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The great Indian rupee trick

April 28, 2007 13:07 IST

The Indian rupee is on a roll. In 37 sessions it has appreciated 8.46 per cent from Rs 44.68 to a an American dollar to Rs 40.90 on April 26.

For the average investor, the severity of the move does not immediately sink in. Having seen stocks rise 20 per cent in a single session, an 8 per cent rise may not really be appreciated if it is spread over eight weeks. For the uninitiated, since the year 2000, the year-on-year change in the rupee has been in a range of 0.56 per cent to 4.9 per cent.

The biggest change in the rupee-dollar equation happened between June 28 and July 4, 1991 when the rupee depreciated by 24 per cent. At that time too, Dr Manmohan Singh was on the scene, albeit in the avatar of a finance minister in Narasimha Rao's Cabinet.

History apart, tough times require tough measures. I remember in 1991, ONGC , then known as Oil and Natural Gas Commission , could not bid for a Vietnamese oil field as the exchequer could not allocate the $7000-odd foreign exchange needed for the application.

That was the time when Dr Singh had asked the RBI to freeze the release of foreign exchange. The forex reserves were around $1 billion, just enough to meet 2.5 weeks forex requirements. The rupee was devalued by 20 per cent straight away. Imports became very costly and exports received a big boost.

Today, Dr Singh and Mr Chidambaram are fighting a different animal - inflation. The battle is being fought on all fronts. Industries are being asked to not to be too greedy (cement), excise duties have been reduced (petroleum products) and the rupee is being allowed to appreciate so that some of the imported commodities like crude cost lower.

A strengthening rupee is hurting exports as our goods and services become costlier and, therefore, uncompetitive. One might argue that other countries would also be seeing an appreciation of their currency, so essentially everybody's cost would rise. But everyone is not in the same boat. Other currencies, with whom we compete, have seen a lower appreciation, giving them an edge.

The markets, for some reason or the other, have not raised an alarm as yet. But they may soon. IT majors have guided the rupee at 43.5 to a dollar. This appreciation will hurt their net margins by around 2 per cent.

Gems and jewellery, textiles, leather, chemical and engineering goods exporters would also get hurt. These sectors may do well on the bourses if the rupee gives up some of the recent gains, but that would be a short term phenomenon.

One of the reasons for the rupee depreciating is that FIIs have pumped in close to Rs 7,200 crore (Rs 72 billion), that is 75 per cent of the FII investments this calendar year, between March 5 and April 25.

The appreciating rupee is an enigma to the FII. Should they invest more as they get more bang for their buck, or bow out of the market? While to you and me, the Sensex is still 495 points or 3.3 per cent lower from the all-time high mark of 14,723, for the dollar investor the returns are 5.61 per cent higher than what they were on February 9, when the Sensex touched the peak. The BSE Dollex 30 Index, that calculates the Sensex in dollar terms, is now at an all-time high mark of 2858. It was 2706 on February 9.

What can you do to make the best of this appreciating rupee if you are not into stocks? I suggest that for the next few years, plan a trek in the Himalayas each year. Be it the popular Pindari glacier or the offbeat Nanda Devi Sanctuary trek.

These places will get more spoiled if you visit them later and global warming will take its toll as the glaciers recede and the snows melt. The cost of domestic travel too could also increase over a period of time. The appreciating rupee will ensure that your cost of travelling abroad will be much less than what it is today.

Having seen "Incredible India", you may turn to global trotting. You will be a better ambassador and a wiser traveller for that.

Vinod K Sharma
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