Stock selection will be the key factor in determining returns in 2008, given concerns of a global slowdown and premium valuations in domestic markets.
Year 2007 saw the market deliver good returns amidst volatility, especially in the second half, thanks to global concerns. The BSE Sensex was up a good 46.6 per cent, helped by strong foreign and domestic inflows.
And what led to these inflows was none other than a strong performance by India Inc. For investors, the moot question is how will 2008 be? The answer is not simple given that none of the global concerns have eased, while the Indian rupee is still firm and India Inc is experiencing a deceleration in growth rates.
"Year 2008 will be difficult globally, although it is not yet known how deep the US downturn will be," says Andrew Holland, managing director -- strategic risk group, DSP Merrill Lynch.
While India's vulnerability to global shocks has been put to test adequately over the past year, the overall macroeconomic growth remained strong owing to infrastructure, capital goods and real estate sectors.
Notably, the story is not likely to be very different in 2008 barring drastic surprises, which means that domestic consumption plays should remain in flavour.
By this logic, the most certain sectors are capital goods, financial services, infrastructure, power, logistics and oil, gas and energy sectors among others. Even among these sectors, not all stocks can be expected to do well, owing to the differences in business models and the individual strengths and weaknesses.
Further, in our selection, we have looked at the fundamentals of companies and their potential to deliver earnings growth of over 20-25 per cent.
But, while growth is a must, valuations too need to be fair, which is why we kept a tab on the price earnings to growth (PEG) ratio. Here, most stocks are trading at a PEG of less than 1 times based on FY09 earnings estimates, which ensures that the price is not exorbitant.
To ease your effort of picking the juiciest fruits from the orchard, we have handpicked a few likely winners of 2008. Read on.
With a strong presence across the entertainment industry value chain of content production, distribution, and exhibition, Adlabs becomes the choicest pick.
Domestic consumption and leisure spends will remain buoyant as disposable incomes rise across the country fuelling growth at Adlabs.
Adlabs produces and distributes films, and is a dominant player in the multiplex segment. It has also acquired 51 per cent stake in television content producer Synergy Communications, the maker of Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa and Kaun Banega Crorepati.
In the FM radio business, its subsidiary, which runs Big FM has 44 FM licenses across India. This could also become a value unlocking opportunity going forward.
Over the past three years, Adlabs has impeccably delivered a top line growth of over 100 per cent y-o-y, along with high profitability. In the September 2007 quarter, it raked in a whopping 69 per cent operating profit margin.
But going by the past numbers, operating margins have remained in excess of 50 per cent consistently, with net profit margins at over 22 per cent. The stock has appreciated three-fold since January 2007 and should do well.
Bank of Baroda
Bank of Baroda has a strong presence in western India -- a key zone for retail and industrial growth-- with equally good rural network.
Further, the bank is one of the few banks having a substantial international presence, which contributes 18-20 per cent to total business and 30 per cent to profits. This business is expected to rise further with the bank growing its global presence.
The bank has improved its fundamentals over the past several years on key parameters such as net interest margins (NIMs) and asset quality despite growing at a robust pace (asset growth CAGR of 19 per cent in FY04-07). Going ahead, the bank's focus on NIMs backed by moderate growth augurs well.
Besides, its initiatives such as online trading services, and joint ventures in insurance and asset management, will help it create value for its shareholders.
Additional triggers could be in the form of consolidation within the public sector bank space. All this put together makes this stock, which is reasonably valued at 1.4 times its FY09 estimated book value, an attractive investment opportunity.
Though Bharat Bijlee has risen by a whopping 228.5 per cent in the last one year, even at current levels, it is inexpensive.
Consider this: The company has investment in various companies including Siemens, HDFC and ICICI Bank.
At current rates, their combined value works out to Rs 317 crore (Rs 3.17 billion), or about Rs 560 per share.
Excluding this, the core business is valued at attractive valuations of 20 times FY08 earnings and 15 times FY09 estimated earnings.
The company is capitalising on the emerging opportunities in the power transformer sector, which accounts for 65 per cent of its total revenues with the balance from motors.
In the Eleventh Five Year Plan, a total power generation capacity of 78,000 mw is planned. This augurs well for transformer manufacturers such as Bharat Bijlee.
The company on its part has recently expanded its transformer capacity to 11,000 MVA from 8,000 MVA. The motors business is also witnessing 25 per cent growth and Bharat Bijlee has forayed into higher frame motors of up to 400 kw. All this put together make Bharat Bijlee a good pick.
Stocks of shipbuilding companies have been re-rated on the back of rising order book-to-sales to over seven times. The stock price of ABG Shipyard has gone up 267 per cent, while Bharati Shipyard is up 107 per cent over the last one year.
The gain has been higher in the case of ABG Shipyard, thus stretching its valuation at 33 times its FY08 estimated earnings. Bharati Shipyard is still trading at a comfortable 18 times estimated FY08 EPS and 13 times FY09 EPS.
Also, its current order book of about Rs 4,639 crore (Rs 46.39 billion) (11 times its FY07 revenue) is strong enough for maintaining 50 per cent growth for the next three years.
Bharati is building a greenfield shipyard which will enable it to build six vessels up to 60,000 dwt (dead weight tonne) against 15,000 dwt currently by December 2008. This will enable Bharati to improve its execution speed and bid for more projects.
Besides, it is planning to invest Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion) along with Apeejay Shipping to set up a shipbuilding yard on the eastern coast, which will be commissioned in FY 2011. A relatively lower valuation and strong earnings visibility makes this stock an attractive investment.
Today, the biggest constraint in the power sector is the supply of equipment, especially the critical power equipment required for the larger projects.
But, for Bhel, which commands about 65 per cent market share in the domestic power equipment industry, this provides long-term earnings visibility.
While competition is rising with new players like L&T and Chinese companies vying for a share, Bhel's order book of Rs 62,400 crore (Rs 624 billion), almost 3.6 times its FY07 revenues, instils confidence. The successful acquisition of orders for super critical boilers and high technology gas turbines required for the bigger projects would only improve its order book further.
Considering the huge order backlog and the orders in pipeline, Bhel is expanding its capacities by 67 per cent to 10,000 mw by January 2008, which will further increase to 15,000 mw by December 2009.
Bhel is also expanding its forging and casting capacities and a new fabrication plant to help reduce its dependence on imports. These should also help lower costs in the years to come. Overall, a better industry outlook, strong order book and expansion of existing capacities will drive the stock from the current levels.
With a mobile subscriber base of 51 million, Bharti Airtel is India's largest mobile service provider. While it has added an average of 2 million subscribers a month in Q2, it is expected to crack the 100 million subscriber mark by FY10.
While the company has experienced good growth, its ARPU has fallen by 10 per cent over the last three quarters, much ahead of the 4 per cent decline experienced by Reliance Communications. Even then, operating margins have improved, on the back of higher margin in broadband business and cost reduction.
Going forward, increase in scale of operations will keep costs in check. Capital and operating expenditure is also likely to come down after the formation of Indus, a tower infrastructure company, which will manage the tower infrastructure of Bharti, Vodafone and Idea.
A trigger for the stock could be the listing of Bharti Infratel, the tower division and which holds 42 per cent in Indus. Bharti Infratel already has 20,000 towers and plans to set up more.
RCOM will be the biggest threat for the company if it manages to soon roll out its GSM services across 15 circles. Additionally, any unfavourable outcome over the spectrum issue will have its impact; it could lead to increased investments in upgradation of existing equipment.
To conclude, Bharti's revenues should grow by 35 per cent in the next two years on the back of subscriber expansion, start of Sri Lankan operations by March 2008, and launch of IPTV and DTH. A sum-of-parts valuation puts the per share value of Bharti at Rs 1,200, a 27 per cent upside from the current levels.
The central air conditioning major, Blue Star, is a key beneficiary of the economic boom in the country across sectors like IT/ITES, retail and telecom.
This is reflected in the strong CAGR of 32 per cent and 40 per cent in sales and operating profit respectively in the past three years.
Notably, such strong growth traction is expected to continue as the company is sitting on a strong order book position, which is at Rs 1,030 crore (Rs 10.30 billion) as on September 2007. It is likely to get repeat orders from its existing customers as they expand operations.
It is expanding its capacities by investing about Rs 60-70 crore (Rs 60-700 million), which will lead to economies of scale and rationalisation of costs leading to margin expansion. Its return on equity and return on capital employed, which were at 34 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively, in FY07, will only improve.
However, the full benefits will be reflected only from the next financial year. The macro factors too continue to be robust, with huge investments planned in all the above mentioned sectors.
Dishman, a pharma outsourcing player, is moving up the value chain from being a commoditised chemicals supplier to a research partner for innovator companies.
Its acquisition of Swiss-based Carbogen-Amcis (CA), which offers drug development and commercialisation services, has helped it tap into the client base of CA that includes seven of the top ten US drug companies.
With three projects in phase-III development, and likely to hit commercial production in two years, CA's revenues are expected to grow 15 per cent annually to Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion) by December 2008.
Dishman caters to 50 per cent of Dutch pharma major Solvay Pharma's requirement of eposartan mesylate, an anti-hypertension medication. Its acquisition of Solvay's Vitamin-D business will boost revenues. Its foray into China to manufacture Quats, a catalyst, is also seen positively.
All these should help reduce Solvay's share of 25 per cent in Dishman's revenues going forward. With earnings expected to grow between 25-30 per cent in the next two years (Rs 12 in FY08, Rs 15 in FY09 and Rs 20 in FY10), the stock can deliver 28-30 per cent returns in one year.
Educomp, the market leader in Kindergarten-12 education products, is a successful niche player. It has made some smart acquisitions, entered new areas. and garnered a client base of almost 6,000 schools across India besides, a small presence in Singapore and the US. Its first mover advantage makes it difficult for competition to catch up anytime soon.
Besides, the company has so far acquired and built the abilities to design and create content for schools, learning and school infrastructure management solutions, online teaching solutions, community building solutions and more recently into setting up its own schools.
Financially, Educomp's top line has almost doubled every year and operating margins have been maintained above 50 per cent.
Considering the growth potential in the Indian education industry, Educomp is likely to keep its juggernaut rolling for the coming few years. In FY09, Educomp will double its top line again and grow its earnings by 75 per cent. Although there has been a concern over valuations, the consistent earnings growth justify the same.
HDFC is an ideal play on the gamut of financial services. Besides market dominance in housing finance, it provides huge potential for value unlocking from its investment in banking, insurance and mutual fund subsidiaries.
The proposed UTI Mutual Fund IPO, stake sale by Reliance Capital in its mutual fund entity and the probability of listing
Its core business--housing finance will continue to do well. Its loan book is expected to witness a CAGR of 25 per cent over the next two years. Its net interest margins are expected to remain stable at around 3 per cent.
And, HDFC is known for its asset quality. HDFC's stock trades at about 5 times FY09 estimated book value (adjusted for the value of its subsidiaries, which is about 30 per cent of HDFC's market capitalisation), and is a worthy pick.
India Infoline is another company representing financial services, except the lending business.
Its stock price has grown more than fourfold in the last one year amid many positive triggers like capital raising for expansions, tie-up with strategic investors for investments in subsidiaries and restructuring of its various businesses.
Besides equity broking, it has expanded its product basket to include institutional equities broking, commodities broking, margin finance, investment banking and, distribution of life insurance, mutual fund and loans products.
It is investing towards building a strong distribution network (596 branches in 345 cities) and customer base (5 lakh clients) for its various services. Accordingly, the share of its traditional broking business of about 56 per cent in FY07 revenues is expected to come down over the years.
The stock trades at 51 times and 44 times estimated earnings for FY08 and FY09, respectively. While it looks cheaper than Edelweiss, in terms of market capitalisation to revenues, it trades at a higher P/E than Indiabulls.
However, it has the most de-risked business model compared to other players. Given India Infoline's aggressive growth strategy, the stock is ideal for long term investors.
Jain Irrigation, which is in the businesses of micro irrigation systems, food processing and plastic pipes and sheets, is a direct play on the growing emphasis on agriculture. Irrigation systems account for 30 per cent of its revenue. It's revenues from micro irrigation have grown at 70 per cent annually.
Growth will be maintained on the back of its plans to launch new irrigation systems, higher replacement demand, focus on geographical diversification.
Jain's five overseas acquisitions, including a 50 per cent stake in NaanDan of Israel, the world's fifth largest micro-irrigation company, will help in terms of access to technology and access to large markets such as South Africa, US, and Europe.
In food processing, which accounts for 14 per cent of total income and grew by 74 per cent in FY07, Jain produces juices and dehydrated vegetables for companies like Coco Cola, Nestle, etc. This business to grow at healthy from hereon.
In plastic pipes and sheets, its products find application in agriculture (30 per cent market share) and telecom (70% share) among others and, should continue to grow at a healthy pace.
To sum up, Jain is operating in high growth areas, while exports too are expected to grow rapidly, which makes it a good investment case.
Jindal Saw, the most diversified Indian pipe manufacturer, makes submerged arc welded (Saw), seamless and ductile iron spun pipes, which are used in diverse applications like oil & gas and water-based infrastructure.
The company is expanding its capacities in phases which will bring economies of scale-- longitudinal Saw pipes (by 25 per cent), helical Saw pipes (233 per cent) and seamless pipes (150 per cent) -- by FY09. These expansions are well-timed due to strong demand for pipes on account of surging demand for oil and gas globally.
Over the next three-four years, global demand (including India), for Saw pipes is estimated at 200,000 km involving an investment of $60 billion.
Jindal Saw is likely to gain due to restructuring of the investment holdings in Jindal Group companies, wherein it has substantial investments in Nalwa Sons, Jindal Stainless, JSW Steel and Jindal Steel & Power, are worth about Rs 2,200 crore (Rs 22 billion). Excluding the value of investments, the stock trades at 9 times its FY09 estimated earnings, which is attractive as compared with 17 times for Welspun Gujarat.
Larsen & Toubro
Reinventing itself and successfully developing new businesses are among L&T's key strengths. That, along with the domestic infrastructure and global hydrocarbon investments, is responsible for the rising revenues and order book. It is now targeting a turnover of Rs 30,000 crore (Rs 300 billion) by FY10 as compared with Rs 18,363 crore (Rs 183.63 billion) in FY07.
Going forward, there is more business to come, as the government has estimated an infrastructure investment of $500 billion during the Eleventh Five Year Plan. Besides, a lot of money will also be spent by domestic players in the metal, oil and gas, power and other industries.
Little wonder, L&T's order book has been rising. As of September 2007, the engineering and construction division had an order book of Rs 42,000 crore (Rs 420 billion).
Going forward, L&T is also focusing on the overseas markets and has targeted exports to increase to 25 per cent of 2010 sales. It is entering shipbuilding, railway locomotives, power generation and power equipment as well.
While all these investments in different businesses will help sustain future growth, the medium term continues to be robust. Some of it is already rubbing off positively on the share price. Although the stock seems richly valued, it can fetch good returns.
On the back of a sound foundation of existing products (13 models priced between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 15 lakh), strong distribution, efficient service network and new product launches, Maruti Suzuki will maintain its dominant position.
The company has 52 per cent market share by volume of the Indian car market and 62.5 per cent of the small car segment, which is commendable given the stiff competition from global majors.
Maruti grew at a scorching 18 per cent, compared with the 13 per cent recorded by passenger car market in H1 FY08. For eight months ended November 2007, sales volume was up 19.7 per cent to 500,108 vehicles led by 49 per cent growth in exports. Notably, exports are expected to grow 40 per cent annually for the next two years; its share in total sales is likely to move up to 12 per cent in 2010 from 7 per cent in FY07.
Maruti is already augmenting capacities by 3 lakh in a phased manner by FY10 to a million units. Besides, it has lined up Splash (A2 segment) and the concept car A-Star (A1 segment), while a Swift sedan is on the cards. These will help earnings grow by 20 per cent annually in the next two years. Aggressive pricing, enhanced margins on the back of improved product mix, indigenisation and scale benefits, will help Maruti do well.
Oil exploration companies are set to benefit from the current high oil prices and firm outlook. India's largest oil exploration company, ONGC is the best bet in this space. ONGC with interest in 85 domestic blocks including 52 offshore fields, has made 28 discoveries in the past two years, of which, 14 were made in FY08 itself.
Further, its 100 per cent subsidiary, ONGC Videsh has stakes in 26 blocks across 15 countries and is expected to be the key growth driver with its share in ONGC's consolidated revenues and profits expected to rise to 20 per cent (14 per cent now) and 14 per cent (9 per cent now), respectively.
ONGC's substantial interests in MRPL, Petronet LNG, GAIL and Indian Oil Corporation are the topping. Moreover, the IPO of Oil India in the next few months could provide further triggers.
What also makes ONGC attractive is that it is the cheapest among its Asian peers trading at 10.1 times estimated FY09 earnings and enterprise value per barrel oil equivalent of about 7.5 times for FY09.
Going ahead, exploration successes especially in the KG basin and favourable announcement on various issues like sharing of subsidy burden, cess and deregulation in gas prices will be big positives.
Patel Engineering, which is having an order book of Rs 5,400 crore (Rs 54 billion) almost 4.8 times its FY07 revenues, would be the key beneficiary of the boom in the construction, power and real estate sectors.
Within power sector, the 11th Five Year Plan has an outlay of Rs 70,000 crore (Rs 700 billion), adding another 18,000 mw in hydropower generation. Patel Engineering has 22 per cent market share in the domestic hydropower construction, which accounts for 60 per cent of its current order book.
Also, the company has pre-qualified for new projects worth over Rs 6,000 crore (Rs 60 billion) as on September 30, 2007.
Besides, its entry into own power generation setting up of 1,200 mw thermal power plant at an investment of Rs 5,000 crore (Rs 50 billion) are positive triggers. Meanwhile, its core businesses including construction of dams, transportation and micro-tunneling are growing at a faster pace thus providing sustainable earnings growth.
The immediate trigger would come from its real estate business. Patel Engineering has transferred a land bank of about 1,000 acres spread across Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Mumbai to Patel Realty India, a 100 per cent subsidiary.
According to estimates, the real estate business is valued between Rs 500-520 per share. All of these make Patel Engineering an attractive investment.
Reliance Communications (RCOM) has a mobile telephony market share of 18 per cent and subscriber base of 38 million, which is rising by a million every month. And this should continue to rise as RCOM penetrates into smaller towns.
What's more interesting is that despite concerns over declining, operating margins have improved to 42.2 per cent in Q2 FY08, thanks to the benefits of larger scale.
This is expected to improve further if RCOM gets the go-ahead to operate an additional 15 GSM circles as 65 per cent of passive infrastructure such as telecom towers, is common to both GSM and CDMA technologies and the investments in its existing networks will be incremental.
Additionally, it is the value unlocking in its subsidiaries that are likely to provide further triggers.
In 2008, RCOM is likely to announce a stake sale and subsequently list its tower subsidiary, Reliance Telecom Infrastructure, list its submarine cable subsidiary, FLAG Telecom, hive off of its SEZ and BPO businesses and the launch IPTV and DTH services by the first quarter of 2008.
Analysts estimate that a conservative sum-of-parts valuation based on FY09 numbers for RCOM comes to Rs 850-Rs 900 per share, which indicates an appreciation of 17-24 per cent from current levels.
In 2008, Reliance Industries' (RIL) exploration and production (E&P) division, which accounts for 50 per cent of its sum-of-parts valuation, will start selling gas from the KG Basin. The only ambiguous aspect here seems to be the pricing of gas and settlement with the ADA group and NTPC.
Within a few months, Reliance Petroleum will also start operations, all of which should lead to a jump in RIL's profits.
Also, the bids for NELP VII will be awarded by July 2008. While further wins will add to reserves, new discoveries at existing reserves should further add to valuations and the possible de-merger of RIL's E&P division would unlock value.
While the company is yet to prove its mettle in its retail and SEZ initiatives, given its track record managing mammoth projects, one can hope to see positive results here as well.
Notably, analysts maintain their bullish outlook on the core businesses. Refining margins for RIL, already the best among global players, should remain firm until FY11, while petrochemical margins are expected to be stable with good growth in volumes. At a P/E of under 12 times FY09 estimated core earnings, RIL is a worthy investment.
State Bank of India
SBI's move to merge State Bank of Saurashtra with itself has the potential to trigger the re-rating of public sector banking stocks by pushing the much needed consolidation process.
To further expedite consolidation, the boards of SBI and its other six associate banks are meeting in January to consider merger. Should that happen, SBI's standalone balance sheet size will grow 1.5 times to Rs 8.20 lakh crore (Rs 8.20 trillion), almost double the size of ICICI Bank's.
Also, its branch network will jump 50 per cent to 14,400 branches. But, the improvement in valuations (re-rating) should get a boost when the merged entity is able to rationalise costs and extract benefits from the merger.
SBI will raise Rs 17,000 crore (Rs 170 billion) through a rights issue that should provide fuel for future growth. In a competitive Indian banking business, it is important for banks to achieve size and scale to be globally competitive.
And for investors, it is more important to find such banks at reasonable valuations. SBI meets both these criteria. SBI's stock trades at 2.2 times and 2 times its estimated consolidated book value for FY08 and FY09, respectively.
Further, SBI has investments in mutual fund and life insurance subsidiaries, which make valuations more compelling.