Navigating the Market Landscape: How to Approach Equity Mutual Funds in 2024?

Dec 15, 2023 / Reading Time: Approx. 15 mins

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Navigating the Market Landscape: How to Approach Equity Mutual Funds in 2024?

As we wrap up the final few weeks of 2023 and enter the new year 2024, the global market landscape continues to evolve, presenting both challenges and opportunities for investors. With geopolitical tensions simmering, inflation showing signs of persistence, looming risk of recession and rising interest rates, navigating the investment landscape can feel daunting.

India, with its burgeoning economy and diverse market landscape, presents a wealth of opportunities for investors.

To effectively navigate the Indian market landscape, one must possess a comprehensive understanding of its unique characteristics, emerging trends, and potential pitfalls.

The Indian equity market is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, with a market capitalisation of over USD 3.5 trillion. It is also witnessing several emerging trends that are shaping its future, like rapid adoption of digital technologies, ease of access through online investment platforms, and sustainability, which is becoming a key priority for businesses & investors.

[Read: The Ultimate Investment Framework to Beat Market Volatility]

As of November 2023, the bellwether S&P BSE Sensex clocked CAGR return of 11.94% on a YTD basis, while the Nifty 50 Index fared relatively better, clocking a 13.02% CAGR return.

Graph 1: Market Indices at their all-time high

Data as on December 14, 2023,
Past performance is not an indicator of future returns.
(Source: ACE MF, data collated by PersonalFN Research)

As you can see from the above chart, S&P BSE Sensex and Nifty 50 have crossed their all-time high of September 15, 2023 (S&P BSE Sensex at 67,839 and Nifty 50 at 20,192). As of December 14, 2023, the S&P BSE Sensex crossed the 70,000 mark and closed at a new all-time high of 70,514, and the Nifty 50 index closed at 21,183.

Having said that, the recent IPO frenzy has been a major driver of the Indian stock market's upward trajectory. Many IPOs have listed at significant premiums, indicating strong investor demand for new listings. This, in turn, has created a positive sentiment in the market, leading to further buying and pushing stock prices higher.

In 2023, the Indian equities market experienced a rollercoaster ride, with both high points and significant corrections. The year started on a positive note, with both S&P BSE Sensex and Nifty 50 indices reaching record highs in January. This was driven by strong corporate earnings growth, positive economic data, and optimism about the government's reforms.

[Read: Relying on Star Ratings to Pick Best Mutual Funds? Read This]

Further, the market witnessed several headwinds in April, such as rising interest rates to curb inflation and a global economic slowdown due to the Russia-Ukraine war. This caused a level of volatility in the market.

In the months of September and October, the Indian equities market exhibited signs of resilience and stability. Both S&P BSE Sensex and Nifty 50 have been trading near their all-time highs, and market sentiment is cautiously optimistic.

Now, with the broader markets scaling newer highs day after day, the question arises: Are Indian equities in the midst of a bubble or simply riding a bullish market?

You see, whether or not Indian equities are in a bubble is a complex question. There is a lot of optimism in the Indian market, with investors expecting strong economic growth and corporate earnings growth.

However, there are some intriguing indicators - Indian equities are currently trading at relatively high valuations, and this optimism could lead to irrational exuberance and a bubble. Plus, the recent IPO frenzy has also raised concerns about Indian equities being in a bubble.

On the contrary, some elements are anticipating a positive market outlook. Current interest rates are relatively low, making equities a more attractive investment option. The Indian equity market has become increasingly mature and liquid in recent years. This provides investors with greater flexibility and reduces the risk of price manipulation.

Overall, it is too early to say definitively whether or not Indian equities are in a bubble. Strong fundamentals currently support the market, but there are also some warning signs that investors should be aware of.

Indian equity valuations painted a nuanced picture across market caps. Large-cap stocks offer better reward-risk balance, given the more reasonable valuations, versus the lofty valuations of most mid-and small-cap stocks.

Graph 2: YTD performance of indices across market caps

Data as on December 14, 2023,
Past performance is not an indicator of future returns.
(Source: ACE MF, data collated by PersonalFN Research)

The mid and small cap segments of the market have held sway for a while now. Large caps have merely slogged along. For YTD returns in 2023, the Nifty 50, which is considered to be the benchmark index for large caps, has gained 5%, whereas the Nifty Midcap 150 and Nifty Smallcap 250 indices have soared 23% and 27%, respectively.

Given the relative valuations and emerging market scenario, experts believe large caps could outperform the performance chart in the coming year. Based on their suitability, one may consider rebalancing the portfolio to capture this growth potential of large caps, especially if they are underweight. Remember, mid and small caps are still engines for higher returns potential, so don't neglect them entirely.

Despite its promising outlook, the Indian market also presents certain challenges. It is not immune to global economic and geopolitical events. A slowdown in global growth or a major geopolitical crisis could trigger a correction in the Indian market.

Although inflation is currently at a moderate level, it could put pressure on corporate margins and consumer spending if it flares up in the near future. Additionally, as we approach the upcoming elections in the run-up to a few state elections this year and general elections next year, unemployment will be a pressing issue for the government to tackle.

Equity markets in the past have witnessed a positive trend in the run to general elections. If the outcome of the general elections is other than what the market expects, there may be a sharp knee-jerk reaction.

In this volatile environment, investors are advised to exercise prudence and diligence. For those seeking long-term growth, equity mutual funds offer a compelling option. However, with a plethora of options available, choosing the right funds can be challenging.

How to approach equity mutual funds in 2024?

The Indian market is expected to remain optimistic in 2024, with potential for growth driven by domestic factors like infrastructure spending and improving consumer sentiment. However, global uncertainties and some domestic factors could pose challenges.

[Read: Is It the Right Time to Invest in Mutual Funds Now]

Investors must proceed cautiously and avoid going overweight or skewing the investment portfolio, particularly to mid-and-small cap mutual fund schemes. One must suitably diversify one portfolio.

When building an investment portfolio, It can be tempting to identify and invest in a single trending asset class, industry, or market segment and build your entire strategy around that. However, there is a significant risk to your portfolio when you put all your figurative eggs in one basket. Therefore, diversification is the key to a successful investing strategy.

When it comes to equity mutual funds, do note that there are various headwinds at play that can play spoilsport in the equity market.

Investors may consider maintaining a well-diversified portfolio of equity mutual funds across categories such as Large Cap Fund, Flexi Cap Fund, Multi-Asset Funds, Value Funds, etc., depending on their risk appetite and investment objectives. Investors can also consider allocating some portion in Mid Cap Funds and Small Cap Funds if their risk appetite permits it.

Table: Performance of Equity mutual funds across sub-categories

Equity Mutual Fund Category Absolute returns (%) CAGR (%)
6 months 1 year 3 years 5 years 10 years
Large Cap Funds 14.47 16.38 16.60 14.47 14.26
Large & Mid Cap Funds 18.92 22.76 22.00 17.47 17.30
Mid Cap Funds 23.29 30.21 26.52 20.52 20.42
Small Cap Funds 24.64 34.88 33.21 23.94 22.54
Flexi Cap Funds 17.49 20.98 19.29 16.18 16.48
Multi Cap Funds 21.15 25.53 25.00 19.16 18.21
Value Funds 22.10 26.72 23.89 17.29 18.01
Benchmark Index
NIFTY 50 11.81 12.46 15.66 14.15 12.99
Nifty Midcap 150 27.51 35.53 29.17 21.68 -
Nifty Smallcap 250 32.14 39.11 32.34 21.32 -
S&P BSE SENSEX 10.20 11.28 14.68 14.13 12.87
Data as on December 14, 2023,
Past performance is not an indicator of future returns.
(Source: ACE MF, data collated by PersonalFN Research)

This table exhibits that, in the long run small cap funds emerged as leaders with CAGR returns exceeding 20%, followed by mid-cap and multi-cap funds. Large cap funds, however, are lagging with below-average returns compared to other sub-categories of equity mutual funds.

[Read: Rally in Mid Cap and Small Cap Funds: Should You Buy More or Sell Now?]

Although mid and small cap funds consistently outperformed across most timeframes, showcasing their potential for higher growth, do note they are highly sensitive to price fluctuations and also carry higher risk.

The Core & Satellite investment strategy is time-tested and adopted by many successful equity investors across the world to beat market volatility. It makes it easier to allocate money optimally across market capitalisation, investment styles, asset classes, sectors, or themes in an effort to gradually build a well-diversified portfolio that generates wealth in the long run.

In the prevailing market conditions, investing in Large-cap Funds, Flexi-cap Funds, and Value Funds as part of your core holdings, about 65-70% of your equity portfolio, could be a prudent choice. This shall offer your portfolio a certain level of stability.

Maintaining exposure to several asset classes is imperative - adopting a multi-asset approach by investing in gold, debt, and stock. A Multi-Asset Fund would be a meaningful choice at this time for tactical asset allocation to debt, equity, and gold with a time horizon of 3 to 5 years.

However, if an investor holds large and mid-cap and/or mid-and-small-cap funds as part of their satellite holdings, which could be 30-35% of the equity portfolio, they could generate substantial returns in favourable market conditions.

Alternatively, one can think about putting some money into a gold ETF and liquid fund (or a gold savings fund), depending on the appropriate asset allocation.

Why opt for SIPs in equity mutual funds...

In order to navigate through the current uncertain times and volatility, it would make sense to take the Systematic Investment Plan (SIP) route in equity mutual funds.

Regardless of market volatility, SIPs automatically invest a predetermined amount at regular periods, enabling them to take advantage of the rupee-cost averaging function. With SIPs, you reinvest your earnings and dividends into the fund, allowing compound interest to work its magic and considerably boost your long-term gains.

In a nutshell, while SIPs can be a great way to handle volatility in equity mutual funds, it's crucial to remember that they are not a magic bullet. They work best when combined with a long-term perspective, disciplined investing, and a clear understanding of your financial goals.

To conclude...

When you are considering mutual funds to add to your portfolio, don't chase past returns! Delve deeper. Understand their mandate, portfolio, investment philosophy, and processes. Look beyond numbers - ensure they align with your risk appetite, investment horizon and goals to drive performance in the long run.

Remember, the Indian equity market is dynamic and can be volatile. While the tips above can help guide your approach, your suitability to the fund, thorough research, careful selection, and continuous monitoring are crucial for making informed investment decisions.

Happy Investing!

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MITALI DHOKE is a Research Analyst at PersonalFN. She is an MBA (Finance) and a post-graduate in commerce (M. Com). She focuses primarily on covering articles around mutual funds including NFOs, financial planning and fixed-income products. Mitali holds an overall experience of 4 years in the financial services industry.
She also actively contributes towards content creation for PersonalFN’s social media platforms in the endeavour to educate investors and enhance their financial knowledge.


Disclaimer: Investment in securities market are subject to market risks, read all the related documents carefully before investing.
This article is for information purposes only and is not meant to influence your investment decisions. It should not be treated as a mutual fund recommendation or advice to make an investment decision in the above-mentioned schemes.

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