Q3 Results by Avenue Supermarts. End of the uptrend?

Poor Avenue Supermarts (DMart) Q3 numbers.

In two months, stock was up from 1150 to 1650 in anticipation of good results and other news related euphoria like the new e-commerce policy that restricts foreign e-tailers. But now with just 2% PAT growth valuations seem unreasonable. I previously wrote how the stock was overpriced at IPO.

Even the salvaging 33% growth in topline is not sustainable. Discount stores can’t keep mushrooming at historical rates and same-store sales cannot grow indefinitely by giving deep discounts and squeezing suppliers.

So if not for growth or earnings, what are shareholders paying a forward PE of 78 for? Peter Lynch said he judges retailers by same-store growth and inventory turns.

Share holders should keep an eye out for trouble in DMart – especially piling of inventories and rising working capital that may signal that growing sales by discounting is not working well enough to catch up with valuations.

On Charts:

Stock has broken below 20-day SMA, center line of the Bollinger Band, which suggests the short term uptrend since November may be coming to an end. It will break under RSI center line on Monday, 14-January, beginning a down trend.

Long term opportunities in the Bandhan Bank and Gruh Finance merger

Bandhan Bank merging with Gruh in a share swap deal, is a marriage of east and west. Bandhan Bank is a microlending powerhouse based out of Bengal, while Gruh is a Gujarat based home lending NBFC with HDFC bank pedigree.

The marriage has caused market participants severe indigestion, primarily over valuation concerns. It is a marriage of convenience (Bandhan’s management seeks to dilute its ownership to be in compliance and HDFC seeks to raise capital) but there are more than tactical concerns. So what are the potential long-term benefits that are being ignored?

First, Bandhan, whose motto is “aapka bhala, sabki bhalai” (i.e. for your good and everyone else’s) is a very aggressive and profit-centric bank with a deceiving “not-for-profit” facade.

Bandhan has maintained industry beating NIMs of 10%+. In its recent quarterly results the treasury operations have also scaled and generated 63 times (!) YoY profit growth, in part due to treasury riding positive yield curve movements in AFS and HTM portfolio. This is clearly not a management that let’s an opportunity pass and Gruh’s acquisition will not necessarily prove to be EPS negative (Gruh has lower NIIs but higher ROE than Bandhan)

Second, Bandhan Bank has grown its CASA deposits within just 3 years to an astounding 41%, which is similar to a veteran bank like HDFC! This growing deposit base will help in the future to fund Gruh’s liabilities for long-tenor home lending. No more borrowing for Gruh at premium from debt markets and bank facilities. Gruh’s industry beating home loan underwriting standards will now have the benefit of the Bandhan’s low cost funding. The merged entity will enjoy peerless expertise in both unsecured (primarily Microfinance lending of Bandhan) and secured (collateralized home-lending) loans.

Third, geographical and cross-market synergies have immense potential. East India has a huge and untapped home lending market that could be accessed quickly using Gruh’s underwriting processes. Bandhan is deeply entrenched in this geography, while it has more than a toehold in the West of India (94 branches) and it could use Gruh’s branch network to cross-sell its micro-banking products.

The rural and semi-urban portfolio of the merged entity would be 71%. Bandhan Bank would then cross-sell deposits, microloans and home loans to a bottom of the pyramid clientele.

Additionally, Gruh has a significant wholesale book with its developer/builder lending portfolio. This is an area where a primarily retail lending bank like Bandhan can struggle to build capabilities as has been demonstrated by the recent IL&FS provisioning and write off (gross NPAs have surged YoY in the recent Q3 results). Bandhan will now have capabilities of a full-fledged bank across retail and wholesale portfolios.

Valuation Risks remain and have been noted and priced in by the market. At current market capitalization, Bandhan and Gruh finance have a combined market cap of about 70k crores, which is much more than the expected pro-forma AUM of the merged entity (50k crore). For comparison, Ujjivan and Equitas both currently trade at par or discount to its AUM.

But is it a fair comparison? Ujjivan and Equitas are small finance banks and Bandhan is a full-fledged bank without the restrictions placed on SFBs, which lends to lower costs of lending. Besides, based on past history and its presence in under-penetrated markets, the growth and profitability expectations from Bandhan should be much higher. The market is a voting machine in the short term but a weighing machine in the long term. So let us wait and watch.

Do Indian NBFCs really need new ALM regulations?

The recent crisis in the commercial paper market had put the regulatory spot light on NBFC’s borrow-short, lend-long strategy.

NBFCs effectively leveraged from the low interest CP markets to fund home lending with much longer tenors.

Due to the risk in this popular strategy, the Reserve Bank of India is creating new frameworks and reporting standards to monitor asset-liability mismatches in NBFCs. But can this case of over-regulation be avoided?

Why not simply tailor and extend the NSFR reporting requirement under BASEL III to NBFCs?

The Net Stable Funding Ratio requirement is defined as Available Stable Funding / Required Stable Funding > 1, i.e. the available stable funding sources at the NBFC should always be sufficient to cover said requirement. The stability of different funding sources (such as commercial paper) can then be weighted by the regulator to ensure an ideal mix.

NSFR therefore can be a simple metric to monitor stability of liquidity available to NBFCs. Good financial regulation is meant to be light yet effective. You can read more about the NSFR here:  https://www.bis.org/fsi/fsisummaries/nsfr.htm

NSFR implementation will also save NBFCs the costs of finally transitioning to a deposit taking Small Bank, under the RBI’s Small Bank License, which is the usual end goal for many NBFCs.

Just food for thought.

A Short Note on Bitcoin Valuation

We know now that Bitcoin moves a lot more like FAANG stocks than Gold. It is not an imperfect hedge or even a reliable store of value. It is not a security because most regulators can’t agree on what a “security” is – except that it is traded like securities (with futures and proposed ETF) and it is not a commodity, because well, you can’t see it.

Its numerous skeptics put its value at zero. My broker puts the value of a stock pledged as margin, when is a small or midcap stock at … zero after a 100% haircut – it doesn’t matter to my broker if its EPS is growing at 50% CAGR. Value is in the eye of the beholder.

To the Romans, early Christians were a nuisance but to its believers – they were witnessing a miracle. Similarly, old finance tends to see Bitcoin as either a useless or dangerous nuisance, while the zealots value it bizarrely between 10k to 100k.

What is noteworthy is an anonymous creator and “immaculate conception” of some trustless token that is not backed by sovereign guarantee but is still secured and scaled by a collaboration of unpaid programmers across borders. A miracle, after all, is something that cannot be replicated.

So what is the fair value of one BTC in USD/Yuan/Rupee?

Doesn’t matter because 1 BTC = 1 BTC.

Is the IL&FS debt default truly a Lehman moment for Indian markets? What investors must know

There is panic in equity investor circles with regards to what’s cooking in the opaque and mysterious debt markets.

In part, the panic is justified because a crash in financials stocks is seen as a leading indicator of an imminent and broader stock market crash.

Debt investors are known to be more conservative than equity market participants and a debt market freeze is often indicative of a shock across stock markets and the economy.

Stocks of Indian public banks and NBFCs have corrected sharply, partly due to fear and in part also from changing fundamentals from rising cost of borrowings. Bond yields have gone up and are expected to keep going up given the end of central bank quantitative easing, and the uptick in costs of funding globally. Money is getting expensive.

Fears of an Economic Crisis

Closer home, there is a much larger and looming fear than a stock market crash. A fear that the stress which was previously on the asset side of the balance sheet (non-performing loans) of financials has now spread to the liability side of the balance sheet (funding and liquidity for NBFCs).

Crippling of NBFCs will be akin to choking off the oxygen supply of the wider economy.

Regulatory actions and restructuring of the bad loans from profligate and irresponsible lending have turned public banks into lenders of last resort.

This critical credit vacuum has been filled by private banks and NBFCs. Small businesses must get affordable cost of capital to generate earnings and for effective job creation. Without availability and affordability of funding, infrastructure projects will also be IRR negative. Simply put, without money as raw material, the GDP cannot chug along at 8% growth.

If credit growth is the oxygen of the economy, then debt borrowings are the legs that NBFCs stand on in lieu of CASA funding available to banks.

NBFCs therefore are critical to not just credit growth but to the growing Indian economy as a whole.

IL&FS as a systemically important NBFC

Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) is a complicated holding company structure controlled partly by the Government of India. As the name suggests – it was created to fund the booming infrastructure sector. Not so long ago, IL&FS AA rated bonds were hot property for debt and mutual funds that are amongst the biggest and strongest cartel of bond buyers in the illiquid Indian debt markets.

Infrastructure projects have long payback periods and often are financially unviable. As a result IL&FS began to default on its bond payments.

Investors choose debt funds precisely because they are perceived as lower risk when compared to equity based funds but a default on IL&FS interest payments would lead to massive redemptions and NAV losses. Debt and mutual funds would have proactively sold the bonds and there would be a freeze on buying further bonds in the illiquid Indian debt market.

Not being able to meet their funding needs, NBFCs would collapse. MSMEs would not get money, home lending would stop. Credit growth would fail.

The government has therefore bailed out IL&FS as a systemically important financial institution. It has changed the composition of the IL&FS board and offered funding through the Life Insurance Corporation.

Has the Risk Contagion been stopped?

Now coming to the key question for investors – has the timely government intervention stemmed the possibility of a wider risk contagion through the markets?

The 2008 risk contagion started in the debt markets, spreading through securitization structures (such as Collateralized Debt Obligations) and leading eventually to huge trading book losses for banks.

This crisis is different or was. It is a crisis of trust and not a crisis of complexity and interconnectedness. I illustrate this below –

US Markets in 2008:

Risk path = Sub-prime Debt -> Securitization -> Debt Instruments in Trading Book

Indian Markets in 2018:

Risk path = Doubtful Infrastructure Debt -> Debt fund buyers -> Funding and liabilities for NBFCs

As you can see, fortunately, complex securitization structures are absent from the Indian debt markets. Additionally, Indian banks do not have large volumes of trading book exposures to debt products.

In other words, the 2018 Indian risk map is linear. A risk contagion event would start with credit defaults and would play out as shown below –

Credit risk -> Counterparty risk -> Market risk -> Liquidity risk

For the most part, debt markets in India serve simple functions of providing liability funding to the issuer and low-risk interest payments to the borrower. For banks it serves treasury functions rather than trading functions.

By funding IL&FS the government mitigates credit risk and by backing IL&FS through its timely intervention, the government infuses key element of TRUST to stabilize counterparty risk

Market Risk is mostly caused by noise rather than fundamentals and will stabilize as soon as a steadiness in expected cash flows are perceived.

Conclusion

If I had to put my money on the probability of a localized financial crisis – I would wager a grand total of 100 rupees, just to be a good sport, because I do not believe anything akin to 2008 Lehman Crisis in scale or spread will occur in the foreseeable future.

The optimist in me believes that the Indian debt markets will recover soon and it will be business as usual for NBFCs. In a few years, it is possible that 2018 would be seen as a great buying opportunity for NBFCs, similar to what was seen during December 2016 after the demonetization of currency notes.

Arman Financial Services: thoughts on quarterly results and future direction

This post is not BUY/SELL/HOLD advice but a statement of my personal views and opinion on the latest results. I own stocks of Arman Financial Services and my views are biased.

Arman Financial Services is a Gujarat based NBFC with a presence in two-wheeler financing, microfinance & SME lending. By the name Arman Financial Services Limited “AFSL” (NSE: ARMANFIN) caters to two-wheeler finance and SME lending. By the name Namra Financial – a subsidiary of AFSL – the group caters to Micro-finance lending across Gujarat, Maharashtra, M.P, U.P and Uttarakhand.

What is my interest in the company?

  • I own 0.06% of its non-class A, public shares. No really. It is my moonshot
  • As some one who tracks the microlending sector closely, I have written about the Microfinance Sector and have been a believer that it will emerge stronger after demonetization

Investment Thesis

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