India’s rates traders are on the fence about a quarter-point rate hike on Thursday, even though a majority of economists are predicting one. Policy decisions this week from some of the Reserve Bank of India’s global peers offer a good reason for the split. While Australia’s central bank bolstered the case for global doves by calling a halt to its tightening cycle, its New Zealand counterpart emboldened hawks by opting for a larger-than-expected hike.
The RBI decision comes amid still-elevated inflation and economic growth that’s relatively stable but forecast to slow. Concern over a potential global banking crisis has eased but not gone away, while a rally in oil prices suggests further price pressures. India’s offshore swap curve beyond April and up to the nine-month segment is very flat, which points to market expectations for peaking of the policy rate after a hike in April, said Jennifer Kusuma, a senior Asia rates strategist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Singapore. Any rate-cut expectations beyond this point appear to be minimal, she said.
ANZ says overnight-indexed swaps are pricing in about 20 basis points of tightening for Thursday’s policy decision, based on its own calculations, while Nomura Holdings Inc. sees about 15 basis points. Barclays Plc says shorter-maturity swaps signal about a 60% chance of a 25 basis-point hike. “Considering that a hike hasn’t been fully priced in, one-year OIS could rise five-to-10 basis points in the event of a hike,” Duncan Tan, a strategist at DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore, wrote in a research note. The RBI’s liquidity management has become more important going into the last phase of its rate-hike cycle, according to IDFC First Bank Ltd.
“The banking system liquidity deficit is likely to increase during the April-to-June period,” said Pankaj Pathak, a fund manager at Quantum Asset Management Ltd. in Mumbai. “In the absence of liquidity support from the RBI, the short-term rate can move meaningfully higher.”
Treasury yields dropped last month as traders started to bet the Federal Reserve will cut rates this year as growth slows. This has widened India’s bond yield premium over the US, making the rupee more attractive as a carry target. A rate hike this week by the RBI would further burnish its appeal. India’s currency will appreciate to 79 per dollar by the end of the fiscal year in March 2024, stronger than the earlier prediction of 82, UBS Group AG said this week in a research note.