Unifi Corporate Profile

Friday, January 13, 2012

Direct access for foreigners to the Indian stock market - Is the excitement for real??

Glenn Roger Carr, Vice President, Unifi Capital

The Indian Government has made a strong bid to strengthen the domestic markets by proposing to allow Qualified Foreign Investors (“QFIs”) to invest directly into the Indian equity market vide press release dated January 1, 2012 issued by the Ministry of Finance. The proposed new investment route is aimed at providing the much needed stimulus and to improve the sentiment of our markets

Currently, investing through the FII route directly or by going through a sub account of an FII are the only means for foreign individuals or institutions to invest into India.  In August 2011, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) had permitted QFIs to invest into mutual fund schemes, thereby providing an indirect way of making foreign investments into Indian equity markets, and that was the starting point of the current policy which we shall carefully analyse

Key Highlights of the Proposed New Regime as provided under the Press Release

1.    RBI to grant general permission (i.e. under the automatic route) to QFIs for investment under PIS route similar to FIIs.

2.    The investment by QFIs would be subject to an individual investment limit of 5% of the paid up capital of the Indian company and an aggregate investment limit of 10% of the paid up capital of the company. These limits are over and above the limits applicable in case of investment by FIIs or NRIs under PIS route.

3.    QFIs would be allowed to invest only through a SEBI registered qualified depository participant (“DP”) and all the transactions would have to be made through this DP only.

4.    DPs would be the ones who would be required to ensure that the QFIs comply with the KYC norms and the stipulated regulatory requirements.

Pros and Cons of the policy

1.      Under the current SEBI (Foreign Institutional Investors) Regulations, 1995 there are stringent conditions imposed on the registration of FIIs and sub-accounts such as if an asset management company or an investment advisor has to be registered as an FII, it has to indicate that it is proposing to make investments on behalf of broad based funds. Further, funds can be registered as sub-accounts only if they fulfill the broad based criteria. Similarly, if an individual wants to register as a sub-account, then inter alia he has to fulfill minimum net worth criteria of USD 50 million. With these conditions not being imposed on a QFI it makes it easy and gives the investor the incentive to register and invest directly as a QFI.

This would allow a large group of foreign investor’s direct access to the Indian equity market instead of investing through FIIs/sub-accounts and at the same time will provide wider opportunity to the Indian companies to raise funds.

2.    If we look carefully at the regulations, it states that the individual limit of 5% and the combined QFI limit of 10% of paid up capital per stock is over and above the FII and the NRI limits that are already in force. This could mean that QFI’s could now buy into stocks that were earlier blocked due to the FII or NRI limit being breached. I would actually think that some of these stocks would see substantial fresh investment into them thus pushing their prices up.

3.   There are questions about whether NRI would be classified as QFI’s? Even though there is no direct mention to the contrary, it is quite clear that the QFI   limits are over and above NRI limits, which could lead us to conclude that NRI’s do not qualify under the new QFI regulations.

4.  The tax treatment for the QFI investment will ultimately decide the success or otherwise of this regulation. While it is quite clear that these investors will not benefit from a zero tax regime( which the bigger players who invested through the FII sub-account route benefitted for many years and continue to do so)it remains to be seen what kind of  tax structure and the method of taxation that would apply to the QFI’s. I do believe that the larger investors would any day prefer their tax benefit to the ease of investing option.

It would only be the smaller foreign investor who invested through the non discretionary route of a sub-account (which is a complicated and costly route to take) who would probably consider this trade off worth taking. In that sense one may not see a rush of fresh investments coming in through the scheme but it could definitely bring in a new breed of investors and widen the base of the current investor profile.

5.    When a guru of the stock market was asked about this new regulation he said that opening just one market does not excite him too much, he went on to say that if one opens the stock market they should open up the commodity and currency market also then only will the big boys be interested to invest large amounts into India. This then clearly is another affirmation that the BIG investments may not line up under the QFI route.

6.    The pessimist may ask why an individual foreign investor should choose India, wont he put his money where his mouth is? And even if we assume that he is a diehard Indian market optimist one would think that he would prefer the easy route of an India ETF which is now available in choice especially in the American markets.  This argument I must confess does hold a lot of weight.

7.   SEBI has stated that one of the objectives of this regulation is to broad base investor bases, improve inflows and make the market less volatile. While the first two objectives are definitely achievable to some degree it is difficult to understand as to how QFI investments will reduce volatility. QFI’s are not lateral thinkers they will think and act like all investors who are driven by greed and fear and in market swings these investors will act like any other thus probably adding to the volatility and not reducing the same. Statistics from the American and British markets also tell us that 90% of the investors are day traders and if they now choose to invest into India there is no reason for these individuals to suddenly turn into long term players.

8.  It would be appropriate to conclude the analysis by looking at one big benefit that the QFI will finally have and that is true beneficial ownership. As a client who invested through the FII or through a sub account the client were merely holders of buy positions in a company and never enjoyed  voting rights and other benefits which they will now be able to exercise as “real shareholders”

It would also be very interesting to study the operative guidelines that SEBI is going to put in place. The qualified DP’s/ brokers  who believe that the QFI segment is a one worth servicing would have to ensure new systems and process( the kyc part of it would be a big challenge-unless simplified), beef up research by a huge margin and also gear up to build their brand, and after doing all this there is no assurance of success.

The QFI has thrown up a lot of debate and discussion and the proof of the pudding will be in its eating, so as we wait and watch for the happenings in the next few weeks like all investors I hope that more than anything this would improve the market sentiment more than anything else.

The author is Vice President at Unifi Capital. Views expressed are personal.

1 comment:

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