Conclusion: We think India has little-to-no room to continue easing monetary policy over the intermediate term, particularly in light of the inflationary pressures emanating from the nation’s fiscal policy. Further, its bloated sovereign budget and current account deficits pose a fair amount of risk to India’s currency, equity and bond markets over the intermediate term.
Overnight, the Reserve Bank of India lowered its benchmark monetary policy rates by -50bps to 8.0% on the repo rate and 7.0% on the reverse repo rate. The -50bps cut was a full -25bps deeper than the median consensus forecast of 8.25% and 7.25%, respectively. This is in line with what we have been expecting out of Indian policymakers based upon our read-through of the country’s trailing 3-6 month GROWTH/INFLATION dynamics. Looking forward 1-3 quarters, we anticipate that the reflexive nature of the G/I/P interplay will produce a modest acceleration in both growth and inflation for India.
The growth acceleration is supported recent monetary policy action, which should filter through the economy on a lag. In fact, we’ve already seen a measured reprieve in the cash crush that hampered the Indian financial system for much of the past six months, with Indian banks borrowing the least amount of daily funds from the central bank since NOV ’11.
Still, the central government’s aggressive FY13 borrowing plan/incredibly weak fiscal consolidation plan will continue to be a headwind to liquidity in the Indian financial system absent further monetary policy easing. Refer to our MAR 20 note titled, “India Strikes Out Again” for our detailed analysis of how the central government’s FY13 budget is highly likely to contribute to a pickup in inflation, in addition to limiting the scope of monetary policy easing over the intermediate term. Moreover, in cutting rates today, the RBI signaled to the market that it is not willing to sacrifice an incremental slowing of growth to properly reign in the inflationary pressures from its economy; we believe their impatience will ultimately prove to be a mistake.
The RBI did indeed confirm our view that they have limited downside to ease monetary policy further. In the accompanying statement, Governor Subbarao stated that “… upside risks to inflation persist. These conditions inherently limit the space for further reduction in policy rates. Moreover, if subsidies are not contained as indicated in the Union Budget last month, demand pressures will persist, and will further reduce whatever space there is for monetary easing… Though inflation has moderated in recent months, it remains sticky and above the tolerance level [of +4-4.5%], even as growth has slowed.”
As such, the market-based outlook for future rate cuts in India over the NTM is rather subdued:
Continuing our look forward, the Subbarao did say that the central bank’s “immediate comfort zone” for inflation is +5% and “achievable”. As previously mentioned, we are on the other side of this projection, given that 5% is a full 190bps below the latest WPI rate of +6.9% YoY and, more importantly, the tailwind afforded to the Indian economy in the form of currency strength relative to food and energy prices appears to be peaking/have peaked – absent a short-to-intermediate term strong-USD, deflationary shock. Thus, there appears to be limited downside in rates of Indian inflation over the intermediate term – a view in support of our quantitative modeling of the country’s Wholesale Price Index.
Consistent with our 2Q12 Themes, we are, however, calling for a strong-dollar deflationary shock over the intermediate-term TREND. That is consistent with our views that global measures of financial market volatility are poised to break out to the upside over that same duration. No doubt, a further Deflation of the Inflation will eventually be supportive of the Indian economy; that said, however, we think India’s intermediate-term growth outlook, as well as the country’s financial markets are particularly at risk in an a higher-vol. environment over the intermediate term due to its widening current account and fiscal gap. India’s bloated fiscal deficit is of particular importance given that any slowing of capital inflows or outright capital outflows ultimately translates to a crowding-out of private sector funding.
As a rather sizeable net importer of capital India’s equity, currency, and bond markets are all at risk of correcting over the intermediate term – especially given the dramatic run-up in portfolio inflows YTD as consensus speculated on the country’s then-future monetary policy easing. Dramatic inflows are at risk of becoming material outflows, now that the aforementioned easing is largely in the rear-view mirror.
As we’ve seen time and time again over the last 4+ years, demonstrable upticks in global financial market volatility have proven to be a severe headwind for cross-border capital flows – particularly to emerging market economies. Specifically, our proprietary Global Macro VIX is [highly] inversely correlated to the following EM indices (trailing 4yrs):
- MSCI EM Equity Index: -0.86
- Morgan Stanley EM Debt Fund: -0.90
- JPMorgan EM FX Index: -0.62
Intuitively, these quantifications make sense, as in higher-vol. environments, exporters of capital (i.e. global investors) increasingly favor a home bias while importers of capital find it increasingly harder to price deals at favorable rates.
All told, we think India has little-to-no room to continue easing monetary policy over the intermediate term, particularly in light of the inflationary pressures emanating from the nation’s fiscal policy. Further, its bloated sovereign budget and current account deficits pose a fair amount of risk to India’s currency, equity and bond markets over the intermediate term. In what we view as a probable higher-vol. environment over the intermediate term, will be interesting to see whether the RBI decides to support liquidity by ramping up its purchases of sovereign debt or if it decides to bite the near-term bullet in order to promote sustainable economic growth by adopting a currency-supportive (i.e. hawkish) stance.