Where goes the rupee?

There are several moderate but effective instruments available to the government to help the rupee find an equilibrium
The travails of the rupee have dominated newspaper headlines over the last fortnight. Its value has fallen precipitously against the dollar, and is now hovering around the 72 level; it was just under 64 at the beginning of the year. There is now intense debate in the media on whether the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) should step in and take steps to defend the dollar.
The U.S. honeypot
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has rightly observed that external factors are the cause. In particular, global capital and perhaps currency speculators have been flocking to the American economy. This is not really surprising because the U.S. economy has become a very attractive option. Some months ago, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a massive decrease in corporate tax rates. More recently, the U.S. Federal Reserve has also increased interest rates. The icing on the global investors’ cake is the booming U.S. economy. Fortunately, the RBI has a huge stock of foreign exchange reserves and so the balance of payments situation is not (at least in the immediate future) the main cause of anxiety for the steady decline in the value of the rupee. What must concern policy-makers is that the slide in the rupee can have adverse effects on the domestic economy. For instance, the surge in the landed price of crude oil has already resulted in a steep rise in the prices of petroleum and diesel. Diesel price hikes increase the cost of transportation of goods being transported by road. Unfortunately, many food items fall in this category. Obviously, any increase in food prices must set alarm bells ringing in the Union Finance Ministry. The devaluation will also increase prices of imported inputs, particularly those for which there are no alternative domestic sources of supply. This can have some effect on output expansion. Many domestic companies that have taken dollar loans will also face significantly higher servicing costs.
Perhaps the best option for the government would be to borrow from non-resident Indians (NRIs) by floating special NRI bonds that have to be purchased with foreign exchange, and with maturity periods of at least three years. Interest rates have to be attractive, and investors must of course be protected from exchange rate fluctuations. Since interest rates in countries like the U.K. and even the U.S. are quite low, the promised interest rate does not really have to be very high by prevailing Indian levels. This has been tried before, the last time being in 2013 when too the rupee was under stress. It worked then and there is no reason why it should not work again. Hopefully, the storm will pass over and the rupee will soon find an equilibrium. In the near future, the rupee is unlikely to return to anything below 70 to the dollar. This should not be cause for much concern because the economy will adjust to the lower value of the rupee. What must be avoided is any sharp fluctuation in the exchange rate — in either direction. Much will depend on whether the economy can continue to grow at a reasonably high rate, for this will steady the nerves of portfolio investors and prevent them from pulling out of the Indian stock market.
Bhaskar Dutta is Professor, Ashoka University. The views expressed are personal.

Source : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/where-goes-the-rupee/article24963533.ece

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