Investors flee debt funds as credit quality slumps to lowest in 16 months

Investors are fleeing from India’s debt funds at the fastest pace in a year as wariness mounts amid widening cracks in the nation’s credit market.

Monthly net outflows from the fixed-income funds jumped to Rs 1.7 trillion ($25 billion) in June, the most in at least a year, estimates provided by Morningstar Investment Adviser India show. The data include all types of debt funds that invest in corporate and government bonds of different maturities and that are sold to both individual and institutional buyers.

The outflux, partly driven by companies redeeming investments to pay quarterly taxes to the federal government, was accentuated by investors exiting funds holding riskier company debt, the data showed.

Cracks in the money market that started with IL&FS Group’s default last year widened in June after mortgage lender Dewan Housing Finance Ltd. delayed debt payments. The credit profile of Indian firms slumped to the lowest in 16 months, a Care Ratings index showed, as the cash crunch led to rating downgrades.

The risk-off mood is “partly fueled by a number of downgrades and defaults,” said Kaustubh Belapurkar, director of manager research at India unit of Morningstar Investment Adviser. “Any change in this sentiment doesn’t seem to be around the corner.”

Proposals made by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman earlier this month to soothe the frayed nerves may have little impact. The minister proposed a slew of measures to tighten the regulation of shadow lenders and to ease their liquidity squeeze.

“Still, outflows could continue for some time,” Belapurkar said. “It’s completely risk-off trade that’s happening right now.”