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An Investment Guide

Stock Markets Fall - Corporate FDs Rise
May 30, 2009 at 10:19 pm

At a time when stock markets zigzag, what would be the right investment arena? Corporate FDs or equities?

THE sharp fall in the equity markets has changed a lot of things including India Inc's fund raising plans. This, in turn, has changed investment avenues for retail investors. Till about a year ago, the only way for retail investors to participate in a company's growth was to buy equities either in the secondary market or invest in primary issues (IPO) or rights issue.

However, the primary market option currently is almost closed with the virtual drying up of the IPO market. Bearish sentiments and lack of investors' confidence due to wild volatility, on the other hand, has decreased the participation of investors in the secondary market. In such a situation, India Inc is now approaching the potential investors through fixed deposit (FD) schemes.

In fact, FD schemes are not new to India Inc. Earlier, every major company had an FD department and it was considered to be one of the main sources of funding. However, this way of funding decayed slowly as it became easier for companies to raise funds through equity and quasi equity. Besides, equity has no direct servicing cost (except earning and dividends expectations of shareholders), where as interest on FDs is a fixed cost and that has to be paid in all circumstances.

The wheel has now turned a full circle and newspapers are now flooded with advertisements by corporate houses inviting public to entrust their savings with them. To make the deal juicer, most of them are offering interest rates that are significantly higher than bank deposits. But, how attractive are these corporate FD schemes? Do they score over bank deposits or other traditional sources of assured returns only because former offers greater returns? For many investors corporate FDs can be lucrative substitutes for bank deposits. They not only offer higher returns, but many of them also structured similar to a bank FD with facilities, such as premature withdrawal, cumulative accrual of interest, TDS (tax deduction at source) cut up to a certain limit (Rs 5,000) etc.

However, investors should know that bank deposits are insured up to a maximum of Rs 1 lakh per customer and the way banks are regulated in India, it is difficult for retail customers to lose their money.

In contrast, corporate deposits have no such insurance and the investor is solely at the mercy of the company and its financial fate. Given this, it makes sense to invest in corporate FDs that have high credit ratings and are known for their financial soundness and credible past performance. Though corporate FDs look riskier, they carry higher interest rates.

While most corporate FDs are currently offering pre-tax interest ranging from 7–12%, for 1-3 years tenure, interest rate offered by a bank is between 10.25% and 11% for a three-year period. For one year, banks are offering 8.5-9% and there is no TDS up to an interest income of Rs 10,000 a year.

So, is higher interest rate a tempting one to invest his money in corporate deposits? Or is equity investment in these companies still a preferred route? A comparison of the current dividend yields on the company's stock with post tax return on its FD will give an answer. The sharp fall in stock prices of most companies has led to a spike in the dividend yield, based on the dividend payout last year. Tata Motors, for instance, is available at a dividend yield of over 11% as compared post-tax FD return of 7.6%. Dividends are also tax-free in the hands of the investor. The only catch being that dividends are slave of earnings and they tend to rise and fall in line with profit growth. In the near future, market expects most companies to cut dividend payouts. However, as soon as profit growth resumes, dividends pay out will catch up and the stock prices also will begin to soar. This way, equity investors get the best of both the capital appreciation and cash flows in the form of annual dividends payouts.

But, if equity has its advantages, there are risks, too. The biggest shortcoming here is the market risk associated with equity investments. Equity is a risk capital and returns are a function of external macroeconomic environment.

FDs, on the other hand, are relatively riskfree and, in most cases, post-tax returns from FDs are much higher than the tax-free dividend yields. The risk here, however, is that of creditworthiness of a company. Meanwhile, fear of the company defaulting has become prominent after the Satyam fiasco. But, in such cases, default applies to both debt and equity investment.

Investors are thus advised to go for well known companies that have a strong and credible standing in the market. Unlike a bank FD, where high interest rates usually dominate the investment decision over the choice of bank, the integrity of the company should be given the highest priority in case of corporate FD. A few basis points should not matter, for the assurance that the capital is in safe hands.