Sensex remained stubbornly optimistic in 2019

Last Updated 29 December 2019, 09:13 IST

Bulls stamped their dominance on Dalal Street this year as equity benchmarks galloped to record highs, shrugging off a raft of sobering data points like anaemic growth, global trade tantrums, and bubble-territory valuations.

The BSE Sensex crossed the historic 40,000-point milestone, while the broader NSE Nifty conquered 'Mount 12k' in 2019, bringing cheer to stock market faithfuls.

However, the going was tougher for investors who ventured into the minefield of mid- and small-cap shares, with most portfolios sporting various versions of red. Stock-picking skills separated the men from the boys in this space.

Analysts said the divergence between the buoyancy in benchmarks and under-performance in most other segments was one of the highlights of equity markets this year.

The Sensex started off the year at 36,254.57 and began its steady march upwards. It closed above 39,000 for the first time on April 2, ahead of the first phase of voting for the 2019 general elections, with market participants pricing in a victory for the Narendra Modi-led NDA government.

The 30-share gauge actually closed lower after the results were announced on May 23 as investors booked profits, but rebounded soon after to reach the 40,000-points mark on June 3, while the NSE Nifty closed above 12,000.

Focus then shifted to the first Budget of the Modi 2.0 regime as India Inc clamoured for stimulus measures to revive flagging growth.

However, the Budget presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on July 5 came as a bolt from the blue for the bourses.

Sitharaman hiked tax surcharge on foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) and high earners and proposed to raise the public shareholding threshold, fanning fears of an oversupply of new papers in an already overbought market.

The Sensex tumbled almost 400 points on Budget day and dived another 793 points when markets opened the next Monday, logging its biggest one-day fall this calendar year.

FPIs pressed the panic button and pulled out a net Rs 12,418.73 crore from the Indian equity markets in July, reversing their five-month buying streak.

Faced with vociferous protests from industry and market stakeholders, the government rolled back the enhanced surcharge in August and also announced a series of steps to prop up the economy.

The government then delivered a stunning bonanza to India Inc by slashing corporate tax by almost 10 percentage points -- the biggest reduction in almost three decades.

Markets roared back to life and the Sensex rocketed a whopping 1,921 points on September 20, posting its biggest single-day jump in a decade.

Buying continued unabated at bourses and the Sensex finished above 41,000 for the first time on November 27.

So far this year, the Sensex has given returns of 15.26 per cent (till December 27), while the Nifty has gained 12.73 per cent.

However, what is making market experts nervous is the frothy valuations.

The price-to-earnings (PE) ratio of the 30 Sensex stocks has touched 29, the highest in 20 years. In other words, investors are paying more and more money for every rupee of future earnings of these firms.

But are the underlying fundamentals supportive enough to warrant such optimism?

India's GDP growth slumped to an over six-year low of 4.5 per cent in the second quarter of this fiscal, and weak consumer sentiment has dented earnings of companies across sectors. Corporate honchos have maintained that recovery is still some distance away.

Overseas cues too have been less-than-conducive.

US President Donald Trump's trade tiffs with China, EU, and others have roiled global markets since the beginning of the year, though the 'phase one' trade deal with Beijing announced earlier this month has galvanised sentiment.

Other global indicators also have been flashing recession signals.

In August, the US Treasury yield curve inverted for the first time since June 2007. The inverted yield curve -- when short-term Treasury bonds yield more than their long-term counterparts -- has preceded every recession in the last half-century, though the time taken to reach the crisis point has varied.

The bond markets later stabilised and Wall Street is presently ruling near record highs, propelled by robust growth of the US economy and China trade deal euphoria.

Nevertheless, the consensus is that the global economy still faces multiple headwinds and growth cannot be taken for granted.

Back home, experts said a couple of factors have worked in favour of the benchmarks.

Firstly, the RBI, along with other global central banks, has been on a rate-cutting spree to bolster growth. It has slashed the policy rate five times for a cumulative 135 bps this year.

Secondly, FPIs have largely kept faith in the India story. Overseas investors have poured a net Rs 97,250 crore in Indian equities -- the highest in the last six years.

Moreover, investors who burnt their fingers in risky bets retreated to the safety of the large-caps, propelling the benchmarks.

Another factor has been strong mutual fund inflows, which have remained largely unaffected by market gyrations.

The Indian MF industry added, on an average, 9.55 lakh SIP accounts each month during the FY 2019-20, with monthly inflows staying above the Rs 8,000-crore level throughout.

So what does the year 2020 hold for the markets?

"The outlook seems rosier though and we feel that the strong FPI inflows combined with the expectation of reforms measures by the government, starting with the Budget measures, will help continue the momentum in the markets and will become more broad-based.

"With liquidity and the return of risk-on strategy and an expected improvement in earnings growth, the rally will also spread to those quality stocks with moderate valuations in the Mid and Small Cap space and even in the Large Cap space," said Vinod Nair, Head of Research at Geojit Financial Services.

The party, it seems, will continue at Dalal Street.

(Published 29 December 2019, 09:13 IST)

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