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

Continue reading “Arman Financial Services: thoughts on quarterly results and future direction”

NIFTY broke 10k; but stay calm.

Understandably, these are difficult times. The NIFTY dropped under its 200 day moving average, a key trend indicator that institutions watch and which could trigger redemptions.

On Friday’s close the NIFTY settled just two points under the psychological barrier of 10k.

Redemptions by institutions – when they come – will drag the NIFTY further, followed by a freeze in domestic SIPs. This is where your worse case scenarios play out and urge you to be the first out the door before the roof comes crashing down.

My knowledge of technical analysis is basic and on TradingView you will see people calling out bearish patterns such as Heads and Shoulders and Rising Wedges.

Volatility is high and momentum indicators show the NIFTY is oversold. I know at least one Technical wizard who is buying based on this logic. But let’s remember that this (oversold with high volatility) was the same scenario in September 2008 and the worse might yet be to come.

What’s my position? I haven’t sold a single share in the past four weeks. Continue reading “NIFTY broke 10k; but stay calm.”

The Scoop on Steel: Boom times or Value Trap?

  • In FY2019, India is predicted to replace Japan as the world’s second largest producer of steel
  • Demand will be largely driven by domestic demand, with significant constraints on domestic supply
  • Raw material cost can be upto 70% of the total cost of steel producers and is a bigger risk than a global tarrif war
  • Operating leverage will not mitigate raw material risk, price is not expected to spike and as a result realizations per tonne are not expected to change dramatically
  • Value may be found in distressed companies or leading steel makers but the rest could be value traps

Metals and mining was the best performing sector of 2017. Further upstream, carbon rod manufacturers like HEG have created enormous investor wealth. Further upstream, investors are now looking at steel companies to lead the next wave of wealth creation. Continue reading “The Scoop on Steel: Boom times or Value Trap?”

Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail – Good Brands don’t equal Good Business?

This post is not BUY/SELL/HOLD advice but a statement of my personal analysis and opinion.

  • NSE: ABFRL is one of India’s largest fashion retail companies with Madura (premium) and Pantaloon (value) house of brands.
  • ABFRL’s brands include household names that capture the entire gamut of discount and premium customers, including in-house and foreign brands such as Van Heusen, Peter England, Global Desi and Forever 21.
  • ABFRL has the ownership / perpetual license of its brands unlike competitors like Future Fashion and Retail and Shoppers Stop. Intangible Assets.
  • These intangible assets however are not translating into improved ROCE (Return on Capital Employed) and this is not a source of competitive sustainable advantage
  • We can blame the industry structure and the value conscious Indian buyer who prefers substitutes to brands when it comes to discretionary spending such as apparel. The discount disruption by online players like Myntra and Amazon has spoiled the buyer and changed industry structure.
  • We can also blame the huge debt on its books and asset-heavy (rent is 600 crore) model of its brick and mortar retail format, which leaves little in terms of EPS for stock price appreciation.
  • To give you a sense of the enormity of debt, the company reported post-merger, a Goodwill of 1795 crore (which includes Pantaloons, Madura and Forever 21) but the debt with accrued interest stood at 1881 crore.
  • Premium brands do not necessarily lend to margins – Compare ABFRL with Kewal Kiran that manufactures discount brands such as Killer Jeans. Kewal Kiran has an OPM of 15% while ABFRL with its premium brand portfolio clocks under 10%. What matters more is getting the right product-market mix and returns on operating assets.
  • Even in the same omnichannel format, COGS is 93% of sales while Future Lifestyle Retail (Central, Brand Factory etc.) manages costs more efficiently (COGS 90% of sales).

Continue reading “Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail – Good Brands don’t equal Good Business?”

How the levy of Import Duties can help MSMEs in 2018 (The less obvious reasons)

In late 2017 after a long wait green shoots have appeared in stock market earnings, giving hope that current high market valuations may finally be sustainable. The bad news is that 2018 brings with it an expectation of an increase in crude and other commodity prices key for Indian Industry.

This is very bad timing for the economy, particularly small industry which is already reeling from demonetization and GST and is very sensitive to raw material prices.

Among finished goods listed above, the Government of India has also recently imposed duties on steel and cooking oil. I am not sure if these protectionist moves can be termed as a case of central planning overreach or a timely intervention but there are both obvious and less obvious reasons to why a levy of import duties now is critical to protecting small companies. Continue reading “How the levy of Import Duties can help MSMEs in 2018 (The less obvious reasons)”

Fineotex Chemicals: Stock Market Recursion

This post is not buy/sell/hold advice. Please see the disclaimer at the end before reading further

The Indian stock market has all types of companies. The deeper you look down the spectrum of market capitalization, the stranger things you will find, growing away from the analyst spot light. Fineotex Chemicals Limited (FCL) is one such micro-cap company. With only 72 employees on its rolls in India, FCL operates in the attractive space of speciality chemicals competing with foreign MNCs that dominate the space of textile finishing. Continue reading “Fineotex Chemicals: Stock Market Recursion”