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Don't ignore tax-saving mutual funds in a beaten-down equity market
February, 21st 2012

Investors are shunning equity-linked savings schemes (ELSS), or tax-saving mutual fund schemes, this tax planning season, say investment advisors. According to them, investors have invested a measly Rs 200 crore in the first four months of the tax saving season, which starts from October to March.

A lacklustre stock market, attractive returns from alternative investments in debt and the 'confusion' about the status of ELSS after the implementation of Direct Taxes Code (DTC) have contributed to investor apathy towards these schemes, which served as the introduction to stock market for many retail investors. Though investors' decision may look solid from the short-term perspective, they may be letting go of a chance to create wealth in the long-term by eschewing tax planning MFs, say investment experts.

"Those who have been investing in these schemes regularly through SIPs (systematic investment plans), as part of their financial plans, have been continuing with their investment. But those who invest lump sum in these schemes at the last minute as part of their tax planning strategy are not enthusiastic about them anymore," says Hemant Rustagi, CEO, Wiseinvest, a wealth management firm.

"However, more than the subdued market and better debt options, it is the confusion about the DTC which is really bothering investors."

According to experts like him, investors are in a quandary as they don't know for sure whether DTC would be implemented next year or whether ELSS would find a place in the final list of investments that qualify for tax deduction under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act. As per the original proposal, ELSS won't qualify for tax deduction after the introduction of DTC. However, there are unconfirmed reports that the MF industry is lobbying for the continuation of the benefit to ELSS.

"It is a huge problem. Since most people are not sure whether ELSS would continue to exist next year, they are hesitant to make fresh investments in them. Also, since the stock market hasn't given any meaningful returns in the short term, it is difficult to convince them otherwise," says a mutual fund advisor. According to investment consultants, the rebound in the stock market in the recent past hasn't boosted investor sentiment.

A Case for ELSS Investment

"The smiles are back on many faces in the market, but the market has improved very fast. There is still some confusion about the future course of the market," says Mukesh Dedhia, director, Ghalla & Bansali Securities, a wealth management firm.

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