Beware of zombie shares, beware of those tales | india | Hindustan Times
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Beware of zombie shares, beware of those tales

The disappearance of risk. The reappearance of risk. And now, the re-disappearance of risk? From about 2003 to 2007, practically anything that an investor did seemed to work and risk seemed to have disappeared from the investment markets. So much so that investors forgot what risk looked like.

india Updated: Sep 15, 2009 22:25 IST

The disappearance of risk. The reappearance of risk. And now, the re-disappearance of risk? From about 2003 to 2007, practically anything that an investor did seemed to work and risk seemed to have disappeared from the investment markets. So much so that investors forgot what risk looked like.

Last year, Mr Risk returned. He embraced us all like a lost long friend who doesn't look like he would let go for a long time. But he did let go, and now seems to have disappeared again and we could be slowly forgetting what he looked like.

However, the evidence of his last vigorous visit is still all around us. I compared the current value prices of some 3,000 stocks and the net asset values (NAVs) of 268 equity mutual funds with their median prices of December 2007, which was the last time anyone was in a mood to ignore risk. A vast majority of investments are still deep in the red compared to those levels. More importantly, the depth of losses that many investors are carrying are far greater than the headline numbers suggested by the indices.

Among equity mutual funds, as many as 20 out of 266 funds are still 40 per cent or more lower than that time, a period from which the Nifty and the Sensex are only about 25 per cent lower than they are today.

What is worse is that about 60 per cent of stocks (though only three per cent of funds) are still worth less than half of what they were in December 2007. A quarter of the stocks are worth less than 25 per cent of their earlier peak value, but are completely stagnant.

These are the zombie stocks from which all value will now ebb away because it was all IPO smoke and mirrors anyway. This phenomena repeats itself with sickening regularity in every market cycle in India. There is nothing that our vast regulatory and monitoring apparatus can do to prevent it.

It almost goes without saying that they an overwhelming chunk of the zombies are small and medium-sized stocks that are directly and indirectly related to the realty and infrastructure sectors — the core of the bubble where stories were easier to create. This time around, it isn't clear where the centre of the bubble will eventually lie but if you want to avoid being deep in the embrace of Mr Risk the next time he makes one of his visits, then you need to stay clear of the the storytellers’ favourites.