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Is this currency about to follow the rupee’s crash course?

Leslie Shaffer
Tuesday, 13 Aug 2013 | 11:07 PM ET
Adek Berry | AFP | Getty Images

The spectacular fall in the rupee has been grabbing market attention in recent months, but the focus could soon shift to the Indonesian rupiah, which Credit Agricole warns could suffer the same fate as the embattled Indian currency.

Dariusz Kowalczyk, senior Asia ex-Japan strategist at Credit Agricole, said Indonesia's slowing growth and rising inflation, which exceeds India's, as well as an increasing current account deficit and low foreign exchange reserves, are starting to resemble the problems faced by India's economy.

"(The) fundamental picture is increasingly looking similar to India's but the rupiah has suffered much less and will need to catch up," Kowalczyk said.

(Read more: India's rupee hits record lows, here's what it means)

India's rupee has fallen nearly 13 percent against the dollar year-to-date, brushing a fresh record low around 61.87 last week. It currently trades around 61.19. The Indonesian rupiah, meanwhile, is down nearly 7 percent against the dollar this year, and currently hovers at around 10,285.

Agricole now expects the rupiah to weaken to around 10,400 against the dollar by year-end, noticeably more bearish than its previous forecast of 9,890.

Indonesia Rate Hikes Will Bring Back Inflows: Official
Perry Warjiyo, Deputy Governor of Bank Indonesia says he is confident the aggressive interest rate hikes of the past two months will help bring back capital inflows and support the rupiah.

The rupiah weakness, together with the accelerating inflation, will likely prompt a rate hike by the Bank of Indonesia when it meets on Thursday, said Agricole. Indonesia's annual inflation hit 8.61 percent in July, its fastest pace in more than four years.

Kowalczyk expects the benchmark rate to rise by 25 basis points to 6.75 percent. Majority of analysts polled by Reuters expect no change in monetary policy.

Indonesia's central bank, like the Reserve Bank of India, has been actively trying to prop up its currency. In July, it moved to sell between $100 million to $150 million a day at levels, well below deal rates, in an apparent attempt to keep the rupiah below 10,000; it eventually relaxed its stance and the rupiah weakened further.

(Read more: Rate hike a pre-emptive strike: Indonesia official)

Capital outflows from Indonesia have continued, Kowalczyk writes, noting Indonesia's net portfolio inflows peaked at $6 billion in May and have turned into an outflow of up to $200 million.

Kowalczyk expects that as Bank Indonesia raises rates, inflation expectations will temper and spur further outflows. He adds that moves by the U.S. Federal Reserve to taper its asset purchases could exacerbate the trend.

Other analysts also have doubts about the rupiah, but they aren't as bearish.

(Read more: As rupiah declines, Indonesia moves to prevent panic)

According to Nizam Idris, head of strategy for fixed income and currencies at Macquarie, "Indonesia's current account and fiscal deficits are small" compared to India. "The dollar-rupiah could continue to rise, but I think it will be a lot slower than the rupee."

He also expects a quarter percentage point rate hike on Thursday, but a decision to keep rates steady wouldn't be a surprise. "The dollar rupiah has stabilized. That may actually be against another immediate hike, but going forward there's still the possibility of another hike."

The rupiah hit a record low during the Asian financial crisis in 1998 when it fell to as much as 16,800 against the dollar.

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