Equities in India on Friday lost value for the seventh time in eight sessions with benchmark indices closing in the red. The Sensex and Nifty ended the session down 0.15% and 0.13%, respectively, at 33,307 and 10,227 points. Over the week, the indices gave up 2.2%, leaving India the worst performing major market after Indonesia, which lost 2.3%. The markets were driven down by the steep fall in prices of state sector banking stocks; the Nifty PSU Bank index plummeted 5.4% during the week. The nervousness around the future prospects of state-owned banks in the wake of the fraud at Punjab National Bank has shattered investor confidence in all but the largest few banks. The sentiment swing also manifested in institutional flows into equities in India with both foreign investors and domestic institutions selling and buying in two sessions each of the week, during the first four sessions for which data was available. While foreign investors brought in a net $148 million, domestic institutions infused a net $30 million over the first four sessions of the week. Institutional flows into equities were tepid; both foreign and local institutions were circumspect stepping in to buy only selectively. Mahesh Patil, co-chief investment officer at Aditya Birla Sun Life Asset Management Company, said the correction had not been very large and since even bull markets have seen corrections of excess of 10%, it would be too early to call an end to the fall. “We can’t rule out further downside. But with stronger domestic outlook, I think with every correction, valuations will start looking attractive and market will find support,” Patil said. He pointed out that there had been a fair bit of a fall in individual stocks, especially in mid- and small-caps, leaving them looking attractive.
On Friday, the markets opened higher on positive cues from Asia after news of talks between the US and North Korea were confirmed. However, they gave up the gains towards close on a weak opening in European markets on lingering concerns over the implications of US hiking tariffs on imports. The world’s largest economy hiked duties on steel and aluminium imports by 25% and 10%, respectively, but spared neighbours Mexico and Canada, with whom it is in trade negotiations, for now. It also left a window open for negotiations with “allies” for possible exemptions. What the week irrefutably demonstrated, though, was the ability of US President Donald Trump to move global markets. Global indices seesawed with his every comment on imposition of import tariffs. Trump had on Friday last week set the cat among the pigeons by stating that he was considering imposition of import tariffs to protect US industry. He was quoted in US media saying, “There won’t be dumping on our country. What they do is they dump massive amounts of product in our country and it just kills — it destroys our companies and our jobs.” After his comments took a good 490 points off the Dow Jones Industrial Average over Thursday and Friday last week (Indian markets were closed on Friday on account of Holi), Trump started making less hawkish statements early this week, aiding markets to recover. He softened the blow further by qualifying that Canada and Mexico would be exempted from the levy, giving credence to the view that he was using tariffs only as a lever in his negotiations over a trade agreement with the two neighbours. Valuations improved a tad, with the relative steeper decline in Indian equities, but not enough to make them more attractive. The Sensex and Nifty presently trade at forward price-to-earnings ratios of 17.7 and 17.1, respectively, still significantly more expensive than most other major markets like Hang Seng (11.9), Nikkei (15.5), Shanghai Composite (12.5), DAX (12.6), FTSE (13.4) and Dow (16.5). This seems to suggest that, despite the optimism about a recovery, some further correction cannot be ruled out.