Indian rupee and U.S. dollar banknotes (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

RBI Announces Fresh Liquidity Infusion Through Forex Swaps

The Reserve Bank of India will infuse further liquidity into the markets, this time using a tool designed to swap dollar inflows with rupee funds. While the central bank does infuse rupee liquidity when it buys excess dollars from the market, it is now committing to infuse a specific amount of funds for a pre-determined period of time.

The RBI will conduct long-term ‘Buy/Sell’ swaps for converting dollars to rupee, it said a notification issued late on Tuesday.

A dollar/rupee ‘Buy/Sell’ swap auction of $5 billion for tenor of three years will be conducted on March 26, 2019. The auction, if successful, will infuse about Rs 35,000 crore in domestic liquidity.

In order to meet the durable liquidity needs of the system, the RBI has decided to augment its liquidity management toolkit and inject rupee liquidity for longer duration through long-term foreign exchange Buy/Sell swap in terms of its extant liquidity management framework.  
RBI Notification

How It Will Work?

  • The swap is in the nature of a simple Buy/Sell foreign exchange swap with the RBI.
  • A bank shall sell U.S. dollars to the RBI and simultaneously agree to buy the same amount of U.S. dollars at the end of the swap period.
  • Banks would likely bid to swap dollars at a forward rate, which is lower than the market. A cut-off would be determined based on the bids received.
  • The dollars raised through the auction will reflect in the RBI’s foreign exchange reserves.

Rationale And Market Impact

The decision to use a new liquidity management tool comes at the end of a financial year in which the RBI has bought large amounts of government bonds via open market operations. The central bank has bought close to Rs 2.8 lakh crore in government bonds to infuse liquidity.

The RBI has absorbed close to 74 percent of net issuance by the government through OMOs, said Anant Narayan, associate professor at SP Jain Institute of Management and Research. By announcing Buy/Sell swaps for a specific amount, the RBI will add another tool to infuse liquidity, he said.

Narayan said the announcement will be seen as negative by the bond market as the probability of further OMO bond purchases will reduce. In the currency market, the difference between the spot rate and the forward rate may narrow, making it cheaper for importers and foreign currency borrowers to hedge.

“The action (of buying foreign exchange to infuse rupee liquidity) is common but the announcement process is uncommon. The announcement effect will ensure orderly movement in forex market given some large inflows of dollars are expected. It will also domestic liquidity market by the tune of around Rs 35000 crore,” said Soumyajit Niyogi, associate director at India Ratings and Research.

While the current liquidity shortfall stands at about Rs 48,000 crore, the deficit is likely to spike to over Rs 2 lakh crore at the end of the month due to tax outflows. The RBI’s announcement may be aimed at attempting to manage the liquidity situation with a mix of instruments.

“Most importantly, the huge liquidity infusion that the RBI would have to do post the advance tax and GST payout at the end of the month would have faced a challenge in terms of availability of government bonds with banks,” he added.

Banks use government bonds as collateral to borrow from RBI’s repo window but they also have to maintain a minimum government bond holding with themselves.

“Amid current low excess SLR (statutory liquidity ratio) holding of the banks after adjusting for LCR (liquidity coverage ratio) requirement, there may not be much space for RBI to conduct longer tenor term repos/OMOs of higher quantum,” said Madhavi Arora, economist at Edelweiss Securities.