Mahesh Patil, Co-CIO, Aditya Birla Sun Life AMC on how he is creating alpha in the large cap space, his contra calls and more.
By Morningstar Analysts | 27-12-17 |
The asset size of Aditya Birla Sun Life Frontline Equity Fund has crossed Rs 20,000 crore. Do you see size posing an issue to manage this fund going forward?
We maintain a good diversification in this fund by having exposure across sectors. We aim to beat the benchmark consistently and incrementally rather than taking very large sectoral bets. Given that the fund invests at least 80% of its assets in large cap stocks, we don’t see size posing as a challenge. Besides, the core of the portfolio has very long term holdings. That said, as the fund size increases it becomes slightly more difficult to build or unwind positions in stocks and needs more effort. But it is part of the process and does not affect the performance significantly.
We have a large number of stocks (60-70) in the portfolio as compared to other similar funds in the industry. Before deciding the quantum of exposure warranted in any stock, we take a close look at the liquidity of the stocks. This strategy allows us to manage large size.
It is becoming difficult for managers to generate alpha in the large cap space. How do you overcome this challenge?
We are seeing a huge rally in the mid and small cap stocks and large cap funds obviously can’t take exposure to such stocks. So multi-cap funds have been able to generate decent alpha by maneuvering where the opportunities are.
As markets mature and price discovery happens across stocks its going to become difficult to generate alpha in large caps. The alpha generation which we saw in the last three to four years would compress going ahead. This is because the alpha was high as compared to the historical average, especially during calendar year 2014-16.
We never target to generate superlative alpha in large cap funds. Instead, we endeavor to find some new stock ideas every year which keeps the portfolio fresh. If there is a serious underperformance, we are nimble enough to take corrective action. While everything is fairly priced in the market at this juncture, we try to continuously look out for undervalued companies. Some amount of contrarian investing and moving away from the crowd helps to spot early turning points in stocks/sectors. Similarly, we maintain a discipline to trim exposure in certain stocks that have overshot their valuation target. This strategy enables us to buy stocks which are relatively cheap in terms of valuation. So some amount of active management is also required at this juncture to generate alpha in the large cap space.
In which sectors/themes are you deploying the steady inflows coming in equity and balanced funds?
We have been overweight on banking and financial services. Financial services sector has had a good run and the valuations have moved up. Hence we are more discrete now in choosing the right segments that offer better growth. While we prefer private retail banks, we are slowly warming up to corporate banks because of some clarity emerging on resolutions of bad debts and a cyclical recovery in economy.
Besides, we are positive on consumer discretionary space. We are seeing a higher demand for discretionary consumption as the per capita income is moving up in India. Further, the implementation of GST will benefit players in the building material, consumer durables and retail space. Rural consumption is also starting to improve with normal monsoons and government focus on stepping up rural spending.
We are fairly overweight on metals. Metal prices are steady as China is cutting down capacity on the back of environmental issues which is supporting price. Indian companies are also deleveraging which will increase their equity value.
Another sector where we are taking a contrarian call is telecom. We are seeing consolidation happening faster than we expected in this sector. While there is still some pain for a few quarters, over a three-year time frame it could be a good time to look at some leading telecom companies.
We are selective in the infrastructure space. Road, railways and urban transport are some pockets where there is significant traction. Companies positioned in this sector are expected to see good increase in their order books.
Post SEBI’s diktat on scheme categorization, how are you restructuring your funds? Are you planning to merge smaller schemes?
Fortunately, we have been working on consolidating schemes much before the SEBI circular came out. Most of our equity funds are aligned as per SEBI categorization. We would look to merge some thematic funds.
Overseas fund of funds category is seeing continuous outflows. What are the reasons for the waning demand for this category.
The awareness level about this category is low. Domestic market has been doing well so people are preferring to invest in India. Overseas fund of funds have done well though.
As markets mature and you see enough ownership of domestic funds, people would look to invest outside India. There are a lot of new generation companies which investors can take exposure through these funds.
Though taxation of this category is an issue, you need to realize that if you are making good returns it should not be a problem. HNIs who already have a high exposure to India can look at these funds. Also, those wish to send their children overseas for education can consider these funds because the underlying returns are dollar based. To some extent, you are taking the currency hedge through these funds.
When do you see private-sector investment picking up?
Private sector investment has been elusive. But there are a couple of factors which indicate that investment will pick up one year down the line. Firstly, capacity utilization has bottomed out and is showing early signs of improving. Secondly, while a lot of large corporates in metals and infra space are saddled with high debt were are seeing the deleveraging cycle has started for some companies. Corporate debt to GDP which peaked out in 2016 is starting to come off. Finally, bank recapitalization would enable corporates to re-leverage and begin the next capex cycle. Sectors like Steel, Oil and Gas, fertilizer and auto are the first to see a revival.
During every budget we get to hear about suggestions to reinstate long-term capital gains (LTCG) tax on equity investments. Some say that exemption of LTCGT can lead to market manipulation. What are your views? If the government introduces LTCGT what would be the impact on markets?
The exemption of LTCGT has helped attract investors in equities. But that’s not the only reason why people invest in equities. They invest because they expect better returns. If there is money to be made in markets, I don’t think it would deter investors from this asset class. So introduction of LTCGT would not have an impact on long term investors. However, it could hurt the sentiments in the short run. We could see some curb in short term speculative money moving in stocks having weak fundamentals.
How has your investment philosophy evolved over the years?
While our broad philosophy has remained the same, we have started giving more attention to management quality while evaluating companies. Our time horizon of owning stocks has also increased and we are evaluating companies with a three-year perspective. There is a larger focus on how companies are generating free cash flows and how it is being utilized. These factors impact the PE multiples. So we are willing to pay a premium if these factors are favorable. To sum up, we have been incorporating these factors in our philosophy.
Your favorite book
One book which I found interesting is ‘Good to Great’ authored by Jim Collins. The book gives good insights into building an organization and focuses on what really matters to not only to survive and endure but to excel.