$30 Billion Wiped Off Indian Stocks as Doubts on Tax Linger
Flames burn a pile of leaves. (Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

$30 Billion Wiped Off Indian Stocks as Doubts on Tax Linger

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(Bloomberg) -- It’s an old saw of India’s budget documents -- the devil lies in details of the fine print.

A higher surcharge on wealthy Indians in the budget has spooked non-resident and overseas funds enough to erase 2.3 trillion rupees ($30 billion) in market value from companies in the S&P BSE Sensex in the three sessions since budget through Tuesday.

The reason: the realization that the new tax rate applies not just to the super rich but also to trusts -- a structure of choice for a large number of foreign funds that invest in the nation.

The proposal “seems to have inadvertently” dragged foreign portfolio investors into the tax net and must be clarified by the government, said K.R. Sekar, a partner at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India LLP.

$30 Billion Wiped Off Indian Stocks as Doubts on Tax Linger

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech Friday proposed to increase the surcharge from 15% to 25% for those with taxable incomes of between 20 million rupees and 50 million rupees, and to 37% for those earning more than 50 million rupees. This takes the effective tax rate for those two groups to 39% and 42.74%, respectively.

Global and non-resident investors participate in India via non-corporate trusts and the so-called association of persons or AOPs. Problem is, the structures are treated on par with individuals for tax purposes. That has led to concerns about the levy being applicable to foreigners at a time when the nation has emerged as Asia’s biggest destination for equity money in 2019.

“An investment vehicle -- such as a category III alternative investment or an FPI -- taxed at a fund level is likely to get affected as the income may easily exceed 50 million rupees,” said Vaibhav Sanghavi, co-chief executive officer at Avendus Capital PBC Markets Alternate Strategies LLP in Mumbai. Alternative investments, such as hedge funds, which use complex trading strategies, are classified as category III by the markets regulator.

The government on Tuesday said it is not specifically targeting overseas investors, who have an option to convert their trust structure into a corporate entity to avail of a lower tax rate available to such category, the Mint newspaper reported, citing a senior government official it didn’t name.

Converting the investment vehicles into companies isn’t easy, Deloitte’s Sekar said. Global funds also look for stability in tax rates while assessing an investment destination, he said.

“The clarification from the government isn’t encouraging and India should relook at FPI taxation not only from stock market angle, but also from the perspective of stability,” Sekar said.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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