Indian rupee slumps ahead of RBI review, more weakness seen

Mumbai, November 30

Heavy sales in equity and debt by foreign investors ahead of an expected Fed rate hike triggered a 2.4 per cent fall in the Indian rupee this month, the worst performer among emerging Asia currencies, pushing it to its weakest level in more than two years.

Foreign funds have sold a net $1.5 billion in bonds and shares so far this month, their biggest since August, marking a reversal from big purchases since early 2014 that had seen India outperform many emerging markets rivals.

The magnitude of the selling, and the impact on the Indian rupee, raise the stakes for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which is widely expected to hold rates on Tuesday, as central banks across emerging markets gear up for the US Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy as early as December.

Any impact from a Fed hike could be magnified by concerns that PM Narendra Modi’s government could face a deadlock in the current parliament session, stalling progress on key legislative Bills including the launch of a new Goods and Services Tax (GST).

“If there is some momentum observed on GST in ongoing winter session, that will certainly increase market expectation of reforms going forward and can potentially turn around sentiment on INR,” said Rohit Arora, an interest rate strategist at Barclays, Singapore.

The currency was headed for a fall of 2.4 per cent in November, bigger than all emerging units in Asia, and followed by a drop of 1.6 per cent in second-worst performer South Korean won, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Analysts warned the Indian rupee could test 68 to the dollar by late December, depending on the outcome of the Fed’s meeting on December 15 and 16 and the winter session of parliament on December 23.

Still, analysts said they did not expect massive outflows from foreign investors.

RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan has also expressed confidence about India’s sturdiness and has built foreign exchange reserves to a near record of $352.37 billion after ‘Fed taper’ fears sent the Indian rupee to a record low of 68.85 per

dollar in 2013.

“INR is still a favoured high-yielding currency across emerging markets,” Rohit added. “If you look at it from the fundamentals perspective, it is nowhere near the vulnerabilities that existed in 2013.”