Many investors have greeted with enthusiasm India’s plans to get its debt included in international indices such as those run by JPMorgan and Barclays. JPM’s local debt indices, known as the GBI-EM, were tracked by almost $200 billion at the end of 2012. So even very small weightings in such indices will give India a welcome slice of investment from funds tracking them.
What a difference a few months have made for Indian markets.
The rupee is 8 percent up from last summer’s record lows. Foreigners have ploughed $17 billion into Indian stocks and bonds since Sept 2012 and foreign ownership of Indian shares is at a record high 22.7 percent, Morgan Stanley reckons. And all it has taken to change the mood has been the announcement of a few reforms (allowing foreign direct investment into retail, some fuel and rail price hikes and raising FDI limits in some sectors). A controversial double taxation law has been pushed back. The government has sold some stakes in state-run companies (it offloaded 10 percent of Oil India last week, netting $585 million). If the measures continue, the central bank may cut interest rates further.
Indian markets are rallying this week as they price in an interest rate cut at the Reserve Bank’s June 18 meeting. With the country still in shock after last week’s 5.3 percent first quarter GDP growth print, it is easy to understand the clamour for rate cuts. After all, first quarter growth just a year ago was 9.2 percent.
The Indian rupee’s plunge this week to record lows will have surprised no one. After all, the currency has been inching towards this for weeks, propelled by the government’s paralysis on vital reforms and tax wrangles with big foreign investors. These are leading to a drying up of FDI and accelerating the exodus from stock markets. Industrial production and exports have been falling. High oil prices have added a nasty twist to that cocktail. If the euro zone noise gets louder, a balance of payments crisis may loom. The rupee could fall further to 56 per dollar, most analysts predict.
It’s been a pretty miserable 2011 for India and Tuesday’s collapse of the rupee to record lows beyond 52 per dollar will probably make things worse. Foreigners, facing a fast-falling currency, have pulled out $500 million from the stock market in just the last five trading sessions. That means net inflows this year are less than $300 million, raising concerns that India will have trouble financing its current account gap. The weaker currency also bodes ill for the country’s stubbornly high inflation.