Tuesday, January 7, 2020

2019 - Letter to Clients

After a lackluster 2018, 2019 turned out to be another difficult year in the stock markets for Indian investors. Here is how the year panned out for various asset classes during the year.

Asset class
2019 return
Debt ultra short
Post office 3-year deposit
Debt Liquid
Fixed deposit (1-3 years)
Nifty 50
Nifty Midcap 100
Nifty Smallcap 100

icAdvisor average
No one could have guessed it at the start of the year, but Gold was the star performer during 2019. Appreciation in Gold, an unproductive asset, normally signals a defensive approach by investors. The stock markets were anything but defensive though. The Nifty started the year at 10,862 and ended it at 12,168 – giving a healthy return of 12.02% in the process. The Nifty Midcap 100 and Nifty Smallcap 100 on the other hand gave negative returns of -4.32% and -9.53% respectively. This was the second consecutive year when these two indices gave negative returns. This means that investors with growth portfolios in the midcap and smallcap space will have to increase their investing timelines in order to first break even and then generate a positive return. As far as our icAdvisor advisory service is concerned, the annual return of client portfolios under our advice clocked in at -2.84% this year. More than 90% of our client portfolios are Growth oriented and with this constraint we were still able to outperform both the Midcap 100 and Smallcap 100 indices. Here is how many of our client portfolios outperformed the three indices in percentage terms

% folios outperforming the index
Midcap 100
Smallcap 100
 2019 was also a year which was marked by a peculiar trend – large cap quality stocks that were already costly became more costly at the expense of quality midcap and smallcap stocks, which were shunned by investors as being too risky. This led to a situation where the Nifty ended the year at a PE of 28.3, very close to its lifetime high of 29.9 and two standard deviations away from its average of 19.8. At these dangerously high PE levels Nifty stocks have only two possibilities – either deliver increased earnings to justify the stratospheric PE or face a price correction. The December qtr results which are starting later this week will be interesting to watch from this point of view.

In terms of trends the Nifty once again saw three broad trends during the year – two uptrends and one downtrend. The quantum and duration of these trends were as follows:

Jan to Jun
Jun to Oct
Oct to Dec

This can be seen visually in the daily chart of the Nifty during 2019 below

The previous year also witnessed three broad trends in the Nifty and 2019 continued this trend. Consequently volatility remained high during the year. In response to this volatility we continuously advised our Clients to sit on cash whenever possible. During the end of the year we saw the emergence of a new trend although in small proportions – booking profits in stocks that had run up way too much and investing into quality names in the midcap and smallcap space. 2019 was also marked by a lot of upheavals in individual businesses, notable among them being DHFL, Mcleod Russell, Cox and Kings, Thomas Cook, Yes Bank, Sintex, Reliance Home Finance, Reliance Communications, CafĂ© Coffee Day, Jet Airways, Reliance Power, Reliance Capital, Jain Irrigation, Lakshmi Vilas Bank, Vodafone Idea and HDIL amongst others. All of these stocks lost more than 80% of their market cap during the year. It was perhaps the consequence of this kind of literal carnage in so many stocks that investors flocked to quality large cap names and kept pushing up their price to stratospheric levels!

On the economic front there was bad news all around. The GDP growth rate slumped to 4.5% during the year, the lowest growth rate in decades. Unemployment continued to be high and GST collections also slipped during the year confirming a slowing down of the economy. These and other indicators have put the Governments target of $5tn economy by 2024 at serious risk. On the bright side, the Government was active in acknowledging the problem and took many remedial steps to reverse the trend including a lowering of corporate tax. The cumulative effect of these measures is likely to show result in the next couple of quarters.

What can be look forward to in 2020? The Indian economy has slowed down but the Government is making all efforts to revive it once again. The fact that the elections are behind us and that there is a stable Government at the center with an even larger mandate is assuring for investors. The stock markets have run up already in anticipation of the moves made by the Government. Quality large cap stocks are trading at stratospheric levels and are due for a correction unless their December quarter earnings support their high prices. Quality Midcap and Smallcap stocks however are looking very attractive at the moment. This I believe will be the sweet spot for 2020.

At the end of this difficult year, it is a good idea to take a moment and review the fundamentals of long term investing. We enumerate them here for quick reference:
  1. Asset allocation – Diversify your financial assets across Debt, Equity, Real Estate, gold, etc. depending on your risk profile and age. Real Estate and Gold assets should be used to satisfy consumption needs only. It means that your financial assets should be invested only across Debt and Equity. One simple rule of thumb to do this quickly is to subtract your age from 100. The number you get should be the percentage of your assets that you should allocate to equity - the rest should be allocated to Debt.
  2. Financial planning - Identify your financial goals and classify them by time horizon – short term, medium term and long term. Use Debt assets to achieve short term goals, mix of Debt and Equity assets to achieve medium term goals and Equity assets for achieving long term goals. This will be the basis of your financial plan.
  3. Reviewing your plan - Review your financial plan yourself or with your advisor at least once a year and make adjustments depending on the prevailing market situation.
  4. Invest right - When it comes to equity, invest in quality businesses and then give markets time to give you returns. This calls for patience in the face of volatility. Speak to your financial advisor whenever you are in doubt and need a second opinion.
I want to inform all my Clients that during the year we made further improvements to our stock picking algorithm. These improvements include using advanced technical indicators in addition to fundamental indicators to ensure that we get the timing of investments right also. I believe these improvements are already working in favor of our Clients.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank you for putting your faith in our investment thesis and in our icAdvisor service with your hard earned money. Your continued trust makes us stay committed to the vision encapsulated in our tagline – ‘Growth through Knowledge’. I am available to address client queries at all times and am approachable via email or whatsapp. 

Finally, let me wish you and your family a very happy and prosperous Happy New Year and hope that our relationship will continue to grow for many years to come!

Abhijit Talukdar
Founder, Attainix Consulting
SEBI Registered Investment Adviser - INA000006703

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