just Rs61.02 crore in assets, it has 97% of its assets invested in equities across stocks like Texmaco, Ashok Leyland, Exide, Northgate Technologies and Lupin. The new additions include Mercator Lines and BL Kashyap. Birla Sun Life’s India Opportunities Fund with -16% return ranked among the worst five performers underperforming its benchmark, the CNX 500, which was up 4%. This Fund too is comparatively small in size with just Rs63.26 crore in assets. About 88% of its assets are invested in equities while it holds the remaining 12% in cash. Among its top equity picks are Satyam, Reliance Industries, Raymond, United Breweries and Honeywell Automation. It also has some exposure to software stocks like HCL Technologies, TCS and Infosys (recently added) and has yet failed to perform well. The timing must have been horrible. Among its new picks is Bharti Airtel.

We have always advised you to stay away from contra funds. We are not surprised that DBS Chola Contra Fund declined 13% over the past one year finding a place among the worst performers. This Fund too is benchmarked against the CNX 500 which was up 4%. This Fund is by far the smallest among the ones we have analysed, with just Rs21.4 crore in assets under management, of which 84% is invested in equities while the remaining 16% is in current assets. Almost one-fourth of its portfolio consists of stocks that it has bought recently; Jaiprakash Hydro, Reliance Industries, ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank and Reliance Communications are among its top picks. Buying banking stocks probably just before they nosedived has hurt its performance.

The last among the worst five performers was Franklin India Smaller Companies Fund which was down 12% between June 2007 and June 2008. This Fund too is benchmarked against the CNX 500 which was up 4% over the same period. It has Rs820 crore in assets under management with 95% invested in equities and the remaining 5% in current assets. Its top picks include Exide Industries, Simplex Infrastructure, Trent, Bharti Airtel and Mercator Lines, the last two being the latest additions to its portfolio. In addition to these, it has recently entered Infosys, Marico, Reliance Petroleum and Mindtree Consulting. We are neither surprised with the poor performance of this Fund nor its attempt to pass off Infosys and Reliance Petroleum as ‘smaller companies’. Fund companies frequently launch schemes to take your money at an opportune time and earn a steady fee for themselves. They are not meant to earn superior returns for you. Both, ABN AMRO’s Future Leaders Fund and Franklin India’s Smaller Companies Fund, were launched when mid-cap and smaller companies were hot.

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    As Thought-provoking as Yesterday’s Newspaper
    This is not the kind of book that professors of management, especially those from elite institutions like Harvard, normally write. They are good at spinning a new theory on a hot topic around which they hang several real-life examples and wrap it up in a catchy title. A few years later, they spin some other theory, based on a fresh set of selective examples, while the earlier one is quietly dropped. It is rare to find a professor romping across continents and companies, interviewing officials, businessmen, senior executives and thinkers, while their assistants vacuum up a billion pieces of disparate information from the Internet and other places, all of which are then laid out in a long sequence without any central thought. The result? A book brimming with current information about two countries that is as profound and thought-provoking as yesterday’s newspaper. If you read the book, you get to know a lot about China (there is little fresh information or perspective on India) which makes one wonder what is it that Khanna is trying to say?

    A pointer to the lack of a central thought lies in the way the book is introduced on the flap of the dust jacket – full of wrong notions and weak ideas. The very first sentence reads: “For the first time since the rise of Western capitalism, entrepreneurs in China and India can ignore New York and London – and still build companies worth billions.” This is a bizarre statement. Could the Tatas have bought Corus without global capital? Even as Khanna was writing this book, dozens of Chinese companies were issuing shares in New York. Experts estimate that India received $40 billion last year from foreign private equity companies for investment in real estate. India’s rickety finances, weakened by continuing corruption and inefficiency, has been propped up by billions of dollars of foreign portfolio investment year after year, until the game was up this year, due to which the market has sunk by 50%. It is factually wrong and simply preposterous to say Indian entrepreneurs can ignore New York and London. The book also claims that “China and India are embracing the world on their own distinct terms.” Isn’t that stating the obvious? Every country has unique features, shaped by history, policy framework and entrepreneurial culture. Botswana and Brazil will obviously deal with the world in distinct terms, as did Singapore and Taiwan.

    There are three parts to this book. Part I titled ‘Foundations’ has four chapters that cover statecraft, information and transparency, how China can build by diktat and financial sectors of the two countries. Part II titled ‘Enterprise’ has five chapters that cover Infosys of India and TCL of China; the difficulties of foreign companies in doing business (examples of Microsoft in China and METRO Cash & Carry in India); how the Chinese Diaspora (the famous Bamboo Network) made a big difference to China’s growth; a description of how China’s rural folks are better off; and, finally, the poor healthcare facilities in the two countries. These sections are packed with information – often of the mundane variety. Part III is titled ‘Future’ and, not surprisingly, is the smallest. After all, it is always so easy to describe, but so hard to prescribe. It has four chapters: China’s hard power – its foreign policy to win over despotic regimes from Burma to Africa, to grab natural resources; India’s so-called soft power (Bollywood and other means of winning over the world); and two chapters on historical and corporate connections. Why should the last two chapters appear in the segment on ‘future’ is unclear to me except as a means of bulking up the section. Unfortunately, unlike the other chapters, Khanna could not have packed the ‘future’ section with yesterday’s information! He had to offer ideas and pointers, which are absent. Indeed, throughout, the book only describes. It never prescribes even though businessmen apparently asked him whether they can make money in India and China. The book is precisely meant for those who ask such inane questions and for Harvard and Yale students who cannot locate either of the two countries on the map. After all, if you want to read this book you have to be prepared to encounter sentences like: “The Taj Mahal Hotel borrows its name from India’s best known architectural symbol, located in the northern city of Agra, and stands facing the Gateway of India, a spectacular structure overlooking the Arabian Sea, built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay in 1911.”

    That leaves me with one final issue. What does the title mean? India and China have a population of 2.4 billion. A billion entrepreneurs out of them, that too from countries that rank a poor 120 (India) and 83 (China) among 178 countries in the World Bank’s ranking of ‘Ease of Doing Business’? – Debashis Basu

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    Medium Term

    Bank stocks in our medium-term stockgrader were clobbered but several others did well. We are making three changes to the list

    The Gainers
    Jayaswal Neco was the best performer with a 17% rise, followed by another steel products company, Nile, which rose 13% after a 19% fall in the previous fortnight. Our stockgrader list is studded with steel companies and they have had a mixed record....

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