Understanding Stock Market Indices
What should a stock market index be?
A stock market index should capture the behaviour of the overall equity market. Movements of the index should represent the returns obtained by “typical” portfolios in the country.
What do the ups and downs of an index mean?
They reflect the changing expectations of the stock market about future dividends of India’s corporate sector. When the index goes up, it is because the stock market thinks that the prospective dividends in the future will be better than previously thought. When prospects of dividends in the future become pessimistic, the index drops. The ideal index gives us instant-to-instant readings about how the stock market perceives the future of India’s corporate sector.
What is the basic idea in an index?
Every stock price moves for two possible reasons: news about the company (e.g. a product launch, or the closure of a factory, etc.) or news about the country (e.g. nuclear bombs, or a budget announcement, etc.). The job of an index is to purely capture the second part, the movements of the stock market as a whole (i.e. news about the country). This is achieved by averaging. Each stock contains a mixture of these two elements – stock news and index news. When we take an average of returns on many stocks, the individual stock news tends to cancel out. On any one day, there would be good stock-specific news for a few companies and bad stock-specific news for others. In a good index, these will cancel out, and the only thing left will be news that is common to all stocks. The news that is common to all stocks is news about India. That is what the index will capture.
What kind of averaging is done?
For technical reasons, it turns out that the correct method of averaging is to take a weighted average, and give each stock a weight proportional to its market capitalisation. Suppose an index contains two stocks A and B. A has a market capitalisation of Rs.1000 crore and B has a market capitalisation of Rs.3000 crore. Then we attach a weight of 1/4 to movements in A and 3/4 to movements in B.
What is the portfolio interpretation of index movements?
It is easy to create a portfolio, which will reliably get the same returns as the index. i.e. if the index goes up by 4%, this portfolio will also go up by 4%. Suppose an index is made of two stocks, one with a market cap of Rs.1000 crore and another with a market cap of Rs.3000 crore. Then the index portfolio will assign a weight of 25% to the first and 75% weight to the second. If we form a portfolio of the two stocks, with a weight of 25% on the first and 75% on the second, then the portfolio returns will equal the index returns. So if you want to buy Rs.1 lakh of this two-stock index, you would buy Rs.25,000 of the first and Rs.75,000 of the second; this portfolio would exactly mimic the two-stock index. A stock market index is hence just like other price indices in showing what is happening on the overall indices — the wholesale price index is a comparable example. In addition, the stock market index is attainable as a portfolio.
Why are indices important?
Traditionally, indices have been used as information sources. By looking at an index we know how the market is faring. This information aspect also figures in myriad applications of stock market indices in economic research. This is particularly valuable when an index reflects highly uptodate information (a central issue which is discussed in detail ahead) and the portfolio of an investor contains illiquid securities – in this case, the index is a lead indicator of how the overall portfolio will fare. In recent years, indices have come to the fore owing to direct applications in finance, in the form of index funds and index derivatives. Index funds are funds which passively `invest in the index’. Index derivatives allow people to cheaply alter their risk exposure to an index (this is called hedging) and to implement forecasts about index movements (this is called speculation). Hedging using index derivatives has become a central part of risk management in the modern economy. These applications are now a multi-trillion dollar industry worldwide, and they are critically linked up to market indices. Finally, indices serve as a benchmark for measuring the performance of fund managers. An all-equity fund should obtain returns like the overall stock market index. A 50:50 debt:equity fund should obtain returns close to those obtained by an investment of 50% in the index and 50% in fixed income. A well-specified relationship between an investor and a fund manager should explicitly define the benchmark against which the fund manager will be compared, and in what fashion.
What kinds of indices exist?
The most important type of market index is the broad-market index, consisting of the large, liquid stocks of the country. In most countries, a single major index dominates benchmarking, index funds, index derivatives and research applications. In addition, more specialised indices often find interesting applications. In India, we have seen situations where a dedicated industry fund uses an industry index as a benchmark. In India, where clear categories of ownership groups exist, it becomes interesting to examine the performance of classes of companies sorted by ownership group.
Source : SEBI