CEA says funding vacuum created would be filled up by investors from other countries
The total FDI inflow into India in the first five months was $35.73 billion.
Chief economic adviser (CEA) Krishnamurthy V Subramanian on Wednesday favoured greater scrutiny of both direct and indirect Chinese investments, indicating that the government will likely step up monitoring of fund flow from Hong Kong, a close proxy for Beijing.
Conceding that such curbs may impact funding for start-ups in the short term, Subramanian, however, exuded confidence that the vacuum will be filled up by investors, especially private equity funds, from other countries.
Tighter scrutiny will curb the possible diversion of Chinese investments through Hong Kong.
Responding to a question if indirect investments from Hong Kong will also be subject to a treatment akin to Press Note 3 (under which FDI from China and other bordering nations requires government approvals), the CEA said: “Investments that are coming from across the border, from the country with which we have tensions right now, need to be scrutinised, and those include not just the direct but also indirect ones.”
It’s not immediately clear if these curbs could be extended to foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) as well, in which case the implications will be much larger. Currently, there are 111 registered FPIs from Hong Kong and 16 from China. FPIs are among the biggest drivers of the Indian financial markets, as net FPI inflows in 2019 stood at $18 billion.
Speaking at a Ficci event, Subramanian also highlighted the need to ensure bankers are not pulled up later for honest business transactions in the course of resolution of toxic assets under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, especially on the critical issue of haircuts.
“There is always a possibility of hindsight bias, which can create enormous risk aversion. If a decision is read as a possible mala fide intent, that can also make bankers skittish in being able to take that judgment,” Subramanian said. He also called for the creation of a market to discover the price of distressed assets.
As for greater monitoring of Chinese investments, India on April 18 tightened its FDI policy to curb “opportunistic acquisitions” of domestic firms that saw a massive crash in valuations after the Covid-19 pandemic. It stipulated that all FDI proposals from bordering nations would require government clearance. Importantly, the notification also covers any transfer of investments or future FDI resulting in beneficial ownership falling with firms from the bordering nations, including China.
FDI from Hong Kong stood at $4.51 billion between April 2000 and June 2020, or close to 1% of the total, while that from China touched just $2.41 billion during this period, or only 0.5% of the overall inflows. Nevertheless, given the low valuations of Covid-hit Indian firms, such investments were expected to surge, especially in sensitive sectors.
A Chinese embassy spokesperson in Delhi had in late April said his country’s cumulative investments (including FDI) in India exceeded $8 billion as of December 2019.
Also, according to a recent report by researchers Amit Bhandari and Aashna Agarwal, Chinese tech investors have put an estimated $4 billion into Indian start-ups. Over the five years ending March 2020, 18 of India’s 30 unicorns are now Chinese-funded. “TikTok, the video app, has 200 million subscribers and has overtaken YouTube in India.
Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance rival the US penetration of Facebook, Amazon and Google in India. Chinese smartphones like Oppo and Xiaomi lead the Indian market with an estimated 72% share, leaving Samsung and Apple behind,” the report said.