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This is a financial promotion for The First Sentier India Strategy. This information is for professional clients only in the UK and Switzerland and elsewhere where lawful. Investing involves certain risks including:

  • The value of investments and any income from them may go down as well as up and are not guaranteed. Investors may get back significantly less than the original amount invested.
  • Currency risk: the Fund invests in assets which are denominated in other currencies; changes in exchange rates will affect the value of the Fund and could create losses. Currency control decisions made by governments could affect the value of the Fund's investments and could cause the Fund to defer or suspend redemptions of its shares. 
  • Indian subcontinent risk: although India has seen rapid economic and structural development, investing there may still involve increased risks of political and governmental intervention, potentially limitations on the allocation of the Fund's capital, and legal, regulatory, economic and other risks including greater liquidity risk, restrictions on investment or transfer of assets, failed/delayed settlement and difficulties valuing securities. 
  • Single country / specific region risk: investing in a single country or specific region may be riskier than investing in a number of different countries or regions. Investing in a larger number of countries or regions helps spread risk.
  • Smaller companies risk: Investments in smaller companies may be riskier and more difficult to buy and sell than investments in larger companies.

For details of the firms issuing this information and any funds referred to, please see Terms and Conditions and Important Information.

For a full description of the terms of investment and the risks please see the Prospectus and Key Investor Information Document for each Fund. 

If you are in any doubt as to the suitability of our funds for your investment needs, please seek investment advice.

Quality at any price?

Client Update - December 2022

“I am not aware of us getting into EV chargers, actually. I really don’t know where you’re getting this information. At this point of time, these are all in the developmental category. We have not come to a stage where we’ll be able to report anything solid. [..] There are no products, no revenues, nothing!”

That was the exasperated CFO of an Indian electric motor company trying to tell the sell-side analysts who were attending his company’s recent quarterly update that, despite their vehement assertions, his business had little to do with Electric Vehicles (EVs). At least, not for the foreseeable future. However, this didn’t deter the brokerages who seemed determined to fit the company into their narrative about the upcoming exponential growth in the EV sector — whether the company’s management agreed with them or not!

In a missive last year, we wrote about the bubble we were witnessing in the initial public offerings (IPOs) in India, where business models that had some sort of comparable peer in the US or China were being touted as the “XYZ of India” (where XYZ was inevitably a massively overvalued, profitless business). That mania has since subsided and we are seeing the detritus float around now. Apparently, in just four of these newly-listed companies, there are around USD 11bn worth of shares that will come out of the IPO lock-in period this month and that is after share prices have fallen 50% from their recent peaks – happy holidays! 

We are waiting for the other shoe to drop now, in companies such as the electric motor business mentioned earlier, which has now been bid up to an eye-watering prospective price-to-earnings ratio (PER) of 60x. This is a different type of bubble — in these cases, the business is often a proven one, with a strong track record and high return profiles. The management teams running these kinds of businesses are also of high calibre. In short, these are mostly our kind of companies. Over the last few years, several such stocks in India have been catapulted into the rarefied valuation orbits that are usually only inhabited by the latest SaaS1 wunderkinds (or EV start-ups). A water pipe company, notwithstanding its amazing return on capital employed (ROCE) profile and strong compounding track record, is now valued at an incredible 64x PER. India’s leading adhesives manufacturer, who we have long admired and have been shareholders of in the past, trades on 73x PER. One of the country’s best grocery retailers, one that we were sufficiently impressed with that we made the rare exception of becoming an anchor shareholder five years ago but sold on valuation grounds, has gone up another four-fold since then and now trades at a scarcely believable 90x PER. India’s largest Non-Bank Finance Company (NBFC) is no longer the trusty HDFC Corp, but rather one that trades on an incredible 8x price-to-book (PB). We could go on and on. 

As in the case of the IPO bubble, we are staying disciplined. We believe there is substantial downside in these companies if (when?) shareholders head for the exits. The important difference with these “high-quality bubbles” is that we would happily own them on behalf of our clients for the long term after the valuations come back to earth. 

But this not to say that we’ve drawn a blank with regards to finding interesting new investments in India. The market is huge (over 5,000 listed stocks) and the watch-list of companies that meet our quality criteria keeps growing (over 200 now). For example, instead of the pipe company that trades on 64x PER, we own one of India’s leading air-conditioner manufacturers. Given the low penetration (only 5% of Indian homes have an air conditioner vs. more than 90% in developed markets like the US)2 and its track record of market share gains, we think the opportunity for this company over the next decade is even more compelling. More importantly, its valuations are far more reasonable. The mania that has resulted in the electric motor company (supposed EV beneficiary) trading on 60x PER, has also thrown up opportunities at the other end of the spectrum, e.g. India’s leading engine lubricant company, Castrol India, which has been de-rated significantly because investors are certain that its entire franchise, based on Internal Combustion (“IC”) engines, is ending imminently. However, this is a business that depends on the stock of vehicles rather than sales of new ones. For decades to come, we believe the composition of India’s vehicles will still remain overwhelmingly in favour of the traditional IC type and Castrol’s volumes will likely grow at a steady rate. Meanwhile, the company has already launched a full range of EV fluids and is contemplating forays into EV charging stations — i.e. this is a management team that is likely to transform the company over the long term. For now though, Castrol India seems a bargain — it generates over 200% ROCE, has a net cash balance sheet, grew earnings per share (EPS) at 7% CAGR3 over the past decade, pays a healthy dividend (5% dividend yield) and traded at 11-12x PER when we first invested. There are several such examples in our portfolio and watch-list.

In fact, as noted in our recent letter (Aug 2022), the portfolio has, over the past decade, never looked in better shape as it does now. With portfolio-weighted earnings growth in the range of 18-20% over the coming two years, average ROCE of more than 35% (3-year average) and portfolio PER at 21x, we feel confident about the portfolio’s prospects. 

 

1 Software-as-a-Service

2 IEA, Percentage of households equipped with AC in selected countries, 2018, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/charts/percentage-ofhouseholds-equiped-with-ac-in-selected-countries-2018, IEA. License: CC BY 4.0

3 Compound annual growth rate

Investment insights

Over the last few years, we have been selling many companies which have become expensive. On the other hand, there are still companies that are attractively valued with robust growth ahead.
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Source: Company data retrieved from company annual reports or other such investor reports. Financial metrics and valuations are from FactSet and Bloomberg. As at 30 November 2022 or otherwise noted.

Important information

This material is for general information purposes only. It does not constitute investment or financial advice and does not take into account any specific investment objectives, financial situation or needs. This is not an offer to provide asset management services, is not a recommendation or an offer or solicitation to buy, hold or sell any security or to execute any agreement for portfolio management or investment advisory services and this material has not been prepared in connection with any such offer. Before making any investment decision you should conduct your own due diligence and consider your individual investment needs, objectives and financial situation and read the relevant offering documents for details including the risk factors disclosure. Any person who acts upon, or changes their investment position in reliance on, the information contained in these materials does so entirely at their own risk. We have taken reasonable care to ensure that this material is accurate, current, and complete and fit for its intended purpose and audience as at the date of publication but the information contained in the material may be subject to change thereafter without notice. No assurance is given or liability accepted regarding the accuracy, validity or completeness of this material . To the extent this material contains any expression of opinion or forward-looking statements, such opinions and statements are based on assumptions, matters and sources believed to be true and reliable at the time of publication only. This material reflects the views of the individual writers only. Those views may change, may not prove to be valid and may not reflect the views of everyone at First Sentier Investors.

Past performance is not indicative of future performance. All investment involves risks and the value of investments and the income from them may go down as well as up and you may not get back your original investment. Actual outcomes or results may differ materially from those discussed. Readers must not place undue reliance on forward-looking statements as there is no certainty that conditions current at the time of publication will continue.

References to specific securities (if any) are included for the purpose of illustration only and should not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell the same. Any securities referenced may or may not form part of the holdings of First Sentier Investors’ portfolios at a certain point in time, and the holdings may change over time. 

References to comparative benchmarks or indices (if any) are for illustrative and comparison purposes only, may not be available for direct investment, are unmanaged, assume reinvestment of income, and have limitations when used for comparison or other purposes because they may have volatility, credit, or other material characteristics (such as number and types of securities) that are different from the funds managed by First Sentier Investors.

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This material is intended for ‘professional clients’ (as defined by the UK Financial Conduct Authority, or under MiFID II), ‘wholesale clients’ (as defined under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) or Financial Markets Conduct Act 2013 (New Zealand) and ‘professional’ and ‘institutional’ investors as may be defined in the jurisdiction in which the material is received, including Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States, and should not be relied upon by or be passed to other persons.

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References to ‘we’, ‘us’ or ‘our’ are references to First Sentier Investors, a global asset management business which is ultimately owned by Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG). Certain of our investment teams operate under the trading names FSSA Investment Managers, Stewart Investors and Realindex Investments, all of which are part of the First Sentier Investors group.

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