Sensex Breaks Below 38,000. Is This Time To Be Cautious?

Sensex Breaks Below 38,000. Is This Time To Be Cautious?

Between May 6 and May 8, 2019 the Sensex lost nearly 1,200 points in a vertical fall. It was triggered by an exasperated Donald Trump tweet on his intent to raise tariffs on Chinese imports from 10% to 25%. Global markets reacted in unison as nearly US$13 billion was wiped out for every word that Trump tweeted. India was not spared as the Sensex dipped below the psychological level of 38,000. What should investors really do?

Source: BSE (May 9, 2019)

The one-month chart of the Sensex is quite revealing. After crossing the 39,000 mark multiple times, the Sensex had faced tremendous pressure before it ascended further. Should traders and investors be cautious at this point?

A. There is a global angle to this correction

The big trigger for the correction was an escalation of the trade war. By now it is clear that this is not just a war over import duties, but a much bigger war of two of the largest economies trying to assert their economy supremacy. The US remains the market that every country looks up to and China is the only country that can absorb all the minerals and metals produced in the world. China is unwilling to commit anything on intellectual property rights and that is the bone of contention. A prolonged trade war will mean that there could be an impact on growth in US and Chinese GDP. That will surely rub off on global demand. Secondly, there is a limit to which China can retaliate because they run a trade surplus in the range of $400-500 billion with the US (as per US Census). The other option is to devalue the Yuan. That could have a weakening impact on currencies including the rupee. Hence the trade war will continue to be an overhang on the Sensex.

B. Domestic macros are a challenge too

There are a number of domestic challenges too. Despite two rounds of rate cuts, there has been little impact on lending rates. The rupee has been extremely volatile and the RBI has been using swaps to infuse domestic liquidity into markets. There is the more immediate challenge on top line growth in consumer sectors like FMCG and auto where the slowdown is obvious. Despite all the efforts of the government, farm incomes have not improved and weak rural demand is putting a limit on growth.

C. Banking holds the key for now

We have seen in the past that if the Sensex has to go up decisively, then banking stocks have to perform exceptionally well. That is hardly surprising considering that banking and financials account for 38% of the Nifty basket. Amidst this, PSU banks are struggling to recover from the NPA pile accumulated over the years. Then, there are the potential NPAs pertaining to IL&FS, ADAG group and sectors like power and telecom that are not yet accounted for. When you add these up, the question “where is the trigger for a market rise” continues to haunt.

D. You can sense the market risk in the VIX

The volatility index is also called the Fear Index as it is indicative of the caution in the markets. Historically, VIX and Sensex have had a negative correlation. This time around, the VIX has moved up from 14 levels to 26 levels over the last couple of months and shows no signs of abating. That is a clear indication of high levels of risk that markets are assigning at current levels. When the VIX is elevated at higher levels, each bounce is met with aggressive selling. VIX also reflects that the rupee is coming under pressure due to a consistently widening current account deficit.

What should investors really do at these levels?

While caution is warranted, the Sensex has shown a tendency to bounce each time the trade war has tampered. Once the rattling gets subdued, we could see the Sensex bouncing again. Other than the weakening consumer demand, all the other factors are temporary. Weak consumer demand appears to be the only structural issue and that may predicate on how the new government that assumes office deals with demand push. While traders can be choosy about timing, investors should stick to quality stocks and adopt a phased approach to investing. The more these things appear to change, the more they happen to remain the same!