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Spend & Save

Take the spice route to India but don't end up getting burnt

Grab just a small piece of the action in a land where instability shadows success. Angelique Ruzicka reports

India is a success story, boasting one of the fastest-growing economies in the world – from $32bn (£16bn) at the beginning of the 1980s to more than $1 trillion today. "One of the biggest drivers of growth is the changing demographics," says Arun Mehra, head of investment strategy at Fidelity's India Focus fund. "Wealth is increasingly filtering down to rural and traditionally low-income sections of society."

The boom shows no sign of stalling. "The long-term outlook is very positive. India is changing and new industries are emerging all the time," adds Mr Mehra.

So how can investors tap into this success to boost their wealth?

The Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), which hasn't followed the change in the city's name to Mumbai, has bureaucratic restrictions that in effect bar small private investors from buying Indian company shares off their own bat. Instead, there are two types of unit or investment trust that can give you exposure to India. First are those that put 100 per cent of investors' money into the subcontinent.

Sean Scahill at financial adviser The Fisher Organisation recommends the F&C India Investment Company and the HSBC Indian Equity Fund, which have returned 60.79 and 44.85 per cent respectively so far this year. Other top performers over the past 12 months include AIG Equity, Invesco Equity and CAAM Funds India.

Alternatively, if you want to invest in India and gain exposure to other emerging markets around the world at the same time, you can invest in a Bric (Brazil, Russia, India, China) fund. This will also help to spread your risk.

"One of our top sellers right now is Allianz Bric All Stars, up 52 per cent in the year to date. This is a high-risk fund that currently invests 23 per cent of its portfolio in India," says Rebecca O'Keefe, head of fund management at financial website Interactive Investor.

An increasingly popular alternative to buying into a unit or investment trust is to purchase shares in an exchange-traded fund (ETF), which allows the investor to track the movements of a particular stock market, such as the FTSE or the BSE on the subcontinent. Several ETFs are quoted on the London Stock Exchange – Lyxor ETF India, for example – and can therefore be bought from a UK stockbroker.

Be warned, though, that the Indian stock market is far more volatile than the US or UK markets, so an ETF that tracks its movements is also prone to sharp upward and downward swings. "In mid-August, the BSE corrected to 14,000 points after having reached a high of 19,000 in July. It is substantially higher than 19,000 now," says Pinakin Patel, portfolio manager of the JPMorgan Indian Investment Trust.

With such volatility, financial advisers urge caution. "This is a market for serious investors, not 'widows and orphans'. And even for serious investors, I wouldn't recommend investing any more than 10 per cent of a portfolio in India," says Mr Scahill.

Remember, India is still prone to social and political instability. "As with any emerging market, the risks are high – but India appears more volatile than most," says Ms O'Keefe.

"There is undoubtedly potential but it is a question of being brave."