Cyclical sectors are expected to drive March 2020 quarter earnings growth

Web Exclusive

Bank results are especially eagerly awaited in this quarter. The Supreme Court has lifted its stay order, which means that banks can report NPAs realistically


India Inc earnings | Q4 Results | Indian markets

Investors are an optimistic lot as March 2020 quarter (Q4FY21) results season gets underway. The economy is showing signs of recovery. There was good earnings growth in Q3FY21, though revenue growth was marginal. There will be a low base effect in Q4, as the last 10 days of March 2020 (usually among the busiest because of the fiscal ending) was hit by the lockdown. So, there should be enhanced year-on-year (YoY) revenue and earnings growth.

High frequency data is giving mixed signals. But overall, these indicate recovery continues. GST collection at Rs 1.23 trillion was up for March 2021; manufacturing and Services PMI both indicate month-on-month (MoM) expansion; exports and imports have both grown indicating more activity. The global economy is also showing signs of recovery, with IMF projections of 5.5 per cent growth for 2021.

On the downside, core sector growth for February20 21 disappointed at -4.6 per cent and vehicle sales, especially two-wheeler sales, stalled in March. Crude and gas prices are up, which means higher inflation expectations.

Oil refining and marketing firms will see positive inventory revaluation, given global prices rose 20 per cent during the Jan-Mar quarter. But gross refining margins will be impacted negatively. Metals prices are up, for iron and steel and non-ferrous metals. This is good for the metals industry, though it will raise input costs downstream.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) held interest rates steady in its April MPC. It projected gross domestic product (GDP) growth for 2021-22 will be about 10.5 per cent. The central bank has also announced a QE (quantitative easing) programme, which will ensure domestic liquidity and help keep the rupee down. Treasury yields have spiked in the US (and risen a bit for rupee treasuries). This could be a reason for FPIs to turn cautious. FPIs have been moderate sellers in April.

There’s a new wave of rising Covid-19 cases, but this may not impact activity very severely. Positive trends are expected to continue in essential services, digital services, manufacturing, mining, agriculture and construction. Rising Covid cases may factor into sentiment. However, given night curfews in metros, lower air-travel numbers, and downwards pressure on the hospitality sector.

IT and banks

Bank results are especially eagerly awaited in this quarter. The Supreme Court has lifted its stay order, which means that banks can report NPAs realistically. They made pro-forma NPA calculations in Q3. But the market is braced for big slippages, especially from PSU banks. Against that, there may be rising credit demand as activity expands.

The first set of results will include information technology (IT) sector majors, with TCS, Infosys and Wipro to report this week. IT results are expected to show steady expansion, with a number of new deal wins. Given acceleration in cloud adoption and a pickup in tech spending across verticals, the sector should do well. However, there may be margin pressure due to wage hikes. Currency trends could also boost rupee earnings. This holds for the pharma sector and other exporters, too. The FY22 guidance from IT majors will be important for sentiment.

In the financial sector, HDFC Bank is a sector leader and one of India’s most valuable businesses. It’s also due to declare this week. If there are negative surprises in terms of slippages, it would impact sentiment adversely for banking. However, there seems to be optimism among analysts.

Across banks, earnings could be good for the big three – ICICI Bank, State Bank of India (SBI) and HDFC, but midcap banks would be under pressure. Clarity in terms of non-performance asset (NPA) recognition has to be backed up by provisioning. Fast recognition and disposal of stressed assets and realistic assessment of recovery timelines will be key to valuations. Net Interest margins are expected to improve for most banks and so is credit growth.

Focus on cyclicals

The cyclical earnings segments are expected to drive earnings, with some optimists seeing over 20 per cent earnings CAGR among large-and mid-caps. Revenue growth projections are more muted at 8-10 per cent for Q4. There’s room for positive surprises here.

When it comes to consumption, the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector is expected to continue to do well. Paints could see rising input costs (due to higher oil and gas prices) but volume expansion is expected. In the auto sector, two wheelers may disappoint, while tractors have done well.

Among commodities, steel is expected to continue its big turnaround. Cement is expected to see volume expansion and maybe, price hikes as demand rises due to policy focus on infrastructure, translating into higher construction activity. However, margins could stagnate or fall for infra developers and construction firms even though revenue should rise.

In terms of valuations, the Nifty is running at a current price-to-earnings (PE) of 33.5x. Even given the combination of a low base, and a continuing economic recovery, that seems high. Technically, the large-caps have marked time since hitting a record high in mid-February, with a correction in March followed by some recovery. The Nifty is about 3-4 per cent down from its high. Small-and mid-caps have seen recent record highs, which could indicate where investors are focussed.

Devangshu Datta is an independent market analyst. Views are his own.

Dear Reader,

Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.

We, however, have a request.

As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.

Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.

Digital Editor