Diversified equity mutual funds underperformed the broader market by a wide margin in January, as exposure to financials and to mid- and small-cap stocks hit returns, according to data compiled by fund tracker Lipper.
Funds overall returned 0.45 per cent during a month in which the BSE Sensex rose 2.4 per cent, up for a third consecutive month on the back of continued strong foreign net inflows and government reform measures such as allowing diesel prices to rise.
Muted gains in financials particularly weighed on funds. Fund managers had bet big on financials leading up to the Reserve Bank of India policy review on January 29, but a cautious stance on further monetary easing surprised investors even as the central bank cut interest rates.
Investment managers are more cautious this month, ahead of India's 2013/14 budget to be unveiled on February 28. The government is under pressure to rein in spending and subsidies to meet its fiscal deficit targets and avoid a ratings downgrade.
"It's a very difficult call for the fund managers," said R.K. Gupta, managing director at Taurus Mutual Fund.
"If the subsidy burdens, budgetary deficit rise, FII selling cannot be ruled out," he added referring to foreign institutional investors.
The BSE banking index rose 1.6 percent in January, dampening the overall performance of funds as the exposure to financials had reached 26.5 per cent of total assets held by diversified stock funds as of the end of December, according to separate data from Morningstar India.
Meanwhile, mid- and small-cap stocks lagged peers in January, hurting performance, given these stocks collectively accounted for nearly 38 per cent of assets as of end December according to the Morningstar data.
The BSE mid-cap index fell 2 per cent, while the small-cap index fell 4.14 per cent in the month.
Funds focused on the information technology (IT) sector emerged as the best performers in January, gaining 10 per cent on an average, as corporate earnings from Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services boosted the sector.
Copyright @ Thomson Reuters 2013