NRIs: In 2023, would you keep your money in Fixed Deposits (FDs), Mutual Funds (MFs), stocks or bonds? Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Although bank fixed deposits (FDs) are often considered the most preferred investment avenue for Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) investing back home in India, there is no denying the fact that this landscape has been changing in recent years.

A survey by India-based fintech platform SBNRI highlights that around 25 per cent NRIs worldwide prefer to invest in low-risk conventional financial assets like mutual funds (MFs) while 20 per cent of them prefer to keep their money in FDs.

In the UAE, 24 per cent NRIs prefer to place a safe bet by investing in MFs as opposed to investing in FDs, while about 27 per cent NRIs in nations like Australia, China, Qatar, Malaysia, Germany, New Zealand and Kuwait also prefer investing in MFs.

"Traditionally, investing in mutual funds was difficult due to the heavy paperwork involved. Many countries also made these investments subject to their terms and conditions. However, the emergence of fintech has transformed the market landscape, taking the process online," wrote analysts at SBNRI.

Traditionally, investing in mutual funds was difficult due to the heavy paperwork involved

- analysts at India-based fintech platform SBNRI

Diversifying investments is key, even for NRIs

The golden rule of wealth creation and investments is to have a diversified portfolio of investments with the ability and flexibility to rein-in risks, which involves being proactive with your financial investments and taking steps in line with your long term investment goals.

“A significant overexposure to one asset class has the potential to erode wealth much faster compared to having a well-diversified portfolio. A typical example of this is bank fixed deposits,” explained Jose Paul, an India-based banker, who manages different types of NRI investments from across the world.

“In recent years, FDs have given very low returns as compared to their counterpart investments and their returns when adjusted for inflation have in fact been negative. Diversification is therefore the name of the game if you were looking for reasons as to why you should invest in India.”

So what asset classes are good for investments in 2023? The stock market returns in India were abysmal last year, delivering an average returns in the range of 4-5 per cent across asset classes (bonds, equities, real estate). However, the lingering doubt that comes to an investor is — will this trend continue?

Mutual Funds
In the UAE, 24 per cent NRIs prefer to place a safe bet by investing in MFs as opposed to investing in FDs.

2023, a year of positive investment returns for NRIs?

“I would at least bet that it will be a year of positive returns and my reasoning is fairly simple. If our hypothesis that interest rates will peak out are right, then the Indian economy should be able to deliver double digit earnings growth at least for the next two years – so should your investments,” added Paul.

“It would be safe to say NRI investors have developed a degree of faith in building long-term portfolios and stock investing is slowly becoming a part and parcel of an Indian investor’s way of saving money and thinking about long-term wealth creation.”

Majority of the experts think general investor sentiment will see an uptick in 2023 and the Indian stock markets performance will be stellar in key areas including banking, automobiles, real estate and company stocks.

“As a result of the fact that bond prices and yields move in opposite directions, there is enough room for investment-grade bonds and other instruments influenced by interest rates to rise in value next year,” said Brijesh Meti, an India-based advisor on investments and related taxes.

“But an increase in debt defaults would alarm investors looking to invest heavily in the fixed-income markets. In India, two of the most popular low-risk, fixed-income investments are corporate bonds and bank fixed deposits (FDs).”

What are corporate bonds? Can NRIs invest in them?
Investors who buy corporate bonds are lending money to the company issuing the bond. In return, the company makes a legal commitment to pay interest on the principal and, in most cases, to return the principal when the bond comes due, or matures.

An advantage of investing in corporate bond funds as compared to bank fixed deposit is that there is no tax levied in corporate bond funds investments whereas in bank fixed deposits, your interest income will be subject to tax at the rate of 10 per cent.
Stock - Indian Rupee
Majority of the experts think general investor sentiment will see an uptick in 2023.

How NRIs can best invest their money in 2023?

In stocks, Meti expects housing and banking to be crucial sectors in 2023 due to their improved outlook, while in real estate he expects affordable housing to get a further push in the upcoming 2023 India Budget. He recommends investors to avoid export-oriented themes when investing in stock markets.

“While the blanket rule is to invest in companies with good prospects, reasonable valuations, and sound management pedigree, I would also advise stock market investors to stay away from commodity manufacturing companies, at least in the first half of 2023,” Meti added.

On the other hand, if you’re not looking to buy stocks this year, Paul advises investors to look out for a good portfolio of bonds. (By buying a bond, you're giving the issuer a loan, and they agree to pay you back the loan on a specific date, and to pay you interest payments along the way, mostly twice a year.)

“For debt, investment-grade-rated instruments should be on top of the list. With interest rates at peak, it is a good time to lock in a yield for your safer debt instruments. In particular, look out for corporate bonds issued by established companies,” said Paul.

“There is a new stream of alternate asset classes like ‘lease financing’ and ‘inventory financing’, which are also providing investors with great risk-reward ratios and are helping mitigate the volatility of stock markets.”

What does it mean to invest in ‘lease financing’ or ‘inventory financing’?
Lease financing is an agreement between an asset owner who grants the other party the right to use the asset in return for a periodic payment and the other party who is the user of such assets. Lease investing is the process of investing in these contracts and generating a source of tax-free passive income.

Inventory financing is a short-term secured loan availed against stock-in-hand or inventory. NRIs invest tax-free in physical assets such as vehicles, equipment and furniture which are leased to corporates to earn profits.
crypto investment win
When it comes to investing in mutual funds, bonds, or directly in stocks, veteran investors would agree that the stock market would be a better bet for NRIs.

Verdict: Which investments offer better returns to NRIs?

“Mutual funds offer high returns when compared to the bank fixed deposit,” added Paul, while also cautioning that an individual should pick the fund houses as per the risk profile and financial objectives.

However, when it comes to investing in mutual funds, bonds, or directly in stocks, veteran investors would agree that the stock market would be a better bet for NRIs, especially if you were seeking higher profits, as opposed to let’s say bonds, which aren’t nearly as much profitable.

For stocks, Meti recommends going with large and mid-cap stocks, which are more value-based in nature than growth-based. “Companies with stronger underlying fundamentals (like earning capability and less debt) and less cyclical are expected to outperform in case of any unexpected turmoil,” he says.

How are large and mid-cap Indian stocks different?
Large-cap companies have a market cap of Rs200 billion or more. Meanwhile, the market cap of mid-cap companies is between Rs50 billion and less than Rs200 billion. Small-cap companies have a market cap of below Rs50 billion.

Meti also advises investors to focus on quality stocks, i.e., companies having growing revenue and growth prospects over momentum stocks. “Investors should also look out for USD and rate sensitive stocks as USD is expected to come down,” he added.

As to which stock market sectors will do well, Meti evaluates that infrastructure, speciality chemicals, and pharma could offer renewed investment opportunities this coming year. But if the comparatively higher returns of the stock markets are not enough to entice you, there are alternatives.

Some of the other safe investment plan options include the government-operated National Pensions Schemes, and insurance plus investment plans like ‘ULIPs’ or Unit-Linked Insurance Plans and Capital Guarantee Solution Plan (which absorbs any investment losses – albeit at a higher cost), to name a few.