A tractor hauls a trailer laden with sugarcane to the Simbhaoli Sugars Ltd. mill in the district of Hapur, Uttar Pradesh, India (Photographer: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg)  

Planning To Build A Rural-Focused Portfolio? You May Want To Wait

India’s farm distress is holding back rural growth. And now recent weakness in the non-farm sector suggests that the rural recovery may take longer than expected.

“Non-farm income has been supportive earlier but we could clearly observe a weakening of economic activity across regions,” according to JM Financial’s Rural Safari report. “While there were issues of lower farm prices in some regions, we believe multiple reasons have been at play causing the soft trajectory of non-farm income.”

The team at JM Financial Research travelled to rural areas across 13 states for their bi-annual Rural Safari. Their key takeaway: rural consumption growth may see a temporary spurt after general elections, but a sustained recovery will be more gradual than anticipated.

Non-farm sources like dairy, wage-based work, sand mining, tractor rental and small businesses contribute about 40 percent of the total agri-household income, according to JM Financial.

“There are four factors that have led to a slowdown in demand: slowdown in the informal sector, lower crop prices, impact of lower financing on small enterprises and pre-election postponement of demand,” Suhas Hariharan, managing director at JM Financial, told BloombergQuint. “What we are expecting is that there will be burst of growth for a month or two. But after that it will depend on how fast the financing for the informal sector and the broader informal activity revives.”

I would think it is impact of the non-farm income which is playing a bigger spoilsport on demand at this time.
Suhas Hariharan, Managing Director, JM Financial
An advertisement for motorcycles is displayed on the side of a house in the village of Ghansoli, Maharashtra, India (Photographer: Karen Dias/Bloomberg)  
An advertisement for motorcycles is displayed on the side of a house in the village of Ghansoli, Maharashtra, India (Photographer: Karen Dias/Bloomberg)  

The liquidity crunch among India’s lenders, Hariharan said, played a key role in putting non-farm income on a weak trajectory. “These things have been happening for the last two years. What probably acted as a catalyst is the slowdown in financing to the SME sector since September or October,” he said. “Maybe these businesses were being held up by the financing coming from NBFCs (non-bank financial companies) and others. But now that has been pulled out. So there’s a loss of income.”

But not all was gloomy in JM Financial’s road trip.

One of the success stories in Indian agriculture, it said, was the resilience of crop yields. “It has increased all these years despite poor monsoon season,” Hariharan said.

But crop prices are lower because procurement hasn’t been adequate, he said. “There was an expectation that procurement would be very good on the ground. But that has faltered to deceive. Procurement is still quite lacking.”

That’s why JM Financial said now may not be the right time to build a rural portfolio.

In our view, a ‘pure’ rural portfolio could underperform in FY20.
JM Financial Research

Also read: Falling Rural Consumption To Slow Down FMCG Industry Growth, Says Nielsen

Here Are Sectoral Findings From JM Financial’s Road Trip:

Consumer Goods

Patchy monsoon and lower crop realisation have hit consumer demand in the rural economy. “That apart, an extended winter also meant that demand for products that picks up with rising heat took a beating,” JM Financial said.

While we expect the deceleration in consumer demand to have a negative impact on earnings across our universe, on a relative basis, we prefer staples over discretionary as they have better visibility on growth.
JM Financial Research

Automobiles

For auto sales there were no issues with the availability of finance, JM Financial said. “The message we are getting is that it is over-funded,” Hariharan said.

Dealers in Uttar Pradesh are expecting a recovery in the upcoming festive period, while those in southern India expect a gradual recovery after the elections.

With broader slowdown across the auto industry and limited visibility of a quick recovery within the next quarter, we remain cautious on the volume growth in the months to follow. Some players, however, stand out even in the challenging environment, driven by aggressive sales/promotion strategy and new model launches.
JM Financial Research

Financials

Disbursement growth has picked up since November 2018 after the industry’s liquidity crisis. Non-bank lenders have tightened yields and stepped up collection efforts, JM Financial said, adding these moves have translated in to stable-to-improving trends in asset quality.

We expect healthy growth trend to continue for strong promoter-backed, highly-rated NBFCs with credit costs improving by 30 basis points over FY19-21 estimates for rural/vehicle financiers and 20 basis points for diversified NBFCs.
JM Financial Research

Agri-Inputs

There was a wide disparity in brand awareness and decision-making among farmers with regard to pesticide purchases, JM Financial said. “The use of spurious pesticides (based on dealers’ recommendations) is still high in many states and this has impacted quality of agricultural produce to a large extent.”

We believe there is a significant potential lying ahead in the sector, driven by rising number of farmers realising the need to use high-quality agri-inputs. So, over the medium-term increase in regional penetration by organised players, the Indian agrochemicals sector is capable of accelerating annual growth to double digits.
JM Financial Research

Watch the full interview