The Indian rupee crashed to an all time low level, crossing 61 to a dollar, this morning. As I write this one dollar is worth around Rs 61.2. On Friday when the foreign exchange market closed one dollar was worth Rs 60.24.
The rupee has crashed in response to return on the 10 year American treasury bond spiking to 2.73% on Friday i.e. July 5, 2013. This was an increase of 21 basis points (one basis point is equal to one hundredth of a percentage) in comparison to the return on Wednesday i.e. July 3, 2013. The bond market was closed on July 4, 2013, the American independence day.
A 10 year treasury bond is a bond issued by the American government to finance its fiscal deficit i.e. the difference between what it earns and what it spends. These bonds can be bought and sold in the open market. This buying and selling impacts the price of these bonds and hence their overall return.
The return on the 10 year American treasury bond spiked in response to better than expected jobs data. American businesses added 1,95,000 jobs in June, 2013, which was better than what the market expected. This faster than expected recovery in the job market is being taken as a signal that the American economy is finally getting back on track.
Since the start of the financial crisis in late 2008, the Federal Reserve of United States, the American central bank, has been printing dollars and pumping them into the financial system. This is to ensure that there are enough dollars going around in the financial system, so that interest rates continue to stay low. At low interest rates people are likely to borrow and spend more. Consumer spending makes up for around 71-72% of the American gross domestic product. Hence, an increase in consumer spending is very important for the American economy to keep growing.
The Federal Reserve prints dollars and pumps them into the financial system by buying bonds worth $85 billion every month. This includes government bonds and mortgage backed securities. On June 19,2013, Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve of United States, had said that if the American economy kept improving, the Federal Reserve would go slow on money printing in the time to come. He had said that it was possible that the Fed could stop money printing to buy bonds by the middle of next year.
The jobs data has come out better than expected. This is a signal to the bond market that the Federal Reserve will start going slow on money printing sooner rather than later. Several estimates now suggest that the Federal Reserve will start going slow on money printing as soon as September this year.
As and when the Federal Reserve goes slow on money printing the interest rates are likely to go up, as the financial system will have lesser amount of dollars going around. This is likely to push interest rates up. Bond prices are inversely related to interest rates. So as interest rates will go up, bond prices will fall, leading to losses for investors.
But markets don’t wait for things to happen. They start discounting likely happenings in advance.
Given this, the bond market investors are selling out on American government bonds to limit their losses. This has led to bond prices falling. Even when bond prices fall, the interest paid on these bonds continues to remain the same. This means a higher return for the investors who buy the bonds that are being sold.
So this has pushed the return on the 10 year American treasury bond to 2.73%. On May 1, 2013, the return on the 10 year American treasury bond was 1.66%.
An increase in return on government bonds pushes up interest rates on all other loans. This is because lending to the government is deemed to the safest, and hence the return on other loans has to be greater than that, to compensate for the higher risk involved.
As mentioned above, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve started to print money, in order to get the American economy up and running again. The trouble was that the average American was just coming out of a huge borrowing binge and was not ready to borrow again, so soon.
But the financial system was slush with money available at very low interest rates. This led to large institutional investors indulging in what came to be known as the dollar carry trade. Money was borrowed in dollars at low interest rates and invested in financial assets all over the world. The difference in return between what the investor makes and the interest he pays on his dollar borrowing, is referred to as the carry.
With interest rates in the United States going up, as returns on government bonds up, the carry made on the dollar carry trade has been on its way down. The arbitrage that investors were indulging in by borrowing in dollars and investing those dollars all across the world with a prospect of making higher returns is no longer as viable as it used to be.
A lot of this money came into the Indian stock market as well as the bond market. In case of the bond market the amount of return that can made is limited. Hence, carry trade investors who had invested in Indian bonds have been selling out. Between May end and now, foreign investors have sold out around $6 billion worth of Indian bonds.
When they sell out on these bonds, the investors are paid in rupees. In order to repatriate these rupees abroad they need to convert them into dollars. Hence they sell rupees to buy dollars. When they sell rupees there is a surfeit of rupees in the market and not enough dollars going around. In this scenario, the rupee tends to fall in value against the dollar.
And that’s what has happened in the morning today when the rupee crossed 61 to a dollar. As the rupee loses value against the dollar, foreign investors face a higher amount of currency risk, leading to more of them selling out. This puts further pressure on the rupee. ( you can read more about it here).
The pressure on the rupee will continue in the days to come. If American bond yields keep going up, more foreign investors will sell out of India and this will lead to the rupee continuing to lose value against the dollar. Over and above that there are several home grown issues that will ensure that the rupee will keep depreciating against the dollar. (You can read more about it here) This is not the last manic Monday we have seen as far as the rupee is concerned.
PS: In the time that it took me to write this piece, the rupee recovered against the dollar. One dollar is now worth around Rs 60.99. Looks like the RBI has intervened to sell dollars and buy rupees.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on July 8,2013.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)