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Today marked the second and much awaited Bi-Monthly policy statement by the RBI for the new FY 2018-19.

In line with what bond markets expected, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) delivered a 6-0 verdict on an interest rate hike by 0.25%. The was largely in line with market expectations post the release of the minutes of the last meeting and thus the bond market had only a marginal impact of this change.

However, the MPC also continued to maintain a neutral stance, indicating that it is trying to play a delicate balance between inflation and growth, and decisions are being taken basis news flow and fresh data coming in.

The MPC noted that domestic economic activity has exhibited a sustained revival in recent quarters and the output gap has almost closed. Investment activity, in particular, is recovering well and could receive a further boost from swift resolution of distressed sectors of the economy under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. This is in general good news for the economy.

Retail inflation i.e. CPI grew to 4.6% in April. The decision to raise rates is therefore in line with the objective of keeping the medium term inflation at 4% i.e. well within the 2-6% range.

Since the MPC’s meeting in early April, the price of Indian basket of crude surged from US$ 66 a barrel to US$ 74. This, along with an increase in other global commodity prices and recent global financial market developments, has resulted in a firming up of input cost pressure thus persisting in a high CPI inflation projection for 2018-19. On the other hand the summer momentum in vegetable prices was weaker than the usual pattern softening the food inflation in the short term, though this has been more than negated by the changes in oil prices. Household inflation expectations have also moved up sharply and  pricing power seems to be on its way up as well.

Taking these effects into account, the projected CPI inflation for 2018-19 is revised to 4.8-4.9 per cent in H1 and 4.7 per cent in H2, including the HRA impact. Excluding the impact of HRA revisions, CPI inflation is projected at 4.6 per cent in H1 and 4.7 per cent in H2.

Crude oil prices have been volatile recently and since consumption, both rural and urban, remains healthy and is expected to strengthen further, all this imparts considerable uncertainty to the inflation outlook, possibly on the upside. With an election year upon us and possible fiscal risks emanating, along with global outflows on the back of higher US interest rates and a falling rupee, this may not be the last of the rate hikes in our view.

Your Investments

Geo-political risks, global financial market volatility and the threat of trade protectionism pose headwinds to the domestic recovery. However, it also important that public finances do not crowd out private sector investment activity at this crucial juncture.

In most Emerging Market Economies (EMEs), bond yields have risen on reduced foreign appetite for their debt due to growing dollar shortage in the global market and on prospects of higher interest rates in Advanced Economies.

Equities continue to remain overpriced from a price to earnings perspective in spite of recent corrections and a better growth outlook. However, signs of improved demand and pricing power for companies, along with good growth expectations and better capacity utilisation,  bode well for earnings growth going forward. Corrections into equities could therefore be bought into.

Real rates continue to remain positive.The rising G-sec yield makes dynamic bonds and long term bond funds unattractive and the exposure to the same should be minimized. Bonds with a shorter duration of 3 months to 2 years are ideal in the given scenario. We therefore, continue to believe that investors should continue to have fixed income exposure through a combination of lower duration and short term strategies.

Your Loans

Even before the RBI meet, the banks had begun hiking both their lending and borrowing rates. This rise in lending rates was brought about by the rapid increase in bond yields and increased loan demand, especially in private banks.

With an increase of 25 basis points by the RBI, the deposit rate of the banks could further increase which would be followed by lending rate hikes. Thus look at prepaying your loans with excess liquidity.

A 6-0 verdict is therefore a clear indicator that inflation targeting continues to be the MPCs primary role, and a conservative stance will probably give foreign investors a more positive view on India.

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Like it or not, your Mutual Fund holdings, at least some if not all, are already undergoing significant changes. While the changes in some were predictable, there are instances where the proposed changes were never imagined. Now, everyone from advisors and distributors to AMCs and mostly importantly the investors are starting to scramble to make sense out of the commotion!

Since the mutual fund AMCs have started to list out the changes in their schemes, there have been plenty of eyebrows raised with some of their decisions.

For example, one particular AMC had a Liquid Fund and a Money Market Fund prior to re- categorization. As per the new re-categorization rules, there is a Liquid Fund and a separate Money Market Fund Category. The AMC has gone ahead and moved their existing Liquid Fund into the Money Market Fund category and vice versa!

Another major example is that of another AMC, where they have changed the mandate of an existing MultiCap Fund to that of an Aggressive Hybrid Fund (where only up to 80% can be invested into equities ) as per the new rules. In addition, they have decided to merge one of their existing Balanced Fund with this newly formed scheme. The N.A.V. of this newly merged entity would be that of the earlier existing MultiCap Fund.

The same AMC has dealt another googly by changing an existing pure Equity scheme to a Balanced Advantage Category Fund (a fund that manages debt and equity allocation on a dynamic basis). Note that there is no cap on either asset class as per new rules. Furthermore, they have merged another existing Balanced Fund into this new scheme, while keeping the N.A.V. of the prior equity fund. The fund could now theoretically go 100% into debt or the other way as per the discretion of the fund manager.

Another example is that of an AMC that had an Ultra Short Term Fund and separately also ran a debt fund that primarily invested into bonds of Banks and PSUs. Post the introduction of the re- categorization rules, the AMC has merged the above Banking and PSU fund into the Ultra Short Term Debt Fund. It has further gone on to change the mandate of an existing Short Term Debt Fund into a Banking PSU Fund as per new rules. Now imagine the plight of an investor who was anyways confused with the huge universe of schemes. If he/she is not careful, he/she might end up investing into the current Banking and PSU fund expecting to remain in that category when it actually will get merged into an Ultra Short Term Fund. Or he/she may invest into the current Short Term Debt Fund not realizing it will become a Banking and PSU fund shortly. These unintentional errors could have big implications later on the mutual fund portfolio.

There are thousands of mutual funds schemes out there. And if not selected right, which can often be the case, investors end up with a plethora of funds in their portfolio over time. Now imagine looking at your fund list and realizing that a lot of them are going changes and may come out as something new and unintended. In such a context, it is easy to make unintended errors or make ill informed decisions in deciding what to do next with your mutual fund portfolio.

It is with this concern in mind that Plan Ahead Wealth Advisors is conducting a seminar tomorrow at The Regus, Andheri West to enlighten both our clients and their friends and families, on the impact this massive reorganization of mutual fund schemes will have on their portfolios and how they can navigate these changes in an efficient way.

While it may seem a little inconvenient to come out on a Saturday 19th May 2018 to attend this event, the take away from this event could lead to much better decision making on your current mutual fund holdings in the immediate future!

 

 

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Today marked the first Bi-Monthly policy statement by the RBI for the new FY 2018-19.

The MPC notes that there has been a recovery in growth on a domestic level and various structural reforms introduced will support further long term growth. The MPC recognizes the downside risk to private financing and investments as well as growth on both a global and domestic level is brought out by deteriorating public finances and rising trade protectionism.

The MPC stated that the GDP growth is projected to strengthen from 6.6% in 2017-18 to 7.4% in 2018-19 with H1 2018-19 reflecting growth in the range of 7.3-7.4% and 7.3-7.6% in H2 2018-19 supported by revival in investment activity and global demand.

The MPC revised down the CPI for FY 2018-19 to 4.7-5.1% in H1 and 4.4% in H2 (inclusive of the HRA impact) keeping in mind that factors such as the revised formula for MSP (minimum support price), impact of HRA, further fiscal slippages, a weak monsoon and volatile crude prices could all pose upward risks to the near term inflation outlook.

Amongst the midst of global and local market volatility in both the equity and bond markets, the monetary policy committee maintained their neutral stance and kept the policy repo rate and the reverse repo rate unchanged at 6 percent and 5.75 percent respectively.

5 out of 6 members voted in favor of the policy while one member voted for raise in rates by 25 basis points.

The 10 year G-Sec fell sharply from 7.3% levels to 7.12-7.13% indicating that the market is putting to rest any near term rate hikes.

Your Investments

While the RBI does talk about economic recovery as well as a possible sustained long term recovery one can not ignore the volatility brought about by the juxtaposition between global recovery and the possible trade war between the United states of America and China.

Equities continue to remain overpriced from a price to earnings perspective in spite of recent corrections. Real rates continue to remain positive and interest rates (benchmarked by the 10 year G-sec) have cooled down from their high ranges of 7.7-7.8%.

We continue to believe that investors should continue to have fixed income exposure through a combination of accrual, short to medium and hold strategies. Considering a large state loan calendar interest rates could revert back to an upward movement scenario and thus we recommend maintaining only a 10% exposure to dynamic bond fund that have the flexibility to move across bond maturities.

Your Loans

For the first time in 2 years banks started increasing interest rates indicating a change in rate cycle. This rise in lending rates was brought about by the rapid increase in bond yields.

The RBI has maintained status quo on rates and has allowed banks to spread their bond losses over 4 quarters. This action by the RBI could cause lending rates to stabilize.

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In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court on Friday recognized that a terminally-ill patient or a person in persistent vegetative state can execute an “advance medical directive” or a “living will” to refuse medical treatment, saying the right to live with dignity also includes “smoothening” the process of dying.

What is a Living Will?

It is essentially a document that sets out a patient’s wishes regarding how they want to be treated if they are seriously ill or in a permanently vegetative state. With this judgment, the right to die with dignity has been recognized as a fundamental right.

As regards personal finances, perhaps a big critical function that a living will performs is that it allows the maker of the will to prevent their family from financially overburdening themselves, sometimes to the extent of bankruptcy. Usually family members are spurred on out of love, guilt or a sense of duty to keep the patient alive, often at any cost. This results in the family’s financials going into disarray and jeopardizing their financial future and important life goals.

Who qualifies to write down a Living Will?

  • An adult who is of a sound and healthy mind and in a position to communicate, relate and comprehend the purpose and consequences of executing the document.
  • An adult must make such a will voluntarily 

What are the important items to cover in the document?

The judiciary has laid down guidelines on how such a document can be formed. They are as follows:

  • It should clearly indicate the decision relating to the circumstances in which medical treatment can be withdrawn.
  • Instructions must be absolutely clear and unambiguous.
  • It should mention whether the patient would like torevoke the instructions/authority at any time.
  • It should specifythat the patient has understood the consequences of executing such a document.
  • It should specify the name of a guardian or close relative who, in the event of the patient becoming incapable of taking decision at the relevant time, will be authorized to give consent to refuse or withdraw medical treatment
  • It should be in writing and should clearly state as to when medical treatment may be withdrawn or if specific medical treatment that will have the effect of delaying the process of death should be given.
  • If there is more than one valid Advance Directive, the most recently signed Advance Directive will be considered as the last expression of the patient‘s wishes and will be implemented.

How should this document be stored? 

The Supreme court has further laid down a road map on how the Living Will needs to be stored safely:

  • The living will should be signed by the maker in the presence of two witnesses. It should be countersigned by the judicial magistrate of first class (JMFC), confirming that the will has been drawn up voluntarily.
  • The JMFC will maintain a copy of the will and forward a copy to the registry of the district court of that jurisdiction.

Implementation of a Living Will 

The Supreme Court has described various checks on how a living will may be implemented:

  • Execution of the will can only be done if the medical board approves it. The medical board will consist of the head of the treating department and at least three experts from various specialized medical fields with at least 20 years of experience. The board can only give their certification (or not) in presence of the closest relatives. Furthermore, the board’s certification is only preliminary.
  • Once the board approves, the hospital has to inform the jurisdictional collector of the same. The collector will then appoint a separate board consisting of the Chief District Medical Office and three other experts from specialized medical fields. If this board approves the same, the chief medical officer will relay the decision to the jurisdictional magistrate who will then have to visit the patient at the earliest and authorize the implementation.

Any advantages of a Living Will?

  • Providesrespect towards a human being’s fundamental right to live and die smoothly
  • Doctors are likely to suggest appropriate procedures and medication knowing what the patient wantsas per his living will
  • A living willspares both the doctor and immediate relatives from taking difficult decisions
  • A living will could also spare the immediate family from the financial burden that comes up in cases of unnecessarilyprolonged medical procedures for a terminally ill family member

While Living Wills are common in the west, it is a very new concept in India. Although the general verdict, by and large is that this is a positive step in the right direction the complexity is still something that needs to be addressed.

 

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According to Investopedia, “Geographical Diversification” is the practice of diversifying an investment portfolio across different geographic regions so as to reduce the overall risk and improve returns on the portfolio.

As with diversification in general, geographical diversification is based on the premise that financial markets in different parts of the world may not be highly correlated with one another. For example, if the US and European stock markets are declining because their economies are in a recession, an investor may choose to allocate part of his portfolio to emerging economies with higher growth rates such as China, Brazil and India.

There are two major advantages in diversifying one’s investment portfolio based on geography:

  • Taking Advantage of Opportunities in other Strong Economies:

A significant benefit to a geographic diversification of assets has to do with the way it allows you to mitigate risk by taking advantage of stable economies elsewhere in the world. It’s no secret that some economies are struggling to recover from the trying economic times of the last few years. Other countries, however, have seen higher growth rates due to a variety of factors. International portfolios have been shown, in general, to outperform domestic ones, this is because when there are so many markets to choose from, it is unlikely that the same country will ever repeatedly achieve the highest level of growth. With improved access to international markets and investment instruments such as mutual funds bringing down the costs, an additional option to further diversify has been to buy in international markets.

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(Source: Bloomberg, Kotak MF. As of 31st Jan, 2018)

The above returns data chart clearly shows that while the Indian Equity Markets have performed significantly in the last year, there were opportunities elsewhere which proved even better. Diversification into such economies can therefore result in better yielding portfolios.

  • Balancing out the risks:

While chasing better returns might definitely be one aspect of any investment portfolio, it is also crucial to understand how any strategy helps in mitigating the associated risks that are part of every investment decision. Geographic diversification provides a much needed balance that all investors strive for. If one of your assets is located in a part of the world that is or could be vulnerable, the investments in other geographies could compensate or buffer any unexpected losses. This is because despite the impact of globalisation, geographies and economies can still have limited correlation between them, and over time international markets could perform very differently to domestic markets. Following is a chart that shows how various sectors form part of some regions around the world, in % of total market capitalization:

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(Source: credit suisse global investment returns yearbook 2015)

As you may notice, different regions give different weightages to every sector. Thus by accessing these regions, you can in essence, reduce investment risks in individual sectors and therefore your entire portfolio as a whole.

Since the cycles that drive business and investment are experienced at different times in different countries, foreign markets seldom move in perfect tandem with each other. Losses in one market may be offset by gains in another. Geographical diversification significantly reduces the overall level of volatility and exposure to external factors. For an investor, theoretically this would mean that the more diversified your assets, the safer is your money. However it is true that a significant black swan event, such as the financial crisis of 2008, will likely deplete any such benefits, especially in the short term immediately after such an event. What is rather important to keep in perspective is (a) your investment horizon and (b) your risk taking capability to diversify into foreign markets.

 

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save on tax

The Tax Season is here! More appropriately, the time for providing those investment/expenses proofs that will give you the tax deduction benefits. Most individuals are therefore looking for smart tips on to how best avail benefits available to individuals so as to minimize their tax outflow.

While there are commonly known avenues that are utilized by one and all, following are some of the lesser known options that you could look into to optimize your tax planning:

  1. Section 80EE: In Budget 2016-2017, a new proposal has been made in which, first time home buyers are eligible for an additional tax deduction of up to Rs 50,000 on home loan interest payments under section 80EE. For claiming tax deductions under this new section 80EE, the following criteria have to be met:
    • The home loan should have been availed or sanctioned in FY 2016-2017.
    • The Loan amount should be less than Rs 35 Lakhs.
    • The value of the home should not be more than Rs 50 Lakhs
    • The buyer should not possess any other residential house under his/her name
  2. Section 80E: The entire interest paid (without any upper limit) on education loan in a financial year is eligible for deduction u/s 80E. However there is no deduction on principal paid for the Education Loan. The loan should be for education of self, spouse or children only and should be taken for pursuing full time courses only. The loan has to be taken necessarily from approved charitable trust or a financial institution only.
  3. New Pension Scheme(NPS): Employer’s contribution up to 10% of Basic salary plus DA (dearness aloowance) is eligible for deduction under this section above the Rs 1.5 lakh limit in Sec 80CCD(1). This is also beneficial for employer as it can claim tax benefit for its contribution by showing it as business expense in the profit and loss account. This comes under Section 80CCD(2).
  4. Leave Travel Allowance: LTA tax break can be claimed for travel of self and family members for journeys undertaken only within India.The non-taxable reimbursement of travel costs is limited to the actual expenses incurred on air, rail and bus fares only. The block applicable for the current period is calendar year 2014-17. The previous block was calendar year 2010-2013. Going forward, the new block will be 2018 to 2022. So make the most of this as any unclaimed allowance will not be carried forward into the new block!
  5. NRE Account: While Non Resident Indians face alot of complications with tax structure, especially Tax Deducted at Source (TDS), they also have some things going in their favor. For example, The interest earned on NRE account is tax-free and continues to be exempt for two years after the individual returns to India. In case a NRI returns to India,, It is suggested to retain deposits held in the FD NRE so as to earn tax-free interest for two more years. After two years, when the tax status changes, these deposits can be moved to the regular savings account or investments.
  6. 80RRB: Income received through Patent royalty (registered on/after 01.04.2003), under the Patents Act 1970 can be claimed up to Rs. 3 lakhs or the income actually received, whichever is less. The taxpayer must be a resident of India who holds the patent.

While it is important to reduce to tax outflow, it is even more critical that it is done in the right way and also by using all appropriate options. Furthermore, making ad hoc investments for last minute tax savings may mean compromising on the larger financial picture. Therefore take professional guidance from a financial advisor and a tax advisor, to ascertain a perfect blend of financial and tax planning and to maintain your financial plans on the right track.

 

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Inflation concerns mean rates stay as is…

As was broadly expected, The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) on Wednesday left the policy repo rate and reverse repo rate unchanged at 6 percent and 5.75 percent, respectively. Out of six members, five members voted for no rate cut and one member voted for 25 bps rate cut. RBI continued to maintain its view that the 4% target on inflation remains its focus. Retail inflation measured by year-on-year change in the consumer price index (CPI) had recorded a seven-month high in October, and with an indicated range of 4.3% to 4.7% for the next two quarters, along with higher inflationary expectations getting built in through the possibility of higher oil prices and some possible fiscal pressure, this was very much in line with expectations. Surplus liquidity in the system has also continued to decline, reducing chances of rate cuts going forward.

Focus on the real rate of return

With the RBI referring to possible green shoots on growth starting to appear in the economy, it does seem that whilst they will continue to track data closely, strategies that are focussed on interest rates getting reduced are likely to face pressure. However, considering that real rates of return (returns from fixed income investments less inflation) continue to be significantly positive, we continue to believe that investing in fixed income is attractive.

Your Investments

Considering positive real interest rates, and equities continuing to trade at significant premiums to long term price to earnings ratios,  it may be a good idea to continue to have fixed income exposure through a combination of largely accrual, short to medium term, and hold to maturity strategies. For investors willing to continue to look at interest rates heading downwards, dynamic bond funds that have flexibility to move across bond maturities, can be explored for a small portion of the fixed income portfolio.

Your Loans

The RBI’s decision to hold rate cuts could indicate that there is unlikely to be any impact on existing lending rates, especially home and car loans by banks. Whilst the transmission of the rate cuts for bank loans over the last couple of years has only been partial, we believe that interest rates may not head down much more going forward.

Way Forward

Considering that the next policy meeting on Feb 6 and 7 is likely to be post the Union Budget, one will need to track how the government manages its fiscal policy and its focus on growth going forward. Global interest rates headed upwards, will also continue to drive RBI’s decisions on interest rates.

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