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Rupee to remain volatile in the midst of Greek crisis, says Arvind Subramanian

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

The Indian government on Monday said it was closely monitoring the Greek situation and euro market movements after austerity proposals by creditors being rejeted in a referendum posed the possibility of the country’s exit from the euro zone, while the rupee may be affected due to the outward flight of investment.

“In these situations what mostly happens is there is flight to dollars, to a safe haven. Rupee might also be affected by that. But nothing gets unusual at all so far,” Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian told reporters here.

“This is a drama which is going to play out for some time. We are well protected in at least three ways. Our macro-economic situation is much more stable. We have reserves. We are an economy which is still a very attractive investment destination. So I think we are relatively well insulated,” he said.

“As for the crisis itself, it is going to going to be long and prolonged,” he added.

Over 61 percent of Greeks voted “no” on Sunday, responding overwhelmingly to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ calls to reject a proposal by the country’s creditors for more austerity in exchange for a financial bailout.

On possible impact of the crisis on Indian economy, Subramanian said that as the crisis plays out, “financial markets are going to be volatile. Both the ECB (European Central Bank) and Fed (US Federal Reserve) will take this into account”.

“We will have to see how the euro moves now. We are closely monitoring the Greek situation. There could be some reaction on the Fed rate hike,” Finance Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi said.

He had last week expressed apprehension that if yields on euro bonds go up, it might impact inflows and outflows from India.

Indian industry feels that if a crisis developed for Europe due to Greece, India too could feel the tremors like the rest of the world.

What is worrying is that the overall situation with regard to India’s merchandise exports does not look promising this year and the troubles in Europe could only deteriorate the prospects,” the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) said in a statement here.

“There is a need for RBI and the finance ministry to keep a close eye on the muddy global situation and its possible effect on India’s capital flows and the currency movement,” it added.

India’s merchandise exports continued to decline for the second month this fiscal, down by over 20 percent at $22.35 billion in May from $27.99 billion in the same month of the previous year, official data showed last month.

The Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) has warned that the continuing decline in exports would result in layoffs, besides putting pressure on the current account deficit (CAD).

FIEO president S.C. Ralhan also agreed with RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan’s recent remarks that the central banks globally were at risk of slipping into the kind of beggar-thy-neighbour strategies, leading to the Great Depression of the 1930s again.

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RBI’s Governor Quits After Months of Pressure From The Central Government

The timing just before this week's board meeting suggests that there's still a huge gap between the government and RBI positions on key issues

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Urjit Patel, Bank
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Urjit Patel attends a news conference in Mumbai, India. VOA

The Governor of India’s central bank, Urjit Patel, resigned abruptly Monday after a months-long tussle over policy with the government that has raised concerns about the bank’s independence as a national election nears.

Government officials have been pressuring the Reserve Bank of India to allow some bad-debt-laden public sector banks to lend more easily, and pushed for it to hand over some of its surplus reserves to help fund the fiscal deficit.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which must call national polls by May, faces anger in rural communities because of slumping farm incomes, and broader concerns about a lack of jobs growth in small businesses that are finding it hard to get banks to lend them money.

Getting control of the reserves would give the government more flexibility in spending on welfare policies and farm support schemes.

Patel cited “personal reasons” for his decision to immediately step down.

His resignation came four days before an RBI board meeting, and at a sensitive time for the government.

Bank
Reserve Bank of India. VOA

 

On Tuesday, votes in key state elections are due to be counted, with exit polls suggesting the BJP could suffer some major defeats at the hands of the opposition Congress party.

That scenario, and Patel’s resignation, are expected to roil Indian markets. On Monday, forward contracts tracking the rupee against the dollar outside of market hours posted their biggest fall in more than five years.

That added to earlier losses caused largely by concerns — triggered by the state exit polls — that next year’s election might end with a defeat for the pro-business Modi and a weak coalition government, leading to policy uncertainty.

Investors will want to know quickly who Patel’s replacement will be, and how that will affect the direction of financial and monetary policy, analysts said. There was no clear front-runner, but one name being mentioned was former Finance Secretary Hasmukh Adhia who retired at the end of November.

While not commenting directly on Patel’s exit, Moody’s Investors Service said on Monday any signs the government was attempting to curtail the RBI’s independence would be a credit negative.

“We currently assume that the RBI will continue to pursue price and financial stability and implement policies towards these goals,” the agency said in an emailed statement.

Modi, Bank
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses a gathering in New Delhi, India. VOA

 

Patel announced his departure in a short statement on the RBI’s website in which he said that “on account of personal reasons, I have decided to step down from my current position effective immediately.”

Modi suggested he had not wanted Patel to leave. On Twitter, the Indian leader praised Patel as a “thorough professional with impeccable integrity.”

“He steered the banking system from chaos to order and ensured discipline. Under his leadership, the RBI brought financial stability,” Modi tweeted. “He leaves behind a great legacy. We will miss him immensely.”

Building for months

Even before Patel’s announcement, the 10-year benchmark Indian government bond yield rose the most since September, and stocks posted their worst close in four weeks, with the broad NSE index losing 1.9 percent.

The pressure on him had been building for some months.

The government has made clear it was not happy with the RBI’s policies and stacked its board with pro-BJP representatives.

Former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, who did not take an extension after his term ended in September 2016, said Indians should be concerned about what was happening.

farmers, Bank
Police try to stop farmers during a protest demanding a better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. VOA

 

“We should go into the details on why there was an impasse which forced (Patel) to take this ultimate decision,” Rajan told the ET NOW television channel. “The strength of our institution is really important.”

Within the RBI there was a combination of anxiety and relief at the announcement.

“It was very shocking. … Morale of employees is very down,” said one RBI official who has been with the central bank for more than a decade. “This is very sad moment.”

But another official said Patel was often inaccessible to key financial market players and had stifled discussion within the RBI, and that now it might be possible to open up more.

“Finally things will come to peace. I can talk more openly,” this official said.

The officials asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Urjit Patel, Bank
Urjit Patel’s resignation signals dangerous trend: AIBEA. VOA

 

Argentine warning

The rift between the government and the central bank became very public in late October when RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya warned in a speech that undermining a central bank’s autonomy could be “catastrophic.”

He referred to a meltdown in Argentina’s financial markets in 2010 after a struggle between the government and the central bank over who controlled the bank’s reserves.

Last week, Patel declined to answer reporters’ questions about the rift with the government, which former government officials and analysts said they were convinced was a major factor in his decision to quit.

Also Read: Arvind Kejriwal Accuses Modi Government of Betraying Farmers

There was speculation a month ago that Patel might quit over the government pressure, but the rumors eased after the two sides reached an uneasy truce ahead of last month’s RBI board meeting.

“The timing just before this week’s board meeting suggests that there’s still a huge gap between the government and RBI positions on key issues,” said A. Prasanna, head of research at ICICI Securities Primary Dealership in Mumbai. “Markets will now hope that the government has a plan of action ready so as to restore calm.” (VOA)