A Huge Global Opportunity

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This seems like an opportunity served up on a platter.

India has opened up its stock markets to individual foreign investors. And this is over and above foreign institutional investors (FIIs), which already have access to the world's second-fastest developing economy. In hindsight, the move doesn't really come as a major surprise. But will this be beneficial to individual foreign investors at large? I believe so.

Details, details
The Reserve Bank of India has thrown open the gates to individual Qualified Foreign Investors (QFIs) who can now invest up to 5% of an Indian company's paid up capital with the aggregate QFI limit capped at 10%. Earlier, retail investors could only access the markets by indirect means such as mutual funds.

Is the news worth the hype?

A historical perspective
To put things in perspective, let's take a look at how FIIs were viewing India in the past decade. From 2000 to 2011, net average FII inflow stood at $7.6 billion per year. This is despite the fact that there was a net outflow of nearly $12 billion in 2008, followed by another $357 million in 2011.

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However, the flow once again reversed in January with net FII inflows a little over $2 billion. Which brings us to the question: Is this the right time to enter the Indian market? Well, that depends on the perspective.

Numbers don't lie
The Indian economy grew at a robust 8.5% for the fiscal year ended March 2011. A Goldman Sachs report, published in 2003, suggests that the Indian economy could leapfrog from its current 10th position to become the third-largest, after the U.S. and China, in 30 years. That's the kind of long-term potential we're looking at.

On the flip side, other analysts think this isn't really the best time to enter the Indian market. The National Stock Exchange 50-stock index, popularly known as the Nifty, which tracks 50 stocks across diverse sectors, lost 22% in 2011. More bad news is expected this year. The World Bank forecasts a bleak 2012 for developing countries due to the European debt crisis and expects India's growth to slow down to 7% to 8% in the next couple of years. Also, the Indian government is struggling to tackle high inflation and a depreciating currency.

But that's where I see opportunity.

Perfect break
A cheap market trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of 18, coupled with the depreciating rupee, offers a rare bonus. The rupee fell to a 10-year low in December and the recovery has been painfully slow thus far. This is where investors should smell blood and go in for the kill. There couldn't be a better time to enter the markets.

After all, the long-term view is a different ballgame altogether. The young population and growing consumerism are going to ensure rapid growth for the next three decades, at least. The potential is huge. Period. Driven by spending, sectors such as infrastructure, power, and communications -- the very framework on which a developing economy rests -- should see significant growth.

For starters, the blue-chip stocks look like a good place to put your money. In infrastructure, cement majors Ambuja Cements and UltraTech Cements look solid. In telecommunications, Bharti Airtel is a runaway winner with Tata Communications (NYS: TCL) and Vodafone giving stiff competition. In the power sector, Coal India and National Thermal Power Corp. lead the way. Incidentally, Coal India is among the top five Indian companies by market cap. In the auto sector, Tata Motors (NYS: TTM) and Hero MotoCorp are leaders in the four-wheeler and two-wheeler categories, respectively.

Let's not forget the banking sector, the essential backbone of a developing economy. And that's where ICICI Bank (NYS: IBN) and HDFC Bank (NYS: HDB) will stand to gain.

Foolish bottom line
The opportunity presented to long-term Foolish investors looks massive. Of course, due diligence on each of the companies mentioned above is required.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Isac Simon does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article.Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of HDFC Bank and Vodafone Group. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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