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Sovereign Wealth Funds – Can you invest in them?

  • Akshatha Sajumon
  • 20 Feb
  • 6 minutes

Sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) are investment vehicles that are initiated and managed by the government. These are mainly established to invest abroad for achieving certain predetermined macroeconomic objectives. In recent times, SWFs and the associated assets globally have attained exponential growth. India too has witnessed a significant growth in SWFs, especially since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Within the list of thirty-two FPIs that are invested in India, the SWF growth story has seen these rank fourth among foreign portfolio investors (FPIs). These investment vehicles have expanded their footprint to include real estate markets and also debt instruments.

What do Sovereign Wealth Funds mean?

A sovereign wealth fund (SWF) is a pool of assets, also known as social wealth funds, managed and controlled directly or indirectly by a country’s government. Their source of funds includes natural resource revenues that are state-owned, bank reserves, trade revenue surpluses, etc.

They are usually government-owned entities that invest in overseas debts and equities markets. These wealth funds are established to attain a variety of objectives like diversifying assets, generating better returns on revenue, promoting industrialization, encouraging strategic and political alliances, etc.  The past few years have seen significant growth in SWFs mainly due to the rise in revenue generated by oil-producing nations.

What are the different types of Sovereign Wealth Funds?

Sovereign Wealth Funds can be categorized as:

  1. Stabilization funds
  2. Reserve investment funds
  3. Public benefit pension reserve funds
  4. Savings or future generation funds
  5. Strategic Development Sovereign Wealth Funds (SDSWF)
  6. Funds aimed at specific industries like emerging or distressed segments
  7. Foreign currency reserve assets. (These funds may not be classified as SWFs as per certain definitions and segregations)

Latest developments in SWFs in India

With the rising growth of SWFs, the Indian government has identified an opportunity to increase foreign direct investment in the country through these funds. Starting from 2020, the government introduced a 100% income tax exemption for SWFs and also introduced rules on how to avail them.

In November 2020, the Central Government of India notified that the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (UAE’s SWF) became the first fund to receive this exemption under the Income Tax Act, 1961. The government also expedited the SWFs application procedure to complete it within two months from its receipt.

What are the tax exemptions available to SWFs in India?

To promote investments coming from foreign SWFs in certain key sectors such as infrastructure, the Central government, in the Union Budget of 2020, proposed various incentives for SWFs. The proposal included a 100% tax exemption on income generated through dividends, long-term capital gains, and interest earnings from SWF investments in the country.

As part of The Finance Act, 2020, the new exemption is available to qualifying investments made by foreign SWFs in specified infrastructure businesses. The criteria is that the investment should be made during the period of 1st April 2020 to 31st March 2024 and held for at least three years. 

The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) of India later expanded the meaning of ‘infrastructure’ to include sectors such as energy, sanitation, transport, telecommunication, social and commercial infrastructure (example, hospitals, tourism, educational institutions, etc.), water, etc. Also included in this are various sub-sectors that are part of the Harmonised Infrastructure Master List that was updated in 2018. 

Currently, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and all other notified SWFs along with notified pension funds are permitted to avail of this exemption.

India’s infrastructure wealth fund

India’s very own SWF is the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (“NIIF”). This fund was established to invest in the country’s infrastructure, mainly to fund commercially viable greenfield projects. It may not be an SWF as per the term’s definition since it sources funds from other sources instead of the Government of India. However, the government too invests some money in the project.

The Indian government has been unable to set up a pure SWF that invests in the best investment opportunities across the globe. This is mainly due to political reasons since the government is unable to prioritize profits and focuses on investing the surplus towards social needs. Funds like NIIF are the closest possibility to an SWF in the Indian context.

As per the latest updates, NIIF focuses on investments towards highway development and clean-energy projects. It aims to raise funds amounting to Rs. 40,000 Cr of which 50% is expected to be provided by the Indian government. Abu Dhabi Investment Authority is also said to have committed USD 1 Bn in the NIIF. 

Benefits of SWFs

Here are some of the positive aspects about SWFs:

  • A country that primarily relies on natural resources and experiences resource drainage can supplement its earnings with the help of SWF.
  • An SWF may help in countering recession and promote government spendings.

Things to consider before investing in SWF

Some of the points to consider for investors considering an investment in SWFs are:

  • The returns from SWFs may not be guaranteed and investors may also incur losses.
  • Foreign exchange rates can impact the fund performance.
  • Since these are mostly government-funded, there is usually a lack of transparency. This may result in mismanagement of the funds.

Conclusion

Sovereign wealth funds are currently not available for investment by retail investors in India. However, just like the global markets, the Indian markets too are witnessing a steady growth in these investment vehicles. Therefore, retail investors can hope to explore these avenues in the near future.

FAQs

  1. Who regulates NIIF?
    NIIF is a state-owned sovereign wealth fund and is therefore managed by fund managers appointed by the government of India.
  1. Who is the investor in NIIF?
    Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) became the first-ever international investor in the NIIF’s master fund. The Indian Government holds a 49% share in the NIIF.
  1. Where does the Indian sovereign wealth fund, NIIF invest?
    NIIF master fund along with DP World invested in the logistics and ports sector. Additionally, it also invests in transportation, water, waste management, renewable energy, to name a few.
  1. Do sovereign wealth funds follow an investment philosophy?
    NIIF, which is an Indian sovereign wealth fund, follows an investment philosophy that includes, commercial, collaborative, and sustainable investment process.
  1. Can I invest in a sovereign wealth fund?
    Retail investors currently cannot invest in sovereign wealth funds in India as it is currently not open for investment from public.

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Akshatha Sajumon

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