Indian rupee resumes slide as fears grow

By Subhadip Sircar and Rafael Nam ,Reuters

MUMBAI — The rupee slid back towards a record low on Friday, with investors braced for a statement on the state of economy from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the release of data that was expected to show India in the grip of a protracted slowdown. Weak economic growth, a record high current account deficit and concerns about the government’s finances are proving a toxic mix for the rupee, which hit a record low of 68.85 on Wednesday after falling around 20 percent since May. The Reserve Bank of India had prompted the rupee’s largest single-day rally since January 1998 on Thursday by saying it would provide dollars directly to state oil companies to pay for imports, but the recovery proved short-lived. By late morning, the partially convertible rupee was trading at 67.36 per dollar, down from Thursday’s close of 66.55. Having tumbled 10.4 percent against the dollar so far this month, the rupee was set to record its largest monthly depreciation ever, according to Thomson Reuters data. The fall has been so fast that is now firmly in territory that is uncharted, leaving analysts unsure how far it can go.

Gross domestic product data, due to be released after the markets close, is expected to show the economy grew 4.7 percent in the April-June quarter, marking a third consecutive quarter of sub-5 percent growth.

India suffered decade-low growth of 5 percent in the fiscal year that ended in March, and many analysts surveyed by Reuters during the past week expect this year to be worse. “The lack of affirmative action by the government on improving the investment cycle in rest of the year risks reviving a downward spiral, which might pave the way for slip below 4 percent mark, as a worst case scenario,” said Radhika Rao, an economist at DBS in Singapore, in an email to clients. With a national election due by May, Singh’s minority government is under fire from all quarters to come up with meaningful reforms, including a possible increase in diesel prices, that would lower the subsidy burden. While the government gropes for game-changing policies to revive investment, while containing its fiscal deficit and reducing the current account gap, the central bank has led the defense of the currency. A radical plan is being considered by the central bank, a source familiar with the RBI’s thinking told Reuters, to cut gold imports, the second biggest item after oil on the import bill, a source familiar with the RBI’s thinking told Reuters.

The proposal, which has met with skepticism in some quarters, would see commercial banks buy gold from ordinary citizens and sell to precious metal refiners.

Another suggestion came from Trade Minister Anand Sharma, who on Thursday said the RBI could monetize its gold reserves in order to reduce imports, while adding that it was up to the central bank to decide. The RBI’s main defense of the rupee has rested on draining cash from domestic money markets and raising short-term interest rates, but that has made it more costly for struggling corporates to raise money, putting another brake on growth.