September 28, 2015

In Search Of Better Data

Each August, I look forward to RBI’s annual report. Within the limitations of my awareness and access, it is the only place to look for some data that I seek.  One of the tables that I look out for is the one that shows the changes across various financial assets held by the household sector.  While the annual Handbook of Statistics on the Indian Economy (HSIE), also published by RBI, carries a similar table, it is not as elaborate as the one in RBI’s annual report.  The table in HSIE clubs the data on mutual fund schemes with that on equity shares and bonds within the dubiously titled category of ‘Shares and Debentures.’  The table in RBI’s annual report, while maintaining that category, has historically given the details of the individual components.

Well, this August, I was disappointed.  RBI’s annual report had practically no tables of consequence.  I remember that something similar had happened a few years ago.  At that time, for someone seeking information on the change in the mutual fund holdings of the household sector, there was no alternative way of getting that data.  Eventually, the tables were restored in the annual report of the following year, and the said table was made available with the data of the previous year. This time around, the good news, if I may call it that, is that there is a crude workaround available.  Under SEBI’s instructions, AMFI now publishes the monthly AAUM across 5 different investor categories.  The changes in AAUM for Retail Investors and High Networth Individuals can act as a substitute for that number.

All of this, however, makes me wonder as to why are we so starved of meaningful data?  It’s been over two decades of existence in the so-called ‘post-liberalization era’.  Why are we still made to wear the shackles of the pre-liberalization era?  And each time I look at the said table in HSIE, I also wonder if this is how RBI looks at mutual fund schemes- as shares and debentures?  If so, why blame the masses for their ignorance?  As for AMFI, had it not been for SEBI’s instructions, I doubt if it would have ever seen it fit to release such useful data.  I wonder if the change at the top this time around will bring any real difference. 

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