By May 12, the world’s largest democracy will have headed to the polls over the course of several weeks to elect a new government. Indian equity markets are rising to all-time highs on the news that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Narendra Modi will be elected the next prime minister of India. Prices are rising on the hopes that he—seen as a pro-market, pro-reform agenda candidate—will be able to re-energize the Indian economy by reducing corruption and cutting red tape. With equity markets already rebounding on the news, we believe that increasing allocations to the rupee may be a prudent way to bet on renewed optimism in India.
Potential Flows into the Indian Economy Support the Rupee
We believe that the Indian rupee can continue to rise for several reasons:
• A stronger foundation provided by credible central bank policy
• Optimism that a BJP-led government will enact changes that remove obstacles to achieving India’s long-term potential
• Attractive levels of carry offered by local money market rates
• Likelihood that these factors will continue to support foreign capital inflows
As we discussed in a previous blog post, governor Raghuram Rajan’s efforts to restore the inflation-fighting credibility of the Reserve Bank of India have created a more supportive backdrop for investment in India. Additionally, the finance ministry has taken steps to facilitate foreign investors’ access to rupee-denominated assets. As a result of greater access and conviction, an expanding consensus behind the pro-growth candidate has quickly led to strong inflows into local assets from foreign investors. Over the last month, more than $5.5 billion has moved into Indian equity and bond markets.1
As emerging market investors are all too aware, investment flows can have a significant impact on the value of a currency. This is particularly true for the Indian rupee, which historically has a high level of sensitivity to portfolio flows. Money flowing out of markets—as it did last year—can weaken the currency, as foreign sellers seek to sell locally denominated assets and repatriate their U.S. dollars.
But this is also true in reverse. Positive flows back into Indian equity and bond markets cause the currency to rise as global demand for rupees—and rupee-denominated assets—increases.
As we have seen over the last several weeks, the rupee has appreciated in value against the U.S. dollar by 3.2% in the lead-up to the elections.2 Many investors may want to express a bullish view of the Indian economy but may be stuck deciding how to allocate between stocks and bonds. In our view, increasing demand for both asset classes will naturally support the value of the Indian rupee against the U.S. dollar.
Income Potential via Carry in Short-Term Rupee Exposures
While equity-only investors may be cheering the SENSEX to new all-time highs, the rapid gains over the last few weeks could make some investors think that a pullback might be just around the corner. With most Indian stocks trading at around 17 times earnings—compared to the broader emerging market average of 12 times earnings—Indian stocks may appear like less of a bargain.3
With efficient access to Indian bonds still limited for many investors, we believe that accessing the currency and local money market rates through exchange-traded funds (ETFs) provides an attractive means of participating in the optimistic outlook in India.