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A $13 billion fund makes contrarian bet on India consumer stocks

‘The stocks offer stability and steady growth,’ said Mahesh Patil, co-chief investment officer at Aditya Birla Sunlife Mutual Fund

Patil said his bets on the sector are pinned on PM Modi govt’s plan to buoy farmers’ spending by investing 25 trillion rupees in rural development

Flagging Indian sales of products like toothpaste and hair oil have been a drag on the share prices of the nation’s consumer goods makers, but each dip is a buying opportunity for a fund manager who sees the slowdown in demand as temporary.

“The stocks offer stability and steady growth,” said Mahesh Patil, co-chief investment officer at Aditya Birla Sunlife Mutual Fund, which oversees assets of about $13 billion. “We don’t expect valuations to correct too much for consumer companies. They may consolidate a bit, but in a correction, we would look at them.”

Companies such as ITC Ltd., Hindustan Unilever Ltd. and Marico Ltd., which sell everything from grains to beverages to detergents, have lost their shine on the stock market as a cash squeeze caused by the crisis in some finance firms hurt demand even for staples. Data late Friday showing the nation’s gross domestic product rose at the slowest pace in several quarters only ratified the market’s assessment of consumer businesses.

Patil said his bets on the sector are pinned on Prime Minister Narendra Modi-government’s plan to buoy farmers’ spending by investing 25 trillion rupees ($359 billion) in rural development and giving annual household handouts of 6,000 rupees. He expects resumption in spending on higher-value items, like washing machines and refrigerators that was put on hold during the six-week-long election that concluded two weeks ago.

While he wouldn’t name the stocks the firm has been buying, Aditya Birla Sun Life Frontline Equity and Aditya Birla Sun Life Equity Hybrid ’95 added to holdings of cigarette to packaged food maker ITC, data as of April 30 compiled by Bloomberg show. The funds held on to hair-oil seller Marico, white-goods maker Whirlpool of India Ltd. and lighting producer Crompton Greaves Consumer Electricals Ltd.

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