Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Inflation Indexed Bonds - Real risk of good intentions turning into bad economics?

Indian FM, in its current pursuit to contain fiscal deficits, have taken certain strong measures. One of the important steps taken is introduction of inflation linked bonds. FM is desperately trying to wean off Indian investors from their insatiable demand for gold which is widely considered a hedge against inflation and one of the main culprits behind rising deficits.

Govt earlier tried to discourage the gold demand by raising the import duty from 2% to 6% in beginning of this year but met with little success. Gold recently sent a shocker down the Govt spine when Apr statistics indicated a 138% jump in gold imports to $7.5 billion, taking the current account deficit to $17.8 billion from $10.3 billion in March.

Govt now is re-attempting to provide an alternative investment route in the form of inflation linked bonds to protect the investors against rising prices. In its earlier attempt in 1997, Govt offered protection to only principal payment. But this time, it went one step ahead and offered interest income to be also indexed to protect against inflation.

RBI's bond sale on Tuesday was a success as the corporates lapped up the product. Issue will open for retail investors in October this year.The main selling point is an offer of 1.44% real yield over the final WPI, with almost four months lag period, which means current offer is linked to January 2013 WPI rate.

There are two major issues with the current bond sale. First, the debt is indexed to WPI, which we know calculates the price changes in the trades among the corporates NOT consumers or retail investors. This essentially means, bond does not provides consumers protection against the rising prices, what best it does is provide partial protection. There is almost 4.5% difference between current WPI and CPI numbers. Though, it is too early to speculate on its impact on gold demand, I am not sure replacing WPI with CPI as the inflation benchmark in the offer would have served the purpose of streamlining the Govt finances.

Second major issue is, which is really a downside, what happens if, we faltered on our path to regain the lost growth, FII flows dries up due to some reason and we are left with falling currency, which fires up the inflation and inflationary expectations in domestic economy and Govt is left with huge bonds liability in a slow growth environment which will raise Govt borrowing costs and inturn stoke further inflation. Nobody on the street is seem to be discussing this.

What all I know is, global economy is not out of mess, markets are been artificially inflated with central bankers printing huge quantity of money, commodity prices are down - not because of increasing competition or supply but decline in demand across the developed countries and every important economy is struggling to get growth back on its feet.

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