Bonds in India head for losses with near-record debt sales seen

With bond sales seen remaining elevated, signs of a recovery in the global economy as well as the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) moves to drain excess cash are expected to add upward pressure on yields.

MUMBAI: India is poised to sell a near-record amount of debt in the coming fiscal year, pressuring a sovereign bond market that’s increasingly worried about support from the central bank.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government may announce a gross borrowing plan of 10.6 trillion rupees (US$145bil) for the 12 months starting April in its budget announcement on Feb 1, according to a median forecast of 15 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News.

That’s less than the record 13.1 trillion rupees estimated for the current year, but 75% above the previous five years’ average. As a result, the 10-year sovereign bond yield may rise about 40 basis points from current levels to 6.30% by end-December, its first advance in three years, a separate survey showed.

“There will still be sizable funding requirements that will need to be financed from the market and that will pile pressure on bond yields, ” said Himanshu Malik, a fixed-income strategist at HSBC Holdings Plc in Hong Kong. The “bond curve steepened quite sharply in 2020 and we expect the steepening pressure to return in 2021.”

The relentless supply of sovereign debt has been the biggest hurdle for Indian bonds this fiscal year, as pandemic relief efforts took precedence. With bond sales seen remaining elevated, signs of a recovery in the global economy as well as the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) moves to drain excess cash are expected to add upward pressure on yields.

Case in point: Short-term bond yields surged, with yields on debt maturing in 2025 jumping 24 basis points this month, after the central bank drained 2 trillion rupees from the banking system at a higher-than-expected cut-off rate. The benchmark 10-year bond has risen four basis points in that period to 5.91%.

Traders see the central bank walking a tight rope in keeping long-end yields anchored to facilitate government borrowing, while restoring normal liquidity operations following a crash in short-end rates late last year.

“The bond yield curve could shift upwards with a flattening bias as front-end rates normalise to the more normal liquidity conditions, ” said B. Prasanna, ICICI Bank Ltd’s head of global markets, sales, trading and research. “The RBI is expected to prevent any large flare-up in long-end yields by continuing to use Operation Twist effectively.”

Some now expect the RBI to moderate its purchases in the next fiscal year. Bank of America Corp estimates that the central bank may conduct open-market bond operations worth US$21bil in the next fiscal year, compared with an estimated US$58bil in the current year.

Still, no one expects the RBI to completely withdraw its support to the bond market.

“The Indian economy will still remain patchy for quite some time and it will definitely require the RBI to handhold until the wounds of Covid-19 are healed, ” said Dhawal Dalal, Mumbai-based chief investment officer for fixed income at Edelweiss Asset Management Ltd.

Here are other bond market expectations from the Feb 1 budget:

> The finance ministry may consider the issuance of US$5bil-US$10bil of sovereign bonds in foreign currencies, according to HSBC.

India hasn’t sold any foreign-currency sovereign bonds so far though it mooted the idea in 2019 to help narrow its budget deficit.

> India may announce a target range for the fiscal deficit compared with its current practice of focusing on a point estimate, in line with the recommendation of the finance commission, according to ICICI Bank. — Bloomberg

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