It was close to capitulation in India’s bond and currency markets on Monday with the rupee crashing 2.8% to a new low of 63.13 against the dollar and the yield on the benchmark bond soaring to a five-year high of 9.24%. Equities lost further ground with the Sensex closing the day 291 points lower at 18,307.52, a loss of 1,000 points in two sessions.
The combination of a strengthening dollar driven up by expectations of an early tapering of quantitative easing by the US Federal Reserve and a thin local market characterised by low supply drove down the currency to new lows, increasing chances of a further hit to corporate balance sheets since an estimated 40% of corporate forex exposure is unhedged.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is understood to have stayed away from the currency market on Monday. The rupee has now lost 13.2% since July 15, when the RBI first attempted to tighten liquidity by clamping down on banks’ borrowings through the special window. The central bank has also initiated measures to check dollar outflows from corporates and eased interest rates on NRI deposits to attract dollar flows.
With the long-term sovereign yield now at over 9%, more than R15 lakh crore of bonds held by banks in their investment portfolios, is at risk of mark-to-mark losses. Short-term money also became more expensive — the R11,000-crore auction of 28-day cash management bills saw a cut-off yield of 12.2%, 70 basis points higher than that in the previous auction on July 25. With the cost of funds rising, banks are hiking their base rates: On Monday, Axis Bank raised its base by 25 basis points to 10.25%, following HDFC Bank which had upped it by 20 basis points to 9.8%.
The sharp depreciation in the currency notwithstanding, World Bank chief economist Kaushik Basu was confident these economic woes weren’t comparable with the problems the country faced in 1991. “Are we back to 1991? That is completely a non-question because if you just look at a couple of numbers, there is absolutely no comparison. Foreign exchange reserves in 1991 were down to