India has put on ice plans to join major emerging market bond indexes that would require it to remove restrictions on foreign capital inflows, two sources said, signalling easing concerns about the rupee and the balance of payments.
A separate plan to explore joining Euroclear, the world’s largest securities settlement system, has also been deferred until the next government takes charge after elections in April and May. That plan could have further opened up the market to portfolio capital inflows.
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Raghuram Rajan, Reserve Bank of India governor, initiated talks with index compilers including JP Morgan in the hope of attracting billions of investment dollars after the rupee tumbled to a record low last August.
“The plan for joining global bond indices has virtually been dumped over differences of abolishing investment limits on FIIs (foreign institutional investors) in government bonds,” a senior official with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
Initially, India had hoped to join the government bond indices by December, potentially attracting $20 billion-$40 billion in additional inflows over a year according to Standard Chartered Bank estimates, the source said.
Confirming the failure of talks, another source said: “As regards the issue of India’s plan to enter into JP Morgan debt index and other global indices, no action is being envisaged.”
A global flight to the US dollar last year, driven by an expected withdrawal of monetary stimulus by the Federal Reserve, sent the partially convertible rupee sliding.
The current account deficit has since narrowed, and the rupee has recovered 8 per cent since September, taking the pressure off the government to liberalise capital flows – a step supported by the central bank, investors and many policymakers.
A strong election campaign by opposition leader Narendra Modi, who has a pro-business record running Gujarat, has also boosted Indian assets.
Investors such as hedge funds and sovereign funds have pumped huge funds into emerging markets like Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa’s sovereign debt in the last few years and held $768 billion as of June 2013, the IMF estimates.
Foreign holdings in Indian public debt are expected to decline to around 4 per cent by end-March to $728 billion, from 5.2 per cent two years ago.
Euroclear plans on hold
Plans to join Brussels-based Euroclear bank – the largest provider of cross-border settlement services for securities trades – have also been deferred till the next government takes charge.
Settlement of locally-issued government bonds via Euroclear would have removed any regulatory barriers for foreign investors to invest in Asia’s third-largest economy.
“We are not yet ready to join the Euroclear due to its tough conditions, on which the next government can take a decision,” the first source said, without giving details.
Talks with Euroclear got a boost after the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private-sector arm, issued the first tranche of a $1 billion global offering of rupee-linked bonds last year that would be accessible via Euroclear.
Officials said Euroclear would have to open an account within India, a prerequisite for settling the bonds and would need a raft of regulatory changes in India.