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Sunday, October 05, 2008

India's Ship IS Battered By The Global Storm, But She Will Survive!

by Edward Hugh: Barcelona

India is in the middle of a storm at the moment, there can be no doubt about that. But the important point to note is that this storm is not of India's making. The financial turmoil in a number of key developed economies, and above all the United States, is sending shock waves across the global economy, and as is normal, when the earth trembles, it is the most fragile who notice it most. India's economy may be fragile in the sense that it is very vulnerable to what is colloqially known as global risk sentiment, but it is not fragile in terms of being susceptible to having its growth trajectory knocked completely off course. India may be shaken, but her economy will not be broken.

Emerging Market Bonds

Emerging-market bonds had their worst week in four years this week as the deepening credit crisis raised global recession concerns and slammed the brakes on demand for higher-yielding securities. The extra yield investors demand to own developing-nation bonds rather than U.S. Treasuries surged 62 basis points, or 0.62 of a percentage point, this week to 4.41 percentage points, according to data derived from the JPMorgan Chase EMBI+ index. The increase is the biggest since May 2004 and leaves the so-called spread at its widest since June of that year. The spread has now swelled 1.42 percentage points since the end of August.

Investors remained wary of emerging-market debt as evidence mounted that most of the major major economies - the U.S., the UK, Japan and the Eurozone - are sliding into recession. This realisation has triggered a major exit from commodities, which are a significant source of export revenue for a large number of developing nations. In particular bonds extended losses on the perception that the $700 billion U.S. bank bailout would not work miracles and thus many developed economies will be struggling to digest the impact of the credit blow-out for some time to come.

Until credibility is restored, we will not see people investing in the numbers that emerging economies like India and Brazil badly need to see. But at the same time, we might ask ourselves, at theis moment in time if they don't invest in India and Brazil, then where are they going to invest? The problem is that in the present global environment people are not simply not willing to take assume what is perceived as "risky" without being paid a large - and from the emerging economy point of view - damaging premium. Of course, the situation is also confused since people are no longer clear what constitutes "risky" and what doesn't - the German government, for example, yesterday found itself forced to offer a blanket guarantee of all domestic bank deposits to head off any risk of flight from German bank accounts.

One result of all this nervousness is that the cost of protecting developing nations' bonds against default has been steadily rising. Five-year credit-default swaps based on Argentina's debt climbed 44 basis points to 12.55 percentage points last week, the highest since at least June 2005. That means it costs $1.255 million to protect $10 million of the country's debt from default. Credit-default swaps, contracts conceived to protect bondholders against default, pay the buyer face value in exchange for the underlying securities or the cash equivalent should a company fail to adhere to its debt agreements.

Emerging Market Stocks

Emerging-market stocks also fell substantially last week, experiencing their the biggest weekly decline in seven years, led by the banks and energy companies. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index dropped 2.3 percent on Friday to 741.73, following a 3.4 percent decline on Thursday. The index lost 10 percent on theweek, the most since the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

Turkey's benchmark index fell the most in three weeks, losing 4.2 percent to 34,553 in the first trading day since Sept. 29. Russia's Micex Index slumped 5.3 percent, extending its annual loss to 51 percent. India's Sensex index slid 4.1 percent to 12,526.32. Reliance Industries Ltd., India's biggest company by market value, slumped 7.6 percent, to its lowest in a year.

Inflation Falls

But while India's financial system has been taking a beating, Indian inflation, almost un-noticed -slipped back to a 13-week low in late September, giving the central bank some breathing space to keep interest rates unchanged and lossen the liquidity strings when it next meets at the end of this month. Wholesale prices rose 11.99 percent in the week to Sept. 20 from a year earlier after gaining 12.14 percent in the previous week, the commerce ministry said in a statement in New Delhi on Thursday.

Reserve Bank of India Governor Duvvuri Subbarao is under pressure to boost money supply as a local stock sell-off triggered by the global credit crunch has drained funds from the banking system, increasing borrowing costs. Subbarao will undoubtedly seek to steer a middle course, since, given that inflation is still double the central bank's target he will not want to seem to be "soft", while on the other hand he will want to be prudent and will try to head off an excessively rapid credit tightening on the back of the global crunch. In addition, the peak of global inflation has now undoubtedly past, and we are now likely to see growing deflationary (rather than inflationary) headwinds as capacity levels exceed demand across the whole global economy and commodity prices tumble, as Claus Vistesen explains in this excellent and timely post.

The Indian central bank had been busy tightening, and had raised the cash reserve ratio, or the proportion of deposits that lenders maintain with it as reserves, by 400 basis points to 9 percent during the period between December 2006 and July 2008 in an ongoing battle to contain inflation. The bank will make the outcome of its next meeting in Mumbai known on Oct. 24, but we can be pretty sure that the "bias" will now have shifted towards loosening liquidity conditions rather than tightening them, as the priorities have changed, and the big priority now is to avoid any systemic bank problems, to keep the cost of borrowing for Indian companies down, and to prevent consumer credit slowing too dramatically.

The Indian banking system has been under increasing strain in recent days, and one symptom of this is that the rate at which Indian banks lend to each other reached an 18-month high of 17.5 percent on Oct. 1. Indian banks borrowed an average 413 billion rupees a day from the central bank in September, almost twice the amount in August, further indicating a shortage of funds in the banking system.

Commodities Down

Commodities, as measured by the Reuters/Jefferies CRB Index of 19 raw materials, tumbled 9.9 percent last week, the most since at least 1956.

Crude oil has lost 12 percent during the week, the most since 2004. The contract for November delivery traded at $94.47 a barrel, up 0.5 percent, as of 12:11 p.m. London time. Copper fell as much as 3.1 percent to $5,670 a ton on the London Metal Exchange, the lowest since February 2007 and was down 12% on the week.

Such downward movement in commodity prices has a double-edged impact on emerging economies. On the one hand inflation, which has in large part been driven up by rising commodity prices, will reduce significantly, but on the other hand many emerging economies are dependent on revenue from commodity sales to finance growth and development. Really this is a situation which will sort the "men" from the "boys", since those emerging economies which are really going to emerge will be in a position to switch the driving force of growth from commodity and agricultural dependence to industrialisation and domestic investment and consumer demand. It is my firm belief that India is now decidedly inside the group which is in the process of making this transition.

Stocks Down

Indian stocks fell during the week, with the benchmark Sensex stock index declining to its lowest in 18 months. The Bombay Stock Exchange's Sensitive Index, dropped 529.35, or 4.1 percent, to 12,526.32, its lowest since April 2, 2007. The index posted its second weekly decline, falling 4.4 percent. The S&P CNX Nifty Index on the National Stock Exchange fell 3.4 percent to 3,818.30. The BSE 200 Index declined 3.8 percent to 1,515.29. Nifty futures for October delivery fell 2.9 percent to 3,853.

Overseas investors bought a net 845 billion rupees ($18 million) of Indian stocks on Sept. 30, trimming their net outflow this year from equities to $9.1 billion, the nation's stock market regulator said.

Forex Reserves

India's foreign exchange reserves fell marginally by USD 153 million to USD 291.819billion for the week ended September 26 from USD 291.972 billion in the previous week. Reserves had jumped by USD 2.511 billion in the previous week. Foreign currency assets (FCA), during the week, dropped to USD 282.652 billion from USD 282.811 billion a week ago, according to data issued by the RBI on Friday.


India's rupee slumped to the lowest since 2003, adding to speculation investors will take continue taking money out of the currency. The currency completed its eighth weekly loss, the longest drop since December 2005. The rupee was down 1 percent on the day to 47.085 per dollar, the lowest since June 2003, as of the 5 p.m. close in Mumbai on Friday. The currency lost 1.15 percent this week.

September Global Manufacturing PMI Shows Sharp Contraction

September seems to have been the ultimate "mensis horribilis" for industrial output internationally - and thus it is only natural to assume that Indian industry was also adversly affected - with global manufacturing activity contracting for the fourth consecutive month, and output falling to its weakest level in over seven years according to the JP Morgan Global Manufacturing PMI, which at 44.2 hit its strongest rate of contraction since November 2001, down from 48.6 in August (Please see the end of this post for some information about countries included and the JP Morgan methodology).

According to the JP Morgan report the retrenchment of the manufacturing sector mainly reflected marked deteriorations in the trends for production, new orders and employment. The declines in output and new work received were the second most severe in the survey history, while staffing levels fell at the fastest pace for over six-and-a-half years. The Global Manufacturing Output Index registered 42.7 in September, well below the 48.5 posted for August.

The sharpest decline in production was recorded for Spain, followed by the US, Japan and then the UK. Although the Eurozone Output Index sank to its second-lowest reading in the survey history, it was above the global average for the first time in four months. Within the euro area, France and Spain saw output fall at survey record rates, while in Italy and Ireland the contractions were the second and third most marked in their respective series. Germany, which until recently was the main growth engine of the Eurozone, saw production fall for the second month running and to the greatest extent for six years. Manufacturing activity in Japan fell to the lowest in over 6- years with the Nomura/JMMA Japan Purchasing Managers Index declining to a seasonally adjusted 44.3 in September from 46.9 in August.

At 40.8 in September, the Global Manufacturing New Orders Index posted a reading well below the neutral 50.0 mark. JP Morgan noted that the trends in new work received were especially weak in Spain, the UK, France and the US, with the all bar the latter seeing new orders fall at a series record pace (for the US it was the strongest drop since January 2001). The downturn of the sector led to further job losses in September, with the rate of reduction in employment the fastest since February 2002. Conditions in the Spanish, the UK and the US manufacturing labour markets were especially weak.

Russian manufacturing shrank for a second month in September, and in so doing registered its first back-to-back contraction since November 1998, as companies cut jobs and growth in new orders slowed, according to the latest VTB Bank Europe Purchasing Managers Report. The PMI came in at a seasonally adjusted 49.8, compared with 49.4 in August. The August reading was the lowest figure in three and a half years, according to the bank statement. On such indexes a figure above 50 indicates growth while one below 50 indicates a contraction.

Manufacturing in China contracted for a second month in August, underscoring the risk of a slump in the world's fourth-biggest economy. The Purchasing Managers' Index was a seasonally adjusted 48.4, unchanged from July, the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing said today in an e-mailed statement.

Brazil's industrial output fell a seasonally-adjusted 1.3 percent in August, the largest monthly drop this year, bolstering expectations the central bank will ease monetary tightening in response to slowing economic growth. On an annual basis, output rose 2 percent, the slowest pace since March, according to data from the national statistics agency in Rio de Janeiro.

And the situation seems to have deteriorated further in September, since the headline seasonally adjusted Banco Real Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) registered a 25-month low of 50.4, down from 51.1 in August.

So basically this is where we get to learn what a global credit crunch means in terms of output and economic growth.

India's Industrial Output Weakens Too

India's industrial output growth bounced back again in July (the last month for which we have official data), reaching a five-month year on year expansion rate high of 7.1%. This follows a noted slowdown where output only rose by 5.4 percent gain in June, and 4.1% in May, according to data from the Central Statistical Organisation.

But if we come to look at the manufacturing PMI we will see that India's manufacturing output has also slowed somewhat, and expanded at its slowest pace in 14 months in September according to the ABN AMRO Bank purchasing managers' index. The PMI reading - which is based on a survey of 500 companies operating in India - fell to a seasonally adjusted 57.3 in September from 57.9 in August. This reading was the lowest since July 2007. Still 57.3 still suggests Indian industry continues to grow quite vigoursly, although the report did highlight the fact that the drop in the index was mainly the result of a decline in growth of new orders, and implied a deterioration in demand conditions, both locally as well as in export markets.

Current Account and Trade Deficit

The Rupee has also been dropping in reaction to India's deteriorating current account situation. The current account deficit rocketed to $10.7 billion in the three months from April to June, up from a $1.04 billion gap in the previous quarter,according to data from the Reserve Bank of India last week.

India's trade deficit almost doubled to a record in August as a surge in crude oil prices increased the import bill and overseas sales of goods slowed. The trade deficit widened to $13.9 billion from $7.2 billion a year earlier, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Imports grew 51 percent, the fastest gain in seven months, to $29.9 billion, while exports expanded 27 percent to $16 billion.

A near doubling of oil prices has boosted import costs, since India relies on overseas purchases for three-quarters of its energy needs. India paid an average $8 billion a month this year for oil imports, up from $5.5 billion in 2007, as crude oil costs surged to a record $147 a barrel on July 11. In India's case the 35 percent drop in oil prices we have seen since July has been partially offset by the decline in the rupee to a five-year low.

India's oil imports in August rose 77 percent to $10.9 billion as refiners paid more for crude oil purchased overseas. Non-oil imports gained 40 percent to $18.9 billion. Imports in the five months ended August 31 rose 38 percent to $130.3 billion from $94.6 billion a year ago. That took the trade deficit to $49.2 billion, compared with $34.5 billion in the same period a year earlier. Overseas sales of Indian goods in the five months to August 31 grew 35 percent to $81.2 billion, compared with $60.1 billion, the statement said.

India and Brazil Critical Weathervanes

What I have been arguing in this post is not that everything about India's economy is perfect - far from it, but neither is it the "perfect storm" disaster which current knee jerk reactions among international investors would seem to suggest. The problems which are hitting the Indian economy at the moment, from the rapid rise in inflation to the sudden withdrawal of sentiment have a common origin: the dynamics of the global economy, and it is to these we must now look if we are to be able to sort the wood from the trees about what happens next. Basically, when the dust settles, I think it will be apparent that there are few economies left sufficiently well standing (not Russia certainly, and probably not China, given the export dependence on the developed economies) and with sufficient energy to bounce back. Many may be sceptical that Brazil and India are going to lead the coming charge (this recession cannot, after all, last forever), but I ask you, if it isn't Brazil and India, who is it going to be?

JP Morgan Global Manufacturing PMI Methodology

The Global Report on Manufacturing is compiled by Markit Economics based on the results of surveys covering over 7,500 purchasing executives in 26 countries. Together these countries account for an estimated 83% of global manufacturing output. Questions are asked about real events and are not opinion based. Data are presented in the form of diffusion indices, where an index reading above 50.0 indicates an increase in the variable since the previous month and below 50.0 a decrease.

The countries included are listed below by size of global GDP share, and the figures in brackets are the % og global GDP in each case (World Bank Data).

United States (30.5), Eurozone (18.7), Japan (13.9), Germany (5.6), China (4.9),United Kingdom (4.5), France (4.0), Italy (3.2), Spain(1.9), Brazil (1.9),India (1.7), Australia (1.3), Netherlands (1.1), Russia (0.9), Switzerland (0.7), Turkey (0.7), Austria (0.6), Poland (0.5), Denmark (0.5), South Africa (0.4), Greece (0.4), Israel (0.3), Ireland (0.3), Singapore (0.3), Czech Republic (0.2), New Zealand (0.2), Hungary 0.2.

Disclosure Statement: Edward Hugh is a macroeconomist who maintains a premier set of blogs at Global Economy Matters and is a featured analyst at Emerginvest. Edward Hugh provides non-partisan information about world stock markets, and does not have any holdings in foreign equities. The information stated above should not be construed as investment advice, and Edward Hugh is not liable for any actions taken on said materials.