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Asia’s top carry trade stokes rupee bulls with RBI on sidelines

LiveMint logoLiveMint 16-05-2017 Lilian Karunungan

Singapore/Mumbai: Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) apparent tolerance of rupee gains is burnishing the appeal of Asia’s best carry-trade currency.

RBI governor Urjit Patel already surprised analysts by raising a key interest rate last month, and now there’s little indication that officials are intervening heavily to slow currency gains—unlike some Asian counterparts. That’s all spurred Aviva investors to add to its rupee positions, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch is recommending buying the currency.

The rupee is delivering the best carry-trade returns in emerging markets this year, toppling the Indonesian rupiah, which was 2016’s king in Asia. While a stronger currency is casting a cloud over Indian exporters’ earnings—an impact that triggered concerns from the chief economic adviser to the finance ministry—official reserves have risen by less than many counterparts, and market participants have cited a lack of aggressive intervention.

“The Reserve Bank of India is becoming more hawkish,” said Stuart Ritson, the Singapore-based head of Asian rates and currencies at Aviva Investors. Excess domestic liquidity has constrained the central bank’s ability to intervene, he said. “The bulk of our returns we expect to get from the carry, rather than the capital,” he said, emphasizing the higher rates investors can earn in rupees than low-rate currencies such as the yen.

At 6.8%, Indian 10-year benchmark sovereign bond yields are the highest among major economies in Asia, following Indonesia, which has shown greater appetite for intervention to slow currency appreciation.

India’s currency has climbed 6% against the dollar this year as Asia’s third-largest economy lured more than $14 billion into its bonds and equity markets. That’s added to liquidity created by the government’s surprise demonetization decision in November, which spurred an influx of funds into the banking system.

“RBI has been letting the rupee rally because it is using the currency as a tool to tighten financial conditions,” said Rohit Garg, a fixed income and currency strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Singapore.

The rupee’s Sharpe ratio, which measures returns adjusted for prices fluctuations, is 5.7 for the year so far, ranking at the top among 23 emerging markets tracked by Bloomberg. Borrowing in US currency to purchase rupee assets has earned 7.9% this year, the highest carry return in Asia, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

India’s bonds have a fresh bonus in slowing inflation, with a government report late on Friday showing consumer prices rose less than economists had estimated, news that spurred a rally on Monday. But with one of the world’s fastest economic growth rates, yields are likely to stay higher than elsewhere—maintaining the attraction of carry trades.

“In Asia, the INR remains one of the top picks that we have been recommending to clients for well over three years,” said Cristian Maggio, the head of emerging markets strategy at TD Securities in London, using the trading term for the rupee. “Appreciation potential now is more limited, but we think that the carry story will continue to look attractive.” Bloomberg

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