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Impact of Inflation on Indian Stock Market

The relationship between inflation and its impact on the stock market has been of interest and a subject of analysis for stock market stakeholders for a long time. Inflation simply refers to the sustained increase in the price level (General) of various goods and services over a period of time. With the advent of modern information technology (IT), the financial sector of the modern world has become highly complex. With more information available to investors due to the penetration of the internet in rural areas, investor sentiment is now greatly driven by analysis and data as opposed to the traditional emotion-driven response. 

Traditionally, most people regarded inflation as a sign of an unhealthy economy. At the same time, inflation is the quintessential condition for sustained economic growth. In this article, we will go through the impact of inflation on the stock market, consider its effects on stock prices, stock market stakeholders, and touch upon the importance of informed decision-making for investors.

Impact of Inflation on Indian Stock Market

What is Inflation & How Does it Work? 

Inflation measures the rate at which the value of money erodes over time. Money is a legal tender which acts as a medium of exchange, accounting unit, and store of value. As a store of value, money’s purchasing power depends wholly on price levels. As prices inflate, each unit of money becomes less valuable. Hence we can say that the inflation is inversely proportional to the purchasing power of a unit of currency. 

As a store of value, people often stock up physical, movable, immovable assets. In that sense, money isn’t unique as a store of value because people often choose to hold wealth in other intangible assets like stocks, bonds etc. However, these assets generally have to be converted into money before their wealth can be exchanged for other goods and services.

The negative effects of inflation are easily graspable. The loss of real income – income measured as a collection of goods and services rather than a nominal currency – is particularly pronounced for those on fixed incomes. Moreover, because people need to hold some wealth in money for transactions and unforeseen expenditures, inflation diminishes this portion of wealth until wages increase.

On the flipside, stable inflation levels correlate with lower unemployment which could be because expected higher prices give impetus to business investment or because the demand pull for consumer goods and services. Additionally, many economists argue a low level of inflation around 2% and 3% is needed for monetary policy to be effective. 

Reserve bank of India (RBI) maintains an inflation of 4% with 2% up/down flexibility. Lastly, borrowers stand to benefit from inflation when holding fixed-interest rate loans: higher inflation means a lowered actual cost of borrowing. Whereas, lenders suffer due to the erosion in the value of money. 

Long term Impact of Inflation on the Stock Market 

  1. Sector Rotation: Inflation may lead to sector rotation in the stock market. Specific sectors, like commodities, real estate, or natural resources, generally perform well in an inflationary economy due to their ability to pass on cost increases to consumers. On the flipside, technology or consumer discretionary sectors can face challenges as higher input costs squeeze profit margins.
  1. Valuation Effects: Inflation has the ability to impact stock market valuations in the long run. As inflation rises, investors will require higher returns on their investments to compensate for the diminishing purchasing power of money. This increased expectation of returns can lead to higher discount rates for future cash flows, resulting in lower stock prices.
  1. Economic Growth Prospects: Inflation may influence long-term economic growth prospects. This, in turn, can impact the stock market. If inflation runs parallel with robust economic growth, companies’ earnings can rise, leading to higher stock prices. However, if inflation becomes too high and hampers economic growth, it can negatively affect corporate profitability and stock market performance leading to an overheated economy. 
  1. Dividend Yield and Income Stocks: Inflation can affect dividends and investor preference for income stocks in the long run. As inflation diminishes the purchasing power of future cash flows, investors may seek stocks that offer higher dividend yields or stable income streams to offset the impact of inflation on their investment returns.
  1. Central Bank Policies: The actions of central banks to manage inflation, in the long run, can have implications for the stock market. Central banks generally raise interest rates to control inflation, impacting borrowing costs for businesses and individuals. Higher interest rates can reduce investment spending and potentially dampen stock market performance.

Long Term Impact of Inflation on the Stock Market 

  1. Reduced Earnings/Profitability: Inflation can almost immediately impact corporate earnings and profitability in the short run. Increasing input costs, such as raw materials, or labor wages, can narrow down the profit margins, affecting company’s earnings and potentially leading to a decline in stock prices. 
  1. Diminishing Market Sentiment and Investor Confidence: Inflation can impact investor sentiment and confidence. Inflation that rises suddenly and unexpectedly may create a wave of uncertainty leading to market volatility. Investor sentiment can be influenced by expectations of future inflation and the effectiveness of central bank policies in managing inflationary pressures.
  1. Inflation Hedge Investments: Investors may seek inflation hedge investments, such as commodities, gold, or real estate investment trusts (REITs). These investments are perceived as safe stores of value during inflationary periods and may experience increased demand. This is bad not just for the overall stock market but for the country’s economy as well since these assets are generally deficit creating. 
  1. Interest Rate Reactions: Short-term inflationary shocks can trigger reactions in interest rates by central banks. Central banks may respond by adjusting monetary policy accordingly, which can impact borrowing costs and liquidity in the market. Changes in interest rates will influence stock market performance, especially for sectors sensitive to borrowing costs, such as real estate and consumer durables.
  1. Unexpected Currency Movements: Inflation can influence currency movements, which can have implications for the stock market, especially in international markets. If a country experiences higher inflation than its trading partners, its currency can weaken, impacting the profitability of international trade companies and their stock prices.

How Does Inflation Affect Stock Market Stakeholders? 

Now that we have addressed the long and short term impacts of inflation and its causes, let us get to how it affects our investments in stock markets. Stock markets have seen a steady increase in retail investors over recent years. Retail investors face a double whammy of inflation as they see a rise in their cost of living and a reduction in the value of their investments to a certain extent. The collective impact of inflation on stock markets is explained hereunder. 

Impact on corporates 

The direct result of inflation is a rise in the prices of inputs for corporations, impacting the final product’s ultimate prices. Corporations cannot push the entirety of such an increase in the raw materials to the ultimate customers in the short run, and therefore, this results in a reduction of profits or their bottom line. 

The reduction of profits further results in reduced stock prices as investors’ confidence may fall. If a sector as a whole faces a severe increase in raw material cost, such a sector may face cost push inflation and downtrend for a time period until the impact of inflation cools off. 

Impact on consumers 

The direct impact of inflation is the reduction in the purchasing power of consumers. Consumers will therefore have less disposable income, which reduces their ability to invest in stock markets. With lower participation from retail investors, the stock demand will decrease, resulting in a general price reduction. 

Impact on equity market

When the inflation in a country rises, the central banks usually increase the interest rates to control the same. The rise in interest levels erodes the liquidity in markets. This results in overall bearish markets and a general reduction in equity value. In such a scenario, the prices of growth stocks and dividend stocks see a fall in demand. Most investors dump such stocks fearing huge losses. Still, it is ideally an excellent time to add quality stocks to the portfolio with a long-term investment horizon as, in the long term, equity markets have always seen an increase. 

Way Forward!

Inflation’s impact on the stock market is a multifaceted phenomenon which requires careful analysis and consideration. In the long run, inflation influences stock market valuations, sector rotation, dividend yields as well as economic growth prospects. Factors such as valuation effects, investor preference for income stocks, and the connection between central bank policies and inflation dynamics can shape the stock market landscape.
In conclusion, a comprehensive understanding of the impact of inflation on the stock market can greatly assist stock market stakeholders in figuring out the ever-changing economic landscape and making rational investment decisions. By staying informed, analyzing changing market dynamics, and keeping the broader economic context in consideration, long term investors can enable optimization of their portfolios and achieve long-term financial benefits in the face of inflationary pressures.

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