Of the various investment avenues available to the public, the one that would have been the best from credit-risk perspective — government securities (also known as gilt-edged securities or gilts) — is conspicuous by its absence.
The reason is that the market is wholesale where the participants are financial institutions like banks, insurance companies, etc. Though, on paper, nothing prohibits an individual from entering that market, practically, it is out of bounds. The only security, issued by the government of India, available to retail investors is the 8% Savings (Taxable) Bond 2003, which has restrictions (it is not tradable in the secondary market and is not transferable) and the tenure is fixed at six years.
The government finances a large part of its deficit through market borrowings, i.e., by issuing government securities that are subscribed to by financial institutions. The SLR requirements of banks (currently at 23%) as well as the stable sovereign credit risk ensure there is no dearth of buyers at the auctions where these securities are sold. However, if the base is widened among retail or individual investors, there would be a deeper and widespread market for G-Secs. The SLR requirements of banks could be reduced, freeing up that much of funds towards loans to industry.
One way to popularize G-Secs among the retail/individual investors is to make it available as an easy-to-understand, investible product, like deposits, through banks and post offices. Prior to an auction, the RBI notifies, on behalf of the government, banks and other institutions for investments from their book, i.e., investible funds.
Similarly, banks can make G-Secs available to their customers, through notices put up at their branches or on their websites so that people can put in their bids. The lot sizes for putting in the bids can be small since the aggregate of those bids is likely to be a reasonably large quantum.
What is being discussed here is nothing exotic; the website of a large private sector bank states that “ABC Bank offers facility of non-competitive bidding for dated government securities, through which customers can buy government securities directly from the RBI. Participation in the scheme of non-competitive bidding is now open to individuals, HUFs, firms, companies, corporate bodies, institutions, provident funds, trusts and any other entity prescribed by RBI. The investors bid either in terms of the rate of interest (coupon) for a new security or the price for an existing security being reissued.
All the information required, such as maturity date of the paper and the size of the auction and the type of the auction (price based or yield based), will be made available to the customers in the banks’ branches. You can participate in the non-competitive bidding by filling the application form, which is available at our branches. Also an undertaking from the investor that he is making a single bid only is necessary as per RBI guideline.”
ABC Bank takes a nominal charge of 6 paise per R100 as commission for rendering the service to the investors. The commission will be built into the price of the security. After successful acquisition of the security, the customer can keep the security in his name in the Constituent Subsidiary General Ledger Account (CSGL) account of ABC Bank in RBI, or, get the security credited to his/her existing demat account with a depository participant.
The only issue with acquiring a G-Sec through the route discussed above is lack of liquidity in the secondary market for retail lots. As and when the retail investor base increases, the profit booking and cash flow needs of people will lead to demand and supply, which will automatically lead to trades in small lots. We have seen similar cases; the secondary corporate bond market is wholesale but there are retail trades in the SBI and tax-free PSU bonds that have a retail investor base.
The first step to popularise G-Secs is to incentivise, which can be done through tax breaks. If tax breaks can be granted for equity-linked savings schemes (ELSS) and bank deposits under the Income Tax Act, why not for G-Secs? To facilitate the process, Banks should guide/advise investors on the price/coupon at which to bid, or how to acquire G-Secs from the secondary market, so that the tax-break (if and when granted) is followed up with execution.
The way ahead
* One way to popularise G-Secs among the retail/individual investors is to make it available as an easy-to-understand, investible product, like deposits, through banks and post offices
* Banks can make G-Secs available to their customers, through notices put up at their branches or on their websites so that people can put in their bids
* The lot sizes for putting in the bids can be small as the aggregate of those bids is likely to be a reasonably large quantum
* The only issue with acquiring a G-Sec through this route is lack of liquidity in the secondary market for retail lots
* As and when the retail investor base increases, profit booking and cash flow needs of people will lead to demand and supply, which will automatically lead to trades in small lots
The author is senior vice-president, Advisory Desk, Fixed Income, BNP Paribas Wealth Management