In an exclusive interview to Ramesh Damani, India’s star fund manager, Prashant Jain’s views are as follows,
How seriously should investors view the threat of inflation and what do you tell your investors and how do you protect your portfolio in this case?
Real inflation is actually much more than probably what the numbers are suggesting. The largest component in any household expenditure is a house and houses are clearly unaffordable by whichever measure you see. If you look at the inflationary impact on the total consumption expenditure of the household, inflation is way in excess of what these numbers suggest.
Banks are offering 10-11 per cent on deposits, and as we go into March they may start offering 12 per cent. So over long periods of time, there is certainly a strong case to be made that exposure to equities in Indian households which is very low should increase significantly but I don’t know at what pace it will happen. Given the fact that fixed maturity plans from mutual funds offer virtually safe 10 per cent return, which used to be 5-6 per cent two-three years back.
Economic growth will still accelerate, but profit growth will slow down. Profit growth will be lower in 2008 than the profit growth in 2007, and 2009 will be even lower.
Is Sensex earnings target of Rs 840-845 seem too optimistic to you?
Yes. I don’t look at the Sensex as one composite.
In fact, Sensex has two parts to it – the secular growth companies which would be companies like telecom, IT, consumer goods and the cyclicals. If you split the Sensex into these two parts, you will get a more realistic picture of the valuations. And it is not very good. If you look at the secular growth companies they are all trading at close to 20 times FY09 earnings, two years forward, which is not cheap.
And there are risks, telecom will certainly slow down by then. You cannot have 100 crore mobiles in India in the next four-five years. So it has to slow down. You can only argue whether it will take three months or six months or one year.
Cyclical growth companies are trading significantly above replacement cost and we are somewhere close to a peak cycle. So how the sectors will pan out, how zinc, lead, aluminium and steel prices behave, how the margins behave is very hard to forecast. One thing is clear that these are economically unsustainable prices and these profits are not likely to sustain for long time.
So for short term and medium term investors, do we have a big hurdle in the near future ? Yes I think so and I am going to start exiting stocks which have run up quite a bit.