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.

Indian Rupee – Real star or …

It’s a very interesting phenomenon every time SGD INR falls – people panic and there is a flurry of questions on SGD INR’s future. To me this anxiety is similar to a house owner checking on the market rate of the house they live, every week, and feeling sad if the latest transacted price in the neighborhood went down or celebrating if it goes up. In reality, this is just perceived loss/profit and is irrelevant unless the person is trading in properties and regularly buys and sells them for a living.

Anyway, leaving perceptions aside, lets look at how Indian Rupee has really performed against major currencies in the past 3 years before I turn my focus to SGD INR.

inr-summary

The Rupee has fallen against USD and JPY, against Chinese Yuan and Singapore Dollar its a flatline and the gains against EUR and GBP are not because Rupee has fundamental strength against them but because the 2 currencies have weakened due to their own issue – ECB monetary stimulus and Brexit vote respectively.

Also worth highlighting is Rupee’s inherent volatility where it went from 68/69 against the US dollar in Aug 2013 to 58 around Election time in 2014 and is back up at 67 mark – all in a matter of 3 years (refer comparative 1, 2 and 3 year charts at the end)

There is no doubt that the Rupee has been pretty stable in the past few months and the RBI has done a fantastic job of curbing the volatility in the face of BREXIT, expected US fed rate rise, Increasing Oil Prices,Redemption of FCNR deposits and escalating tensions with Pakistan.

But have the rupee or economic fundamentals changed to much in past few months? -I don’t think so.

India still imports 80% of its crude oil and as oil prices go up they would put a strain on the current account, the goods manufactured in China are still way competitive both in terms of cost and quality (maybe that’s why rupee is following the Yuan trajectory) and the NPA situation with Indian banks is still worrisome and could result in market turmoil.

Investing in NRE FD’s has generated stable returns depending on when one invested, refer – (https://adityaladia.com/2016/02/11/you-would-be-out-of-money-80-of-days-if-you-transferred-money-to-india-in-2015/) and would slowly stop being an attractive avenue as the interest rates in India go down.

Now coming to SGD INR, the current weakness is mostly due to flurry of bad news (or expectation management as I call it) on the economic and employment front. I have always maintained that the MAS is pro-active and lets the SGD adjust quicker to the market events as compared to what RBI allows or can allow with the INR.

All the expected or known negatives are already priced into Singapore Dollar and any other movement would be due to fed rate decisions. Even after the news of GDP missing estimates the SGD only fell around 1% which is very normal in the current volatile markets.

On the other hand there are a lots of factors for the Indian Rupee that needs to be priced in – merger of banks due to NPA’s, challenges for exports due to relatively strong rupee – China and other ASEAN countries, increase in crude oil prices, looming fed rate increase and of-course any escalation on the international borders with Pakistan.

As with the answer to keeping money in Singapore Dollar or remitting to India, the response is unique to every individual depending on their investment portfolio, diversification, cash flows and risk appetite.

48 would act as a very strong support and do factor in the cost of transferring money into India and remitting back, the cost of loan (if you are taking one) and tax obligations if you invest in property or stock markets when making any such decisions and don’t get stuck on specific numbers – transferring money at 49.80 is just as good as transferring at 50.

————————————————————————–
INR performance – past 1 year

inr-1-year

INR performance – past 2 year

inr-2-year

INR performance – past 3 year

inr-3-year

Cash rate of INR better than spot in Arcade

It’s hard to believe but it is true. Some money changers are offering a cash rate of upto 49.80 for 1 sgd in arcade building (raffles place). 

The current spot is around 48.40 which means if you go to these few money changers you gain around 2.5% over spot. 

How they are able to do this is beyond my comprehension but it’s true. I changed some money, checked on notes and everything is legit (atleast to my eyes) 

So if you are looking to change some money for upcoming travels to India then do grab this opportunity. 

SGD INR crosses 50!!

Finally the SGD INR RATE crossed 50, it’s taken 3 years for the pair to return back to this level and there is more appreciation to come.

In Aug of 2013 the Rupee was battered to all time lows and the RBI had a new Governor in Raghuram Rajan in September. The fiscal situation looked bad then with oil at all time highs and political uncertainty in India. With some bold policy moves (NRE FD’s and FCNR scheme) and good luck (falling oil prices) the RBI was able to reign in the fall and stabilize the foreign reserves situation.

But with global uncertainty in form of referendum on Britain’s exit from EU, the trajectory of Fed fund rate increases and increasing oil prices exit of RBI governor could not have come at a worse time.

The FCNR deposits of 3 years back are due for redemption between Aug and Nov of this year which would be a 20 billion USD outflow of reserves. Gold and Oil prices have bounced back from all time lows which will add to India’s woes.

If Britain decides to exit the EU then the global uncertainty will increase and any foreign firm will reevaluate their overseas investment plans which will include India.

What is most surprising is that a RBI governor who has been dead correct in warning the other federal reserves that cheap money policy is not a cure to global financial woes and has been instrumental in stabilizing the Rupee and control inflation is being let go due to political reasons – just because he decided to disagree with the government and force them to make the right policy changes he is being penalized.

Anyway the damage has been done and I would not be surprised if Rupee hits the 75 mark against the USD by November this year and if that happens SGD INR will be at 55.

However in the short term a range of 49 to 52 would be seen. For today I expect intraday volatility where after the initial fall RBI will try to stabilize the Rupee though a gradual fall in coming weeks should be expected as the international event unfold.

….. And remember 52 is not far away.

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.

 

Tax Free Bonds: Better than NRE FD’s

image

Yes, you read it right! Tax free bonds are better than NRE Fixed deposits.

After all these years of recommending NRE FD’s as the safest bet for investing in India, I am changing my recommendation to Tax free bonds (in no particular order) by IREDA, NHAI, NABARD, REC and HUDCO.

Lets compare the bonds to the NRE deposit

1. NRE Fixed usually give the highest rate for a lock in of 2 or 3 years and are averaging between 7.8% to 8.2%, which means that the reinvestment on maturity would be at the prevailing interests rates.
2. NRE deposits have a penalty in case of pre mature withdrawal
3. Interest on NRE deposits is tax free

A Tax free bond on the other hand is giving a 7.64% for a period of 15 years (NABARD which opens tomorrow – 9th Mar 2016) in retail category (less than 10 lacs) or half a percent lesser for amounts exceeding 10 lacs.

You must be wondering why am I recommending the bonds when they give lesser interest and are tax free like the NRE FD? The Central Bank interest rates across the world are going down and India has already had a few rate cuts which makes these Bonds attractive. As the interest rates will be reduced the value of these bonds will increase (capital appreciation) . These bonds are more liquid than a FD as they are traded on the stock exchanges which means that one can sell the bond without incurring pre mature withdrawal penalty in case of FD. Further for a slightly lesser interest rate these bonds let you lock in a higher interest rate for next 15 years.

If this has not convinced you then let me tell you the most important reason why I am recommending these bonds – interest on NRE FD’s becomes taxable if a NRI returns to India. Depending on the individual residency criteria in section  6 of the Income Tax of India on return a NRI becomes a Tax Resident in 6 months to 2 years, upon which the NRE accounts are converted to a Resident Rupee Account, which means that any interest that accrues on your NRE account after you become tax resident becomes taxable.

These bonds on the other hand assure tax free income for next 15 years from the date of allotment.

Now the fine print – not all bonds are open to NRI’s for investment, however if you have a resident bank / brokerage account you could use that to apply for these bonds and / or purchase them from open market and benefit from capital gains and long term tax free interest income.

You would be “Out of Money” 80% of days if you transferred money to India in 2015

The last few days of Chinese New year holidays allowed me to spend some time on SGD INR analysis. I always had a feeling that transferring money to Indian specially with a view to play on the interest rate differential would not have been beneficial in the last year and I had to test my feeling against some actual numbers.

image

I took the average investable Tax Free NRE FD rate as 8% and cost of transferring money as 1%. The interest that someone could earn in Singapore was taken as average of 2% (DBS Multiplier, OCBC 360, UOB One or some money market funds) which brought the effective interest rate differential as 6% (8% – 2%).

There might be a few of you who could have got slightly better NRE FD rates and also managed a better transfer rate, however in my observation banks or transfer services usually charge anywhere between 0.8% to 1.5% as remittance fee. This fee could be charged as a out right fee or built into the exchange rate that they offer you. Similarly I took the cost of transferring money back from India as 1% as well though people tell me it can be close to 2%. I have personally never transferred money from India so just went in with the 1% charge.

The result of number crunching vindicated my gut feel  – there were only  39 days in 2015 (around 11%) which provided a better return if someone transferred money to India, invested in NRE FD and transferred it back to Singapore as compared to keeping money in Singapore and starting to transfer to India once SGD INR crossed 47.50.

Interestingly of those 39 days 12 were in Jan 2015 and remaining between 24th April to 22 May and few in mid June.

The number of days went up to 62 (around 20%) if the person decided to leave money in India instead of bringing it back but the period of transfer remained in first half of the year.

Anyone who panicked and transferred money since July would be “out of money” based on today’s DBS remittance rate of 48.50 (Market rate around 48.90).

Of-course the rates can and will change in the coming days and a few more days of 2015 might become “In the money” but I would rather transfer around 48 than at 46 – it translates to gains of around 5%.

SGD INR 2015

 

 

SGD INR crosses 48!

image

The SGD strengthened to 1.4150 against USD overnight and that has pushed SGD INR to 48.02 mark. I am expecting INR to strengthen when the Indian markets open around 11:30 am Singapore time.

If you are looking to transfer money today then the next 2 hours is a good time using DBS Remit. The offered rate is 47.57 and is expected to fall down once the Indian markets open.

Disclaimer: These are my views and not investment/financial advice. I bear no responsibility for any decisions made by readers.

SGD INR stuck in a range?

Its been a few months since I wrote about the pair as most of the discussions were in comments to previous posts, but today’s MAS decision warranted a new post.

There were ripe speculations that MAS is going to ease the monetary policy (which it did) and Singapore is headed for a technical recession. The economy expanded by a modest 0.1% much against the consensus of a contraction of 0.1%. The immediate impact on the exchange rate was a modest gain from 1.4025 overnight to 1.3960 as I write.

One would question that why has SGD strengthened even though the policy has been slightly eased? There are various factors at play:

  1. The expectations of a USD rate increase this year are negligible. I would be surprised if the Fed raised the rates in Dec when the volumes are thin due to holiday season. My personal view is that it was a missed opportunity in Sep and Fed should have increased the rates but that’s a different topic of discussion.
  2. SGD had fallen all the way to 1.43 in anticipation of easing, but recovered slowly over the past week with rest of the regional currencies. If one looks at the bigger picture then Indonesian Rupiah has appreciated by around 9% against the USD and Malaysian Ringgit has firmed up by around 6% in past 10 days. The key words for me from the MAS policy statement is “slow the pace of local dollar’s gain”

MAS will continue with the policy of a modest and gradual appreciation of the Singapore Dollar Nominal Effective Exchange Rate (S$NEER) policy band. However, the rate of appreciation will be reduced slightly. There will be no change to the width of the policy band and the level at which it is centered, saying it would seek to slow the pace of the local dollar’s gains versus its trading partners.

Both Malaysia and Indonesia are key trading partners for Singapore and a greater than 5% jump in their currencies diluted any chance of SGD depreciation. The intent of MAS Is clear – it wants SGD to be slightly stronger than its trading partners.

Now if one looks at INR it appreciated very quickly in after the US job reports from the comfort that no fed hike is on the cards. It was good news for FII’s who can pump money in Indian Bonds and earn good interest rate. Many mistake this as FII investment in India because if one looks at the economic indicators they don’t look very good – be it industrial production. agriculture produce or job growth.

I have said this many times and would repeat again – the sooner INR falls towards 70 the better it is for India. The Indian exports are declining due to competition from other countries with weaker currencies and the day fed hikes the interest rate INR could dip 2-3% overnight and that is not a pleasant shock for the economy.

Anyway for now no major events are scheduled in the coming months other that the results of the BIHAR elections. I believe irrespective of the outcome the Rupee is scheduled to fall post-election results. If BJP wins there would be a knee jerk appreciation which will fizzle out as the economic data and realities will take center stage. If BJP looses then Rupee would immediately fall from a sentiment perspective.

So for the next few weeks I expect SGD INR to be range bound between 46-48.

Save, Invest & Grow Your Wealth

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: