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India’s Foreign Exchange Reserves

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Foreign Exchange Reserves refer to the international reserves held by a country’s central bank. RBI holds India’s foreign exchange reserves (“FX reserves”) in the form of foreign currency assets, gold, Special Drawing Rights (“SDRs”) and Reserve Tranche position in the IMF. India’s foreign reserves have been increasing since the beginning of this decade, reaching an all time high at $474660 Million as of April 10, 2020.

High foreign reserves are considered to be helpful for a developing economy like India which has a large Current Account Deficit. Adequate reserves ensure availability of foreign financial assets within the country and enhance its potential to survive shock waves in the economy. These are treated as backup funds to be used in the case of financial crisis. Foreign reserves play a crucial role in increasing international trade, controlling inflation and maintaining the value of local currency by buying and selling of reserves. During 2008, it was the reserves that came to India’s rescue after foreign institutional investors pulled out $12 billion out of stocks and foreign currency vanished. At that time, India’s import cover was 15 months and it might not be wrong to assume after observing the recent trends that RBI is moving towards the same direction. With reserves in account, investors remain confident that there won’t be much disruption if a crisis erupts.

The recent increase has been attributed to the government’s corporate tax cut which led to increase in investment from Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs) and also external factors such as US Federal bank’s interest rate cut. FX reserves are used to maintain stable exchange rate and prevent rupee from depreciating. FX reserves are also used to maintain balance of payments. When there is macroeconomic imbalance in the country i.e. when demand exceeds supply, FX reserves are released to pay for imports.

J CURVE THEORY and LAG

J curve theory states, after depreciation of currency of a particular country, its trade deficit will first increase for some time before decreasing. The reason behind this is, the country’s imports will not reduce overnight and it will take time for consumers to shift to local products and till that time, country will have to spend more to import goods because of depreciation of local currency. But after a point of time, consumers will start buying locally manufactured products as they will become cheaper, the imports will decrease. Exports will also increase at the same time as its goods will become cheaper for other countries as well.

There will be a time lag from the point depreciation or devaluation occurs and the point when country achieves trade surplus. This occurs because there are some contracts regarding the purchase of goods which have to be fulfilled. So, the trading of those goods already contracted for is not immediately stopped.  The country will have to maintain its FX reserves according to the time lag it’s expected to face. In India, this time lag, through empirical research is found to be 18-24 months, which is a substantial time period. And to cover imports of about 2 years, India would need 1440 billion USD in reserves, with average monthly import bill in 2019 being $40 billion. Though all imports will not be funded from reserves but reserves will have to be enough to provide backup to importers and confidence to international markets. However to move to a trade surplus economy, a country also needs to satisfy the Marshall Lerner condition. It refers to a model which says a country’s balance of trade will become favorable only when the combined price elasticity of demand for imports and exports is more than one. In other words, if the imports are inelastic, the country’s imports will not decrease and it will have to pay a higher import bill and similarly if the demand of its goods is inelastic in the foreign markets, exports will not increase by much; further increasing the trade deficit. Therefore both the demand of imports and exports together needs to be elastic so that effect of depreciation is large enough to be visible in an economy.

THE CASE OF INDIA

The price elasticity of export and import demand in India is about 0.9 and 0.7 respectively which adds up to more than one. Thus, India satisfies the Marshall Lerner condition. This doesn’t mean RBI should let its currency depreciate. I say this because of following reasons.

First of all, there is no certainty over how much the rupee should depreciate. To depreciate the rupee it will have to increase its supply in the economy which could be done by buying dollars or other currencies from the market in exchange for rupee which will lead to increase in FX reserves. However, how much rupees to release is not certain. Even if it had been certain, depreciation could prove harmful for India as many entities who had borrowed from outside the country would find difficult to repay the loan which will impact the credit rating of India which is not very good even now.

There is also a possibility that exports may not rise even after depreciation. The fundamental rule behind export increase after depreciation is that goods of that country become cheaper for the foreign consumers, however the importing country might not let this happen by increasing tariffs on imports from that country. This was what led to US-China trade war.

If rupee depreciates, India will have to cover the time lag which is approximately 2 years according to some estimates. During this period, import bill will increase beyond reach and can pose serious problems for the economy. Also, if the crude oil prices increase in the international market, the import bill of India will further rise because India still doesn’t have any alternate resources which could replace oil to its full capacity. Oil constitutes 27% of India’s imports and paying a higher amount for oil would be a huge burden on the FX reserves.

WHAT SHOULD INDIA DO?

India has foreign exchange reserves of more than 461 billion, which according to the global standards are very high. Using the universally accepted Guidotti-Greenspan rule, the FX reserves should at least equal the short term external debt (STED) of a country. The reason given behind this is that countries should remain prepared for the outflow of short term foreign capital i.e. they should at least have the reserves to meet the liabilities of next one year. If India moves according to this its reserves should be 108.41 billion USD as it is the STED, as on March, 2019.

Most countries tend to reserve amount greater than the short term debt to remain on the safe side if any financial crisis erupts. However, there is an opportunity cost of holding reserves. The reserves kept in US treasury bills have a very low interest rate of about 2-4%, means it is hard to gain anything by keeping reserves. Also higher the reserves, higher are the opportunity costs. As the cost rises, the marginal utility from holding the reserves decreases. Therefore India should release some of its reserves for productive purposes.

In current situation, where government has rightly though arguably extended the lockdown to curb the spread of the disease, it has become necessary than ever to stabilize the economy. With huge disruptions on both the supply and demand side, there is a need for huge funding. Government at the same time cannot expand its fiscal deficit beyond a certain limit. At such time, FX reserves should come to the rescue; government should withdraw some of the reserves to provide for basic needs of millions of poor of India who are now left without any source of income. Keeping in mind, the opportunity cost of reserves, India should take a decision on releasing them at this crucial juncture when whole world is fighting the pandemic.

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Will the trade war between China and the United States come to end?

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USA China Trade War

Authors: Raihan Ronodipuro& Hafizha Dwi Ulfa*

The recent trade conflict between the United States and China has had a direct effect on some of the world’s economic players. These two countries are attacking each other with declarations and a trade war; the relationship between the two countries can be defined as a love-hate relationship because the two countries have a lot of mistrust for each other, but they still need each other.

The United States requires China as a global source of low-wage labor as well as a market for marketing American products, and China requires the United States as an investor in its companies as well as a market for marketing Chinese products known for their low-cost. What makes these two countries to be so cold to one another? To answer the question, let’s go back to when this trade war saga started.

Donald Trump is a successful businessman who owns enterprises and corporations all over the world. His candidacy for President of the United States in 2016 poses several concerns, including whether Trump is eligible to run for office. Trump replied by becoming the 45th President of the United States, succeeding Obama.

Trump adopted a protectionism agenda in order to shield the US economy from what he referred to as the “robber from China.” Trump has released a law stating that all steel and aluminum products entering the United States from Europe, China, Canada, and Mexico would be subject to 25% and 10% tariffs, respectively. Of course, China is outraged that the United States issued this order, as well as a related policy on all tribal products. Automobile components, as well as agriculture and fishery products, are manufactured in the United States.

In addition to the tariff battle, President Trump has expressly demanded that the TikTok and WeChat apps be prohibited from running in the United States. We know that these two technologies are very common in the larger population. Giant corporations, such as Huawei, have not survived Trump’s “rampage,” with the Chinese telecommunications giant accused of leaking US national security data to China through Huawei’s contract with US security authorities.

As a result, many US firms were forced to cancel contracts with Huawei or face sanctions. Google is one of the companies impacted by this contract termination, which means that all Huawei smartphone devices manufactured in 2019 and after will lack any of Google’s services such as the Google Play Store, Gmail, and YouTube.

Many of the world’s economic organizations predict a 0.7 percent drop in GDP in 2018 and a 2% growth in 2020. Coupled with the Coronavirus pandemic, the global economy has become increasingly stagnant, with global economic growth expected to be less than 0%.

Amid the tough trade negotiations between the United States and China, COVID-19 pandemic is also affecting their relationship. The United States domestic pressure to contain the pandemic, has led Trump to accuse China of being the virus spread source.  As a consequence, Trump put the US-China future relations at stake with his “China’s Virus” label. Besides, the United States absence from World Health Organization (WHO) during Trump administration along the pandemic, that become a new opportunity for China to expand its influence.  China uses the Covid-19 pandemic issue as an opportunity.

China’s successful in controlling the pandemic,  has also made China confident in facing the United States. Meanwhile, the United States is increasingly threatened by its position. Moreover, the United States dependence on overcoming Covid-19 which requires relations from many parties, including China, makes the United States’ position weak as a superpower.

This is what we hoped for when Biden took office. Many consider President Joe Biden to be willing to “soften” the United States’ stance on the trade war with China. After his inauguration on January 20, 2021, Biden has made many contacts with Beijing to address a variety of issues, one of which is the continuation of the trade war.

The United States and China agreed to meet in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 18-20, 2021, to discuss this issue. The meeting produced no bright spots in the escalation of the US-China trade war, but rather posed questions concerning the Middle East, Xinjiang, North Korea, and Taiwan.

The Biden administration stressed that it does not plan to abolish various regulations passed during the Trump administration’s term in the trade war with China, but it also does not intend to employ the same negotiation strategies as the Trump administration, which seemed to be very offensive. Besides, the Biden administration must be careful, If Biden prioritizes domestic challenges then China has room to push its agendas, including in the field of technology and territorial issues

Furthermore, the Biden administration’s policy has shifted from imposing tariffs on China to investing in industries that Biden believes are less competitive with China, such as nanotechnology and communication networks.

In conclusion, the trade war between the United States and China has ushered in a new age in the global economy, one in which China is going forward to replace the United States’ status as a world economic force, something that the United States fears.

The door to investment is being opened as broad as possible, the private sector is being encouraged to participate (under tight government oversight, of course), the cost of living is being raised, and the defense spending is being expanded. Today, we can see how the Chinese economy is advancing, becoming the world’s second largest economy after the United States, selling goods all over the world to challenge the United States’ status, and even having the world’s largest military after the United States.

The rise of China is what the US is scared of; after initially dismissing China’s problem as insignificant, the US under the Trump administration takes China and Xi Jinping’s problems seriously by starting a trade war that is still underway.

Will this trade war enter a new chapter in the Biden presidency, where the relationship with China will be more ‘calm’ and the trade war can be ended, or can it stalemate and maintain the stance as during the previous president’s presidency?

*Hafizha Dwi Ulfa is a Research Assistant of the International Relations Study Center with focus analysis in ASEAN, East Asia, and Indo-Pacific studies.

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The “Retail Investor Revolution” in the U.S.

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Authors: Chan Kung and He Jun

Recently, the battle between retail investors and institutional investors is taking place in the U.S. stock market, with some short-selling institutional investors being driven to the brink of bankruptcy. The rise of the retail investor, which has led to huge volatility in the U.S. stock market, is nothing short of a “retail investor revolution” in a market dominated by institutional investors.

GameStop (GME), the world’s largest video game and entertainment software specialty retailer with a chain of nearly 7,000 retail stores worldwide, has continued to underperform in recent years under the impact of online gaming, with its stock price dipping from USD 28 per share in 2016 to USD 2.57 per share in April 2020. Nevertheless, since January 11, 2021, retail investors have been bullish on GME that it has soared to as high as USD 483 per share, a “crazy” move that drove Melvin Capital, a hedge fund with a large short position in the company, to the brink of bankruptcy. So far this year, short-sellers had lost USD 19.75 billion on GME, according to fintech and analytics firm S3 Partners. S3 Partners estimates that short positions in GME lost more than USD 7.8 billion on January 29 alone. The “long-short” battle between retail investors and institutional investors ended with the retreat of institutional investors.

Other U.S. stocks that have recently been caught up in the “long-short” battle have also been volatile. On January 28, American Airlines plunged after opening nearly 31% higher, closing up 9.30%. Castor Marintime, a Cypriot dry bulk shipping company, also plunged after opening with a 67.62% jump, closing up 14.77%. AMC Theatres, a U.S. cinema chain on the verge of bankruptcy, closed down 56.63% on the same day after soaring more than sevenfold in two weeks. Canadian mobile phone company BlackBerry and the U.S. fashion clothing chain Express also fell about 42% and 51%, respectively.

The U.S. capital market has long been dominated by institutional investors, and in mid-2018, institutional investors held 93.2% of the market value of the stock market, while individual investors held less than 6% of the market value. In the U.S. capital market, where institutions are the absolute majority, the market system and regulatory rules are set in favor of institutional investors. Market participants, i.e., investors (institutional investors and retail investors), regulatory authorities, and financing entities (enterprises) have formed a set of “self-consistent” system. However, the “retail investor revolution” has disrupted the conventional ecology of the market, with some young retail investors from the WallStreetBets (WSB) group on the Reddit forum throwing institutions into disarray. This “long-short” battle has put retail investors, represented by the “WallStreetBets”, at center stage and secured support from the top elites, including Elon Musk. In the face of this sudden “retail investor revolution”, the reasons and possible effects are worth in-depth observation and thinking.

First, who opposes the “retail investor revolution”?

The answer is of course, Wall Street as represented by institutional investors, who are the “establishment” in the capital market and represent the mainstream and value perspectiveof the financial market. Goldman Sachs, a prominent investment bank, saying the butterfly effect of the GME short squeeze is leading to the worst short squeeze in the U.S. stock market since the financial crisis. Over the past 25 years, the U.S. stock market has seen a number of severe short squeezes, but none as extreme as has occurred recently. Goldman Sachs warned that if the short squeeze continued, the entire financial market would collapse. According to Goldman Sachs, unsustainable excess in one small part of the market has the potential to tip a row of dominoes and create broader turmoil. In recent years, the pattern of low volume and high concentration in U.S. stocks has increased the risk of funds unwinding their position across the market.

Market maker brokers and trading platforms have also imposed strict restrictions on retail trading. In the midst of a fierce battle between retail investors and short sellers in the U.S. stock market, for example, several brokerage houses, including Robinhood, a zero-commission online brokerage, and Interactive Brokers, one of the largest online brokerages in the U.S., abruptly shut down buying of WSB related stocks such as GME, AMC, and Nokia. Robinhood said the restrictions had to be put in place because of the pressure on data processing and margins brought by the volume of retail trading. But the move immediately drew accusations from the market that the decision was “market manipulation”.

Second, what gathers a group of scattered retail investors?

According to Chan Kung, founder of the ANBOUND, the answer lies in the internet. A group of young retail investors gather in a Reddit subsection called WallStreetBets (WSB), and rely on the convenience of the internet to mobilize and convene, forming a force that can influence institutions in specific areas (such as WSB concept stocks). As in recent years, public use of social networking platforms in the social and political spheres has shifted to the stock market investment sphere.

Chan also pointed out in that the role of the internet is not only in mobilizing and convening, but also in providing and sharing quality analysis. The dominance of institutions in the stock market is not only reflected in funds, but also in research capabilities. They rely on professional teams to collect information, conduct market research, and conduct modeling and analysis, forming a certain information monopoly and an overall investment advantage over retail investors. However, the development of the internet has broken up this information monopoly. Due to the convenience of information acquisition and sharing, some small institutions and professional investors also have a high analytical ability. Their participation and sharing make the Internet platform another kind of “large institutions”, which provide investment analysis and advice to retail investors in a distributed manner. The rapid information sharing and investment actions make the retail investor cluster a “disruptor” and “challenger” that cannot be underestimated in the capital market. Chan Kung also pointed out that among the retail investors, a group of people with strong information ability will further decide the market trend in the future, and the investment in the capital market will gradually become information-oriented, and the size of the funds will not be as important as in the past.

Third, how would the U.S. financial regulators handle the short squeeze and the stock market turmoil?

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said on January 29 that it is closely monitoring extreme price volatility and will review entities that “unduly inhibit” traders’ ability to trade certain stocks. The SEC also added that extreme stock price volatility has the potential to expose investors to rapid and severe losses and undermine market confidence, and that market participants should be careful to avoid “illegal” manipulative trading activity. The SEC is working with regulators to assess the current situation and review the activities of regulated entities, financial intermediaries, and other market participants. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and the White House economic team are closely watching the stock market activity around GameStop and other heavily shorted companies. She called the trading in the video-game retailer “a good reminder, though, that the stock market isn’t the only measure of the health of our economy.” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell declined to weigh in on the activity around GameStop. “I don’t want to comment on a particular company or day’s market activity or things like that. It’s just not something really that I would typically comment on,” Powell said. This information suggests that the U.S. regulatory authorities are cautious in their stance on market volatility, but hope that the market will remain stable and compliant.

Fourth, what will happen to the market relationship between retail investors and institutions?

The “retail investor revolution” has exposed the contradiction between retail investors and institutions, and made the market relationship between retail investors and institutions the focus of the market. Retail investors are within their rights to take legal action against brokerage houses for restricting trading. In the market, it is not only the so-called “regulators” that can deliver justice. Chan Kung stressed that the real problem with institutional restrictions is that if Wall Street establishes a firewall for market trading and prohibits retail investors from uniting to make the market, then the market becomes an inter-agency market, and may even further evolve into a false trading market, shaking the foundation of the entire market system. Therefore, this unprecedented short squeeze triggered by retail investors has exposed a systemic defect in the U.S. capital market. To solve this problem, there is the need to continue observing and following up.

Remarkably, the same problem exists in China. People who speculate in Chinese stocks gather on WeChat and online forums to lead a large number of hot money to hit the market. Drawing on the example of the “retail investor revolution” in the U.S., the following questions are worth considering: Is such trading activity legal? If it is “illegal”, then what kind of market has the Chinese stock market become? If there are certain winners in the market, limits on how much the stock price can go up and how much they can go down, and, in short, all the criteria that are set internally, isn’t the market trading becoming akin to sham game? Such questions are also worth pondering in China’s retail investors-dominated stock market.

Final analysis conclusion

The historical experience shows that the enthusiasm of the market can never prevent the laws of the market from working, and that the rules formed on the basis of previous experiences and lessons are still the main keynote of the market. At the same time, one should also see that with the changes in the information world and the changes in the behavior of retail investors, retail investors are forming a force that can affect the market. Therefore, certain changes in the market system and regulatory approach as a result are likely to be a future trend.

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ESG as the New Loadstar for the Global Economy

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The ills of the world economy and the frequency of crises may in part emanate from a loss of the sense of direction. With economic policy rules increasingly undermined at the level of countries and international organizations, the resulting loss of an anchor resulted in a rising frequency of economic crisis episodes. Instead of the weakening norms and top-down conditionality of international organizations a new set of rules and standards is starting to propagate throughout the global economy from the micro-level of the corporate and financial world. This new moral code is epitomized in the ESG (environment, social, governance) framework, with the propagation of ESG principles taking place across all key segments of the global economy.

The buy-side is witnessing a growing volume of assets under management that is tracking ESG principles by 2020 the value of global assets employing environmental, social and governance data to deliver investment decisions has almost doubled over four years, and more than tripled over eight years, to $40.5 trillion. Sell-side research is actively advancing ESG products in the corporate research space as well as in evaluating the macroeconomic implications of the use of ESG standards. The largest corporates are starting to compete in the ESG space, with a rising importance attached to corporate ESG ratings. At the country level governments are actively elaborating the national ESG strategies and evaluating the risks and the opportunities harboured in the rising global presence of the ESG agenda.

For corporates the importance of complying with ESG principles is driven increasingly by the rising share of ESG-driven investments, most notably among the largest institutional investors. According to PwC, ESG funds are set to hold more assets under management than their non-ESG counterparts by 2025, with ESG funds’ market share projected to rise to 57% in 2025, compared with the current 15%. In effect, companies not complying with ESG norms deprive themselves of a rising share of the global investment pool, which may impart negative implications for the companies market capitalization.

There may be also notable implications for countries and companies in terms of borrowing costs depending on the resilience and susceptibility to environmental factors as climate change. According to the estimates of the IMF, an increase of 10 percentage points in climate change vulnerability is associated with an increase of over 150 basis points in long-term government bond spreads of emerging markets and developing economies, while an improvement of 10 percentage points in climate change resilience is associated with a decrease of 37.5 basis points in bond spreads.

Importantly, there are notable regional variations in perceptions and regulatory regimes governing ESG factors as revealed by a Blackrock survey of 425 investors in 27 countries with nearly $25trn in assets under management. For more than half of the respondents in EMEA (51%), the top reason for adopting sustainable strategies was because it is the right thing to do, while just 37 per cent of respondents in the region said mitigating investment risk was a key consideration. At the same time in the Americas, mitigating risk is the second highest driver of adoption (49 per cent), followed by better risk-adjusted performance (45%) and mandate from board or management (45%).

The positive aspect of the ESG agenda is that it broadens the time-horizons of the world economy, including its financial and the real sectors, and allows for longer term risks and vulnerabilities to be incorporated into the current decision-making.

The Covid crisis was the bell toll that greatly underscored the importance of such a re-calibration of the time-horizons in economic strategies away from the excessive short-termism of the pre-Covid era. There is also the greater emphasis on sustainability as the core principle that aligns the operation of the corporate and financial markets with the broader global agenda as reflected in the UN development goals.

On the other hand, the transition towards the ESG principles also involves risks that have to do with the significant differentiation across countries in terms of values and preparedness to incorporate ESG standards. Developing economies, most notably those with a sizeable share of the mineral resource sectors in their economies, will likely find it more challenging to compete with advanced economies in the speed of ESG transformation indeed with respect to environmental standards there is the risk of green protectionism being employed against developing countries. Another risk may be the use of ESG norms as the new universal rules-based framework that separates rather than unites the global community.

In the end, just as the apocalyptic predictions regarding the coming of the WTO membership for Russia have proven to be unfounded so the ESG challenge may well turn out to be a factor of creative change rather than destruction. In many respects the ESG value code aligns well with the crucial exigencies facing Russia’s economy the need for longer time horizons in economic policy-making and investing as well as greater emphasis on environmental standards and social issues. For Russia’s financial realm this is an important element related to the development of deeper and less speculative markets, more emphasis being placed on education and support for the fledgling class of retail investors, and greater transparency and higher governance standards in the corporate world.

From our partner RIAC

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