Issues with Fund performance in India

The Indian mutual fund industry has a very high number of schemes which has been another cause for concern for regulators. In 2012-13 there were a total of 1,294 schemes, while there were only 403 of them in 2004. A high number of schemes make the job of choosing a suitable scheme for retail investors difficult.  However, offering new schemes has been a marketing tool for many AMCs, and an easier route for garnering more assets. If some of them start launching new schemes frequently, others are forced to follow as they fear otherwise they would be perceived as inactive or not aggressive by investors. The regulator has been asking fund houses to rationalize so many offerings, and offer limited number of them which are truly different from each other. Some success was achieved in this regard in 2008 and 2009 when number of new schemes launched went down significantly. However, that trend was short lived and high numbers of new schemes are again being launched since then. Too many schemes make choosing suitable scheme difficult. It is also interesting to analyze how different funds have performed over the years. One way of doing this is to compare the return given by a particular fund with respect to a benchmark index. If the fund beat the benchmark on a consistent basis, say for 1/3/5 year period, it can be said to have outperformed. The argument of active management of funds and charging of fees for that purpose is justified in such cases. If, on the other hand, a fund fails to beat the benchmark index, then an investor is better served by investing in an index fund (which has lower fees being a passively managed fund) tracking the benchmark index. Since December 2009, S&P and CRISIL periodically publish a scorecard, titled “S&P CRISIL SPIVA”, comparing the performance of Indian mutual funds with appropriate benchmark indices during various time periods. Here we aggregate findings from four such reports published in December (H2) 2009, June (H1) 2011, December (H2) 2011 and June (H1) 2012, and plotted in the figure (each column in the figure indicates the proportion of funds that have failed to beat corresponding benchmark). We have selected two types of equity funds (large cap and diversified) and debt funds. We have also added a 50% (red) line for easier interpretation of what proportion of funds have outperformed; 50% being associated with the probability of two outcomes for a fair coin toss. The following observations can be made:
  • A large proportion of firms has failed to outperform the corresponding benchmark for each year and for each time period considered.
  • Debt funds have done relatively better; they have outperformed the benchmark indices more times compared to other two types of funds on a consistent basis. Except for one case (1 year, H1 2009) they are well below the 50% line.
  • The two types of equity funds on the other hand have performed poorly over time.
  • In a large majority of cases (18 out of 24) over 50% of them have failed to outperform the corresponding benchmark. Large caps have performed worse (11 out of 12 cases above the 50% line) compared to diversified funds (7 out of 12 cases). This implies if an investor was to choose a fund from each of these two categories, a toss of a fair coin on average would yield better result than seeking advice from a fund manager.
mf_performance Amidst several debates and discussion on entry load and distributor incentives, the issue of underperformance of mutual funds is often lost. However, this is one concern that should receive the most attention from all stakeholders. Unless mutual funds start offering better returns and outperforming benchmark indices on a regular basis, it will be difficult to attract investors to this industry regardless of number of schemes, geographic reach or entry load.

Entry Load Ban and its Impact in India

India’s mutual fund sector has traditionally been dominated by investments from the institutional investors, namely banks and financial institutions, non-financial corporates and foreign institutional investors. However, mutual funds are primarily vehicles for retail investments. Retail investments accounted for 51% of India’s mutual fund industry AuM in 2012-13 growing from 43% in 2008-09. While the growth in share may be due to a temporary decline in institutions’ share, retail investments has grown continuously in recent years. More importantly average holding period has gone up in recent years. The practice of charging mandatory entry load was abolished by SEBI to reduce churning, since distributors would encourage investors to prematurely terminate their investments and make new investments as that gave them more commission. Since equity funds earned the highest commission, we analyze the changes in average holding period for equity investments from retail investors. It can be seen that proportion of investments held for over 2 years has gone up, for both retail investors and HNIs. This has come largely at the cost of investments held for between 1 and 2 years. The share of investments held for less than one year has remained more or less same during this time. This is perhaps due to the fact that distributors would typically not ask investors to churn their investments within a year of investment, but afterwards. This trend therefore suggests that the abolition of entry load has indeed resulted in investors holding on to investments for longer duration, and thereby engaging less in churning. holding period We discuss this and other key issues pertaining to the Indian Mutual Fund Industry in a new report.

Evolving Business Models in India’s Mutual Fund Industry

The Indian mutual fund industry has been going through turmoil in the last few years due to uncertain market conditions and regulatory changes. Many firms, predominantly foreign ones, have exited the industry since 2008. Existing asset management companies (AMCs) are exploring a number of different models to counter the challenges and stay competitive in the evolving regulatory and competitive environment. The dominant theme that is emerging in the industry is that of formation of partnerships and alliances. This can be gauged from the rising share of private sector joint venture companies that are predominantly Indian in recent times, as discussed earlier. The fusion of global best practices from international partner and local know-how of domestic players is creating good synergy. Some recent examples include partnerships between T Row Price and UTI, Schroders Plc and Axis Bank, Nomura and LIC mutual fund. Realizing the importance of scale in this industry, some firms are taking the inorganic route to grow quickly through acquisition. Along with growth of AuM in a short time, firms try to achieve other strategic objectives as well through this approach. Thus L&T’s acquisition of Fidelity’s business not only increases its asset share, it also increases composition of equity funds in its portfolio, and thereby raising the potential for fee-based revenues. Similarly Goldman Sachs acquisition of Benchmark, the earliest and leading provider of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) in India, allowed the firms to gain foothold into the fast growing ETF segment. Some bank sponsored mutual funds are trying to focus on distribution through parent bank branches. Though they are not opposed to third party distributors selling their products, they are not actively exploring that channel. Some international asset managers have exhibited interest to tie up with such banks to garner market share in this way. Partnership between Union Bank and KBC Asset Management is one such example. While typically 50-60% of equity funds are sold through parent branch network in case of bank sponsored mutual funds, the aim of such initiative is to sell 80-90% of the funds through parent bank’s network. However, the foreign partner needs to be careful regarding its choice of bank partners, as we have seen having large branch network does not guarantee easier access to more assets. Mutual fund business clearly has to be a strategic focus for the partner bank. Bankers in general are not very aggressive about mutual fund business, as most of their time and resources are spent on helping banking clients with normal banking services. Margins from banking services are higher than mutual funds in many cases, and therefore sales of mutual funds are often not given adequate focus. Instead of forming strategic alliances, in some cases fund houses have tie ups with banks just to distribute their products. For example, Birla Sun Life, HDFC, IDBI have such agreement with Syndicate Bank. However, this approach has achieved limited success so far. Moreover, if the bank itself is a sponsor of mutual funds, there is clearly conflict of interest, which fund managers need to keep in mind. Observing the increasing shift from transaction based to advice based model of the fund business, some firms have initiated or strengthened their portfolio management services. This is primarily targeted towards the higher end of the mass affluent segment and the HNI segment, as they are usually big ticket investors, have needs to manage a broad portfolio, and are more likely to pay fee for advice. It should be mentioned that India does not have a well-defined wealth management industry, and this initiative has a lot of overlap with the provision of wealth management services. HNI segment traditionally has turned to the international banks in the country for wealth management services which helped them with offshore investment opportunities and international best practices. However, the domestic asset managers are increasingly moving up the value chain and making inroads in the wealth management space. It needs to be said even though a number of AMCs has started offering this service, only a few of them (e.g., Kotak, ICICI) have been successful. Some Indian AMCs are now taking the next step of garnering investments from international investors by opening offices in international locations like New York, London, Singapore, Japan and the Gulf countries. Earlier they would pay high commission to foreign distributors in local markets to sell their products; now they are trying to be in charge of distribution themselves by opening offices in those locations. This way they save on paying commission, and also benefit from high margin of managing international investors’ money. While the ambition is to cater to the entire gamut of international investors, NRIs are more likely to provide early in-roads for success. Here again, some firms are looking at prospects of strategic partnership with foreign fund houses to gain quicker traction in foreign markets. Examples include UTI’s plans of launching offshore Shariah funds in the Gulf region. Some of the other leading AMCs are also planning to go international. Improving operational efficiency is an area that has not received much attention, but can be a cost saver. Indian financial firms have traditionally lagged in the adoption of technology and processes that increase efficiency of operations. However, this situation has somewhat improved in recent times with the banks and brokerages increasing their use of technology. For banks the driver has been regulations, while competition from foreign brokerages has forced domestic brokerages to adopt latest technology. Unfortunately there is no such driver for the AMCs. Firms need to give this aspect more consideration than they have given in the past.