FPI, or Foreign Portfolio Investment, is a method of investment which allows the investor to hold significant assets in a foreign country. In most cases, an FPI comprises of several types of assets including bonds, stocks and ‘cash equivalents’. Cash equivalents may include Government-issued Treasury and Savings Bonds, T-Bills, Marketable Securities and ‘Money Market Funds’.

Together with FDI or Foreign Direct Investment, FPIs present one of the easiest ways to invest in a foreign country. Unlike FDI, the investor does not have direct access to, or control over, the assets of the company in which they have invested.  FPIs are thus categorised as indirect and hands-off investment techniques meant solely for greater returns. 

Outside the boundaries of theoretical concepts, both FPIs and FDIs are essential for a country’s economy. India, currently the world’s 6th largest economy in terms of nominal GDP in 2020, is ideally suited for more portfolio investors as it has witnessed a steady growth ever since liberalisation in 1990. 

Besides, Indian stock markets have recovered better than equivalent institutions in other countries. There are fewer chances of market volatility as jobs pick up, and the economy opens up. These factors, plus a stable Government at the Centre, ensure that market volatility is pretty low.

Understanding FPIs Better

Unlike Foreign Direct Investments, portfolio investors do not wish to gain control of a company. Their primary aim is speculative profit. Around the world, the biggest and growing economies receive the largest chunks of investments via the FPI route because of a couple of reasons –   

  • A stable economy ensures that the speculation on the part of an investor pays off well. There are several factors which come together and form a dynamic economy. These include budgetary provisions, investment laws, taxation benefits, treaties with other countries on trade, etc.
  • Most Foreign Portfolio Investors will look to invest in countries which have a stable Government, a well-rounded bureaucracy and a diversified market. All these factors reduce the element of risk. The high liquidity of Foreign Portfolio Investment means that a lower risk factor is a crucial pre-requisite.
  • Developing or evolving countries like India and Brazil attract a sizeable amount of indirect investments via FPIs each year. India’s market is largely untapped and holds enormous potential. The Indian Government has already framed rules including merging NRI investment routes with FPIs and allowing the purchase of listed debt securities. 

That means foreign investors can now buy securities in such high-value government-backed entities like the Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) besides Infrastructure Investment Trusts (or InvITs).

There are several other aspects of Financial Portfolio Investment. A steady inflow of such investments indicates a robust stock market. Global analysts follow these developments with care as they signify the current economic status of a country.

Finally, FPIs offer investors the freedom to diversify their portfolio internationally. A portfolio investor can also take advantage of exchange rate differences. Thus, an investor from an economically challenged country can invest heavily in a foreign country which has a much stronger currency, thereby making sizeable profits.

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FPIs and FDIs: A Comparison

There are several substantial differences between these two channels of foreign investments. The major ones are as follows – 

  1. An FDI, by default, establishes a tangible and direct business interest in the target country. This ‘interest’ could be anything from a single warehouse to managing a company remotely. An FPI does not entail any such hands-on business interest. It is a passive form of investing.
  2. Unlike FDIs, a Financial Portfolio Investment does not require any transfer of IP, technology or know-how. There is no need to enter a joint venture with a partner company.
  3. It has been noted that Foreign Direct Investments comprise of significantly larger sums and any tie-ups or operations tend to last longer than portfolio investors.
  4. Lastly, FDIs are usually the domain of major players in the industry, venture capital ecosystems and investment branches of globally-recognised financial institutions. Most Financial Portfolio Investment examples include smaller players who invest in a foreign country’s assets and securities for short-term profits. 

Recent Foreign Portfolio Investment Examples in India

According to the latest figures available publicly, FPIs have regained their confidence in the Indian economy after months of lockdowns, job losses, erosion of funds and stock market disappointments. 

Between November 2nd and 6th 2020, FPIs have pumped in around Rs. 8,381 crores in India’s markets, a clear indication that most investors believe India’s economic recovery will be faster than most western countries. 

The equity segment received just above Rs. 6,000 crores while the rest went into debt segments. 

This influx of funds was a marked departure from October 2020 when most Foreign Portfolio Investment entities were net buyers. A weak US dollar has also helped in restoring investor confidence.

Before the pandemic hit every major economy, India’s markets were still receiving a steady flow of funds from FPIs. According to data obtained via the National Securities Depository Limited or NSDL, India received more than Rs. 1.36 lakh crores as FPI by December 2019.

If the current trend continues, India may soon become the preferred destination for portfolio investors.

Pros and Cons of FPIs

FPIs have several advantages and disadvantages. The most common ones include the following –

FPI advantages FPI disadvantages
Helps companies raise significant capital without incurring massive expenses. Economic turmoil and political instability may have a negative impact on any investment via the FPI route.
Investors can gain substantially from exchange rate differences. Markets in any country are inherently volatile. Despite the fluid nature of FPIs, losses may pile up if funds are not withdrawn hastily.
FPIs help investors diversify their portfolio, which, in turn, boosts their confidence.
FPIs inevitably move towards larger markets with lower competition. This combination is rather attractive to any investor.

In conclusion, two points must be pointed out. Analysts estimate that Foreign Portfolio Investment levels of the second-half of 2020 will be minuscule when compared to the same period in 2019. As more European countries head into uncharted territory with renewed lockdowns, investors will be hesitant to pour in too much funding regardless of sector.

Lastly, India will receive a significant portion of funds via FPIs. It is believed that all investments will be sector-agnostic. The RBI’s and the Finance Ministry’s recent steps will also help India become an investment hotspot in an otherwise lackadaisical scenario.