Indian rupee at new low, stocks drop amid meltdown in risk assets

  • Forex
  • Friday, 20 Mar 2020

The rupee declined as much as 1.1% to 75.0562 per US dollar to go past the key 75 mark for the first time.

MUMBAI: India’s rupee weakened to a new low and stocks slumped anew amid a global meltdown in risk assets, with rising number of coronavirus cases locally adding to anxiety. Sovereign bonds also declined.

The rupee declined as much as 1.1% to 75.0562 per US dollar to go past the key 75 mark for the first time.

The S&P BSE Sensex index pared losses of as much as 7.5% to still trade at levels last seen in 2017, while the NSE Nifty 50 Index recovered partially from lows seen in the weeks after the government’s cash ban in November 2016.

Global funds have been seeking the safety of the dollar while fleeing stocks, bonds and other currencies, emulating a pattern that was the hallmark of the 2008 global financial crisis, as countries and policymakers continue to ramp up measures to contain the virus epidemic.

Foreigners have pulled a combined US$10bil from Indian shares and debt so far this month -- the biggest withdrawal since the US taper tantrum of 2013.

“Market sentiment is fragile, risk assets are under pressure and demand for US dollar remains strong by foreign investors, ” said Divya Devesh, head of Asean and South Asia FX research at Standard Chartered Plc. in Singapore.

“We expect more rupee weakness in the very near-term.” The currency had hit a record low of 74.5250 last Friday.

Traders say the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been using its record foreign reserves to stem the rupee’s decline.

The authority was cited selling dollars via state-owned banks in early trade via state-run banks, traders said.

On its part, the RBI provided US$2bil of dollar liquidity via a forex swap on Monday, and will provide a similar line on March 23.

The rupee may test 76.50 in the coming days and weeks, according to Abhishek Goenka, chief executive at India Forex Advisors.

“In such a risk-averse situation, when investors are unloading equities, bonds and currency, no level has any sanctity.”

Stocks recovered from the day’s lows amid optimism Prime Minister Narendra Modi may add to measures taken to contain the virus and sooth investor sentiment in his address to the nation.

“There are sectors that are vulnerable like aviation and hospitality and whenever Modi speaks there are expectations that something constructive would come out of it, ” said Gaurang Shah, vice-president at Geojit Financial Services Ltd in Mumbai.

“The question to ask is whether stimulus alone be the answer to this pandemic.”

Sovereign bonds also fell despite RBI announcing a plan to buy bonds via open market operations.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year debt was up 11 basis points to 6.41%. The central bank has been splashing the markets with liquidity in a bid to prevent hardening of yields and any credit freeze.

The “market meltdown is reviving the spectre of the GFC -- when the notion of safe asset shrinks dramatically, and equities, gold, and treasuries can sell-off in tandem, ” Edelweiss Financial Services Ltd economists including Kapil Gupta wrote in a note. “Policy response has a lot to catch up, ” the note added.

India has so far reported 169 coronavirus cases and three deaths, while 276 of its citizens abroad have contracted the disease.

That’s a sharp rise from early March when India was thought to be relatively insulated, and experts have warned containment steps that proved successful elsewhere in Asia may not work locally. — Bloomberg

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