19 Dec 2016 15:02 IST

What will drive earnings in 2017

Here are three big factors that can change the course of earnings in the months ahead

Profit growth is usually the first filter we put all companies through when hunting for new additions to the portfolio. But focussing wholly on past earnings to select stocks is like driving your car while watching only the rear-view mirror.

The accompanying story tells you about the key drivers to India Inc’s profit growth in the past year. But here are a few factors that look likely to change the trajectory of corporate earnings in 2017. Factor them into your calculations.

Demonetisation effect

With the ‘investment’ leg of the economy sputtering, it has been consumer spending which has powered both economic growth and corporate profits in India for the past two years. But the sudden withdrawal of high-value currency notes and the subsequent rationing of cash has dealt a blow to this shopping fest. Preliminary estimates from sectors such as vehicles and consumer durables suggest that after a sharp drop in footfalls in the immediate aftermath of demonetisation, consumers are trooping back. Sales of small-ticket consumer goods such as FMCGs, small appliances, are expected to normalise over 2-3 months.

The shakeout in the informal sector, the crackdown on cash hoarders and the negative wealth effect (falling prices of property, gold, shares) are expected to hold back spending on big-ticket appliances, home improvement, vehicles and luxury goods for 1-6 months. The initial impact of demonetisation on the rural economy has been adverse too, with the cash crunch impacting purchases of agri inputs and delaying realisations to farmers from their produce. If cash supplies to the rural areas normalise within a few weeks, the impact on rural incomes may be contained. But this does create uncertainty about the off-take of farm inputs such as agrochemicals.

Overall, given that consumer and ‘discretionary spending’ stocks have been bid up to rich valuations due to their recent growth, watch for signs of any slowdown in volume growth as a cue for de-rating.

PSU banks were expected to make a windfall gain — by way of additional spreads and recapitalisation — from the note replacement drive. But with much of the demonetised currency flowing back into bank coffers, the possibility of this has waned.

Commodity rebound

Just last year, with China in the doldrums, the bull market in global commodities was pronounced dead. But with China making surprise forays into the metals market this year, and Trump announcing big plans for a US infrastructure buildout, industrial metals have bounced back in 2016. The prospect of more disciplined oil supplies has powered up crude oil too. As of December 15, global copper prices had made a 21 per cent gain, Brent crude was up 44 per cent, natural gas was up 43 per cent. With supply deficits emerging in agri commodities, commodities such as cotton and sugar seem to have bottomed out. The good side to this is that, if sustained, this rebound can mean a big revival in the profitability of the metal, mining and energy majors who are big profit contributors to the Sensex and Nifty. A return to inflationary times may also restore some pricing power to consumer-oriented sectors such as autos and FMCGs. But the easy savings that some sectors raked in from falling global prices of petrochemicals and metals may no longer be available. As the beneficial effect of low commodity prices wears off, margins of user firms may shrink.

Tumbling interest rates

Domestic interest rates, which were gently drifting down from 2015, have seen a dramatic slide in the past month, with banks flush with excess liquidity.

The most direct beneficiaries of this, of course, are banks and NBFCs for whom the cost of funds will plummet and margins rise.

While banks may not have hurried to cut their lending rates, the sharp fall in market interest rates (about 120 basis points YTD), will result in sizeable interest cost savings for good quality companies who borrow from the bond market. This may also show up in the form of sizeable savings on interest costs for sectors that are highly working capital intensive.

Companies with moderate leverage but low interest cover (not those on the brink of insolvency though) may benefit from a kicker to their net profit margins.

While leveraged firms will gain, companies sitting on idle cash piles will see their “other income” evaporate, nudging them to pay out more dividends or buy back shares.

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