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Monday, June 24, 2013 2:29 AM

Currency Stress Hits India: Rupee Near Record Low, Emerging Nations Face Capital Flight; Global Currency Crisis Awaits

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Numerous foreign exchange issues have simultaneously hit the global economy recently. Latest on the list is India where a Funding Strain Grows as Fed Outlook Hurts Rupee.

India faces growing strain to fund the widest current-account deficit in major Asian nations after the rupee slid to an all-time low on concern the U.S. will curb monetary stimulus as its economy improves.

The rupee touched the weakest level versus the dollar on June 20 after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said the U.S. central bank will probably taper bond purchases this year if the American economy performs as it projects. The potential for reduced stimulus exposes emerging nations from India to Indonesia and Brazil to the risk of capital outflows.

“The prospect of the U.S. unwinding stimulus means that funding the shortfall will get more challenging,” said Sonal Varma, an economist at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Mumbai. “Even if the deficit narrows, it will remain too high for comfort.”

The rupee, which touched an all-time low of 59.98 per dollar last week, fell 0.6 percent to 59.6475 as of 11:33 a.m. in Mumbai.

The currency’s 9 percent tumble this quarter is the worst in Asia, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. India is prepared to take action to reduce volatility as needed, Raghuram Rajan, the top adviser in the Finance Ministry, said June 20.

The imbalance in the current account, the broadest gauge of trade, is the biggest risk to an economy that grew a decade-low 5 percent in the year ended March, according to the Reserve Bank.

Foreign-direct investment in India fell the most in more than a decade last fiscal year, increasing reliance on stock and bond inflows to fund the shortfall.

Currency reserves stood at $290.7 billion as of June 14, Reserve Bank data show, about 9.4 percent lower than an all-time high of $321 billion in 2011. They “provide a cushion” against shocks, Fitch Ratings said June 12, when it boosted the outlook on India’s sovereign rating to stable from negative.

The currency won’t stabilize until the central bank is able to “recoup” foreign-exchange reserves, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a note, adding the monetary authority will try to “defend expectations” at 60 rupees per dollar for now.
Defending the Rupee

Just like Brazil defending the real,  India now feels compelled to defend the rupee. Good luck with that idea if capital flight takes off in a major way (and I suspect it will).

India does have currency reserves, but those can vanish in a hurry if things get out of hand. And if India does use currency reserves to defend the rupee, I rather doubt the India bond markets will take all that kindly to it.

Thus defending the rupee against further declines is easier said than done if the markets  have indeed soured on the country, and that is precisely how it looks now.

Global Currency Crisis Awaits

A global currency crisis awaits. I do not know what country triggers first. It could easily be Japan, China, Brazil, India, Australia, Canada, the UK, or any of many countries in the eurozone (as well as numerous countries not on anyone's radar).

This sad state of affairs is courtesy of mad central bank monetary policies coupled with inane can-kicking fiscal policies everywhere you look.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

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