Fallout from Indian rupee's fall

SINGAPORE - The Indian rupee has been declining rapidly against the Singapore dollar and other major currencies as New Delhi grapples with a record deficit.

This may spell good news for those planning a holiday in India and businesses importing goods from there but Indian nationals living here are feeling the jitters.

Three months ago 100 rupees bought 2.286 Singdollars; today, that gets around $2 - a 52-week low and a fall of 11 per cent. Conversely, $1 gets 48.6 rupees now, compared with around 44 rupees three months ago.

The currency has taken a beating as investors are losing confidence in the Indian government's ability to turn around the slowing economy and boost the country's dwindling current account.

Since last month, lawmakers have announced measures to tighten India's cash supply, restrict currency derivatives and curb gold imports.

Last Wednesday, the government moved to tighten capital controls for residents, limiting the scope for outward foreign direct investments and remittances. None of these moves have stemmed the rupee's free fall and analysts are already calling it India's worst crisis in over two decades.

"Confidence is low. The government is not known for being efficient and investors are losing patience, so there's been a sudden flight of capital out of the country," said Phillips Futures investment analyst Sim Han Qiang.

Travelling to India will be all that much easier on the pocket. ASA Holidays' marketing manager Eileen Oh said the company's travel packages to India cost on average 15 per cent less than a year ago, partly due to a promotion but also due to the weak rupee.

An eight-day tour to New Delhi, Jaipur, Kashmir and Agra now costs $1,300. The same package went for about $1,800 at last year's travel fair.

But for non-resident Indians, the weak rupee is hurting.

Finance professional Manvinder Singh, 43, who has lived outside India for 13 years but still has investments, including property, private equity and listed stocks in the country, said: "What is going on in the market, both at the economic level and on the currency, is having a huge impact on investors like me.

"I've cashed out my stocks over the past year but I am stuck with my 10-year committed private equity investment which the fund managers cannot exit, so the only thing we can do now is not to put anymore money in the market."

Chartered accountant Rishi Kalra, 38, is anxious but hopes next year's general election will bring stability to the Indian economy and markets.

"I haven't pulled out my investments, I'm still waiting and watching. I think India can recover as long as one party wins the next election definitively. But if it's another coalition, it will be a crisis again."

HSBC economist Leif Eskesen said moves by the Indian government to fatten up the current account will not amount to a sustainable solution.

"This is not to say that the steps taken to contain the current account deficit, open up to more external debt financing, bringing in more deposits, and now trying to prevent residents from 'exporting' capital will not help contain the leaks. They certainly will," he wrote in a report last Thursday.

"However, they may not be sufficient to bring about the narrowing of the current account deficit the government is targeting or the net inflows they are hoping for."

yasminey@sph.com.sg

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