Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Weakening Rupee

The downslide and weakening of the Indian Rupee at this stage when economic recovery has been witnessing some upward trend after a slowdown of many months in the country is worrisome. This is happening at a time when the centre was making tall claims about economic recovery in the Indian market after the pumping in of funds for development activities particularly the construction sector. Coupled with this, there are worries over the import bill for petroleum products going up, foreign exchange reserves going down and economic slowdown in European countries affecting the Indian currency in the international markets. The claims of the Indian economic planners that adequate measures have been initiated to ensure that Indian currency is not impacted by the international turn of events appear to be hollow. India is already grappling with high crude oil prices and the growing heft of US Dollar, the latest shock has come from the most unexpected quarter for the Indian Rupee. The domestic currency, which was valued at Rs 63.84 to the dollar at the end of 2017, briefly crossed the 70-mark in early trading last Tuesday, on account of the fall in the Turkish Lira. The Lira has slipped almost 40 percent against the US dollar this year, but a bulk of that decline took place over just two days, 16 percent last Friday and another 6.7 percent on Monday. There are many factors at play for Turkey’s currency crisis, including its standoff with the US. The Donald Trump administration has just imposed sanctions on Turkey’s Justice and Interior Ministers and plans to double punitive tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from the NATO member-country. The bilateral relations between the US and Turkey are tense, with Washington refusing to hand over an Islamic cleric charged by the Recep Tayyip Erdoan government of masterminding the failed military coup in 2016. A few days ago, a potential bilateral deal to end Turkey’s continued detention of an American pastor and the incarceration by the US of a Turkish banker collapsed. This has happened despite the fact that some of the NATO members from the European Union came forward to repairs the relations between the two countries. Beyond the bilateral consequences, the crash of the Turkish Lira has had a ripple effect on most emerging market currencies, catching policy-makers off guard. The South African rand, for instance, on Monday had its biggest single-day fall in a decade. In comparison to the fall in Turkish Lira, the fall in Indian Rupee from Rs 68.50 to Rs 70 to a US Dollar is monor. The stock markets, which tumbled beginning this week as the currency weakened, seemed to take the Rupee’s slide in their stride on Tuesday, with the Sensex rising by half a percentage point. There is, in fact, no need to panic on account of the Rupee. Barring the gradual decline in its value this year, the Indian currency has been fairly stable over 2016 and 2017; with inflation being higher than in developed countries, its purchasing power at home has been falling. As former Chief Economic Adviser Kaushik Basu said last week, the Rupee’s correct value may be closer to 70-71 to the dollar, and achieving that level will boost job-creating sectors like exports that have severely underperformed in recent years. In addition, with foreign exchange reserves currently around $400 billion, India is comfortably placed. With both consumer and wholesale price inflation easing in July, the Reserve Bank of India, which has only intervened sparingly in the forex market so far, may have room to hold off on a growth-debilitating rate hike in October. The global flight of capital to safety towards the Japanese Yen and the US Dollar and the prospect of higher oil prices remain risks. But India is better-placed than most other emerging economies to use this tumult as an opportunity, instead of seeing it as a calamity. But this has to be calculated with a caution because of the fact that the assessments of the Indian economic experts have been going haywire in the post-demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST) implementation in the last almost two years. Corrective measures will be welcome to contain both the food inflation and further weakening of the Indian currency in the international market.