RBI’s first big relief drug

“In spite of the very challenging environment, I remain optimistic. It is worthwhile bearing in mind that the macroeconomic fundamentals of the Indian economy are sound and, in fact, stronger than what they were in the aftermath of the global financial crisis – the fiscal deficit and the current account deficit are now much lower; inflation conditions are relatively benign; and financial volatility measured by change in stock prices from recent peaks and average daily change in the exchange rate of the rupee is distinctly lower. COVID-19 is upon us; but this too shall pass.”

~ Dr. Shaktikanta Das (Governor, Reserve Bank of India)

Key Announcements & Inferences:

1. Repo rate has been cut by 75 bps to 4.4%

Repo rate is the interest rate at which RBI lend money to banks. The reduction in repo rate means that the banks can borrow money from RBI at cheaper cost and will pass the benefit to their customers/borrowers by reducing the interest rate on their loans.

2. CRR rate has been reduced by 100 bps to 3% from 4% earlier

CRR is the percentage of available funds that banks must maintain with RBI as a statutory requirement. Reduction in CRR by 100 bps translates to lesser amount being deposited with the RBI & more cash available to banks. This is expected to improve the on-ground liquidity situation.

3. A three-month moratorium is announced on payment of installments of loans outstanding on March 1, 2020 along with letting lenders allow for a 3-month deferment of interest payable on working capital.

This is perhaps the most-welcomed move by small businesses & middle-class Indians. This deferment of loan & interest repayments offers strong relief and categorises a larger part of income to be utilized as consumable cash flow. Also, lenders are offered the option to recalculate working capital cycles or ease margins to support borrowers. In all these cases, there will be no impact on credit score (individuals) or asset quality (lenders).

4. RBI will conduct auctions of long-term repo operation (LTRO) of three-year tenure up-to Rs1 lakh crore at floating rate linked to policy rate

This initiative is expected to support the liquidity situation in debt markets. The move is expected to mobilise ~INR 3.74 Lakh Crore as additional liquidity. Mutual Funds are the biggest beneficiary of this relief since it lets them address panic redemption requests in a much better fashion.

Key Takeaway for Investors

In sync with Global Central Banks, the RBI is also working proactively towards supporting the economy through a wide array of tools ranging from conventional rate cuts to the much unconventional yet effective Long-Term Repo Operations. The RBI’s actions covering middle-class Indians and small, medium enterprises along with the Finance Ministry’s coordinated effort to support the economically challenged, together reflect India’s strong stance & action on supporting not just the health but also the wealth of India.

We believe this is only the beginning of support & relief measures announced and that Indians should focus on staying healthy while the economics are taken care of by the Reserve Bank of India & Ministry of Finance.

“The RBI will continue to remain vigilant and take whatever steps are necessary to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 and preserve financial stability. As I had stated earlier, all instruments – conventional and unconventional – are on the table.”

~ Shaktikanta Das – MPC Statement 27.03.2020

FM’s Relief Measures: All you need to know

– Citizens under a certain income threshold will be eligible for “Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Anaj Yojana”. The people under this scheme will get an additional 5kg of wheat/rice for free, along with this one KG of locally available pulses will be provided over the next 3
months.

More than 80 crore Indians will be benefitted from this scheme.

– Famers will receive INR.6,000 per annum through PM-KISAN scheme with the first installment being paid upfront by the government.

Almost 8.69 crore farmers will get immediate benefit of it.

– Poor senior citizen, widows and divyangs to receive INR.1,000 over the next 3 months.

– Medical insurance cover of INR.50 lakhs per health worker

This will include almost 20 lakh healthcare personnel

8.3 crore families below poverty line will get the free LPG cylinders for three months

– There are 63 lakh self-help groups for women in the country. They get up to INR. 10 lakh
collateral-free loans right now.

 Doubling the amount of collateral-free loans to INR. 20 lakhs

– Women Jan Dhan account holders to get INR. 500 per month for the next three months.
Almost 192 million women’s who are eligible for this scheme will be directly benefitted.

– Organised sector worker (through EPFO): Centre will pay the EPF contribution both, of the employer and of the employee (12% each) for the next three months. This is for all those stablishments that have up to 100 employees and 90% of whom earn under INR. 15,000 per month

– Wage increase under MNREGA will benefit 5 crore families. Wage increase will result in
additional income of INR. 2,000 per worker.

Cash transfer will be through DBT in eight parts: Farmers, MNREGA, widows, poor pensioners, divyang, women under Jan Dhan Yojana, women and households under Ujjwala scheme, self-help groups for women especially under the livelihood mission, organized sector workers under EPFO, construction workers and district mineral funds.

For Construction Sector Workers: The welfare fund currently has 31000 Cr and 3.5 Cr registered workers. GOI to give instructions to State govt to prevent economic disruption by use of these funds
District Mineral Fund_ – To be used by State govt for testing, medication, etc

Key highlight of FM/PM speech

Assuring citizens that a financial relief plan is underway for those effected by coronavirus disruption, the finance ministry has come up with relief around statutory and regulatory compliance as the financial year comes to an end.

Announcement:

No fees on using other banks ATMs and minimum balanced charge for different banks have also been waived:

Impact:

This move has been made keeping in mind the citizens should stay indoors unless it is absolutely necessary.

Bank charges are also being reduced for digital transactions.

Threshold for invoking  insolvency raised to Rs. 1 crore from Rs. 1 lakhs.

Impact:

A major booster for medium and small enterprises, as they are more vulnerable to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. This move will definitely help SME’s sail through the tough times.

GST returns and Income tax filing returns date extended to June 30th

Impact:

Late fee or penalty will not be charged to companies with a turnover of less than Rs. 5 crore. Those with a turnover of more than Rs. 5 crore, will pay reduced interest rate of 9 percent.

Interest rate on delayed payments of income tax for financial year 2018-19 has been reduced to to 9 percent from 12 percent. This will help reduce the stress on company’s cash flows.

Vivad Se Vishwas scheme has also been extended to June 30th. This scheme aims at dispute resolution in context of pending income tax litigation in order to reduce pending litigations, generate revenue for government and benefit the tax payers.

Custom & Excise: Sabka Vishwas Scheme Date Extended to June 30:

Impact:

During lockdown period customs will do their duty 24*7. Pending payments due date of central and excise duties have been extended to Jun 30th. No late fee or interest will be charged. This is a further boost to encourage exports for domestic companies.

Corporate affairs rules:

As most personnel will be working from home during the lock down period, companies and board that do not hold even one meeting with their independent directors will not be held under violation of rules.

PM Modi Announcement:

Modi announced that government has provided ₹15,000 crore for strengthening medical infrastructure and treatment of coronavirus infected patients.

SEBI steps in: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibilities

In a response to contain panic-driven volatility & short-selling, SEBI has reduced the limit of positions that can be taken in the futures & option markets along with increasing margin requirements and capping derivative exposures and bringing down the market-wide position limit.

Illustration: India Vix (Volatility Indicator Index)

This move by SEBI is expected to help achieve the immediate goal of arresting the free-fall in stock markets till rational senses & sentimental stability prevails.

Glossary:

Short-selling:

This is a strategy used by traders who believe that a stock price will decline. A short sell implies that a trader (implicitly) borrows a certain number of shares of a company (typically from the broker) and sells it at the current price with a hope that he will be able to buy it back later at a lower price point and return the shares to the lender.

Margin:

A trader can put up some of his own money and borrow a larger sum from his broker to execute trades otherwise unaffordable to the trader. The money put up by the trader is called margin. With an increase in margin requirements, traders will have to put in more amount of own capital to execute the same trade.

Open Interest:

Open interest is the number of contracts (future & options; read as derivatives) open on any particular stock. These must be squared off either before or on the monthly expiry date.

Market-wide position limit (MWPL):

MWPL is the maximum number of open positions allowed across all future & option contracts in a particular stock.

Measures & expected impacts (Savvy investors read on beyond the summary for details):

  1. Market-wide position limits to be reduced to 50% from current 95% levels if it breaches prescribed thresholds. The threshold limits will be applicable on fresh positions developing 23rd March’20 onwards. Penalty on increasing positions beyond limit has been increased to 10x of the prevailing minimum and 5x of prevailing maximum amounts. This is expected to play the role of a speed-breaker in cases of a fast-accumulating positions on a particular stock or the index hence not letting it fall off the cliff.
  2. SEBI has prescribed a differential and higher margin requirement for stocks – traded in the futures & options market and the ones not traded in the futures & options market.
    This increased requirement is expected to deter traders from making reckless trades on borrowed capital since they will have to now put up more of their own money into trades.
  3. Foreign investors, members & institutional investors like mutual funds can participate in index derivatives subject to restrictive guidelines.
    This will ensure that bulky institutional capital does not sway the already fragile markets further.
  4. Additional to existing rules, SEBI has introduced flexing of dynamic price bands which can be flexed only after a cooling-off period of 15 minutes from the time of incremental conditions being met.
    This would be helpful in breaking heavy momentum trades and minimising damage.

Takeaways for mutual fund investors

While mutual fund investors only stand to benefit from these initiatives, investors into the arbitrage segment (or categories like dynamic asset allocation which includes arbitrage positions) may see returns temporarily & negligibly deteriorate as an effect of the surprise regulation & increased volatility. This applies majorly to investors who have invested in these segments as recently as within the past one or two weeks. Investors in these segments with a horizon of three to six months are well-placed though.

Details for the savvy & inquisitive:

Market-wide position limits
MWPL will be reduced to 50% from 95% of the defined limit for the ban to kick in if:

  1. Avg daily price high-low variation percentage during the last five sessions is 15% or more (OR)
  2.  Avg MWPL utilisation % during the last 5 trading days is >= 40%

MWPL, expressed in number of shares, is the lower of:

  1. 30x the average no. of shares traded daily in the previous calendar month in the cash segment
  2. 20% of the number of free float shares

Higher margin requirements

  1. Increased margin requirement to 40% in the cash market for F&O stocks with market wide position of 50% staggered as 10% from 23 Mar’20, 26 Mar’20 and 40% from Mar’20.
  2. For non-F&O stocks with a price band of 20% & price variation of >10% for 3 or more days in the last one month, the minimum margin rate will be revised to 30% from 23 Mar’20, and 40% or highest intraday variation (in the past month) whichever is higher from 26th Mar’20.

Ceiling on index derivative exposures

  1. Applicable limits for mutual funds, foreign investors & members for exposure to index derivatives:
  2. Short positions in index derivatives cannot exceed the notional value of stocks held in cash
  3. Long positions in index derivatives shall not exceed the notional value held in cash, government securities, Treasury Bills.
  4. Additional position limits beyond the above mentioned will be INR 500 crore in futures & options contracts each

RBI joins Global Central Banks to revive the economy

Backdrop

Global markets are in a lurch as the coronavirus scare has sent it into a nose-diving frenzy. The world is witnessing simultaneous developments on the virus outbreak – China, the epicentre, of the virus outbreak is returning to normalcy with restoration of commercial activities while other regions like Europe & Asia continue to report incremental identification of cases.

Amid the ruckus created by the virus outbreak, the Saudi-led oil price war has only added fuel (no pun intended) to the fire. Oil prices have dribbled down to ~$30 a barrel levels – perhaps the steepest decline since the 1991 Gulf War. While this is primarily a positive development for India from a perspective of a reduced oil import bill and headroom to generate tax revenues through the headroom created between prevailing on-ground prices & the reduced market price. However, as a word of caution, this may have deflationary effects on the already slowing economy. Having said that, the softened inflation will afford the central bank enough room for a rate cut.
Central banks, globally, are acting in sync to revive the economy through various policy measures & spending. While this may simply be a band-aid to a gunshot, the degree of helpfulness of policy measures is an exploration reserved for another note.

The U.S. Fed led the easing exercise by cutting policy rates to almost zero along with releasing a $700bn quantitative easing programme. Global counterparts including the central banks is New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Bank of Japan, and the European Central Bank are taking coordinated measures to infuse liquidity into economies to keep them afloat.

Back Home

RBI Governor addressed the nation around the episode developing around Yes Bank and how does the central bank intend to deal with the economic slowdown.

Key announcements included:

Yes Bank

Yes Bank depositors are reassured that their deposits in the bank are safe and the bank will resume operations on 18th March’20, 6pm. There is no need for a panic withdrawal of funds. The governor stated that depositors have never lost their deposits in a scheduled commercial bank and this time won’t be different. The governor also assured that Yes Bank has enough liquidity and will offer support as and when required.

Policy Measures

The governor acknowledged that the first-order effects of the coronavirus outbreak are seen in travel-related sectors like airlines, tourism and hospitality. The extent & duration of the pandemic is unknown, but RBI has acknowledged and intimated intent to address the situation through a couple of measures. While Governor Das has assured of closely monitoring the situation, he has also reassured that the central bank is well-equipped and will intervene as and when appropriate.

  1. RBI proposes to conduct another six-month USD/INR sell-buy swap on 23rd March’20 to provide liquidity to foreign exchange markets as selling pressure intensifies amid panic.
  2. Long-Term Repo Operations (LTRO) to be conducted up to a total amount of INR 1 Lakh Crore at policy rate, in multiple tranches to further bolster liquidity in the Indian economy.

Though there was no rate cut announcement, evolving dynamics support a higher probability of a 25-35 bps rate cut.

Investor Takeaways

  1. Equities, especially large-caps, seem to have reached a reasonable price point to enter. This does not mean that we have hit the bottom & it is time to go bottom-fishing but given the current levels, now would be a great time to step-up SIPs/STPs in equities. Entering multicap funds should augur well for investors with a horizon of ~5 years.
  2. For debt fund investors, the increased probability of further softening of the yield curve as an effect of global softening & synchronised Indian policy measures (e.g. LTRO, probability of rate cut) opens up a sweet spot for debt funds with an average effective maturity in the 5 to 7 years range. Investors with a slightly higher risk appetite may choose good dynamic bond funds. We continue to maintain our view to steer clear of credit risk – in fact, investors should try having a meaningful exposure to sovereign debt along with the AAA-rated corporate bonds.

The Pledge, The Turn, The Prestige: Exposing Mr. Market’s relationship with Coronavirus

“Now you’re looking for the secret, but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.”
― Christopher Priest, The Prestige

The pledge

The past week witnessed a steep fall in global capital markets. The steep decline in capital markets are reminiscent of the charts in 2009.

Sure, drawing a parallel with 2008-09 makes us all the more jittery but then, we have reached 2019-20 when all global economies were predicted to crash & burn in ’09 – over a decade of not just proving the fearmongers wrong, but moving ahead to be a decade of wealth creation for investors globally.

Here’s how Indian capital markets braved pandemics in the past:

It is important to understand that while media headlines sensationalise the decline in stock markets by indicating resemblance to the sub-prime crisis era, there is one major fallacy in this hypothesis. The sub-prime crisis was structural in nature & was led by a fractured state of economy; however, the crisis today is led by reasons more biological than economic- or, is it?

It is common sense that China, the epicentre of the Coronavirus pandemic, is among the world’s largest manufacturer & supplier and hence, any social or biological disruption in the state will have an adverse impact on global supply of various goods and services. But, is this all that has caused such an upheaval in Indian markets?

Significantly, yes. Meaningfully, not.

Historically, global investors tend to pull money out of capital markets whenever a disruption of trade & commercial activities seem to be on the horizon and wait for the “dust to settle”.

Bulk of the global investors are institutional investors with a mandate to deliver optimal returns by minimising downside and hence do not try to play the recovery game to chase super-alpha. Now is a similar time where the fear is of nothing more than increased uncertainty – albeit short-lived.

India simply happens to be among global investors’ top investment destinations and had pumped in significant amounts of money to participate in the Indian growth story. But, it happens so that an event such as the coronavirus outbreak has led to investors pulling out money not as much out of fear but rather in search of a safer harbour.

The Turn

This has happened globally and in fact, India has stood quite resilient in the face of such a pandemic and was perhaps the least affected capital market.

Abs. Returns: Major Global Indices

Even here, bellwether indices in India reflects overall jitteriness by foreign investors and not necessarily a negative outlook on the Indian economy. This can be observed from the correlation between participation of foreign investors across market-caps and change in foreign investments and consequent impact on returns across market-cap funds.

India is undeterred in its faith, for a good reason.

The Prestige

Here’s another spin to the developing story.

Here’s India’s trade relationship with China in easy-to-understand donuts:

A keen eye would notice that China accounts for a meaningful 18% (second-largest) in India’s total import bill and a disruption in Chinese supply will definitely make it difficult for India to buy goods from China.

Now, is it good that India won’t buy from China or is it detrimental to India? Let me leave this open to let your perspectives run wild.

More importantly, China accounts for only 9% of India’s total exports which means that if China does not buy from India, 9% of India’s export revenues are at risk.

But, what are the chances that China does not buy from India?

Is it true that when the Chinese can not manufacture, the next best bet to fill the manufacturing gap is India? And if so; is there, in fact, a chance that China will end up buying more from India since it does not have enough manufacturing to suffice domestic demand and buying from India is the next best (feasible & viable) alternative?

Let’s talk about economic effects of this on India for a bit.

A recent MVIRDC WTC report has identified 20 products which constitute around 17% of India’s total exports to China in 2018 and the India’s export potential to China for these goods stand at USD 82 billion.

For context, India’s trade deficit with China was USD 53.6 billion in 2018-19. So clearly, India has an opportunity to reduce its trade deficit with China and the current situation creates a strong case for China to rely on India for imports of goods even beyond the scope of these 20 products, hence offering India an opportunity to reduce its trade deficit with China.

At the same time, the beautiful coincidence of escalated US-China trade tensions, China’s current inability to manufacture and hence export along with US replacing China as India’s top trading partner and India’s resilience during the synchronised global slowdown improves India’s prospects in being the go-to import source to fulfil global demands – heavy duty economic recovery demand.

Trivia:

The Department of Commerce has identified 203 product lines where exports to the U.S. (globally, the largest importer) could be increased by replacing Chinese exports backed by India’s market access & ability to do so.

 

What happens next is anyone’s guess. But if you take a closer look at facts, trust history and believe that the world is not coming to an end (like many thought in ’08); then you know what’s the best course of action for you.

Key Takeaways for Investors:

Capitalise on the opportunities (dips) to buy into funds with high quality portfolios and hang in there for till the storm comes to a lull – that’s when the others will scramble to accumulate while you see the value of your possessions rise.

(Parallel concept inspired from the ’08 Christopher Nolan classic – The Prestige)

“An illusion has three stages.

“First there is the setup, in which the nature of what might be attempted at is hinted at, or suggested, or explained. The apparatus is seen. volunteers from the audience sometimes participate in preparation.” – The Pledge

“The performance is where the magician’s lifetime of practice, and his innate skill as a performer, co-join to produce the magical display.” – The Turn

“The third stage is sometimes called the effect, or the prestige, and this is the product of magic. If a rabbit is pulled from a hat, the rabbit, which apparently did not exist before the trick was performed, can be said to be the prestige of that trick.” – The Prestige

― Christopher Priest, The Prestige

Debt Market Update

Reason for recent rise in yields in last 7-10 days

  1. Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs) have redeemed their money and flight to safety assets from emerging markets like India. All are chasing dollar now.
  2. Seasonal stress of March
  3. Even lot of entities in lockdown and shoring up on cash.

Measures taken by government and future

  1. Variable rate repo auction for INR.1,00,000 Crore in two traches as under: March 23,2020: INR.50,000 Crore & March 24,2020: INR.50,000 Crore.
  2. The Reserve Bank has decided to advance the second tranche of purchase of Government securities under Open Market Operations (OMOs) for ₹ 15,000 crores to March 26, 2020.
  3. Total Open market operation plan for this month is INR.30,000 Crore.
  4. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced that it will undertake a six-month US Dollar sell/buy swaps of $2 billion this month.

Investor Takeaways

  1. Avoid AA, A and unrated papers even though they are offering high YTM as this present slowdown may increase the balance sheet stress.
  2. Invest in AAA rated and sovereign papers with duration of 3-5 years.
  3. 3-5 years AAA corporate instrument are trading at 250bps to repo and money market yields are trading at 150 bps to repo and hence we see opportunity here.

Demystifying RBI’s dollar rupee swap sell/buy auction

News: RBI on Thursday,12th March 2020, moved to address the dollar shortage in the market by offering a $2-billion swap for six months.

What is dollar rupee swap auction?

It is the tool used by the RBI to infuse/suck out the liquidity in the economy and manages the currency pressure. It is operated through an exchange between the US dollar and the rupee

How it works?

Under dollar rupee sell/buy swap auction, Banks shall buy US dollars from the Reserve Bank of India. Against this INR rupees, Reserve Bank of India gives US Dollar to the banks.

RBI is trying to increase the US dollar liquidity in the market as there is a mismatch. The sell/buy swap to boost dollar liquidity should be seen in the context of the rupee opening 62 paise weaker on Thursday at 74.25/26 to the dollar (against the previous close of 73.63/64) and closing at 74.2150/2250. Intra-day the rupee tested a high and a low of 74.35 and 74.08, respectively.

Objective of USD/INR Buy/Sell swap auction?

In a statement on its website, the RBI said it was doing the swaps in view of the intense selling pressure witnessed worldwide on “extreme risk aversion due to the spread of COVID-19 infections”. This is “compounded by the slump in international crude prices and a decline in bond yields in advanced economies”. All asset classes are witnessing a spike in volatility, with mismatches in US dollar liquidity accentuating across the world, it noted.

Thursday’s swap is the first of many such possible ones to come, as the Indian central bank gears up to utilise its formidable foreign exchange reserves to soothe the nerves of the market. For this purpose, the level of forex reserves, at $487.24 billion as of March 6, “remains comfortable to meet any emergency.

It will ease the pressure on the rupee which is marching towards its record low.

Bottomline

The Reserve Bank of India is closely and continuously monitoring the rapidly evolving global situation and spill overs. It stands ready to take all necessary measures to ensure that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Indian economy are mitigated, and financial markets and institutions in India continue to function normally.

Dollar rupee sell/buy swap auction move is one of them.

Happy Investing.

Coronavirus opens an unpopular investing opportunity (not about long-term investing!)

Yields have dropped significantly in February. RBI’s initiatives like the LTRO (Long Term Repo Auction) along with the migration of capital to safer harbours like the sovereign bonds have led to a softening in the yields of Indian government securities as well.

G-sec Yield Movement for Feb’20

Cash & cash equivalents have been investor darlings during times of crisis, but considering other developing economics, the love has extended to duration-oriented debt funds as well.

In light of further global trade slowdown and increased probability of rate cut – taking cue from the US Fed’s emergency 50 bps rate cut, there’s a probability that RBI follows suit leading to further softening of the yield. However, we do not believe that the same is an absolute necessity.

Takeaways for debt fund investors

  • Short to medium duration bonds (average effective maturity of 6 to 8 years) could deliver better than average returns.
  • Investors must avoid taking on credit risks as far as possible and move to funds with a higher allocation to sovereign securities.