India could be jewel in the crown for investors

With a new government and an ambitious prime minister, the country offers the prospect of strong returns. But there may be hiccups ahead, warns Simon Read

Simon Read
Friday 08 August 2014 23:34
The winds of change: but it may take time for India to shake off the dust, build up its finances and bring its infrastructure up to date
The winds of change: but it may take time for India to shake off the dust, build up its finances and bring its infrastructure up to date

India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi held his first Budget last month. It followed a relatively strong run in Indian equities; in fact India has been the best-performing market globally this year.

Will that continue and should investors keep faith with funds invested in the region? Or is it time to take profits and shift savings elsewhere?

Darius McDermott at the fund supermarket Chelsea Financial Services believes there's plenty more upside.

"India is one of my favourite emerging-market investments for the long term," he said. "Its large current-account deficit made the market quite reliant on foreign capital flows and the strength of the US dollar, so the currency in particular was hit hard when tapering talks began last year. But things are now looking up."

He pointed out that the deficit is now starting to improve, having fallen from 4.9 per cent of GDP at the beginning of 2013 to around 2 per cent now, and inflation is falling.

"Most importantly, this is the first time in 30 years that India has not had a coalition government and the first time in its history that a government with a non-socialist, pro-market philosophy will be in power with a majority."

This, said Mr McDermott, means that while it will remain a volatile market in the short term – so not necessarily for the nervous – in the longer term the new Government could really make a difference.

"We need to see that reforms are headed in the right direction, even if they take time," he said. "There is real potential in the market and the economy has great demographics, with a young and very highly educated population."

Avinash Vazirani, manager of the Jupiter India fund, said last month's Budget was very positive.

"Where previously we had been used to attractive headline announcements but hidden stings in the tail, this time the small print was impressive and I take an optimistic view of what the finance minister is trying to achieve."

Mr Vazirani is positive about long-term growth.

"With valuations marginally above the 10-year average, an economy at the bottom of its current cycle and a huge number of positives set to come through as a result of the new Government and Budget, in my view there is still significant scope for further upside in equities in the medium-to-long term. This is despite the considerable market gains already seen this year."

Kunal Desai, manager of the Neptune India fund, is also extremely positive.

"As global investors continue to scour emerging markets through the lens of reform potential, India shines bright. Indeed we think it can sparkle even brighter," he predicted.

However, there have been false dawns before for the region, he acknowledged.

"But I believe this time is different for three reasons. First, the strength of the new Government is unprecedented.Next, the electorate have voted directly for economic growth and development over populism and caste.

"And finally, this presidential-style election was essentially won by one individual, Narendra Modi – a man with a track record of decisive action during his tenure as Gujarat chief minister."

Prime Minister Modi is certainly ambitious. He has a lot of aims but many may not be achieved.

His key challenges include tackling inflation and the country's finances, rebuilding local business confidence, speeding up decision making and getting infrastructure projects up and running.

Progress may take a considerable time and there are bound to be hiccups along the way, which should be a warning for nervous investors.

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