Why India Continues to Disappoint Investors in 2018

October 3, 2018 by Jon C. Ogg

India’s great growth potential just is not living up to snuff. Not for investors at least.

In late 2017, India’s strong growth expectations for 2018 and 2019 were looking like the nation’s investment opportunity might be limitless. India has been one of the best growth economies measured by gross domestic product (GDP) for some time, but the secular growth opportunity has faced multiple setbacks in 2018 that may persist, as India has a rather consistent history of disappointing investors. Perhaps the only inconsistency is the reasoning behind each time India hits a major setback.

India’s sell-off in equities has hurt millions of investors in the local stock market for the first time. Their optimism was that India would be at least somewhat shielded from trade tensions between the United States and China and with other nations. Unfortunately, a strong dollar and higher oil prices, among a few more serious local issues, have started biting into India’s growth opportunity.

Perhaps the largest concern of them all is that there was a shadow-banking blowup, which weakened faith in India’s financial services sector. On Monday, the Indian government took over a shadow lending group called Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services. The aim here was to prevent its debt problems from destabilizing India’s financial system.

To make matters worse, a figure seen at FactSet is that India’s equity valuation of about 19 times expected earnings on average is still at a premium over the past decade. That said, Indian companies are still expected to post double-digit earnings growth, even if those earnings expectations might have to be trimmed back during this period of uncertainty.

Before getting carried away too much by the opportunity in India over China and other large nations, investors must recognize some serious risks in India compared with many of the top emerging and developed economies. India’s growing middle class is still counterbalanced by massive inequality, with literally hundreds of millions of its nearly 1.3 billion people living in poverty. India’s government changes over time also have been severe enough to wreck prior growth opportunities.

In addition, India’s semi-recent effort to eliminate large currency denominations came with pain, its dismal to nonexisting infrastructure is a great limiting factor and many of India’s major cities have few to zero real-world fixes for their overcrowding and infrastructure problems. Many of India’s roads and transportation systems are broken, and the lack of sanitation is worse than developed nations could imagine.

24/7 Wall St. has put together a list of some India’s top American depositary shares (ADSs), exchange traded funds (ETFs) and mutual funds to show how they have come off their highs in 2018. Trading history and the valuations have also been noted.

WisdomTree India Earnings ETF (NYSE: EPI) is the top ETF for India’s equity markets for U.S. investors. Its shares were last seen down three cents at $23.89, and the stock has a 52-week trading range of $23.84 to $29.52. That low was put in on Wednesday, and this ETF is now down 19% from its highs. This ETF still had $1.44 billion in assets on last look.

Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd. (NYSE: RDY) is a top drug maker that serves India and other international markets with generic drugs, branded drugs, compounds and ingredients. Even its shares have not been immune to the pressure in 2018. ADSs of Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories were last seen trading at $33.77, in a 52-week range of $28.13 to $39.96. The market cap is just $6 billion.

HDFC Bank Ltd. (NYSE: HDB) was trading down 1.1% at $92.34, in a 52-week range of $89.07 to $112.10. This bank and financial services giant in India and in nearby international markets has a $76 billion market cap.

ICICI Bank Ltd. (NYSE: IBN), one of India’s top banking and financial services outfits, was down 2.1% at $8.29 on Wednesday, in a 52-week range of $7.61 to $11.26. It has a market cap of over $27 billion.

Tata Motors Ltd. (NYSE: TTM) is now rather diversified in making autos, and it owns the Jaguar, Range Rover and other brands on top of its Tata and Daewoo names. Its ADSs were last seen up by a penny a share at $15.53 in New York trading on Wednesday. Tata Motors has a 52-week range of $15.29 to $35.47, and its market cap is listed as roughly $10.3 billion.

Vedanta Ltd. (NYSE: VNDL), a top natural resources company in India, saw a 3.4% bounce higher on Wednesday. Still, its $13.22 ADS price has a 52-week range of $11.58 to $21.99. Vedanta also has a $12.7 billion market cap.

India is also one of the top IT-outsourcing nations, and it has several stocks with ADSs actively traded in the United States. Wipro Ltd. (NYSE: WIT) was last seen down two cents at $5.18, in a 52-week range of $4.50 to $5.99 and with a $20 billion market cap. Infosys Ltd. (NYSE: INFY) was down 1.7% at $10.09, with a 52-week range of $7.07 to $10.65 and a market cap of $42 billion.

The India Fund Inc. (NYSE: IFN), a closed-end fund that owns a basket full of Indian shares, traded at $22.05, after hitting a new 52-week low of $21.90. Its 52-week high is $28.74, and that is nearing a 25% loss from its highs. This fund is run by Aberdeen, currently trades at a stated 11.9% discount to its net asset value and had total assets of about $785 million as of the end of August. That asset size figure will be lower now due to the sell-off.

Maybe India can get back on track for 2019. Maybe. For now, the uncertainty persists.