I have cooked my own food for over 12 years now. Over the years, as boredom from cooking on a daily basis has set in, the quality of what I cook has deteriorated. These days the food I cook is just about edible.
Given this, I like to watch some mindless television while eating. This ensures that I don’t pay attention to what I am eating and as a result, don’t end up cribbing to myself. What works best in this scenario, especially during lunch time, are business news channels.
If you are the kind who still watches them, you would know that a major part of the day on these channels is spent in trying to figure out which way the stock market is headed. The anchors of these channels talk to so called “experts” who give their “gyan” on why they feel the market moved the way it did, and which way they think it’s headed in the future.
More often than not these experts are optimistic and keep telling us that the market is only going to go up from here. Nevertheless, as you and I know that is not how things always turn out. It is especially interesting on days the markets rise, to see these experts thump their chests and tell the viewers “I told you so!”
The reasons for their optimism vary from day to day. It can be low inflation on one day and the hyperactive Modi government on another. On days they run out reasons they like to tell us the “India growth story is still intact”. Come rain or sunshine, these experts always have their reasons ready. And that makes it great fun to watch.
(I have to confess here that I have this recurring dream where I have been invited to a studio of a business channel and am asked “Mr Kaul, which way do you think the stock market is headed?” And I look write into the eyes of the anchor and tell her “Mam, it’s headed only one way and that’s up”.
“Why do you say so?” she asks, with her eyebrows fluttering. And I reply: “The whole country of the system is juxtaposition by the haemoglobin in the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity.”)
Jokes apart, these experts especially the Indian ones, never really tell us the real reason behind the Indian stock market going up.
Between April 2007 and October 2014, the foreign institutional investors(FIIs) made a net purchase(gross purchase minus gross sales of stocks) of Rs 2.06 lakh crore in the Indian stock market. During the same period the domestic institutional investors(DIIs) made net sales of Rs 22,715 crore.
Things get more interesting once we look at the numbers between September 2008 (the month the current financial crisis started) and October 2014. During this period, FIIs have made a net purchase of Rs 2.76 lakh crore. In the same period, the DIIs made net sales of Rs 95,219 crore. These data points tell us very clearly who is really driving up the Indian stock market. In the aftermath of the financial crisis breaking out in September 2008, the developed nations of the world led by the United States and United Kingdom carried out quantitative easing or printed money and pumped it into their respective financial systems, to keep interest rates low.
This was done in the hope that at low interest rates people would borrow and spend more, and all the spending would help revive economic growth. What happened instead was that large financial institutions managed to borrow money at low interest rates and invested it in financial markets all over the world. This has driven up stock markets all over the world, including the BSE Sensex.
The inflow of foreign money has been particularly strong this year. As Abhishek Saraf and Abhay Laijawala of Deutsche Bank Market Research point out in a recent report “On a year to date basis too, India has witnessed the highest FII inflows into equities at ~US$14billion.”
This has helped the Sensex rally by more than 33% since the beginning of this year. But the interesting thing is that DIIs have continued to stay away. Since the beginning of this year they have made net sales of Rs 27,241.5 crore.
Nevertheless, October 2014 has been an exception to this, with the DIIs making a net purchase of Rs 4,103 crore. This is for the first time since August 2013, when the net purchase of the DIIs was higher than that of the FIIs. In fact, FIIs made net sales of Rs 1683 crore during the course of the month.
The question to ask here is why have the DIIs not invested anywhere as much as the FIIs have in the years since the financial crisis broke out. The answer lies in the fact that DIIs (primarily insurance companies and mutual funds) ultimately invest money they collect from the retail investors.
The retail investors had bailed out of the stock market lock, stock and barrel, in the aftermath of the financial crisis. They haven’t returned since. A major reason for the same was the fact that insurance companies sold expensive unit linked insurance plans (or Ulips) to retail investors.
Many agents promised investors that their money once invested in the stock market would double in three years. That clearly did not happen, and individuals who had bought Ulips essentially went around footing the bill for the high commissions that insurance companies paid their agents. And this ended up giving the stock market a bad name.
Also, many retail investors started entering the stock market only in late 2007, when the market was already at a very high level and ended up making losses. As Deepak Parekh said in a speech last week in Mumbai “Retail investors tend to enter stock markets on the highs and lose confidence on the lows.”
Further, DIIs represent only the indirect participation of the retail investor in the stock market. What about the direct participation? This is very minuscule. As Parekh pointed out “On the retail side, the picture is grimmer. Direct participation of retail investors in Indian capital markets is 1.4% of the population compared to China at 9.4%, UK at 16% and US at 18%.” Or as maverick investor Shankar Sharma once told me during the course of an interview “The Sensex is just a two square mile phenomenon — Fort to Nariman Point. That is about all that is interested in the Sensex.”
Parekh in his speech estimated that after excluding promoter shareholding and the retail segment, which do not have too much liquidity, FIIs dominate close to 70% of the market. What this clearly tells is that it is the FIIs have used the “easy money” provided by the central banks of Western countries to drive the Indian stock market, and, in turn, have benefited the most from it as well. This has also helped the BSE Sensex cross the level of 28,000 points more than a few times in the recent past.
Given this, the next time you see an Indian expert trying to give you reasons on why the stock market is rallying, try and tell this to yourself: “he knows not what he is talking for he is on television.”
To conclude the question to ask here is whether it is time to allow big provident funds like the employee provident fund, the government provident fund and the coal mines provident fund to invest a part of their corpus in the stock market? This will be one way of ensuring that some regular Indian money also keeps coming into the stock market and foreign investors are not the only ones to benefit. And that is something worth thinking about.
The article originally appeared on www.equitymaster.com on Nov 11, 2014