The Latest Currency War Entrant: India Warns May Retaliate To Chinese Devaluation

When China moved to devalue the yuan earlier this month, it was seen by virtually everyone for exactly what it was: a tacit admission that the country’s economy was in freefall and a desperate attempt to boost exports stinging from REER appreciation of more than 14% in just a little over twelve months. 

Of course coming out and accusing China of entering the global currency wars for the sole purpose of supporting the export-driven economy isn’t something that’s politically correct and if you’re China, you want to deflect that criticism so naturally, there was plenty of polite talk about the need to allow the yuan to move in a more market determined way and that rhetoric squares nicely with China’s SDR inclusion hopes. 

Ultimately though, trade competitiveness is now front and center in everyone’s minds, especially Asia ex-Japan nations who will now see their respective REERs appreciate even as the weaker yuan means demand from the mainland will be suppressed. 

And while we’ve talked plenty about the impact on Asia-Pac and LatAm (especially Brazil, where the trade ministry immediately acknowledged the adverse effect of the yuan deval), we haven’t yet mentioned India where yesterday, in the midst of the turmoil, Central bank governor Raghuram Rajan sought to calm nervous markets by reassuring the world that India is not, for now anyway, in any danger thanks to ample FX reserves and a low CA. Here’s more from Reuters:

Central bank governor Raghuram Rajan told a banking conference Asia's third-largest economy was in a good position relative to other countries to withstand the current global markets volatility.


"India is better placed compared to other countries with low current account deficit, and fiscal deficit discipline, moderate inflation, low short-term foreign currency liabilities, very sizeable base of forex reserves," he said.


"We will have no hesitation in using our reserves when appropriate to reduce volatility in the rupee."


The rupee fell to as low as 66.74 per dollar on Monday, its lowest since September 2013, as Asian markets reeled under fears of a China-led global economic slowdown.


The 30-share Sensex dropped 5.94 percent, its biggest daily percentage fall since Jan. 7, 2009. The index fell to as low as 25,624.72 points at one point, its lowest intraday level since Aug. 11, 2014.

Amusingly, Rajan also pledged to stick to a disciplined monetary policy noting that "rate cuts should not be seen as goodies that the RBI gives out stingily after much public pleading."

Be that as it may, economic realities are economic realities and a currency war is a currency war, which is why, we suppose, the Indian government’s chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian thinks the country might just have to hit back. Here’s Bloomberg:

India may need to respond to China’s monetary policy stance


India’s exports to be hurt if global slowdown persists, ET Now television channel reports, citing Finance Minister’s Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian.

Underscoring this is the following from Deutsche Bank:

India’s export sector continues to be under pressure, with merchandise exports contracting yet again in July by 10.3%yoy. The weakness in India’s exports is striking (this is the eighth consecutive month of decline), not only in terms of past trend, but also from a cross country perspective. Indeed, India’s exports performance has been the weakest in the region thus far in 2015. In the first quarter of the current fiscal year (April-June’15), Indian exports have contracted by 17%yoy, one of the sharpest declines on record. The main reason for such a weak Indian export performance can be attributed to the sharp decline in oil exports (down 51%yoy between April-June’15), which constitute 18% of total exports. 

Another factor that could likely explain the weak performance of exports is the probable overvaluation of the rupee. As per RBI’s 36-country trade based real effective exchange rate, rupee remains overvalued at this juncture and this could be impacting exports to some extent, in our view. 



Currency competitiveness is an important factor in influencing exports performance, but global demand is even more important, in our view, to support exports momentum. As can be seen from the chart [below], global demand remains soft at this stage which continues to be a key hurdle for exports momentum to gain traction.


And that, in turn, helps to explain this (from Citi):

The likelihood of a rate cut at the RBI policy review on September 29 has risen given the downside surprise from July CPI inflation and the disinflationary impulse from the continued slide in commodity prices. But market pricing does not seem too far from that outcome. 1y ND-OIS is pricing in about 80% probability of a 25bp rate cut in September (and unchanged rates thereafter). 

So while we wait to see if indeed India decides to return fire, the ECB isn’t biting. Or at least that’s the line from Vice President Vitor Constancio who, as MNI reports, "on Tuesday signalled that he saw no reason for the ECB to step up policy support, as it was too early to assess what impact economic turmoil in China and renewed oil prices declines would have on medium-term price stability." 

"It is really too early to understand the effect of what is happening, which is now being corrected. Markets are now correcting the initial overreaction to the events in China. [The] yuan devaluation is not a major factor" for the euro-area inflation outlook, Constancio continued. So while Europe may be putting on a brave face for the time being, if exports from the currency bloc's economic growth engine (Germany) begin to take a hit from the weaker yuan, we shall see how calm the ECB remains.