India’s $775 bn stock boom at risk as small caps show signs of overheating


By Ashutosh Joshi and Akshay Chinchalkar

The rally in Indian equities that has swelled the market’s total valuation by $775 billion in a little more than five months has been accompanied by a notable shift in investor preference to smaller stocks.


That poses risks as gauges of small and mid-cap shares show signs of overheating, and as the domestic economic outlook becomes more clouded ahead of national elections next year.

Smaller companies are seen benefiting more from the ongoing recovery in India’s capital expenditure. Larger stocks, in contrast, have been relatively restrained by worry over the impact of a possible global recession on the nation’s major IT firms, as well as fallout from a short-seller campaign against the sprawling group controlled by billionaire Gautam Adani.

The trend is the opposite to what has been seen in the US stock market, which has been driven by a handful of technology megacaps surging on the boom in artificial intelligence, leaving small caps in the dust.

The Nifty Midcap 100 Index has risen 37 per cent from a March low, compared with a 16 per cent gain in the blue-chip NSE Nifty 50 Index, driving the ratio of the former to the latter to an all-time high. The previous such peak in early 2018 was followed by a drop of about 25 per cent in the midcap gauge over the next nine months, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Investors are still looking to bet on one of the world’s fastest growing economies, driving the Southeast Asian nation’s equity benchmarks to a series of record highs over the past two decades. And the shift in leadership away from the biggest names has been fueled by a flood of funds from retail investors, indicating broader participation in the market. 

Still, the pace of gains in smaller stocks relative to large caps has raised caution about the near-term outlook for the latest uptrend in Indian stocks.

“The outperformance is definitely getting into an extreme territory,” said Sanjay Mookim, India strategist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. Midcaps have advanced even as earnings estimates stagnate, so “there is a natural limit” to how much further they can climb, added Mookim, who projects the Nifty 50 will close 2023 down 5 per cent.

Technical indicators also suggest the rally is poised for some consolidation. Momentum for the Nifty Smallcap 100 Index, which has jumped 46 per cent from its March trough, has surged to its highest level in nine years. The gauge’s 14-week relative strength index has risen to around 86, above the level of 70 typically seen as representing overbought levels.



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