Money & Banking

Thanks to policy switch, tide turns for Indian bonds in just two weeks; global funds rush in

Bloomberg February 17 | Updated on February 18, 2020

Just a month ago, global funds could not wait to dump India’s sovereign bonds. Now, they are rushing back at the fastest pace in more than two years.

Foreigners bought $1.9 billion of the debt in the first two weeks of February, set for the highest monthly inflow since June 2017.

The sudden switch is a testimony to the unprecedented changes introduced by policy makers. In an attempt to fund record borrowings, Prime Minister Modi Narendra is lifting foreign investment limits on some bonds, while the Reserve Bank of India has introduced long-term reverse repurchases to lower borrowing costs.

“The RBI’s policy bias has supported inflows and contributed to the strong rally in the shorter tenors,” said Stuart Ritson, a fund manager for emerging-market debt at Aviva Investors in Singapore.

“The fiscal and inflation backdrop is challenging, but the RBI policy should help support the market.”

After five interest-rate cuts in 2019 failed to jump-start a slowing economy, the RBI has taken to unconventional policies.

It first used a Federal Reserve style-like Operation Twist, and then on February 6, added a measure similar to the European Central Bank’s long-term refinancing operation as surging inflation restricts more rate cuts.

The biggest beneficiaries

Shorter-tenor bonds have been the biggest beneficiaries of the RBI’s plan to inject as much as $14 billion through one- and three-year funding operations.

Foreign holdings of sovereign debt due in 2024, with a coupon of 7.32 per cent, rose to about 11 per cent on February 14 from 7 per cent on February 5. The yields fell 31 basis points in that period, compared to a 11 basis points drop in the benchmark 10-year bond.

India is attracting inflows just as Indonesia, Asia’s other major high-yielding bond market, sees outflows. Foreign funds sold $835.3 million of Indonesian debt so far in February on concern the coronavirus outbreak may impact Chinese demand for the nations exports.

“Indian bonds are very attractive in the context of Asian bonds, given their high yields and lower volatility that increase risk-adjusted returns,” said Lin Jing Leong, a Singapore-based investment manager at Aberdeen Asset Management Asia Ltd.

“Bond markets will certainly be supported due to the RBI’s long-term repo operations and more policy easing,” he said.

Published on February 17, 2020

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