One out of every five rupees of the mutual fund industry’s equity assets is being pumped into banking stocks. During the first half of this year, fund managers have scaled up their exposure to banking counters by 345 basis points (bps) to around 19 per cent in June (a basis point is the hundredth part of a percentage point).
This is the highest allocation of equity assets by fund managers to this sector ever since data is available with the Securities and Exchange Board of India. Industry executives say no fund manager wants to risk not pre-empting rate cuts and softening of inflation, going ahead. Strong anticipation among market participants about easing monetary policy in the coming months have consistently been fuelling interest in banks.
Counters like the State Bank of India (SBI), ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank have emerged favourites of fund managers. The country’s largest equity schemes, including HDFC Top 200, HDFC Equity, Reliance Growth, Franklin India Blue Chip and ICICI Prudential Dynamic have banking names among their top holdings, as on June 30. Sunil Singhania, equity head at Reliance Mutual Fund, says, “We would rather play some of the larger names in the banking space. Because, problems surrounding non-performing assets (NPA) can hit the smaller banks more than the larger banks.”
Agrees other fund managers. For instance, HDFC Top 200, the largest equity scheme with an asset-base of over Rs 11,000 crore, pumped 8.7 per cent and six per cent of assets into SBI and ICICI Bank, respectively.
On the other hand, Reliance Growth which manages over Rs 5,500 crore of assets, invested 4.1 per cent in SBI and around five per cent in ICICI Bank. In total, the Indian mutual fund equity schemes allocated Rs 36,156 crore of its overall equity investments of Rs 1,91,085 crore in June to banking stocks.
“Weightage of the finance sector in the benchmark indices is around 26 per cent, which is reflected in the fund’s asset allocation. Hopes of rate cuts and liquidity easing have brought bank stocks on the radar. We are selective in picking bank counters,” says Navneet Munot, chief investment officer, SBI Mutual Fund.
Meanwhile, fund managers have started pruning their holdings in defensives in their portfolios. Whether it was pharmaceuticals or fast moving consumer goods, both counters saw cuts.
Exposure in pharmaceutical stocks declined by 57 bps to 7.69 per cent, while in FMCG, the proportion of investment dipped 14 bps to 7.64 per cent. “Greece’s elections brought some clarity. At the same time, risk-appetite came to the markets, which led to some reduction in defensives,” adds Kaushik Dani, equity head at Peerless Mutual Fund. “Going forward, we will look at adding beta to the portfolio and are in the process of reducing exposure to defensives,” says Munot. Agrees Singhania, who is underweight on FMCG but would rather play pharma because of favourable valuations and faster growth amid a helping currency to the sector.