Indian rupee is Asia's worst-performing currency this month and stocks are down 20% from the January peak
The Indian rupee slid to near a record low and equities headed for a bear market as continued worries over the economic impact from the coronavirus extended a rout in risk assets globally.
The rupee weakened as much as 1% to 74.3387 per dollar on Thursday to near its record low of 74.4825, a level last seen in October 2018. All 30 stocks in the S&P BSE Sensex dropped, pushing down the index as much as 7.6%, the sharpest cut since January 2009.
The rupee is Asia’s worst-performing currency this month and stocks are down 20% from the January peak despite the slump in oil prices amid mounting virus cases in the country. The government suspended most visas in a bid to contain the epidemic as the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic. India currently has 60 confirmed cases.
“The way global risk-off is going, I expect the weakening pressure to intensify further,” said Prakash Sakpal, Asia economist at ING Groep in Singapore. “This and other domestic economic negatives, more importantly increasingly weak financial system have been outweighing the positive of crashing oil price.”
The risk-off sentiment has pushed markets from Australia to Japan and Brazil to Italy into a bear market this month. Foreigners have pulled $2.1 billion from Indian stocks this month, the most since August. They unloaded 70.9 billion rupees ($956 million) of sovereign debt on Wednesday.
“India is tracking developed markets, and we are heading for the same amount of correction due to outflows from both international and domestic investors,” said Ashish Chaturmohta, head of technical and derivatives strategy at Sanctum Wealth Management Pvt. in Mumbai.
India’s travel curbs came as U.S. President Donald Trump suspended all travel from Europe, excluding the U.K., and the WHO urged governments to step up containment efforts as the number of worldwide cases topped 124,000 and deaths exceeded 4,600. India currently has 60 confirmed cases.
“The travel restrictions has further weakened investor sentiment as businesses like aviation and entertainment will see an impact,” said Sameer Kalra, a strategist at Mumbai-based Target Investing, which oversees 7 billion rupees of assets. “There’s also a concern over the preparedness of different state authorities to contain the spread.”
In the forex market, traders have been citing attempts by the RBI to smoothen the rupee’s slide in the past few sessions. The central bank is sitting on record forex reserves of $482 billion, thanks to its continued purchases in the currency markets over the past few years.
The plunge in the global crude oil price remains a bright spot for the nation’s struggling economy. The price of crude crashed more than 30% on Monday after the disintegration of the OPEC+ alliance triggered an all-out price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
“The rupee may not fall as much as other asset classes thanks to the oil price crash, which could save $35-$40 billion per annum for India,” said Chokkalingam G, head of investment advisory Equinomics Research & Advisory Pvt. in Mumbai. “It’s a bonanza for the Indian economy.”
Chokkalingam said he is holding cash of as much as 26% in some equity strategies and has stayed away from stocks in the past one week.