- Uncertainty on general elections, economic slowdown seen hurting rupee
- Rupee has recovered nearly 6% from record low in October 2018
- Rupee weakened about 9% in calendar year 2018
The battered rupee will take another bruising this year, despite a recent revival, weighed down by uncertainty around general elections in May and an expected economic slowdown, a Reuters poll found.
However, fewer than 20 per cent of contributors in the latest poll expected the rupee to breach that all-time low in the next 12 months, compared to nearly 50 per cent in a November survey and about one-third in December.
After falling about 9 per cent in 2018 - its biggest decline since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014 - the currency was forecast to weaken 1.9 per cent to 71.50 per dollar in a year, from about 70.20 on Tuesday.
Two-thirds of those who gave a year-ahead forecast predicted the currency to be weaker - trading at more than 70 per dollar, with the most pessimistic call at 80. The others either had it around where it is now or a touch stronger.
"Overall there's nothing to be greatly optimistic about the rupee. There are lots of uncertainties, both on economic and political fronts lingering as we enter into 2019," said Prakash Sakpal, Asia economist at ING, adding that elections and political uncertainty pose "the biggest risk".
"Things could go either way. We might see the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) retaining its power by a very thin margin. On the other extreme, there could be a coalition. This would obviously not be viewed by the international community positively, which of course is going to be bad for the currency," Mr Sakpal said.
A deep selloff in emerging market currencies last year was triggered by a resurgent dollar and the US-China trade war, making the rupee the worst-performing major Asian currency in 2018.
In recent weeks, the dollar has lost momentum on economic growth worries in the US and a dialing back of rate hike expectations, benefiting emerging market currencies - with the MSCI emerging market currency index rising to levels last seen in late July.
But growth conditions in most emerging economies aren't much to write home about either, potentially limiting the upside for those currencies.
The rupee's path this year will largely be determined by the results of elections in May, oil price moves and the Reserve Bank of India's policy.
With foreign outflows from Asian equities the biggest in at least seven years in 2018, the US-China trade war and a widening fiscal deficit at a time of slowing economic growth globally, the rupee is not likely to rise.
The government is expected to miss its deficit target of 3.3 per cent of gross domestic product this fiscal year as data showed the April-November deficit was already 115 per cent of the budgeted target.
That poses a big threat to economic expansion. the country's annual economic growth fell to a worse-than-expected 7.1 per cent in the July-September quarter.
"Slowdown will become a trend this year, especially as external demand will remain on a weakening path, whereas without much downside in oil prices, imports will remain elevated, so we should see a bigger hit to GDP growth from continued widening in the trade deficit this year," added ING's Mr Sakpal.
But not everyone was convinced about a weaker rupee, as expectations of fewer Federal Reserve rate hikes are likely to restrain the dollar from making further gains.
"We see the retreat in global oil prices and a pause in the Federal Reserve hiking cycle outweighing domestic concerns," said Rini Sen, FX strategist at ANZ. "This will see the rupee regain lost momentum, but much of this reversal is expected to come post the general elections in mid-2019."
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