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Max Life cash levels hit two-year high as mood in stock market sours

India's fourth-largest insurer is holding about 10% of its assets in cash, a five-fold jump over levels it usually maintains, as it doesn't expect a turnaround in sentiment anytime soon


Mihir Vora, max life
Chief Investment Officer Mihir Vora

Co. raised its cash levels to the highest since November 2016 as the nation’s stocks head for their worst month since October.

India’s fourth-largest insurer is holding about 10% of its assets in cash, a five-fold jump over levels it usually maintains, as it doesn’t expect a turnaround in sentiment anytime soon, according to Chief Investment Officer Mihir Vora.

“We are not taking big calls on equities,” Vora, who helps oversee about 640 billion rupees ($9.3 billion), said in an interview. “We are keeping a bit more cash than usual.”

Indian equity indexes have slid 6.4% from their record closes in June as tepid earnings and disappointment over lack of stimulus to prop up the economy in the budget plan prompted foreigners to yank more than $1.5 billion from shares this month. The declines crimped the premium the nation’s shares enjoy over their emerging-nation peers to the smallest since last April.

“In terms of growth expectations, the delta between India and the developing markets has reduced in the last few months,” Vora said. “We don’t think an instant U-turn is expected at this moment” on withdrawals by foreign funds, he said.

Still, the gloom hanging over Indian equities is not without a silver lining.

The three interest-rate cuts by the central bank this year, and expectations of more to come, will help kick-start growth and lure investors, Vora said.

“The way interest rates and liquidity conditions are being addressed in India, sooner rather than later, we will see foreign investment cycle turn,” he said. “Corporates aren’t investing more, so the deleveraging and lower interest rates should help drive profits. Whether it takes one quarter or two can be debated.”

A rebound in small and mid-sized may emerge by the festival season starting in two months, when consumer spending often picks up, he said. “Hopefully, the second half of the year would be better.”

Excerpts from the interview:

  • Expect FY20 Nifty earnings to be about 17% versus consensus expectations of over 20%; downgrades likely
  • Booked profits in bonds as 10-year yield at 6.25%-6.35% appeared overbought; may look at rebuilding positions if yield rises back to about 6.50%
  • Max Life is underweight on mid- and small-cap stocks, positive on private banks, engineering and software exporters; has pared exposure to consumption sector.

First Published: Tue, July 30 2019. 10:21 IST