Foreign institutional investors (FIIs) have sold Indian stocks worth $2.19 billion in August, their biggest sell-off in 10 months since October 2018, data showed.
This follows the July FII sell-off at $1.93 billion. In October last year, they were net sellers of Indian shares worth $3.75 billion. Despite the exodus of the last two months, net foreign institutional investment for the year so far is still positive at $7.21 billion.
A host of events dented foreign investors’ confidence, despite easy monetary policies followed abroad, low and falling interest rates globally, and low political risks in India, according to Deepak Jasani, head of retail research, HDFC Securities. “These include an increase in the tax on super rich/foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) in the Union budget, poor to mixed corporate earnings, overhang on economic growth locally, the US-China trade war and its expected impact on global growth. These outflows could continue as long as the view of FPIs on emerging economies is not sanguine and they are not convinced about economic growth picking up in India over the next one-two quarters," said Jasani.
In the past two months, FPIs have sold Indian shares worth over $4 billion, while they were net buyers of shares worth $11.34 billion till June. In July, the Sensex and Nifty shed 4.86% and 5.69%, respectively, while in August, both were down over 1% each.
In the 5 July Union budget, the finance minister had proposed an increase in surcharge on income tax for the ultra-rich, a move that affected FPIs as well. Effective tax rates on equities increased from 11.96% to 14.25% for long-term capital gains, and from 17.94% to 21.37% on short-term capital gains. Short-term capital gains on derivatives and debt securities were taxable at 42.74%.
The Centre has since withdrawn the additional surcharge. However, in the last three days since the rollback, FIIs were still net sellers of Indian shares worth $421.82 million. “This step by the government is positive, in our view, as it reverses the surcharge tax on the FPI announced in the budget. This is likely, in our view, to reverse the significant FII selling witnessed post-budget," said Nomura in a note on 26 August.
Meanwhile, FIIs are still buying Indian debt, scooping up $1.4 billion in August and $1.2 billion in July. “Indian debt space (especially sovereign bonds) remained attractive given the soft interest rates globally and trend of falling rates locally. Government bonds offer higher liquidity, easy entry and exits and sensitivity to rate falls. Further, the FPI investment limit was raised for FY20 to 6% of outstanding issuance of government bonds, from 5.5% in FY19," Jasani said.