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Mark Mobius says he's 'very much' concerned about populist promises ahead of Indian election

Key Points
  • India is headed for a general election in April or May this year and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a second term.
  • Prominent investor, Mark Mobius, says he's "very much" concerned that Modi's economic reforms may give way to harmful populist measures.
Mark Mobius, executive chairman at Templeton Emerging Markets Group
Richard Brian | Reuters

India is one of Mark Mobius' top investment picks for 2019, but the prominent investor admitted he's "very much" concerned that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's economic reforms may take a back seat ahead of the general election.

The national vote expected in April or May this year will see Modi seeking a second term in office. But his re-election not be an easy journey, especially after his Bharatiya Janata Party's setback in regional elections late last year: The BJP lost its stronghold on three key states to the main opposition party, Indian National Congress.

The Indian National Congress reportedly promised farmers — which form a large voting bloc in India — that it would write off their loans in order to win their support in the coming polls. Mobius said he's "very much" concerned that the Modi government would make similar populist moves, which would then derail reform plans and measures to keep India's fiscal balance in check.

"Now, we're holding our breaths to find out what Modi is going to do because if you want to get elected, you have to give something to the farmers," Mobius, founding partner of Mobius Capital Partners, told CNBC's "Capital Connection" on Tuesday. "So if this battle ... continues, it's not going to be very good for the budget."

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For now, Mobius said he still thinks India is one of the best markets to invest in. He said he sees "some very good opportunity" to invest in the country's non-bank financial sector.

Shares and bonds of companies in that sector faced a major sell-off last year over concerns that default rates were climbing, but Mobius said some non-bank financial firms would survive those challenges and grow stronger.

In addition to India, the investor said China is also an "incredible" investment destination. But the Asian economic giant could do more to open up to foreign investors, he said.

"We like to see more opening up so that we can go in and buy small and medium-sized companies freely in China on the A-share market. This is an example of where China can move more quickly and this could be in their interest because it means more foreign exchange coming into the country," Mobius said.