India’s pain is S-E Asia’s gain
SOUTHEAST Asian nations are swallowing an outflow of money from India, as foreign investors lose patience with its policy paralysis and slowing growth and aim instead for more promising emerging markets such as Indonesia.
Corruption scandals and high inflation have added to India’s woes, which have seen growth slow to a three-year low while the fiscal deficit widened to 5.9 percent of GDP in the last financial year.
“India was sold on the promise of high growth which simply hasn’t panned out over the past four years,” said Gautam Prakash, founder of US based hedge fund Monsoon Capital.
Foreign investors pulled a net $540 million out from India in March and April, compared with $13 billion in inflows in January-February.
Foreign portfolio flows into Indian stocks have dropped 99 percent to just 5.17 billion rupees since a March budget that largely disappointed investors, compared with 427.36 billion rupees in 2012 before the budget.
Among the most significant developments from the shift has been the direction in which money is headed - with a big chunk flowing to Jakarta and other Southeast Asian capitals. Two provisions put forward in the budget to tax indirect investments and combat tax evasion were the last straw for some global mutual funds, prompting an acceleration of money leaving India. While the provisions were later put on ice, the prospect that such a tax could be proposed in India was enough for some investors to send their Asiaallocated money further east.
“You’re seeing a situation where the ‘I’ in BRIC is being replaced by Indonesia,” said Tim Condon, head of research and strategy for Asia at ING.
An emerging market brochure distributed by Franklin Templeton last month had data on India missing from a world map. From a global leader in emerging market investing, led by omnipresent guru Mark Mobius, that omission was telling.
India exposure in Asia’s biggest equity fund, the $18 billion Templeton Asian Growth fund, dropped to 16 percent of its assets at the end of March from nearly 20 percent a year ago, while exposure to Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries rose to 35 percent from 31 percent during the period.
An ASEAN-focused equity fund launched by Daiwa Asset Management started with about $366 million in February and has since grown to manage about $430 million, while Fidelity Funds-ASEAN has seen a net inflow of nearly $250 million in the last year.
The bigger ASEAN markets do not necessarily offer a compelling case on valuation grounds.
“Generally we are more negative on India than we are positive on the alternatives, such as Indonesia and the Philippines where we feel the markets have perhaps run ahead of themselves,” said David Baran, co-founder of Tokyo-based hedge fund Symphony Financial Partners.
“However, the ASEAN alternatives do have more positives and less negatives than India and we think that foreign investment outflows from India into the ASEAN alternatives are highly likely to increase if anything.” Indian shares trade at price to book value of 1.9 times, higher than 1.4 times for Asia Pacific shares as a whole but less than 3.1 times for Indonesia, 2.2 times for Thailand and 2.5 times for Philippines, according to data from Thomson Reuters StarMine. The trend, nonetheless, is clear as money managers shift away from India, at least for the shortterm, towards markets that offer the same favourable demographics and growth potential that had previously drawn investors to Delhi and Mumbai.