Expert Zone

Straight from the Specialists

Was the repo rate hike necessary?

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The decision of the U.S. Federal Reserve to delay tapering its bond purchases cheered markets, and more so in India because they were convinced of a second bonanza from the RBI. But new Governor Raghuram Rajan gave the markets a jolt by turning hawkish and increasing the repo rate.

The gains of the previous day following the Fed meeting were nearly wiped out and the rupee, which was steadily crawling towards 60 to the dollar, also fell back. The only reason why the RBI increased the repo rate was the revival of inflation, which had dropped to less than 5 percent in April-June.

That trend was reversed in July and accelerated in August when the WPI climbed to a six-month high.  That must have led the governor to turn cautious.

It is true that interest rate as a matter of policy has to be higher than the rate of inflation. In other words the real rate of interest (inflation rate minus interest rate, repo in this case) has to be positive. In the past 20 months, real repo rate has been positive except in two months – August and September 2012 – when inflation was over 8 percent.

NSEL crisis puts spotlight on conflict of interest

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

The ongoing National Spot Exchange Ltd (NSEL) payment crisis has highlighted the need for better regulation of commodities exchanges and increased transparency in corporate governance.

Indian markets at risk but elections could spell change

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

It’s been an eventful September so far for India. The Indian parliament cleared key economic legislation in its extended session. The Reserve Bank of India saw a new governor taking charge. FII flows reversed trend to turn positive in equity and debt markets. Volatility in the currency market subsided and the rupee staged a recovery from historic lows. Near-term bond yields shrank and the August trade deficit came in lower as exports climbed. The Syrian crisis seems to have abated. Does this mean that the worst is behind us and things will start improving?

As discussed in my previous column, some of these actions from the Indian government and the central bank seem like quick fixes to set right deteriorating macroeconomic numbers. India’s Q1 GDP is now at 4.4 percent, much lower than expected, and FY14 GDP growth is expected to be below 5 percent. The rise in interest rates on account of the central bank’s measures to lessen currency volatility will definitely affect GDP growth in the remaining three quarters. Monthly IIP and PMI numbers are not encouraging either. Both WPI and CPI inflation are not yet stable. Headline inflation soared to a six-month high in August. Input costs for the consumer staples basket are set to rise due to currency depreciation, which could have an impact on consumption volumes. On the oil subsidy front, rupee depreciation has again increased per unit under-recovery on diesel, kerosene and cooking gas. The urgent need for a substantial increase in diesel prices could eventually have a dampening impact on growth.

India Market Weekahead – Volatility expected ahead of RBI policy review

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After a rally of 500 points on the Nifty, markets consolidated at slightly higher levels to close at 5850 this week. It’s evident that hope keeps the market ticking — this time it was various measures by the new RBI governor, Raghuram Rajan,that cheered the markets.

But expectations, at times unrealistic, could lead to disappointment. Though Rajan made the right moves, it would be interesting to see how he uses the limited manoeuvrability he currently has. The monetary policy review on September 20 would be closely watched.

Raghuram Rajan and the rupee

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With Raghuram Rajan taking over as the governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), it’ll make for a change in the central bank’s policy perception.

His predecessor Duvvuri Subbarao used conventional methods and got no results. It is likely Rajan will opt for innovative means and his initial steps are already showing results. It’s evident that the complex problems of today demand out-of-the-box solutions.

Asian bonds: rising discrimination

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Ever since reports emerged that the United States might taper off its bond-buying program, emerging markets have whipsawed: falling currencies, rising rates and fleeing funds. India and Indonesia have been two of the most affected countries in Asia.

The Asian dollar bond markets have also been affected by the fear of tapering. On the one side, longer-term bonds have lost substantial value as U.S. interest rates have picked up. Additionally, investors have discriminated between bonds from vulnerable countries and those from stronger countries.

Time to brace yourself for a hard landing

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In his speech to parliament last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “The depreciation of the rupee and rise in dollar prices of petroleum products will no doubt lead to some further upward pressure on prices. The Reserve Bank of India will therefore continue to focus on bringing down inflation.”

By saying this, the economist in Singh seems to have won against the politician. This has also been a vindication of sorts for outgoing RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao.

India Markets Weekahead: Cash is king

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Around mid-week, the Indian markets seemed akin to a sinking ship which saw unabated selling with Nifty hitting a low of 5,168 on Wednesday, before recovering sharply to close the week at 5,471 on the hopes of concrete action by the government to shore up the sentiments and the Reserve Bank of India’s moves to save the rupee.

The street expected structural reforms from the government to tackle this crisis whereas the textbook solutions of the RBI and the government backfired. The rupee cracked to touch 69/dollar, but recovered to close the week at 66.55.

Asian financial crisis and lessons for India

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Several economists have gone to great lengths to say that India in 2013 is not facing a repeat of the 1991 balance-of-payments crisis or the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Clearly, the crisis India faces now is unique – as most economic crises usually are.

That does not mean there is nothing to be learnt from past crises. We believe there are several similarities between the Asian one and India’s situation today.

The rupee on a crash course

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Given the kind of volatility in financial products and asset classes that we have seen in India and some emerging markets over the last few weeks, it’s likely to be a long winter for the Indian economy.

The rupee is at an all-time low against the dollar, FIIs are big sellers in Indian debt and equity markets, the Sensex is falling and bond yields have risen. Adding to India’s misery, there’s no sign of inflation easing or interest rates coming down in a hurry. The twin deficits – fiscal and current account – are at levels that could expose the economy to a potential rating downgrade.

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