Commodity cycle plays are rewarding and risky. There is no proven method, other than the adage of buy low sell high. The problem is in calling peaks and troughs of cycles. Today, the world has a gross overcapacity in production facilities of all commodities. There are imbalances depending on some bunched up demand or supply getting throttled or some environmental issues. The net result is that a long term investor in commodity companies can never be a content person.  Here is a piece I wrote for Deccan Chronicle of 3rd/4th December 2017)

The performance of corporate India, in aggregate, for the listed universe, is not very encouraging. Here is a snapshot as of 29-11-2017

 

Results declared                           2089

Positive profit growth                   1112

Negative profit growth                   867

Total Revenue Growth                     7.4%

Total EBIDT growth                        3.8%

Total Oper. Profit growth                2.6%

(Source- www.trendlyne.com)

 

This is only an average.  Different companies have different stories to tell. However, this is a market where tall tales find ready acceptance and helps someone to make a ‘buy’ decision. The latest reports (https://www.ndtv.com/business/nse-firms-q2-profit-growth-highest-in-six-quarters-1781479 ) is quite encouraging. It tells us that the NIFTY companies managed to increase their earnings by nearly twelve percent. This is surely an excellent number. See the various comments in the article that is referred to.

 

I have given a link  a table of the various NSE indices which show the valuation for different segments of the market. This clearly tells us what is happening and that too in the mid cap space. And the numbers probably hide the growth expectations behind the valuations.  (https://www.nseindia.com/products/content/equities/indices/indices_comparison.htm)

 

Let us take the example of a sector like “Metals”.  After a few dismal years, thanks to China, the sector is seeing a twin barreled growth.  A domestic thrust on infrastructure which pushes the demand and a lull in the China output which gives pricing power to the domestic producers. These result in some spectacular growth in profits on the back of some dismal past. Naturally, this exuberance pushes the prices of stocks and the valuation numbers do not tell the story. For example, if a company was having an EPS of 2 rupees, and the quarter ending September shows an EPS of 4 rupees, the index measures etc do not tell the facts. The historical PE will still be based on the EPS of 2 rupees for last year. On the other hand, the investors have already put in their estimates (say 10 rupees for this year). This probably explains the dichotomy.

 

However, what is genuinely a matter of concern is the exuberance of expectations. This growth from a supine position to a standing position, cannot be extrapolated in to the future.

Commodities go through price cycles. No one can predict the highs or the lows. In general, there is global overcapacities across commodities, with China being the fulcrum. China’s output and demand make a huge difference. In addition, many commodities, being natural resources, face environmental issues as well as regulatory issues in different countries.

 

We have seen commodity companies making losses, defaulting on their loans and then coming back in to prosperity. What happens is that somewhere, someone gives up something and the notional number of ‘capital employed’ shrinks. The earnings probably suffice to service this lower number.  The other thing that happens is that a favourable price movement and a higher capacity utilization both add to the profits number. A potent combination, where the first change from a poor financial health suddenly transforms to something shining.

 

Once the prices go up ( at best case a two year window) and new capacities do not come up, the returns continue to be high. Regulatory actions, tariff barriers all come in to play and knock the earnings back. The only permanent gain that remains is the lower notional number of “Capital Employed”.

 

Thus, the earnings growth, after the first blush will taper off. At that time, debate on valuations will start. Till then, enjoy the ride. Knowing when to get off a moving train, sometimes becomes important, when we play the commodity stocks.

 

R Balakrishnan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Index Name  Index P/E P/B Div Yield
Nifty 50 10370 26.53 3.49 1.07
Nifty Next 50 30040 36.84 3.51 1.04
Nifty 100 10793 27.85 3.50 1.07
Nifty 200 5689 29.90 3.46 0.99
Nifty 500 9254 31.78 3.38 0.93
Nifty Midcap 50 5288 104.05 2.62 0.50
Nifty Free Float Midcap 100 20098 51.54 2.83 0.93
Nifty Free Float Smallcap 100 8746 101.12 1.83 0.52
Nifty Auto 11406 40.63 6.13 0.54
Nifty Bank 25846 29.83 3.01 0.18
Nifty Energy 14319 16.33 2.01 1.72
Nifty Financial Services 10545 30.58 3.58 0.25
Nifty FMCG 25936 42.18 10.67 1.42
Nifty IT 11271 17.79 4.09 2.09
Nifty Media 3361 42.05 6.52 0.44
Nifty Metal 3736 16.74 1.72 3.55
Nifty MNC 13789 27.58 5.46 1.67
Nifty Pharma 9319 45.63 4.16 0.41
Nifty PSU Bank 3985 101.36 1.31 0.59
Nifty Realty 319 59.35 1.44 0.10
Nifty India Consumption 4862 58.00 5.75 0.83
Nifty Commodities 3980 18.18 2.10 2.73
Nifty Dividend Opportunities 50 2566 18.74 3.19 2.61
Nifty Infrastructure 3524 62.92 2.31 1.12
Nifty PSE 4257 14.48 1.97 3.79
Nifty Services Sector 13682 27.77 3.38 0.74
NIFTY SME EMERGE 1479 24.93 3.53 0.30
Nifty Private Bank 14206 29.37 3.30 0.12
Nifty Mahindra Group 10483 22.22 3.39 1.28
Nifty Full Smallcap 100 4427 61.48 2.20 0.38
Nifty Smallcap 250 6902 89.49 2.42 0.40
Nifty MidSmallcap 400 6920 62.45 3.02 0.45
Nifty Tata Group 5583 34.94 4.88 1.21
Nifty Midcap 150 6937 53.68 3.48 0.47

 

 

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