Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q. Do you think after US CPI inflation print which came below estimates will allow Fed to go slow on rate hike, and RBI will follow the same?
A: The US CPI inflation data for the month of July came in at 8.5 per cent, down from 9.1 per cent in June and slightly below expectation of 8.7 per cent. However the Fed officials have responded to softening inflation data by saying it doesn't change their stance towards higher interest rates, as the inflation still remains above the unacceptable levels. Since this is just first sign of inflation peaking out, and is too early to rule out subsequent high inflation data, uncertainty will loom over when the US Fed would slow down on its aggressive rate hikes. If the softening of inflation continues further, then it would eventually lead Fed to taper its aggression. The RBI is more likely to follow US Fed and thus would not taper its tone till its is adopted by US Fed.
Q. 5.40 per cent repo rate is already above pre-pandemic level, but still the RBI maintains "withdrawal of accomodation" stance. Do you think the neutral level of the repo rate is at or above 6 per cent?
A: The RBI has cumulatively hiked the policy repo rate by 140bp to 5.4 per cent in FY23 till date. It reiterated its continued focus on "withdrawal of accommodation" to contain inflation while supporting growth. However, it kept its inflation/growth forecasts unchanged at 6.7 per cent/7.2 per cent YoY, respectively, for FY23. This seems very confusing as how can the rate hikes help contain inflation without hurting growth? Further, the MPC did not sound dovish at all. There was neither a change in stance nor a relief in the RBI Governor's statement disclaiming a possible pause in rate hikes. Thus we believe that the terminal rate in this hike cycle might be at 5.75-6.0 per cent
Q. In the current market conditions, which sectors are likely to perform well from an investor returns point-of-view?
A: We believe BFSI can do well in rising interest rate scenario. On the other hand with good monsoon, upcoming festive season and softening of commodity prices, the demand both urban and rural are expected to revive and pick up and thus we are positive on Consumer, Auto and Retail. With the opening up of economy and the structural shift being witnessed in favour of the industry post Covid, QSR remains in a sweet spot. While uncertainty around quantum of interest rate hikes is likely to impact the performance of real estate stocks in the near term, longer-term thesis on revival of housing cycle remains intact. There is imminent opportunity in the domestic Hospitality industry and the expected upcycle bodes well for the sector. We are selectively looking at IT sector as valuations have become attractive for accumulation from long term perspective.
Q. Where you see levels on benchmark indices going forward considering the FI inflows in the domestic equities?
A: Strong momentum in the market has helped Nifty rally by more than 2500 points from June lows, and thus, has wiped out the entire decline for the calendar year till date and turned positive. Strong macro data, FII turning positive, steady earnings and healthy progress in monsoon have been some of the key factors supporting the market. FIIs (including primary market) turned positive for the month of July after nine months of continuous outflows and has been continuous buyer throughout the month of August so far. With the softening of commodity prices, even inflation seems to be peaking out and festive season is about to begin which should support demand and thus corporate earnings. Thus the overall trend in the market seems to be positive, however bouts of volatility can't be ruled out as uncertainty over rate hike quantum and China-Taiwan tussle continues. Further, with this recent rally, Nifty now trades at ~20x FY23E, above its 10-year average, thus offering limited upside in the near term. Going forward, it could be a tug of war between domestic and global factors which could determine the market direction.
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