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EPFO engages with Finance Ministry to reinvest ETF funds in equities

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In the 231st Meeting of the Central Board of Trustees of Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO), held on July 29th and 30th, 2022, the proposal for an amendment in the POI for increasing the allocation of investible funds in equity-related instruments under Category IV from 15% to 20% was withdrawn. The retirement fund body EPFO believed that there should be more detailed deliberation on the proposal before going ahead to amend the EPFO's pattern of investment to increase the allocation of investible funds in equity-related instruments to 20 percent, given the volatile nature of the stock markets. At present, EPFO can invest 5 to 15 percent of the investible deposits in equity or equity-related schemes. The EPFO currently manages an investment corpus of Rs 12.53 lakh crore, with approximately Rs 1.25 lakh crore invested in equities and related instruments. The move, if approved, would increase retirement funds' flow into equities and improve stock market liquidity.

In a written reply to Lok Sabha, Minister of State for Labour and Employment Rameshwar Teli said, "FIAC, a sub-committee of CBT and EPF, has recommended for the proposal to increase investment in equity and related investments in category IV of the Pattern of Investment from 5–15 percent to 5–20 percent for consideration of CBT and EPF."

Recently, it has been reported by media outlets that the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) has begun discussions with the finance ministry to reinvest all redemption proceeds from exchange-traded funds (ETFs) back into the stock market. The EPFO has too proposed several changes to its ETF investment strategy, including allowing daily redemption of ETF units and linking the return threshold to government securities. Once the finance and labour ministries agree on the proposed changes to the ETF investment guidelines, the retirement fund body will submit the final proposal for approval to the finance ministry.

In June 2023, EPFO added 17.89 lakh members on a net basis, an increase of around 9.71 percent over the previous month of May 2023. According to the data, the age group of 18–25 years made up 57.87 percent of the total new members added during the month. This indicates primarily first-time job seekers joining the organized sector workforce. Approximately 12.65 lakh members exited but rejoined EPFO, switching jobs and rejoining establishments covered under EPFO. Gender-wise analysis of payroll data indicates that around 2.81 lakh female members joined EPFO for the first time. The percentage of female members joining the organized workforce has been the highest in the last 11 months, with a net female member addition of around 3.93 lakh.

Back in August 2015, the EPFO started investing in exchange-traded funds (ETFs) by putting 5 percent of its investible deposits in stock-linked products. Trade unions have opposed any investment in stock markets by the EPFO, as government guarantees do not back them. In the written reply, Teli also said the notional return on EPFO equity-related investments rose to 16.27 percent in 2021–22 from 14.67 percent in 2020–21.

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