Thanks to the steady run up in the Sensex over the years, even though the rise is increasingly concentrated in a handful of stocks, there has been a steady increase in household investment in mutual funds. As a result, the assets under management (AUM) from small investors jumped to Rs 10 lakh crore in July 2018, or double that in July 2016. At an overall level, AUMs of mutual fund companies more than doubled to Rs 23 lakh crore in July 2018, from Rs `lakh crore in July 2014. Nor is this just due to the increase in the Sensex since the number of folios, too, rose from 3.95 crore in March 2014 to 7.46 crore in June this year.
Of this, the number of folios under equity-related schemes, where retail investors invest, is 6.22 crore. Individual investors are lapping up systematic investment plans (SIPs) as fund houses collected Rs 7,554 crore in June from 2.3 crore SIP accounts; a six-fold rise from the Rs 1,200 crore collected in June 2014 from 0.5 crore accounts.
Even investments in insurance are up, and the first-year premium, which is the lifeline of life insurers, rose 16.3% in FY18 on top of 20.9% in FY17 and 12.3% in FY16. And there has been a surge in sales of linked products—in the case of SBI Life, these rose from 44% in 2012 to 67% in FY18, from 12% to 64% for Bajaj Life and from 56% to 84% for ICICI Prudential, indicating that individuals are willing to take some risk to earn higher returns in the long-term.
As a result of these shifts in investment behaviour, net financial savings as a percentage of total household savings grew from 31% in FY12 to 46.1% in FY16, before falling to 41.5% in FY17. While this, in a sense, takes the share of financial savings back to where they were in the mid- to late-2000s—the ratio was 51.8% in FY08—what has helped is the collapse in gold prices and the slowdown in real estate prices. While gold prices were rising, from Rs 27,288 per 10 grams in Q1FY12 to Rs 29,965 in Q4FY12, gold demand rose from 212.5 tonnes to 278.2 tonnes. When gold prices fell to Rs 26,566 per 10 grams in Q4FY17, demand fell to 249.3 tonnes.
While it is possible the increasing financialisation of savings can take a hit if markets continue to rise in today’s narrow fashion, the government needs to look at ensuring uniformity in taxation across various forms of investment. Investments in EPFO, for instance, attract no tax while a fifth of the NPS corpus on retirement is taxed at the marginal rate; fixed deposits are taxed at the marginal rates, ULIPs have no tax while equity mutual funds pay a 15% tax if they have been held for less than one year and 10% if they have been held for more than a year.