Many interesting comments appeared on my previous blog post, Mythbusting:
Current account deficit edition, and I thought it made sense
to respond to all of them in this post.
Ambarish: I don’t think there has been a sudden rise in rupee
trading outside India. It was always there; we weren’t seeing it. As
Jayanth Varma has emphasised, we used to think the NDF market was in
Singapore. But the BIS data on rupee trading shows significant rupee
trading at many places worldwide, not just in Singapore. Overall, the
picture is roughly one with $20 billion of onshore trading a day and
another $20 billion of offshore trading, giving an overall market size
of $40 billion a day.
One can think of many good reasons for domestic and overseas
economic agents to do INR trading outside India. E.g. foreigners are,
presently, not permitted to trade on the onshore currency futures.
Given that gross flows across the Indian border, on the BOP, are now
at $1.3 trillion a year, it is not surprising that there is a lot of
rupee trading going on. Until big changes to the capital controls take
place, I believe there will be an increasing shift of INR trading away
Neeraj: I agree with you that capital controls can potentially
change the situation significantly. So one can think at two
levels. First, for a given set of capital controls, a central bank can
float as in not trading. That gives you a float, but yes, the price
that comes out of this is distorted because there are capital
controls. As an example, the government can have non-interference in
the domestic market for DRAM chips, but the domestic price can itself
be distorted through quantitative restrictions or customs duties on
DRAM chips. So even though the government is not manipulating the
domestic price by directly trading in the market (as it does with
foodgrain or currency) the observed price is a distorted one. Then
comes the second level where you have full convertibility. Once again,
here the central bank could choose to trade in the market or it could
choose to not trade in the market. Only when there are no capital
controls + no trading by the central bank do you get to the true
floating rate and the market’s price.
Durga: Modulo the issue raised by Neeraj and touched upon above, I
think we’re a fairly flexible rate today. If INR trading globally is
$40 billion, then RBI trading of anything less than $2 billion per day
would have a negligible impact on the price. RBI has to either hit the
market with very big trades (over $2 billion a day, i.e. over $40
billion a month, i.e. Chinese style currency manipulation) or RBI has
to sit back and accept the price. Small trades are pointless, and
actually make you wonder what the strategy there is.
That said, the rupee is still a small currency. India is a GDP of
only $1.25 trillion and there are a lot of restrictions on
cross-border commerce. So there is a long way to go before the INR
becomes a serious international currency. It does not, hence, surprise
me to see that the spreads on the INR are much worse than those seen
for the big international currencies.
However, what I talked about in the blog post — that when a
central bank stops trading on the currency market, the CAD = capital
flows — is not an equilibrium condition. It is an accounting
identity. It requires nothing about market microstructure on the
currency market, or about the capital controls, in order to hold. As
long as RBI trading on the currency market is zero, CAD will be
exactly equal to capital flows.
Finally, Anonymous, you ask: Is there a point where the CAD becomes
so big that it becomes dangerous? We should think in two parts.
First, in a place like the US, there has been a lot of concern that
the imbalance (= the very large CAD) is too big in the sense that
under reasonable assumptions, the US is not going to be able to
service all the capital coming into the country. After all, all the
equity / debt capital that comes into (say) India today inexorably
requires that at future dates, dividends and coupon payments and debt
repayment have to happen in dollars, which will require purchases of
foreign exchange by residents. In order to service the borrowing of
the US today, substantial exports growth will be required, which is
unlikely. Hence, when this borrowing of today is to be repaid in the
future, a huge dollar depreciation will have to take place.
As long as there is an environment of high growth in exports of
goods and services, there is no problem. If, hypothetically, you see a
country with a big CAD but you also have a WEAK pace of exports growth
then you know that at future dates, there will be pressure on the
currency which will give sharp depreciations. Odds are, the financial
system will see that and these fears will translate into a
depreciation right away! Conversely, if you see capital inflows going
into investments which will bolster growth of exports of goods and
services, then you feel comfortable that there is no problem.
I believe that’s a fair description of the present Indian
situation. Over the last 15 years, the gross inflows on the current
account into India (which can be roughly interpreted as the total
revenues from exporting goods and services) grew by 8.1 times, from
$42 billion in 1994-95 to $343 billion in 2009-10. This was an average
annual growth rate of 15%. This is a huge pace of growth, and gives me
confidence that the CAD coming in today will be serviced tomorrow
without large currency depreciation. If, hypothetically, you disagree
with my optimism about future growth in exports of goods and services,
then you would think that this large CAD today increases the odds of
INR depreciation in the future, and you would go short the rupee.
For smaller emerging markets, there is a risk of sudden changes in
international financing conditions, which is rooted in the lack of
information in the hands of foreign investors about the country. Then
a large CAD could mean that if something goes wrong and a lot of
capital leaves the country, then it could yield a large currency
depreciation. I believe this is less and less an issue for the large
emerging markets like India, where problems of asymmetric information
and lack-of-attention in the global community are not a problem.