U.S. Treasury Department Report Says India May Be Removed From Currency Watchlist
The U.S. could remove India from its currency monitoring list of major trading partners, the Treasury Department has said, citing certain developments and steps taken by New Delhi which address some of its major concerns.
In April, the U.S. had placed India in its watchlist of countries with potentially questionable foreign exchange policies, along with five other countries China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Switzerland.
The Department of Treasury maintained the same monitoring list in its latest report released on Wednesday but said if India continues with the same practices as in the last six months, it would be removed from its next bi-annual report.
“India’s circumstances have shifted markedly, as the central bank’s net sales of foreign exchange over the first six months of 2018 led net purchases over the four quarters through June 2018 to fall to $4 billion, or 0.2 percent of the GDP,” the Treasury said in its latest semi-annual report on Macroeconomic and Foreign Exchange Policies of Major Trading Partners of the U.S.
This represented a notable change from 2017, when purchases over the first three quarters of the year pushed net purchases of foreign exchange above two percent of the GDP, it said.
Recent sales have come amidst a turnaround in foreign portfolio flows, as foreign investors pulled portfolio capital out of India (and many other emerging markets) over the first half of the year, it said.
The rupee depreciated by around seven percent against the dollar and by more than four percent on a real effective basis in the first half of 2018, the report said.
India has a significant bilateral goods trade surplus with the U.S., totalling $23 billion over the four quarters through June 2018, but India's current account is in deficit at 1.9 percent of GDP.
As a result, India now only meets one of the three criteria from the 2015 Act. If this remains the case at the time of its next report, Treasury would remove India from the monitoring list.U.S. Treasury Department Report
Observing that India's current account deficit widened in the four quarters through June 2018 to 1.9 percent of GDP, following several years of narrowing from its 2012 peak, the Treasury said the current account deficit has been driven by a large and persistent goods trade deficit, which has in turn resulted from substantial gold and petroleum imports.
The goods trade deficit has widened in the first half to 6.4 percent of GDP as oil prices have risen.
The International Monetary Fund projects the current account deficit to be around 2.5 percent of GDP over the medium term as domestic demand strengthens further and favourable growth prospects support investment.
India's goods trade surplus with the U.S. was $23 billion for the four quarters through June 2018, it said, adding that India also had a small surplus in services trade with the U.S. of $4 billion over the same period.
"India's exports to the U.S. are concentrated in sectors that reflect India's global specialisation (notably pharmaceuticals and IT services), while U.S exports to India are dominated by key service trade categories, particularly travel and higher education," the report said.
The Treasury praised India for being "exemplary" in publishing its foreign exchange market intervention.
The Reserve Bank of India has noted that the value of the rupee is broadly market-determined, with intervention used only during "episodes of undue volatility," it said.
According to the authority's data, India was generally a net purchaser of foreign exchange from late 2013 to the middle of 2017, as the RBI sought to gradually build a stronger external buffer in the aftermath of the May 2013 "taper tantrum".
Purchases accelerated in the first half of 2017 amidst strong portfolio inflows to India (and many other emerging markets); as a result, cumulative net purchases of foreign exchange exceeded two percent of GDP over 2017, it said.
Noting that foreign exchange purchases generally declined in the second half of 2017, and the RBI shifted to selling foreign exchange in the first half of 2018, the Treasury said net purchases of foreign exchange over the past four quarters through June totalled $4 billion (0.2 percent of GDP), including activity in the forward market.
Sales of foreign exchange in the first half of this year came in the context of foreign portfolio outflows of $7 billion, as India experienced outflows (particularly of foreign portfolio debt) that were witnessed across many emerging markets in the second quarter.U.S. Treasury Department Report
This mirrored the pattern of the last few years, in which intervention has typically tracked institutional portfolio flows. India maintains ample reserves according to the IMF metrics for reserve adequacy, particularly given that India retains some controls on both inbound and outbound flows of private capital.
As of June, foreign currency reserves stood at $380 billion, equal to 3.7 times gross short-term external debt, eight months of import cover, and 14 percent of the GDP.