CLSA: Greed & Fear : Modi and Banking Amendments [NP]

Chris Wood of CLSA is one of the most revered Equity Strategist. He periodically writes 'GREED & FEAR' series explaining his views and strategies. He usually meets the policymakers, CEOs and sector experts before forming his opinions on each country and the market.
This is a txt copy of the latest edition.
GREED & fear’s base case for 2017, namely for global equity investors to be overweight global emerging markets and the Eurozone, has been strengthened by Emmanuel Macron’s victory. Macron’s victory will have further encouraged hopes of a re-energised Franco-German alliance at the heart of the Eurozone and related hopes of a renewed drive towards integration. Whether such hopes prove to be a reality is quite another matter. But for the moment they can propel European equities higher in the run up to the German election where GREED & fear’s base case remains a Merkel victory.
GREED & fear also remains constructive on the euro since the base case must be that Derivative Draghi will signal some increase in token tapering at the next ECB monetary policy meeting on 8 June.
As for the US, renewed hopes that the Trump administration will be able to pass reform of Obamacare are again encouraging expectations that tax reform can be passed more quickly than previously anticipated. This remains extremely optimistic from GREED & fear’s standpoint, with the major uncertainty whether Republicans in Congress will insist on the package being revenue neutral. But for now such hopes may keep the 10-year Treasury bond yield above 2.3% and therefore equities reasonably constructive. Yet if such hopes of near-term tax cuts are dashed, GREED & fear’s view remains that the yield curve is vulnerable to renewed flattening given that the evidence remains that the downside risk to economic growth in America are rising not falling. More tightening by the Fed, let alone the commencement of balance sheet contraction, increases the risk for US equities and strengthens the case to be long Treasury bonds absent aggressive tax cuts. It also increases the argument to be underweight American equities in a global portfolio.
It is a reality of market sentiment that the China reflation trade is currently being questioned. GREED & fear’s base case is that the bulk of the correction in commodities is over, be it in copper, iron ore and other China reflation trade proxies.
Still GREED & fear is much less sanguine on oil where hopes of keeping oil above US$50 rest on OPEC being able to agree on an extension of the current production agreement at its forthcoming meeting scheduled for 25 May. In the absence of such a deal, oil looks vulnerable.There is now a following wind in Europe until the German federal election in September where investors currently anticipate a positive result. The issue will then become whether a Eurozone with a Merkel-Macron leadership or, less likely, a Macron-Schulz leadership, will really push for renewed integration on a presumed path to fiscal union. For that is what will be required in GREED & fear’s view to keep Italy in the Eurozone.
If Asia and emerging markets remain an overweight forGREED & fear, India also remains the most preferred equity story in the emerging market universe on a ten-year view. This long-term constructive view has been strengthened by evidence that the Modi government is showing a renewed focus to address the asset quality problem in the banking sector.
The key development on the bad loan problem was the publication late last week of an ordinance amending the Banking Regulation Act. The key purpose of this amendment is to empower the Reserve Bank of India to intervene in specific cases of default as well as to give the central bank the authority to require specific defaults to be sent to the insolvency court if lenders and borrowers cannot reach resolution.The other aim of this amendment is to remove a concern shared by all bankers that, if they agree to a haircut on a specific loan, they will be at risk of future investigation by the judiciary or an investigative agency. It is the reluctance of the banks to take haircuts which has been the key cause of India’s long festering banking problem.The lack of progress addressing this legacy problem in the banking sector is the main reason why India is still seeing no evidence of a renewed private sector-driven investment cycle. While there have, in GREED & fear’s view, been enormous achievements in other areas of policy, the missing link is the banking sector with the bulk of the problem lying in the state-owned banks.The new approach requires the RBI to execute proactively on its new powers. The good news is that the RBI’s technocratic approach means that its management of the NPA problem will be less politicised than if handled by other government agencies. The word in Delhi is that the RBI will come out with clear guidelines in the near future on how this process will work.There is naturally much scepticism as to whether resolutions of bad debt cases will happen given the previous failure to address the NPA problem. Still, in GREED & fear’s view it is wrong to be too sceptical since, if the RBI is prepared to be tough, it has the leverage to apply, since it now has the power to invoke the insolvency code against defaulters. Once the NPA issue is resolved, the way will be clear for the public sector banks to raise capital, a process which should also lead, with the encouragement of both the RBI and the government, to the consolidation of the public sector banks.
The rest of the Indian story under the extraordinary Modi remains as vibrant as ever. While it is true that the Aadhaar programme was launched under the previous government, the real roll out and practical application of the programme has been massively leveraged since Modi assumed power. The benefits of direct electronic payments are hard to exaggerate in terms of reduced leakages and the like.
There is also the approaching launch of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). While this will not be as clean as originally hoped, the arrival of GST is a big deal. The fundamental point to focus on is that GST will end inter-state barriers to trade. The result should be increased tax revenues.GREED & fear remains constructive even if the Indian stock market is certainly expensive on a forward earnings basis. The continuing rise in the stock market year to date, and the resulting re-rating, has been triggered primarily by ongoing strong inflows into domestic equity mutual funds.These inflows into the mutual funds have been a feature ever since Modi was elected and reflect a growing preference for financial assets over traditional assets not traditionally visible to the taxman in India, namely property and gold.
The investment in Naver in the Asia ex-Japan long-only portfolio will be removed. An investment in Indian state-owned bank State Bank of India will be initiated with a 3% weighting, while a further 1ppt will be added to the existing investment in HDFC.China’s foreign exchange reserves increased by US$20.4bn in April. This marks the first time China’s forex reserves have increased for three consecutive months since June 2014. CLSA’s economics team estimates a mark-to-market gain of US$25bn in April, which implies a balance of payments deficit of only US$5bn in April. This further reinforces the view here that capital flight in China is not out of control.The latest Chinese inflation data provides further evidence that China PPI inflation has already peaked. PPI inflation slowed for the second consecutive month, down from 7.6% YoY in March to 6.4% YoY in April. The slowdown can be partly explained by the base effect. But China PPI also declined on a month on month basis for the first time since June 2016.
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