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Limited avenues for alternative investment: Shiv Gupta

Tania Kishore Jaleel/Mumbai 23 Nov 12 | 12:54 AM

People have been making more inquiries about US equities these days. It will have to be seen if this will emerge as a new trend in the next 12-24 months, Shiv Gupta, managing director, RBS Private Banking, tells Tania Kishore Jaleel. Edited excerpts:

With market sentiments slightly positive, has there been any change in investment patterns? Have people started moving their money from debt instruments to equities?
Investors haven’t really started allocating large chunks of their assets to equities. Having said so, there is certainly a growing level of confidence towards equities and you can start feeling the change in investor sentiment - the level of optimism has gone up and people are having more conversation concerning equities.

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People are definitely thinking about moving their positions to equities slightly and to a certain extent this interest is getting reflected in the market as well. Having said that, these are early days, and there are some who are looking at taking this as an opportunity to exit as they had entered a little earlier.

So discernibly, you are not likely to see a sudden big shift towards equity allocation across the whole composite. The notion that things are getting into the recovery mode has to take a firmer hold and that typically takes a longer time. I see this more of an initial stage for clients and investors, where they are moving from a position of no conviction to a situation where there is positive anticipation on how things will pan out.

In the absence of good returns from equities, are your clients looking at investing in innovative asset classes?
There has been a growing aversion to risky asset classes and it is more skewed towards fixed income products. Therefore, that pattern has been there. With regard to innovative investments, one has to take it with a pinch of salt. India is a market where the breadth and depth are limited by local regulations. Alternative asset classes are skewed; be it real estate or gold. There is a limitation with regard to the number of avenues that one has. Real estate is something Indians have cultural affinity for, even when it comes to private equity. This has remained constant. Having said that, even when it comes to real estate, there are limitations with regards to liquid options.

What about investing abroad? Is that something your clients are considering?
The extent of the usage of the liberalised route available to investors, to invest in offshore investments, has been lower than one would have liked to see. People are still of the view that there are greater structural opportunities here. However, there are early signs of opportunities in American equities.

People have been inquiring more about US equities and people acting on these enquiries have slowly started creeping in. It’s yet to be seen if there is a whole scale trend that will emerge and this we will have to judge this in the next 12-24 months. We might see a slightly different investment pattern emerge then. This is just the starting point. US is the largest market in terms of market capitalisation and some of the companies listed there are the most visible, so people have an understanding of it. People do ask about emerging markets too, but US equities are top on the list.

What kind of clientele does RBS have in India?
Our clients are entrepreneurs and senior professionals and our target are people with one million pounds (Rs 8.8. crore) investable surplus. With regard to our India operations, I’d like to think we are in a good position. India is a strategic growth market for the wealth division of RBS. That means there is a focus on growing India for the long term. In light of that we have been investing in India for the last few years and have seen positive results. Our team size has grown by 60-70 per cent over the last couple of years. We have around 100 people in our wealth team across four branches. We have seen client asset liabilities grow 50 per cent this year.

Lately, RBS has been in the news globally for the wrong reasons. Has this made clients jittery in any way?
RBS has a solid strategy for India and our commitment to India remains unchanged. It is our third largest market in terms of the number of people. Clients have a lot of confidence in the direction that we are headed across business lines whether it is private banking, markets and international banking or business services.

What sectors look good given the current economic scenario?
We like healthcare, consumer staples and IT (information technology) while interest rate-sensitive sectors are gaining attention with reversal in the interest rate cycle round the corner.

By when do you think interest rates will start to soften?
With the recent improvement in the fiscal policy action, which RBI (Reserve Bank of India) has been awaiting for a while, we could see the easing cycle kick off in the fourth quarter of this calendar year. We expect 25 basis points (bps) easing in the current quarter and another 50 bps in the first half of the next calendar year. However, in the near term, with further improvement in the interbank liquidity and low credit demand lending, market rates are likely to ease.

Investors will look at RBI for cues. Clearly, over the next few quarters, rates are expected to fall. So, with regard to fixed income; investors should have allocation for longer duration products.

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