Economic Survey sounds a note of caution on the high equity valuations

Domestic equities have risen sharply on expectations of strong corporate earnings

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The Economic Survey 2018 sounded a note of caution on the high equity valuations and hasn’t ruled out a possibility of a correction. After a sharp 23 per cent rally this financial year, the benchmark Sensex is trading at 27 times its trailing 12-month earnings. The broader-market BSE Midcap and Smallcap indices, which have outperformed the benchmark in FY18, are trading at even higher valuations of 47 and 105 times, respectively.

“Sustaining these valuations will require future growth in the economy and earnings in line with current expectations, and require the portfolio re-allocation to be semi-permanent. Otherwise, the possibility of a correction in them cannot be ruled out,” the Survey said.

Domestic equities have risen sharply on expectations of strong corporate earnings. However, the earnings growth has been elusive so far, only to belie analysts’ expectations.

“Expectations of earnings growth are much higher in India. Indeed, it was such expectations that lie at the origin of the stock market boom. In early 2016-17, signs emerged that the long slide in the corporate profits-to-GDP ratio might finally be coming to an end. Investors reacted to this news with alacrity, bidding up share prices in anticipation of a recovery they hoped lay just ahead. Accordingly, the ratio of prices-to-current earnings rose sharply,” said the report.

The lackluster earnings trajectory has been largely on account of policy disruptions such as implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) and demonetisation. The Street is expecting a turnaround in earnings.

“There is exuberance in broader market valuations, largely on account of earnings revival expectations. Therefore, if earnings disappoint or if there is a drop in incremental flows, we could see a sharp correction,” said Gautam Duggad, head of research, Motilal Oswal Institutional Equities. What has kept stock prices afloat despite lack of earnings momentum, is the availability of abundant liquidity — both globally and domestically.

According to the Survey, low interest rates, globally have resulted in a fall in the equity risk premium (ERP). Low ERPs have led to a shift in portfolio allocations from debt to equity.

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