Category Archives: Investment

NRE Fixed Deposit rates (November 2020)

With RBI reducing benchmark rates the NRE FD rates have been on a decline though some banks still offer high returns.

NRE Interest is tax free but only guaranteed protected upto a maximum of 5 lac rupees just like any other bank deposits, anything over that is like a unsecured loan to the bank.

So while making a deposit try and spread the risk across different banks if possible. Yes, that means having to manage more than one bank account and if you like the convenience go for a respected and strong bank like SBI though it means lesser return.

BankRateTerm
Indus Ind7%1 to 3 years
IDFC First6%500 days
Standard Chartered5.60%12 months to 21 Months
HDFC5.50%greater than 5 Years
DBS5.50%greater than 4 years
ICICI Bank5.50%greater than 5 Years
SBI5.40%greater than 5 Years
Kotak Mahindra4.90%1 year 1 month to 4 years

When shortlisting a bank, I would not touch a co-operative bank no matter how high a rate they offer, then I would exclude small time private players, then exclude big private players who have grown too fast (remember Yes Bank), then look at Balance sheet and management and even exclude foreign banks like Deutsche and HSBC whose parent entities are struggling. If any foreign bank fails RBI is not going to save it. Lastly look if LIC has a stake in the bank, if yes, then that is a very good indicator of government support and interest (higher chance of bailout if something goes awry).

Click on the Bank Name in the table above and it will take you to the website of the Bank and if you find any other rates that are worth sharing leave a comment and I will add them to the table.

Low Cost etf’s don’t always mean superior returns!!

Anyone who is remotely financially savvy, if asked the questions, “ETF or mutual fund?” would without hesitation vote in favor of ETF. There are strong reasons for leaning towards an ETF’s – they are marketed as low cost instruments that can improve your returns over time. Even 1% saving every year compounded over a 5 year period could add up to 7-10% extra returns.

However, one should not forget the ultimate goal of total returns and in case of Vietnam, which has been my preferred market since my first visit to the country, the lion global mutual fund beats the ETF’s by a wide margin.

How does the Lion Global Vietnam Fund Stack up against the ETF’s?

The fund has beaten VNM, which is US listed ETF and XT Vietnam ETF listed on SGX by 76% and 39% respectively over past 5 years.

The chart from Bloomberg above summarizes the performance nicely. If I were to add in the currency rate variance the performance margin will improve even further. Singapore dollar has strengthened around 5% over USD in past 5 years and factoring for that the Singapore dollar denominated Lion Global fund would have beaten VNM by 81% and DB managed XT Vietnam etf by 44%.

The fund has even outperformed the Vietnam index over the past 5 years barring 2018 which was the Vietnam market peak and the fund lagged behind slightly. As of today it has beaten the index by 6%.

What is my strategy for 2021?

I believe in the Vietnam story in the long run. Its a country of grit and has young population. It is one of the few countries to have managed COVID waves effectively. I would rank it number one in managing the pandemic given its lack of resources as compared to a South Korea or a Taiwan.

The Vietnam market has delivered 15% YOY return in the last 5 years and I will continue to invest in Vietnam through this fund. Yes, the fund has a annual expense ratio of 1.78% and management charge of 1.5% but I am happy to pay that amount till the point in time my total returns are superior. Moreover this fund is SRS eligible which makes it perfect to be included in the retirement portfolio. For those of you not in Singapore SRS stands for Supplementary Retirement Scheme, equivalent of ISA in UK, 401K in US and ELSS in India

I think that the Vietnam market should go up by another 15% in 2021 and I would continue to invest through this fund.

So remember, don’t just buy an ETF because it has low cost, focus on superior returns for long term wealth accumulation.

Tax free returns better than NRE FD

Yes, every now and then I do research and analyse avenues that can generate total returns that Trump (no pun intended 😊) the good old NRE FD.

Back in 2016 I had suggested Tax free bonds as a good investment bet (Tax free bonds better than NRE FD’s). The tax free bonds are already up 50% and have also given 7.65% tax free interest year on year which would push up the overall yield to roughly 20% per annum and total return around 85%.

Around a year or more back I talked about India focused SGD denominated debt funds that are available in Singapore in the comments section but never got a chance to do a detailed write up hence now there is detailed analysis.

The fund that I like comes from HSBC – HGIF India Fixed Income AM 30 fund. This has generated better returns than NRE FD over the past year and I believe will continue to out perform over the next year.

HSBC India Fixed Income AM30 fund

Taking the investment date of 22 Nov 2019 when the NAV of the fund was 8.559, the fund has generated 0.42 in dividend till date and fallen slightly to 8.43, bringing the total return to 2.96%.

Comparatively the same amount invested in an NRE FD at 7.5% would have yielded 3.23% if one took the exchange rate of 52.84 (interbank rate). You and I would have got a exchange rate of 52.55 and that would result in a total return of 2.66%. If I factor in the cost of transferring funds back to Singapore the returns will be even lower – 2.1%.

If you did a monthly SIP with this fund the 1 year currency movement adjusted return would have been upwards of 6%.

Downside Risks

With an average yield and good portfolio mix mostly in Govt Sec the downside will only happen if

1. Rupee weakens due to covid or border tensions

2. RBI increases deposit rates due to Inflation

Exchange rate movements impact the fixed deposit returns as well which I had detailed in – Why timing is so important, so from that perspective there is no real difference between this fund and an NRE FD.

Comparing on account of safety there is not much difference either, NRE FD is insured for a max of 500,000 rupees ~ 9000 SGD and this fund invests in mostly in Indian government or PSU bonds (data below from the fund website) therefore I would think that this fund is relatively safer for larger amounts of investments

Why do I like this fund for money that I want to keep in Singapore?

The fund has additional gains when INR appreciates and investment income in Singapore are tax free. Biggest benefit is liquidity – there is no lock in period like a Fixed deposit and i can sell the units anytime if I need the money. This fund is SRS eligible as well.

It will be worth analysing how this fund stacks against the Bharat Bond ETF, something worth for a subsequent post. In case you have come across investments that generate relatively safe and superior returns then do mention in comments for everyone’s benefit.

Why Timing is So Important

While it maybe difficult to time any market timing does play an important role and could be the difference between ordinary and stellar returns.

Timing of transferring money to India and investing in NRE Deposits or any other investment vehicle could also mean the difference between a 3% compounded return vs returns of 7% or more.

To illustrate this, I took the money transfers I have done over the past few years and tabulated a return table. I factored in cost of transferring funds i.e. nett money received in India and also the cost of repatriating the money back on maturity and using today’s exchange rate

As you would see the return ranges from anywhere between 3% to 8%, even for transfers which were done not too far apart.

The best returns were achieved when the SGD INR rate was well beyond what fundamentals commanded – like in 2018 the fair value of SGD INR was around 52 and a transfer made at 53.3 generated a superior return

If the exchange rate moved favorably or stayed flat the returns went up. Return matrix using exchange rate of 54

Based on long term interest rate parity, i believe 54.5 -55 is fair value for SGD INR towards the end of 2020. So if the pair crosses 55 and banks are still offering 6% or more NRE FD’s then it would be a good investment to consider.

I would be keen to hear what your experience with generating stable returns in India has been

USD-INR @ 72.5, SGD-INR @ 52.50, what is a better investment FCNR or NRE?

Travelling from Busan to Seoul on a train gives ample time to think about the question many of you have asked – Is it worthwhile to invest in FCNR deposits?

Instead of looking at purely FCNR deposits I decided to do a comparison between FCNR deposits and the good old NRE deposit.

The analysis did become a little tricky as the SGD FCNR deposits have ridiculously low-interest rates and there is no SGD INR forward cover that is readily available in the market and I had to use USD for comparisons.

First of all, lets look at the NRE and FCNR deposit rates on offer in the market for a one year period.

NRE FCNR rates
NRE and FCNR Interest rates as on 11 Sep 2018

Using the best available rates for both NRE Fixed deposit and FCNR deposits we have the below payoff for a one year maturity and expected USD INR rates.

Depositing money in USD deposits in Singapore

This is probably the worst of all the options. The best possible rate for USD deposits in Singapore is 2% and banks charge anywhere between 0.5% to 0.7% to convert SGD to USD and back from USD to SGD. Though one would often see the advert say that there are no charges but the cost is built-in the exchange rate. With the cost of converting money the yield turns out to be mere 0.5%. So unless you are expecting a massive Singapore dollar weakness against the USD this option is best avoided. It is better to keep your money in BOC Smart saver account for better yields.

Investing in USD FCNR with a one year forward cover

The costs involved here are 0.7% to convert SGD to USD, cable charges of atleast 30S$ to transfer money to FCNR account, cost of a forward cover in terms of margin money and brokerage and finally the cost of converting USD back to INR or to SGD and remitting back to Singapore.

With all the associated costs, this option would work if you expect the INR to strengthen back and want to lock the exchange rate at current forward rate of 75. Here the interest on FCNR deposit is tax free but the gains or losses on the forward cover will attract taxes and on the pay off matrix it is not a great option.

Investing in NRE FD

The cost here is simply one time money of 0.5% to transfer money to NRE account and cost to transfer money back if one so desires.

This option gives the stable returns without any complicated transaction setup.

Investing in USD FCNR deposit without a forward cover

The costs here, as in option 2 above, are 0.7% to convert SGD to USD, cable charges of $30 to transfer money to FCNR account and the cost of converting USD back to INR or to SGD and remitting back to Singapore.

Depending upon one’s outlook for USD INR this option can give good returns. If Usd INR crosses 76 over the next year then this option gives better returns than NRE FD but if INR strengthens then one might lose any gains made from interest income.

FCNR NRE Pay off
FCNR NRE Pay Off

So what is the recommendation?

Given the increased uncertainty in global markets predicting the USD INR rate 1 year rate is nothing short of speculation. I personally do not think the USD INR will cross 77 or even if it crosses will stay at that level at the end of one year. To do the FCNR deposit for a very, very small gain over NRE deposit in the event USD INR crosses 76 does not look great from the risk reward perspective but if you really want to try then put half your money in NRE FD and the other half in USD FCNR deposits.

Widget, widget on the wall, Which is the Best Investment of all?

Finally the tool to compare investment options is here.

Its configured for Indian Tax Rates for FY 2017 -2018 and works pretty accurately – I tried to test as much as I could but feel free to point issues if you find some.

To use the tool simply input your Investment amount and the Total income before this investment. That will calculate your tax bracket.

Then choose the category of investment and input your expected rate of return and the tool will give you the comparative pre and post tax earnings.

Its that simple!

For applicable tax rates refer to – Capital Gains tax for NRIs- It’s not that simple

Another Demonetization Coming?

The money changers in Arcade, Raffles place are again offering a rate better than the spot rate. The current spot is 47.20 and you could get 47.75 with the money changers.

Again the notes are all legit and there is nothing wrong that I could find.

Last time this happened, it was in October 2016 and the 1000 and 500 Rupee Notes were Demonetised in on 8th November 2017 (https://adityaladia.com/2016/10/11/cash-rate-of-inr-better-than-spot-in-arcade/)

I could not help but wonder if 2000 Rupee notes will soon be withdrawn and prove the rumours correct. If that happens where will Indian GDP go is anybody’s guess but till then if you are visiting to India then exchanging money in Singapore and carrying back is a profitable bet.

Capital Gains tax for NRIs- It’s not that simple

As an NRI, you would have wondered many times, what parts of your Indian Income are taxable and what are not and trust me you are not alone.

Under the Indian Income tax act, the tax rates, deductions from income, exemptions from taxation all change depending on the nature of income and residential status of the individual. With the ever changing tax provisions, even if you searched online the chances of finding the information you are looking for would not be easy and filtering out the tax provisions that are applicable to an NRI is even more difficult.

Not being able to find consolidated tax provisions on common investments used by NRI’s I decided to compile the information myself and hope that fellow NRI’s will find it useful.

NRI’s mostly invest in Fixed Deposits, Bonds, Mutual Funds, Stock and Property which would generally give rise to income under Capital Gains or Other Income (Bank Interest or Dividends) under the Indian Tax laws.

I have tabulated the provisions that an NRI should be aware of for FY 2017-2018 (click on table to open in new window)

nri-capital-gains

 

One of the most interesting things to note is that the basic tax free exemption is not available to an NRI on Equity Investments.  What that means is that if an NRI gained 2,50,000 Rupee by investing in stock market the whole 2,50,000 Rupee is taxable. If these gains are long term (asset held for more than 1 year) then there is no tax liability but for short term gains the tax rate is @ 15%. So an NRI would pay Rs.37,500 in taxes, the income would not attract any tax in hands of a resident Indian.

Another interesting fact to note is that the gains on redemption of Sovereign Gold Bonds are not chargeable to tax if held till maturity.

With difference in tax rules being different in different countries an investor should consider the tax domicile of the investment to maximise returns. In Singapore and Hong Kong the Capital gains, Bank Interest and Dividends are not taxable, however in USA and UK these income are taxable.

For example if an NRI bought a mutual fund in India that returned 20% over a period of 6 months then his gains would be taxed at a flat rate of 15% resulting in a post tax return of 17%. Buying this same fund in Singapore would have been as the gains are tax free and the investor pays no tax.

Similarly for bonds the interest is taxable in India and taxed at the marginal rate based on your income bracket but tax free in Singapore and Hong Kong.

E.g . An NRI whose total income is over Rs. 10 lac (30% tax bracket) buys a bond that pays 9% interest p.a. The post tax yield of this investment would be 6.3% . Add to it the cost of transferring funds to India of around 0.8%, the yield drops to 5.5%. If the plan is to remit the money back to Singapore on maturity, which will cost another 1%, the investment would yield 4.5% only.

These are just 2 examples to get you thinking. There innumerable scenarios that I can come up with based on different countries of residence and each individuals tax profile. All I would like to highlight is that an investor should not underestimate the impact of taxation and ancillary costs while making investment decisions and look at all aspects before making an investment decision.

Watch out for an investment comparison tool that I am working and will post it here very soon. Till then keep reading and sharing.

To Pay-off or Not to Pay-off?

For the past few days we have been debating whether it makes sense to pay off a housing loan in India by taking a cheaper interest bearing loan in Singapore and following the suggestion of one of the readers I decided to make a post dedicated to housing loans.
Before answering the question of paying off a more expensive loan with a cheaper one in Singapore, let me list down some of the aspects that can influence the decision.

  1. An interest payment on a housing loan tends to be around 2 to 3 % higher than the interest that one would earn on a NRE FD.
  2. The principal payment on a Housing loan is deductible from taxable income upto a amount of Rs. 150,000 per annum.
  3. The deduction on housing loan under section 80 C is subject to the overall limit of 150,000 which includes payments made life insurance payments, PPF, ELSS, Tax saving fixed deposits etc.
  4. The deduction under 80C for housing loan is only for the principal paid in a given financial year and not the interest portion of the EMI paid. Which means that tax benefit on account of housing principal payment will increase gradually over the term of the loan.
  5. The interest paid on the home loan is deductible under section 24 of the income tax act and if you look at the table below it would gradually decrease over the period of the loan. This interest is deductible upto Rs. 200,000 per annum.

Adding benefits under section 24 and 80C one could theoretically deduct Rs. 350,000 per annum of EMI paid subject to limits imposed by individual sections . Benefit under both sections is available to NRI’s.

The tax benefit can change over the period of the loan as the benefits under SECTION 24 and 80C can be revised as a part of the yearly budget exercise.

These tax deductions are beneficial only if one has taxable income for the year.

Another important factor to consider would be any penalty that your bank might impose for early repayment of the loan.

To help with further discussion, I have created the below widget where you can enter the amount of the loan, the interest rate, term of the loan and the year in which loan was taken to get the EMI and payment schedule (rounded to first integer).

If you observe then during the first few years one’s EMI mostly covers the interest payment and less of principal amount and the situation  reverses as the time passes by.

However the interest rate that one is paying remains constant throughout the tenure of the loan irrespective of whether it’s the first year or the last. By virtue of decreasing outstanding loan amount (principal amount) the EMI covers more of principal over time and helps pay off the loan.

Therefore it would be wise to take a cheaper loan in Singapore to pay off a expensive loan in India subject to:

  1. The total differential in interest rate is in favor of the cheaper loan.

E.g. If the current loan is at 9.6%, the loan prepayment penalty is 1%, the tax bracket in which the individual is 30% and total emi is less than 29k per month then the break even point for the new loan in Singapore would be a effective interest rate of 5.72%

2. If the person is in a lower tax bracket or has no benefit by way of deductions from housing loan then the break even point above would be 8.6%

3. The individual taking a personal loan in Singapore or any other country has relative certainty of continued cash flow or employment for the tenure of the loan.

Also one should remember that the loan repayment (interest and principal) of the loan taken in Singapore or any other country does not qualify for any tax rebates in India.

Other factors like expected future exchange rates, anticipated changes to tax laws, whether one has a fixed rate loan or floating rate facility and outlook of interest rates can also be considered but the more variable one adds the more complicated the decision making process will become.

In Singapore you can avail a personal loan upto 4 times your monthly salary. So if both husband and wife work you can get a bigger loan.

Citibank, in my experience tends to offer best rates for 6 months personal loan (if you have been a regular customer). Dbs and HSBC tend to offer the worst rates from what I have heard from acquaintances. Loans longer than 6 months tend to cost more from banks and tapping into into family, friends or Bullion backed facilities are other good alternatives.

The bottom line is that an expensive loan should always be paid off or replaced by a cheaper loan. The same applies if your investment yields less than the cost of home loan then sell off your investment  and reduce your debt first- remember every penny saved is every penny earned.

IRFC Tax Free Bonds Open Today!!

IRFC (Indian Railway Finance Corporation) Tax Free Bonds have opened today and are probably the last TAX FREE bond issue for the year. There is no provision in the budget for 2016-17 for any tax free bonds and any new issue in the next year is extremely unlikely.

Additionally, this is the only issue in 2016 to date for which NRI’s are eligible.

Salient features:

Issue Date – 10th Mar to 14th Mar

Issue Size – Rs. 2450 Crore, of which 60% is reserved for retail investors ~ 1470 crore rupee

Eligibility – both NRI’s and residents

Coupon Rate – yearly interest rate of 7.29% for its 10-year option and 7.64% for the 15-year option to the retail investors investing less than or equal to Rs. 10 lakh

Rating – AAA from CRISIL, ICRA and CARE

There is a very high likely hood that the issue will get oversubscribed in the Retail segment on day one, anyone looking to invest should make an application today.

The current SGD to INR exchange rate is 48.20 offered by DBS Remit. I just made my application and would be looking for capital gains of appx. 15-20% on these bonds over the next 2 years.