MAS Holds Off Easing and SGD jumps…

As expected, MAS held off any more easing as the GDP numbers were better than expected, SGD quickly jumped back to below 1.36 and I expect it to go below 1.35 in days to come.

There are 2 very interesting and informative info graphics that were published in Business Times on 12th and 13th April that I am sharing with every one who are interested to know how does NEER work and monetary policy is administered.

Billion SGD question How Policy Works

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Indian Rupee is Overvalued and Chief Economic advisor agrees!!

Rupee is Overvalued and should depreciate – something I have been saying for 3-4 months now but for lack of time had not been able to do some research and share with everyone my thoughts behind the my assertion.

Reading the newspaper today I read Chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian’s view as told to Economic Times,

“I think we have to be opportunistic, when there is a chance to allow it to drift down maybe a little bit it drift down but when lot of capital is coming in intervene to keep it stable,” Subramanian had said. “I agree that there is a part of the community out there that wants a strong exchange rate, but that would be very detrimental to our exports”

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/foreign-trade/government-hopes-rupee-reflects-its-true-value-finance-minister-arun-jaitley/articleshow/46695530.cms

The rupee has been stable against the dollar but has appreciated against a basket of currencies, severely effecting the exports competitiveness. India’s exports declined for third month running in February. Rupee has appreciated 22.4% against the euro in the current financial year. On a trade-weighted basis, and after adjusting for inflation, in February rupee was the rupee was over 24% overvalued against a basket of currencies of India’s six largest trade partners.

The below table shows the performance of Indian currency against major currencies and the Rupee has strengthened against every currency other than USD and Chinese Yuan, the direct impact of this strengthening is that exports to these countries be it Software, Services or Goods all become less competitive

INR comparitive chart 2015Now lets look at the competition – Countries that export goods and services to the nations above –  big ones being Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Russia, South Africa and the currency of all these countries have depreciated against Indian Rupee giving an advantage to competition.

INR Comparitive Chart 2015 2I think it’s a perfect time for India to weaken the Rupee while Oil remains low to boost competitiveness of exports and fill up our foreign exchange reserves. At the same time build oil reserves so that even when oil prices move up we don’t have to strengthen the currency in tandem to prevent the outflow of petro dollars.

RBI Cuts Benchmark Rates – Now What?

The much talked about interest rate cut finally happened today. RBI Governor keeping true to his character surprised the markets with an earlier than expected cut taking India on a path different from Russia and Brazil where central banks have increased the benchmark rates in the past few weeks.

I must say it’s a brilliant move by the Governor to put the ball back into Finance Ministers court and push for structural fiscal reforms in the upcoming budget. The general sentiment has been that the higher rates are keeping India from growing which overshadows the fundamental issues of red tape, poor infrastructure and wastage in public expenditure.

The sustained fall in oil prices (thank Russia for occupying Crimea) has given India the much-needed window to push through reforms without being worried about stroking uncontrolled inflation.

The question is that will this rate cut and structural reforms be enough to achieve the targeted growth? No, absolutely not. The other key factor, which should not be ignored, is the exchange rate of the rupee against other currencies. To recap the last year – Rupee has oscillated between 58 and 63.5 against the US dollar (I use USD as a benchmark because the other rates are nothing but a cross rate). The fall in rupee has been less pronounced as compared to its Asian peers like the Malaysian Ringgit, Indonesian Rupiah, Singapore Dollar, Korean Won etc. On the global front, the Yen, Euro and Pound have also dropped sharply against the USD resulting in net gains by the Rupee against these currencies as well.

While the gains in Rupee boost the feel good factor about the India story – is a sustained gain in Rupee the right thing for the Indian economy? My take is that RBI would not let Rupee gain beyond the 62 mark to keep the exports competitive. There was evidence of this when RBI was seen buying dollars in the last week when Rupee gained sharply. With a generally weaker Rupiah, Ringgit, Peso and Riel the Indian exports would face tough competition in areas like garments, IT services, food grains and other manufacturing. Also with Euro and Pound weakening the demand from European countries would decline if the goods are not priced competitively.

With crude oil staying below 50, I think RBI would target the Rupee around 65 against the USD (at-least that’s would I would do, if I were the RBI governor). That would be a roughly 5% decline from the current levels and will bring it at par with other countries with export competitiveness. A sharp gain in the currency would negate any benefit that the lower oil prices would have and I don’t think the RBI or the finance minister would want that.

We should not forget that infrastructure reforms do not happen overnight and take years to fully have the desired impact.

What would that do to SGD INR – 45 mark would remain as the strong support for the pair with upside of Rs.50, but of-course remitting money to India and investing in NRE deposits would always remain a good option.

SGD INR: 50 with SG@50?

Ever since the Prime Minister Modi came to power the feel good factor about Indian economy and India has increased dramatically. All Indians, including me, are rooting for improved Indian economy – infrastructure reforms, streamlining of tax code, improved law and order and not to forget getting back the black money stashed in overseas accounts. The expectation also is for the Rupee to strengthen as reforms kick in and help kick-start the much-anticipated economic growth.

The past few months have seen the pair oscillating between the 46-49 range and the volatility in the forex markets has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. The pair dropped all the way to 46.5 after  the elections and bumped back up towards 49 only to test 46.5 again as the oil prices slid in the international markets (I was expecting a 45 floor as mentioned in replies to questions in the previous post).

SGD INR Dec 2014

INR has weakened against the USD to 63 as I had written earlier in (SGD INR: Post Election Euphoria) but interestingly SGD has also weakened in tandem. At one point in time the fall in SGD was greater as compared to INR and caused SGD INR to test 46.5.

Oil has fallen dramatically in the past few weeks and raised concerns of Central Banks not being able to meet their inflation targets prompting talk about monetary easing. A falling oil is good for India’s Forex reserves which has lent some support to the Rupee. On the other hand though the market sentiment remained weak as India’s trade deficit widened to one-and-a-half year high of $16.86 billion in November due to over six-fold jump in gold imports. Trade deficit in November last year was $9.57
billion.

The key events in play as I write are:

  1. Falling oil Prices and the rout of Rouble
  2. Bank of Japan’s push to achieve 2% inflation
  3. Expectation of FED rate hike in 2015

Falling oil prices can make the FED hold on to rate hike and also bring strength to SGD as the safe haven theory comes back into play. My expectation is for the Singapore Dollar to appreciate back to sub 1.30 level and Indian rupee to move upto 65 level which would bring the SGD INR back at the magical 50 mark in time for Singapore’s 50th birthday

 

SGD INR: Post the Election Euphoria

Time flies and it’s already June – I can’t believe that the last I wrote about INR was in February and whole world was speculating on the outcome of the Indian elections. I did not expect the BJP to win with a full majority given the polarisation of votes, combined with regional politics and was expecting a hung parliament. 

Based on that I had predicted that the Rupee would fall back to the 63 mark against the USD and 50 against the SGD (SGD INR: A storm in making). However, to my delight, the BJP did get a full majority. This meant that the uncertainty of a hung parliament and issues cropping up from coalition government were instantly non issues.

The markets reacted favorably to a government formed by progressive and reform oriented leaders and pushed the Indian Sensex to all time highs of over 25,000 and Rupee appreciated quite quickly to the Rs.58 mark against the USD. With many a Indians residing in foreign countries who remit money to India the obvious question was – Is the rupee headed to 55 against USD and should I transfer money to India now?

My answer to many such questions was – “the fundamentals of the economy don’t change overnight just with a stable government and the real effect of policy changes would take months to materialise and I still expect Rupee to stay over the 60 mark against the USD”

One of the first places to start when looking at fundamentals is Implied Exchange Rate calculation. Over the past years the spot rate has tended towards the Implied Rate Line (chart below: using SGD INR)

SGD INR 2014

and the calculation suggests that the SGD INR would move back towards the upward trending implied exchange rate line as the RBI is going to hold the interest rates steady – the inflation is still alarmingly high.

Other factors that would be playing against the Indian Rupee would be:

1. Crop losses due to el Nino weather changes

2. Increase in price of crude if the tensions in Iraq escalate

3. Global slow down in the background Ukraine crisis and escalation in South China sea

As I write the Indian rupee has already crossed the 60 mark against the USD and 48 against the SGD and I maintain that the INR would move towards the 63 and 50 mark against the USD and SGD in coming months.

Postal Stamps: A long forgotten treasure

It had been years since I had looked at my stamp collection and while on vacation this year I wanted to spend some time ensuring that the stamps were still there and in good condition.

Collecting stamps was a childhood hobby and maybe something that was passed down the family (at-least in my case) – my Grandfather, Father, Uncle had all all indulged in stamps at some point or the other in their lives. As a kid I always wanted to have all stamps from all countries and felt the collection I had was not big enough – in retrospect I could nor be more wrong.

So on the second day of my holidays I pulled out the case with all my stamps.I must say it was pretty heavy (much heavier than what I had imagined) – There were many albums filled with stamps, first day covers, miniature sheets, postcards and various other postal items. There were stamps from Russia, China, America, Britain, Hungary and of-course India. Browsing through the collection I felt like a little kid who has been left in a candy store – everything was so pretty and brought back memories of childhood.

Having some time on hand I decided to catalogue the collection for future reference and started with the slow process of noting everything on a spreadsheet. The real challenge was to keep myself focused and not get carried away admiring the stamps. After many hours I had finally listed all the indian stamp sheets that I had and this was just a small portion of the overall collection.There were quite a few stamps of which I had more than one sheet and out of curiosity I thought of why not selling off the extra stuff to buy more stamps (once a collector, always a collector).

So here I was checking the listed prices of my extra stamps on auction sites – and what I saw was nothing short of complete amazement!!

Most stamps had shot through the roof and were selling at 50-100 times the face value.

It was hard to believe what I was seeing and initially I just brushed it aside as people ask crazy prices, but having seen the valuations I had to dig around a little more – after all, this could be a lot of money and what I found left me wide eyed. The prices I was seeing were transacted prices.

The stamp sheet from my collection that had appreciated the most were from 2003 – Aero India and Temple Architecture of India

ImageImage

The temple architecture sheetlet set had 5 sheets which I had bought for Rs.80 each (~1.25USD) and they now commanded a price of Rs.10,000 each (~165USD) a massive 132 times appreciation in 10 years – yielding me a 55% annualised return.

Image

Similarly the Aero India sheet set o 4 sheets with a face value of Rs.600 (~USD10) was valued at Rs.40,000 (~670) an annualized return of 40%

Just as with China the valuation of Indian collectibles increased with the general growth in the country. I also found an old stamp from China which was valued at $50 in the international market and was again baffled to see that one could get upto USD 3000 for the same stamp in Mint condition (unfortunately mine was cancelled and used)

Image

Having looked at the valuation of some parts of my collection I am all re-convinced about stamps as an alternate investment. As with any investment there are risks and for stamps the 2 biggest risks are lack of liquidity and risk of destruction – after all they are delicate pretty thing on paper.

Next I had a look at some coins and they took me on another roller coaster ride of awe and disbelief, but that is for another post..,

SGD INR: A storm in making

It’s a new year and right about time to do a pulse check on INR for the coming year. The past few months I was very busy at work and with the currency being relatively stable I did not want to write something just for the sake of writing. As mentioned in the October post the currency stabilised in the last quarter of 2013 and stayed well within the 60-65 range against the US dollar and hovered around the 49 mark against the SGD (INR – Directionless in 4th Quarter)

One would have expected things to remain calm for a few more weeks in 2014 before the Indian Budget and upcoming elections in March and May respectively but the global markets had something else in mind.

The Federal Reserve started the much-anticipated tapering of Quantitative Easing (QE) in December, with reducing the Bond purchases by 10 Billion USD a month to 75 Billion and followed it by a reduction of another 10 Billion in January 2014 which spooked the emerging markets.

Turkish Lira and Hungarian Forint were aggressively sold off and the Argentinian Peso is unofficially devalued. The data from China is not exactly exciting and Indonesian Rupiah and Thai Baht have their own set of problems to deal with. At the same time the RBI came out and surprisingly increased the benchmark rates in January announcements which I thing was more of a pre-emptive move to shore up defences against any potential sell off in the Rupee. With such weakness in the other Emerging market currencies the Indian Rupee, I must say, held ground very well.

But this is just the start of the year and there are quite a few events lined up in the coming months that would determine which way the Rupee moves. On the global macro side the course of Global Financial Markets a.k.a. the pace of QE would drive the general sentiments towards emerging markets. On the domestic front The Indian Budget announcements and the general elections would be the key determinants.

Looking at the global front I do not expect the federal reserve to stop tapering and ultimately end the QE program unless there is definitive bad news on the US unemployment and inflation. This reduction in QE would be Rupee negative and as in May – Aug 2013 time frame has the potential to push the Rupee down.

On the domestic front anything short of a stable government with full majority would be a negative for the markets. I think that this stage there is no one clear party that I could say would achieve the majority.

So in the short-medium term of next 3-4 months the chips are stacked against the rupee and I do expect it to touch trade towards the 65-67 mark.

What that does to SGD INR? Well the SGD has slightly weakened against the USD and has been trading at 1.27-1.28 area. Deteriorating global fundamentals tend to result in strengthening SGD as a safe haven currency. So with the expected weakness in the Rupee and potential appreciation of the SGD, SGD INR could march back to the 53 mark in the coming months.

Low Risk Funds holding good in a falling bond market

 

Time flies and it’s over 10 months since we talked about the Low risk funds in Singapore – Good returns with Low Risk Funds. A lot has happened in the market since then with the talks of Fed tapering QE being the biggest news causing sell off in the Emerging Markets and Bonds.

However the funds that I talked about earlier in the year have been holding well with the exception of the Lion Global Singapore Fixed Income A fund.

Fund Returns

The fund has slipped in red for the 10 month period. The NAV has dropped by 1.49% but has paid off equivalent amount in interest/ dividends and is net flat.

The United SGD fund has been doing very well and is up 3.25% year to date, Fullerton and Nikko follow closely behind. In the coming year this strategy might still work as Singapore Dollar remains stable. I will be looking to re-balance my portfolio soon and will share some new ideas shortly.

SGD INR – Current Trend and Long Term Implied Rates

SGD INR has been holding strong over the past few weeks and even though INR has appreciated roughly 10% against the USD the appreciation against SGD has been roughly 5%.

Historic lows were 69 and 53 against USD and SGD and the currency trades at 62.5 and 50 as I write. SGD has shown stregnth as with its safe haven appeal.

The Long term implied rate for SGD INR tracks at 47 mark. Looking at long term trends the spot exchange rates tend to track back towards the long term implied rates.

Image

In the short term I expect the pair to hover around the Rs, 50 mark with the direction being decided based on international events.

 

INR – Directionless in 4th Quarter

The US debt and budget talks finally reached a resolution yesterday, the congress passed the bill and the much feared US default was averted and the financial markets breathed a sigh of relief. Interestingly the Indian Rupee has been pretty flat both pre and post the US saga.

The drop to 69 against the USD on 28 August was the low point for the Rupee and it steadily regained lost ground in September (Rupee Doing a Bungee Jump – Time to bounce back?) and hovers around 61 as I write.

I often ask myself what has really changed in the past month but can’t find a fundamental reason for the pull back. My take is that it was a technical pull back with Rupee being oversold. Yes one could say that RBI got a new Governor in Raghuram Rajan and that helped Rupees cause, but if changing governors could help the Rupee strengthen by 15% then maybe RBI should abandon monetary policies and use governors to set the direction of the currency :).

Looking at the fundamentals nothing really has changed in the past 2 months – RBI did come up with a FCNR scheme, increase the duty on import of Gold and television sets and a benchmark rate increase. The FCNR scheme is reported to attract 10 billion USD in deposits which would add no more than 3% to the foreign currency reserves. The increase in duty on gold has got the premium over spot soaring in indian markets and made gold smuggling attractive and the increase in duty on television sets has made travel to Thailand and Singapore less attractive – believe it or not bringing in television sets from overseas trips was a great way of subsidizing foreign travel.

On the policy front nothing really has changed in India and no progress is expected until after the next elections in 2014. On the global front there is still a lot of uncertainty and the fear of Quantitative Easing (QE) taper is still there. The general consensus is for no taper before late march 2014 but its an event that will happen sooner or later.

With all the uncertainty and political wrangling I expect the Rupee to remain directionless to the year-end.

63 should act as the pivot against the USD with a variation of 5% either side – a range of 60-65 would be the order. However against the SGD things should be slightly different with 50 acting as a strong magnet.

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