Mutual Funds as an investment avenue won the confidence of investors in 2021 with the industry adding a staggering Rs 7 lakh crore to their asset base during the year on the back of buoyant equity markets and a bunch of large new fund offerings (NFOs), but the new year could be tricky depending on the Omicron situation and possible interest rate hikes. While it may not be an easy money environment in 2022, some experts are hopeful that the impact of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus may not be as severe as those witnessed in the first two waves of the pandemic.
The AUM of the mutual fund industry grew by 24 percent to an all-time high of Rs 38.45 lakh crore in 2021 by November end itself, from Rs 31 lakh crore at the end of December 2020, data available with the Association of Mutual Funds in India (Amfi) showed. Vidya Bala, co-founder of Primeinvestor.in, believes that the final mutual fund AUM figure at December-end may settle a bit lower or flat with a consolidation round currently being underway.
There could be some outflows from debt funds on account of advance tax payments in December, said Himanshu Srivastava, Associate Director Manager Research, Morningstar India. The 45-member mutual fund industry’s AUM had seen a relatively lower growth rate of 17 percent in 2020. Also, the year 2021 would mark the ninth consecutive yearly rise in the industry AUM after a drop for two preceding years.
The investor count is estimated to have grown by a whopping 2.65 crore during the year. In 2020, a little over 72 lakh folios were added. While 2020 was a year marked with stock market corrections and high liquidity requirements of individuals and companies due to Covid-related uncertainties, experts believe that the negative impact of the pandemic was less in the year 2021 and inflows have shown a bounceback.
Swapnil Bhaskar, Head of Strategy, Niyo (neo-banking fintech for millennials) said that the primary reason for impressive growth in the asset base is high liquidity in the market which was driven by a lenient monetary policy across the world and increasing participation from the retail investors at the domestic level. In addition, asset management companies (AMCs) launched more than 100 NFOs offering different investment ideas, which further led to the surge in the AUM, Quantum Mutual Fund CEO Jimmy Patel said.
The growth in the AUM has also benefited from mark-to-market because the industry has a meaningful portion of equity, said Radhika Gupta, MD, and CEO at Edelweiss Asset Management. Mutual funds saw net inflows of Rs 1.93 lakh crore in 2021 (till November). This included Rs 71,600 crore into equity schemes and Rs 14,500 crore into debt schemes.
As interest rates have been moderating, investors are looking at options beyond traditional avenues. Further, increased awareness about mutual funds has helped in boosting participation by retail investors in the mutual fund industry, Amfi President A Balasubramanian said. Equity-oriented mutual fund schemes have seen a net inflow of Rs 71,600 crore in the year, marking a multi-fold jump from Rs 9,410 crore of the net inflow seen in 2020.
Equity schemes have been witnessing consistent net inflows since March 2021. Before that, the category saw net outflows to the tune of Rs 46,791 crore for eight straight months from July 2020 to February 2021. Srivastava said that the correction in the market at the start of the second wave of the pandemic was the trigger for investors to make a comeback into equity-oriented mutual funds.
”Vaccination drives conducted across the nation and ease in lockdown restriction enabled the economy to rejuvenate and promote trade, leading to a bullish stock market. As the repo rate was slashed in May 2020 to a historic low and has remained unchanged since then, it has led investors to confide in equity instruments too,” said Priti Rathi Gupta, Founder, LXME. Pleasingly, markets have continued their upward movement since March, thus boosting investor sentiment. This also prompted investors to invest more rather than missing out on the opportunities.
Further, rising equity markets and weak returns in traditional investment avenues like bank FDs (fixed deposits) and real estate are the other factors for investors getting attracted to equities, Quantum Mutual Fund’s Patel said. Going into 2022, Primeinvestor.in’s Bala said that inflows into equity will be entirely driven by whether the market will rally or not. Any correction can trigger outflows so the call will be to watch for interest rate moves, the global outcome from the same, and its impact on Indian markets.
”There are some factors which could impact the flows in the near term for equities. One of the major factors would be how the Covid scenario pans out going ahead with respect to the Omicron Variant of coronavirus. The third wave of the pandemic, if it sets in, could be another issue and may trigger some profit booking,” Morningstar India’s Srivastava said. He said that except for some temporary hiccups, there is a low likelihood of investor interest going down on equity-oriented mutual funds.
SIPs or Systematic Investment Plans, which have been the bedrock of mutual funds flows for many years now, have seen a collection of Rs 1.03 lakh crore, way higher than Rs 97,000 crore mobilized in 2020. The monthly contribution from SIPs rose from Rs 8,023 crore in January to a record high of Rs 11,005 crore in November.
The numbers suggest that investors have gradually started to appreciate the concept of disciplined investing which can be achieved through SIPs. Amfi’s Balasubramanian believes that investors will continue to invest through SIPs given the simplicity, convenience, and attractive performance in the long term.
On the other hand, debt funds, often considered as a safe bet, were not the highlight of the year as investors explored other investment avenues over them, anticipating an interest rate risk. The segment witnessed a net inflow of Rs 14,500 crore in 2021. Bala said that 2022 could be a year of entry into debt if yields harden on increasing prospects of a rate hike.
With a net inflow of over Rs 4,500 crore in 2021, Gold Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) continued to attract investor attention throughout the year, and that too was when equity markets picked up the pace. This points towards investors liking the yellow metal as part of their investment portfolio. Gold, with its superlative performance over the last few years, has attracted significant investor interest and the consistent surge in their folio numbers is a testimony of the same.
This year, the folio numbers in Gold ETFs have surged from 8.87 lakh in December 2020 to 29.3 lakh in November 2021. In 2022, the category should see continued interest amid sticky inflation and the Federal Reserve attempting to catch up to it, possibly disrupting growth and markets,” Quantum MF’s Patel said ”That said, tightening of monetary policy by the Fed will be supportive of the dollar and US yields, which will be a headwind for gold. The conflicting forces will keep gold in a consolidation mode for some time making it conducive for investors to accumulate gold,” he added.
During the year, markets regulator Sebi has taken a host of steps for the industry including a two-tier benchmarking plan for mutual fund schemes, introducing silver ETFs, and in the process of putting in place disclosure for mutual fund schemes with the ESG (environment sustainability and governance) theme. Industry experts believe these measures would bring in greater transparency, which will help investors build more confidence around mutual funds and make informed investment decisions.
However, one circular which is debatable is Sebi’s framework on the alignment of interest of key employees of AMCs with unitholders of the mutual fund scheme. The framework takes away the freedom of financial planning besides drastically imbalances the cash flow planning done so far, Patel said.
”Every mutual fund offering comes with a risk disclosure – and the ’skin in the game’ is not a proven way to reduce the risk for the investor or increase the certainty of a better outcome. It will severely affect the ability to attract and retain the talent of smaller AMCs,” he added. The new year may see a couple of new mutual fund companies coming into the market and such firms will focus on filling the gaps in the market by bringing new products, Niyo’s Bhaskar said.
”We expect global diversification and passive investing to continue to be emerging and sustainable trends,” he added.