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Globalisation's Underbelly: Capital Flows and Indian Economy

Recent capital flows to India have been predominantly portfolio flows and they have been associated with a deteriorating current account position. To induce foreign savings to finance current account deficits requires the interest rate in India to rise. When capital flows are associated with rising investment expenditure, economic growth is viewed as sustainable and foreign capital's willingness to share in the upside benefits through the acquisition of equity increases. To prevent the exchange rate appreciation associated with rising capital flows, the Reserve Bank of India has been accumulating foreign exchange reserves. This results in a rise in liquidity and a build-up of inflationary pressures. The RBI then resorts to sterilisation to mop up the excess liquidity in the financial system. This article discusses the implications of these processes for the financial system and the economy.

PERSPECTIVE

Globalisation’s Underbelly: Capital Flows and Indian Economy

Errol D’Souza

Within private capital flows, net foreign direct investment flows have dominated relative to net financial flows (portfolio and other flows). In fact, direct investment inflows have been relatively stable while portfolio and debt flows have been more volatile (Figure 2, p 35).

In contrast to global capital flows, private capital flows to India1 began increasing in

Recent capital flows to India have been predominantly portfolio flows and they have been associated with a deteriorating current account position. To induce foreign savings to finance current account deficits requires the interest rate in India to rise. When capital flows are associated with rising investment expenditure, economic growth is viewed as sustainable and foreign capital’s willingness to share in the upside benefits through the acquisition of equity increases. To prevent the exchange rate appreciation associated with rising capital flows, the Reserve Bank of India has been accumulating foreign exchange reserves. This results in a rise in liquidity and a build-up of inflationary pressures. The RBI then resorts to sterilisation to mop up the excess liquidity in the financial system. This article discusses the implications of these processes for the financial system and the economy.

This is the text of the V C Padmanabhan Memorial Lecture, delivered in Thrissur on June 21, 2008.

Errol D’Souza (errol@iimahd.ernet.in) is at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and is also associated with the National University of Singapore.

T
he world economy is undergoing increased integration of goods and financial markets. Global trade in goods and services has outpaced the growth in world output since the 1990s. Even though world output growth decelerated from 3.3 per cent during the 1980s to 3.1 per cent during the 1990s, growth in the volume of world trade in goods and services accelerated from 4.5 per cent to 6.4 per cent over the same period. Between 1980 and 2003 while world output doubled, world trade has trebled [RBI 2004]. Trade liberalisation, the falling cost of trade, productivity growth in the tradable goods sector, and increasing income per head are factors supporting the growth in trade.

Accompanying the increased trade flows is a fundamental change (in recent years) in the movement of capital flows. In fact, capital flows significantly influence exchange rates and the economy today much as trade deficits did earlier. The nature of these flows has changed since the 1980s when capital flows were mainly aid flows. In the 1990s, capital flows to developing economies increased rapidly and these flows were mainly private capital flows that were in part associated with a strengthening of macroeconomic policy frameworks and structural reforms in these economies (Figure 1, p 35).

In the past two decades, there have been two great waves of capital flows to emerging economies. The first began in the early 1990s and ended with the 1997-98 Asian crisis. The second wave has been in the making since 2002 and in fact has accelerated since 2006 (Figure 1). The capital flows have been predominantly private capital flows since the 1990s. Official flows that were marginal have in fact declined substantially since 2002 (Figure 1).

2000 with net foreign direct investment flows dominating as in other emerging markets. A marked change since 2002, however, when the second wave of global capital flows began is the predominance of portfolio flows in India unlike in other emerging and developing countries (Figure 3, p 35).

What differentiates this recent wave of capital flows from the early 1990s one is that it has been associated with stronger current account positions for many emerging market countries and a significant accretion of foreign exchange reserves in these economies (Figure 4, p 35).

In contrast, the increased capital flows to India were accompanied by an accumulation of reserves but the current account turned into a deficit after 2003, unlike most emerging market economies (Figure 5, p 36).

The regional patterns of capital flows demonstrate that most flows have gone to emerging Europe (central and eastern Europe) and the Commonwealth of Independent States.2 This is part of a trend that began in the early 1990s due to the opportunities created by entry into the European Union. Unlike other regions, these capital inflows have been accompanied by a deteriorating external position with the current account deficit at about 6 per cent of regional GDP in 2006 [IMF 2007].

In emerging Asia (China, Hong Kong SAR, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) net private capital inflows have rebounded from the reversals associated with the 1997-98 Asian crisis. However, private capital outflows – mainly portfolio flows – have strongly accelerated since the early 2000s, leaving net inflows well below their pre-crisis levels. In India, the net inflows have actually increased since the early 2000s and this is because

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the outflows did not accelerate more than (112.8), non-resident Indian deposits (85) Emerging markets have been generatthe inflows. As a result, net private capital and foreign direct investment (83.8) dur-ing trade surpluses, which they then lent flows to India increased at a trend growth ing the period 1990-91 to 2007-08. back to economies such as the US and UK rate of 23.5 per cent from 2000 onwards The recent capital flows to India are thus (with a current account deficit of 4.9 per

Figure 1: Total Capital Flows to Emerging and Developing Economies (in $ billion) 700 600 500 400

Private capital flows (net) 300

Total capital flows 200 100 0

1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008

-100 Official flows (net)

-200 Source: ‘World Economic Outlook, 2008’, IMF. Figure 2: Private Capital Flows to Emerging and Developing Economies (in $ billion) 700 600 500

Private capital flows (net) 400

300

Private direct investment (net) 200 100

Private portfolio flows (net) 0

1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008

-100

-200 Source: ‘World Economic Outlook, 2008’, IMF.

Figure 3: Private Capital Flows to India (in Rs billion) 3500 3000

Private capital flows 2500 2000 1500 1000

Private portfolio flows (net) Private direct investment (net) 500

0

1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007

-500 Source: Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy.

Figure 4: Private Flows, Current Account Balance and Reserve Accumulation in Emerging Markets (in $ billion) 1400

1200 Accumulation of reserves

1000 800 600 400

Private capital flows (net) 200

Current account balance 0

1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008

-200 Source: ‘World Economic Outlook, 2008’.

different from that in comparator countries on three counts –

(1) they are predominantly portfolio flows and not direct investment flows; (2) they are associated with a deteriorating current account position rather than an improving one; and (3) the extent of financial outflows has only partially offset the inflows of capital and net inflows have grown at twice the rate of the earlier decade.

Explaining Capital Flows

A notable change in the last four to five years is the emergence of a two-way movement of capital between emerging market economies and mature economies. Emerging economies have become net exporters of capital to the mature economies and have recorded current account surpluses. As against a current account deficit of $ 78 billion per annum in the 1990s, they recorded a surplus of $ 330 billion during 2000-08. This was a response to the financial crisis in Asia where countries that experienced crisis reduced domestic ab

compared to the 12.4 per cent trend growth rate of the 1990s. All components of capital flows in India have shown volatility (Figure 6, p 36). The most volatile component has been external commercial borrowings with a coefficient of variation of 203.1, followed by portfolio investment

Economic & Political Weekly EPW august 30, 2008

sorption and increased exports to generate a trade surplus. By contrast, countries like the US experienced a deterioration in their current accounts from 3 per cent of GDP to more than 6 per cent between 1999 and 2006. (In 2007 it was 5.3 per cent of GDP and is forecast to be 4.3 per cent in 2008.)

cent of GDP in 2007). Even though Germany and Japan had current account surpluses in 2007 – 5.2 per cent and 4 per cent of GDP respectively, the G-7 as a group had a current account deficit of 2.5 per cent of GDP. A large part of these emerging market savings were deployed in US government paper, which depressed the key long-term benchmark rate for the world’s financial markets. It has been estimated that in 2004, about 60 per cent of the US deficit was funded by foreign governments (who had accumulated reserves in the process of generating current account surpluses). In 2005, this ratio dropped to 40 per cent, before increasing again to 55 per cent in 2006 [Orszag 2007]. By some estimates China owns more than 10 per cent of the total stock of US government and agency paper.

The consequence has been that global interest rates have fallen and are exceptionally low by historical standards – they are about 200 basis points below their long run average. Stephen Jen calculates that the market capitalisation weighted real interest rates (10-year rate) for the US, Eurozone, UK, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand was 3.2 per cent from 1991-2000 and this average is down to 2.25 per cent from 2002-06 [Jen 2006]. In fact, the yield on US Treasury 10-year securities has been on a declining trend since 1990 (Figure 10, p 37). In passing, I would like to mention that the housing boom in countries such as the US, Spain, the UK and Australia is partially explained by the decline in the world interest rate. Of course, the other part of the explanation is the increasing use of the capital markets to finance mortgages and an increase in risk layering – financing those with weak borrower credit histories, incomplete income documentation and high cumulative loans to value. The point to make with reference to India is that whereas the spread of the JP Morgan Emerging Bond Index over US Treasuries fell to just 150 basis points by 2003 – a level not seen since the heyday of imperial finance before first world war [Obstfeld and Taylor 2004] – the spread on Indian

PERSPECTIVE

government securities has been increasing significantly since then (Figure 7).

Our explanation for capital flows does not hinge on the push factor of low interest rates abroad, which causes capital to be

Figure 5: Private Capital Flows, Current Account and Reserves in India (in Rs billion) 4000 etc – then there would

be an expectation that

3500

Reserve accumulation 3000

the increase in future

since 2003-04, the year that private capital flows began to accelerate. If agents expect productivity to increase in the future for any reason whatsoever – liberalisation, chief executive officer confidence, restruc

turing of enterprises,

productivity would belt tightening and cut consumption to

2000

raise expected future

1500

profits. This would in

1000 Private capital flows

turn lead to an in

500

crease in equity prices

0 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 and that would en

-500

Current account balance

courage investment.

-1000

Source: Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy.

Agents would naturally want to take ad-

Figure 6: Share of Net Capital Flows (% of total capital account) 70

vantage of current in

60 NRI deposits FDI Portfolio investment vestment opportunities 50

that augment future

40

output without bear

30

20

ing the burden of for

10

going current consump

0

tion. The increased in

1990-91 1992-93 1994-95 1996-97 1998-99 2000-01 2002-03 2004-05 2006-07 2007-08

-20 Source: Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy. that is not financed by current national

Figure 7: Yield on 10-Year Government Securities (% per annum)

savings would then

Yield on government of India

14 have to be financed

10-year securities

12

by inflows of capital. 10 To induce foreigners 8 to finance the home

country’s current ac6 count deficit would 4

require a rise in the

Yield on US Treasury 10-year securities

2 interest rate. The ex

1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 -10

External commercial borrowings vestment demand acquired assets will also witness erosion

Source: Federal Reserve statistics and annual report of the RBI (various issues).

pushed towards seeking higher return destinations in emerging markets. We explain the facts by noting that for an economy in which there is an anticipated productivity shock, there is the expectation that it will experience high future growth of incomes. Total factor productivity growth in India has increased since the 1980s but has not accelerated since the onset of reforms. However, from 2003, the picture is somewhat different with increased investment being associated with higher growth. Gross domestic capital formation in India, which was 22.8 per cent of GDP in 2001-02 has accelerated to 35.9 per cent in 2006-07 – an increase of 13 percentage points of GDP. The acceleration began

36 pected productivity

gain then leads to an increase in the domestic interest rate relative to the benchmark world interest rate independent of the policy induced increase due to sterilisation (Figure 7). The differential between interest rates in India and abroad have thereby been increasing since 2003. The year 2003 then is a significant turning point for the Indian economy as since then capital inflows, equity prices, investment and interest rates have been causally related.

We now delve a bit more into the financing pattern of capital inflows. Suppose that investors take into account that the anticipated productivity shock may not ultimately materialise as forecast. Then, the burden of the anticipated shock will

be unequally shared by the domestic and foreign economy. If, for instance, the anticipated boom does not materialise and if the capital flows are into fixed income bonds issued by the domestic economy, then foreign holders of these instruments will benefit from the capital transfer repaid with interest but the domestic economy will be worse off as it will have to do some

finance the repayments.

Of course, if the boom does occur as anticipated, then risk free debt offered to foreigners does not share in the upside benefits of the boom. Risky equity shares rather than risk-free bonds as payment for the financing of the anticipated productivity boom would then be required by foreigners. If the anticipated productivity shock does not materialise in the future then foreigners are left with assets of reduced value in that event, which makes them worse off as they refrained from current valuable consumption in order to acquire those assets. In the domestic economy, investors who

in wealth but they are better off than foreigners because the inflow of capital enables them to increase current consumption. In this situation where foreign investors view the ex ante chances of high growth to be highly likely, foreign investors would prefer the more risky equity route rather than engaging in bond contracts. In such a case, we can expect equity flows to dominate borrowings in capital flows to a country. Apart from regulatory reasons we would attribute the increase in portfolio flows to India to be associated with the recent investment-led productivity shock in the economy.

The interest parity conditions for an economy also implies that the real exchange rate should appreciate in response to this phenomenon. There are two reasons for this. One is that an increase in the real interest rate relative to the world interest rate would result in a jump appreciation of the real exchange rate that would depreciate back to its equilibrium value as productivity growth returned to trend. Second, a productivity shock concentrated in the tradable sector leads to an appreciation of the real exchange rate. This is the Balassa-Samuelson effect. Higher productivity in the tradable sector translates

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PERSPECTIVE

into higher wages. As wages are equalised intervention in the forex market helps at the margin between the tradable and prevent currency appreciation but results non-tradable sectors due to perfect labour in a rise in liquidity and a potential buildmobility across sectors, wages in the non-up of inflation. The Reserve Bank of India tradable sector rise as well. Firms in the (RBI) acknowledged the inflationary presnon-tradable sector facing relatively lower sure in its annual policy statement for 2008-09 and attributed

Figure 8: Real and Nominal Exchange Rates (Rs/$)

50 it to the growth in
money supply at 20.7
40 per cent in end-March
2008 (which was above
30
the target it had set of
Real exchange rate
17-17.5 per cent) due to
20
the persistent capital
1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 Source: Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy. 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 flows. Inflation is also
an evil the central
Figure 9: Liquidity Absorption by RBI (in Rs billion) bank must battle. It
400 resorts to sterilisation
200 so as to stem the mone
0
tary impact of the forex
-200 intervention. Specifi
-400
cally, sterilisation in
-600
volves the contraction of
-800
domestic credit made
-1000 -1200 Net Reverse Repos under LAF available by the central bank to offset the ex-
Source: Annual report of the RBI (various issues). pansion of the mone-
Figure 10: Monetary Policy Rates tary base associated
9 with the accumulation
of forex reserves. This
8
is exactly what the RBI
7
has been doing. The stock of foreign cur
6
rency assets, which
was 7.7 per cent of the
5
stock of domestic and
foreign exchange assets
4
of the RBI in 1990-91
8/4/2000 8/7/2001 8/10/2002 8/1/2004 8/4/2005 8/4/2006 8/7/2007 8/4/2008 now dominates the
Source: Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy. Effective date r eserve money in the
financial system and in

productivity gains are forced to raise 2006-07 was 99 per cent of the stock of prices. The ratio of tradable to non-tradable domestic and foreign exchange assets of prices then declines and this leads to the RBI. an appreciation of the real exchange rate. Indeed, the real exchange rate has been Policy Reaction and Implications appreciating since around the turning point for Economy period of 2003 (Figure 8). To offset the monetary expansion, the RBI

An appreciation of the exchange rate has used a combination of market instruhas contractionary implications for the ments to mop up domestic liquidity – open economy. As this decreases exports and market sales, reverse repos, stabilisation aggregate demand relative to output, bonds and an increase in reserve requirepolicymakers tend to intervene to prevent ments. From the second half of the 1990s exchange rate appreciation. This implies a to 2003-04, open market operations were build-up of foreign exchange reserves in used by the RBI to manage the impact of the liquidity chest of the central bank. The capital flows. Sustained large capital

Economic & Political Weekly EPW august 30, 2008

Nominal exchange rate
2000 01 2001 02 2002 03 2003 04 2004-05 2005-06 2006-07 Net OMO sales First round liquidity impact of CRR change Market Stabilisation Scheme
CRR Repo Rate Reserve repo rate

flows, however, led to a decline in the RBI’s holdings of government securities. The finite stock of government securities held by the RBI and also legal restrictions on the RBI issuing its own paper placed constraints on the sterilisation operations. The market stabilisation scheme (MSS) was introduced on April 1, 2004 (again a date in the neighbourhood of the turning point) for liquidity management whereby securities were issued by the government and the proceeds from these parked in a separate identifiable cash account maintained and operated by the RBI. The impact on the government of issuing MSS securities is limited to the discount on treasury bills and coupons on dated securities issued and interest payments on account of these were Rs 29.69 billion in 2004-05 for instance. The liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) was introduced in June 2000 to manage day-to-day liquidity through the operation of reverse repo and repo auctions. Due to large capital flows the LAF has also been relied on for sterilisation since 2004-05. Finally, though the monetary authority is moving towards indirect instruments of monetary control, the cash reserve ratio, which is a direct instrument has also begun to be used to absorb liquidity due to the huge capital flows. The liquidity absorption by the RBI through the use of these instruments is depicted in Figure 9. The hikes in the cash reserve ratio and reverse repo/repo rates so as to absorb liquidity is depicted in Figure 10.

Apart from these impacts, fortunately, as part of overall macroeconomic management and the demands of the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act, fiscal consolidation has helped in alleviating some of the pressures on the real exchange rate. In many emerging markets that receive capital flows fiscal policy has been procyclical [Kaminsky, Reinhart and Végh 2004] as the revenues generated from a spurt in the growth rate feed higher government spending. However, restraint on government expenditure growth has benefits during episodes of capital inflows: (1) it alleviates the appreciating pressure on the exchange rate. In fact, if the bias of public spending is on non-traded goods, real exchange rate appreciation can be large; (2) if public

PERSPECTIVE

expenditure is moderated during periods of inflows it contributes towards relatively lower interest rates that in turn reduce the incentive for inflows; and (3) in India because of the concerns regarding debt sustainability, a reduction in public expenditure allows a greater scope for a counter-cyclical fiscal policy response to economic activity when capital inflows eventually reduce.

Though the government may have met the targets set in the FRBM Act, off-budget pressures are prevalent. The deficit numbers would be much larger as is well known if expenditures on oil and fertiliser bonds are included. As is well known, a credit rating agency has recently revised its outlook for India to negative from stable because of fiscal pressures. In August-September of 2008 for instance, the government is likely to issue Rs 145 billion oil bonds to oil marketing companies, which will not show up in the official definition of the deficit. However, it is not just an issue of the true size of the deficit. More than that macroeconomic management is returning to an era, which was supposed to be done away with in the first phase of the financial reforms. The abolition of ad hoc treasury bills and the introduction of limited ways and means advances was a historic monetary policy change in 1997. However, we are again witnessing a replay of the period prior to that. Instead of the government directly tapping the RBI through ad hocs, it now issues oil bonds to the three oil marketing companies

– Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum, Hindustan Petroleum – who then sell the oil bonds to the RBI. In return, the RBI is directly selling dollars to them in exchange for the oil bonds. This amounts to monetisation of the deficit and a loss of transparency in economic policymaking.

There are additional costs associated with the policy responses to capital flows. First, quasi-fiscal costs: domestic securities sold by the central bank in open market sales typically earn higher interest rates than do foreign assets acquired by the central bank. Second, apart from losses due to interest rate differentials, central banks are exposed to capital losses when exchange rates appreciate sharply. It has been estimated by Higgins and Klitgard (2004) that a 10 per cent appreciation of the domestic currency leads to domestic currency capital losses ranging from 3 per cent of their GDP for Korea and China to 8 per cent for Taiwan and 10 per cent for Singapore [RBI 2004]. Third, increases in cash reserve requirements is an indirect tax on the banking system. It widens deposit-lending rate spreads and in some cases also promotes disintermediation as new institutions and instruments arise to bypass controls. In Korea, the capital inflow of the early 1990s was sought to be contained using reserve requirements. However, due to the presence of a large non-bank financial sector, the share of deposits held by banks fell from 70 per cent in the 1970s to 36 per cent in 1992 [Spiegel 1995].

Concluding Remarks

Capital flows have thus been associated with a buoyant stock market and a rise in investment and interest rates in the economy. At the same time, they have resulted in an appreciation of the currency that the central bank of the country has tried to stem through the accumulation of foreign exchange reserves. This has, in turn, resulted in a build-up of liquidity that the central bank then mops up through sterilisation. As capital flows increased substantially and the traditional instrument of sterilisation – open market operations – became insufficient to mop up the flow, newer measures such as market stabilisation bonds were introduced. With even this not sufficient for coping with the task, the central bank has been resorting to direct instruments of containing liquidity expansion such as cash reserve ratios, which is akin to the imposition of an indirect tax on the banking system and it has been using instruments meant for managing daily liquidity such as the LAF to absorb more durable capital flows. At the same time, the quasi fiscal costs have increased and the appreciation of the currency affects the balance sheet of the central bank adversely. The government moreover has been attempting to rein in the officially declared fiscal deficit through off budget financing of oil companies that has resulted in a monetisation of the deficit.

Capital flows have thus been a mixed blessing for the economy. They have been associated with increased investment and stock market activity and have resulted in a build-up of inflationary pressures that have been sought to be contained through sterilisation that in turn has resulted in a taxation of the financial system. There are limits to the economy’s capacity to absorb capital flows that we are now witnessing. The reading of events that we have presented suggests that capital flows have stretched the ability of macroeconomic policy actions in the management of the economy. In a globalised world, the success of economic policy is contingent on how financial markets discount the future.

Notes

1 Private capital flows include banking capital and external commercial borrowings.

2 Emerging Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States include Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Ukraine. Russia has a large current account surplus and is excluded from the figure for the current account deficit for the region.

References

Higgins, M and T Klitgard (2004): ‘Reserve Accumulation: Implications for Global Capital Flows and Financial Markets’, Current Issues in Economics and Finance, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Vol 10, No 10, September-October.

IMF (2007): ‘World Economic Outlook, 2007’, International Monetary Fund, Washington DC.

Jen, Stephen (2006): ‘World Interest Rates’, Morgan Stanley Research, June 8.

Kaminsky, G L, C Reinhart and C A Végh (2004): ‘When It Rains, It Pours: Procyclical Capital Flows and Macroeconomic Policies’, NBER Macroeconomics Annual.

Obstfeld, M and A M Taylor (2004): Global Capital Markets: Integration, Crisis and Growth, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Orszag, Peter R (2007): ‘Foreign Holdings of US Government Securities and the US Current Account’, statement before the Committee on the Budget, US House of Representatives, June 26.

RBI (2004): ‘Report on Currency and Finance 200304’, RBI, Mumbai.

Spiegel, M M (1995): ‘Sterilisation of Capital Inflows through the Banking Sector: Evidence from Asia’, Economic Review, No 3, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

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