Central bank buoys funds to move into India’s bonds

Steady hand: An Indian pedestrian walks out of the Reserve Bank of India building in Mumbai. Confidence over its support has outweighed concerns over the government’s plan to increase debt sales. — AFP

MUMBAI: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is making longer-tenor sovereign bonds attractive again.

Quantum Mutual Fund has moved to the 10-14 year segment after staying in duration of up to three years in August in its 691 million rupees (US$9.4mil) Dynamic Bond Fund. UTI Asset Management Co has turned overweight on bonds maturing in up to 15 years, after cutting duration two months ago.

The strategy change was prompted by a series of liquidity measures announced by the RBI earlier this month, including doubling the size of open market operations. That’s spurred expectations that the central bank would intervene regularly to keep yields anchored. Confidence over RBI support has even outweighed concern over the government’s plan to increase debt sales.

“We have gone from being very defensive in August to aggressive now in positioning toward longer bonds and one big factor behind that is a better clarity on the RBI’s intervention plan, ” said Pankaj Pathak, fixed income fund manager at Quantum Asset. “The RBI signaling that they will purchase bonds on weekly basis has given a big comfort, ” he said.

Prior to the RBI’s support measures announced on Oct 9, some money managers were piling into India’s short-tenor debt from bills to credit as concerns over a virus-ravaged economy and record borrowings prompted them to avoid risks.

The pivot from RBI will help the government, which has said it will sell 1.1 trillion rupees more debt for the fiscal half ending in March.

More than 40% of the remaining year’s bond sales will be in 10-year to 14-year maturities.

Expectations for easing inflation are also likely to support longer tenors. RBI governor Shaktikanta Das said in the policy address that the monetary authority sees the recent surge in inflation as transient.

Yields may soften “once the market comes around to the view that CPI is going to trend lower, and there is stability in terms of market borrowing, ” said Amandeep Chopra, head of fixed income at UTI Asset.

Sovereign bonds rallied yesterday, with the yield on benchmark 10-year bonds sliding by as much as five basis points to 5.79%, the lowest since August.

The yield on 14-year bonds declined four basis points to 6.17%.

The RBI’s minutes of its most recent meeting were released late on Friday and reiterated its pro-growth stance.

“Enhanced guidance should strengthen and quicken the pace of transmission to longer-term yields and help support consumption and investment demand in the economy, ” Das said in the minutes.

On Sunday he tweeted that he had tested positive for Covid-19 but was asymptomatic and would continue to work in isolation.

However, some investors warn that betting on easing debt supply in India is risky as widening fiscal deficit is a long-term issue.

“We had tactically played a 13-14 year overweight position earlier, ” said Suyash Choudhary, head of fixed income at IDFC Asset Management in Mumbai.

“However, such a long-duration trade has limited shelf life in a multi-year fiscal stress situation that we are currently in and has to be played opportunistically.

“We have moved back to our core conviction positions in the six to eight year segment.”

S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings forecast India’s combined deficit – federal and state governments – will widen to about 12% of GDP in the year through March. — Bloomberg

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