## Saturday, December 24, 2011

### Uncomfortable times in real estate in store?

Patrick Chovanec has a fascinating article in Foreign Affairs, titled China's Real Estate Bubble May Have Just Popped. This is interesting and important from two points of view.

First, bad news for China is bad news for the world economy. We are already in a bleak environment, with difficulties in Europe, Japan, the US, and India. It will not be pretty if China runs into trouble as well. I am reminded of the feeling of carefully watching real estate in the United States in 2006, with a sense that the future of the world economy was going to turn on how it turned out.

Second, it made me think about real estate in India. As with China, one often sees buyers of real estate in India have the notion that this is a safe financial asset. This is a questionable proposition. Real estate is perhaps not an asset class with a positive expected return in the first place; and it is certainly not a convenient asset class with features like liquidity, transparency, diversification and easy formation of low-volatility diversified portfolios. I find it hard to explain the prominence of real estate in the portfolios of even educated people in India.

In the article, Chovanec says:

For more than a decade, they have bet on longer-term demand trends by buying up multiple units -- often dozens at a time -- which they then leave empty with the belief that prices will rise. Estimates of such idle holdings range anywhere from 10 million to 65 million homes; no one really knows the exact number, but the visual impression created by vast ghost' districts, filled with row upon row of uninhabited villas and apartment complexes, leaves one with a sense of investments with, literally, nothing inside.

This has not happened in India. So in this sense, the situation in India is not as dire. But his second key message seems uncomfortably close:

As 2011 progressed, developers scrambled for new lines of financing to keep their overstocked inventories. They first relied on bank loans (until they were cut off), then high-yield bonds in Hong Kong (until the market soured), then private investment vehicles (sponsored by banks as an end run around lending constraints), and finally, in some cases, loan sharks. By the end of last summer, many Chinese developers had run out of options and were forced to begin liquidating inventory. Hence, the price slashing: 30, 40, and even 50 percent discounts.

Part of this looks familiar. There is a lot of leverage in Indian real estate development and speculation. Real estate speculators and developers are finding themselves in a bit of a scramble hunting for credit. One hears about very high interest rates being paid by developers. Other sources of financing are also weak. This reminds me of the dark days before the global crisis, when borrowing by real estate companies was the canary in the coal mine.

If business cycle conditions and financial conditions worsen, the problems of borrowing by real estate developers and speculators will get worse. How might this turn out? Perhaps the borrowers will merely get uncomfortable. Or, a few firms could really get into trouble, and start liquidating inventory. That would have substantial repercussions.

Suppose there is a situation where there are many people who have speculative positions in real estate, but significant selling of inventory has not yet begun. The longs would then be nervously looking at each other, wondering who would be the first one to sell, to take a better price and exit his position. The ones who sell late would get an inferior price. In such a situation, conditions could change sharply in a short time.

On a longer horizon, I would, of course, be delighted if real estate prices are lower. This would help shift the supply function of labour, reduce the cost of setting up new businesses, etc. But that's more about the long-term policy changes, which would remove barriers for converting land into built-up housing, while rising vertically into the sky with FSI in Indian cities ranging from 5 to 25.

## Saturday, December 17, 2011

### The most-read posts on this blog

Google started maintaining data about blogs from May 2009 onwards. In this data, I find the most read posts were:

## Thursday, December 15, 2011

### RBI reaches for capital controls

By and large, I have felt that RBI has done a pretty good job of the exchange rate. They doubled currency flexibility twice, in 2004 and 2007. In 2009, they shifted to a floating rate. There were two problems:

1. They continue to sometimes do tiny blocks of trading on the currency market. In a market of $70 billion a day, a small scale of trading (e.g.$1 billion a month) is irrelevant, so why bother doing it? This has been pointless, but it has done no damage.
2. They have failed to correctly communicate to the market that the exchange rate is now a float. I cannot recall an RBI governor who used the phase "floating exchange rate". Many economic agents seem to have got the following message: You're on your own for small fluctuations, but if there are big movements, RBI will block them. This was mis-communication. The people who hedged against small movements but not against large ones, as a consequence of RBI, have now got burned. This is going to further increase the cost of RBI to gain credibility in the years to come, to come to a point where its words are respected.
Barring these two issues, I have felt that RBI has done a pretty good job of the exchange rate. Until now.

RBI has just announced a batch of capital controls against the currency market. This is a mistake:
1. When there is turbulence on the currency market, you want greater activity on the currency derivatives market - which is where people protect themselves from currency risk - not less. Recall how the Greek default really damaged the Italians because on that day, the owner of an Italian government bond was told that maybe his CDS would malfunction if an Italian default came about. It was not good for Italy for economic agents to have a reduced ability to manage this risk.
2. This will merely shift business to alternative venues - the offshore market and the onshore currency futures market. To the extent that shifting to these venues is tedious or infeasible (e.g. FIIs are banned from the onshore currency futures market and don't have that choice), economic agents will be averse to holding India risk. This is bad for asset prices in India at a particularly difficult time.
3. In a climate of pessimism about economic policy, it is important to send out a message, through action and non-action every day, that RBI (and more generally the Indian economic policy establishment) possesses top quality knowledge and decision-capabilities in economics and finance. This action of RBI reinforces the gloom about economic policy capabilities in India.
In April, Ila Patnaik and I released a paper titled Did the Indian capital controls work as a tool of macroeconomic policy? Our answer was largely in the negative. RBI's actions of today are likely to shape up as yet another episode of this larger theme. It might make things worse for the rupee, for Nifty, etc.; to this extent these decisions would not be irrelevant.

Financial regulation should be focused on the problems of consumer protection, micro-prudential regulation, market integrity and systemic risk. It should not be used as a tool for short-term macroeconomic policy. If this is done, it damages market liquidity and yields a less capable financial market. This further damages the limited monetary policy transmission that RBI possesses.

## Tuesday, December 13, 2011

### Mistake upon mistake

In recent months, we've had a few slip-ups by the official statistical system in India:
• Yesterday's IIP release was preceded by a mistake. Mint says: On Monday, the government was guilty of a similar error in its factory output data. Till it corrected the number pertaining to capital goods output, analysts were left scrambling for explanations as to how this had grown 25.5% while overall factory growth had shrunk 5.1%. (The answer: it hadn’t, and had actually shrunk by 25.5%).
• On 9 December, we discovered there were important mistakes in the exports data.
• In December 2010, RBI modified the numbers that it releases about its trading on the currency market.
• In September 2010, there was a mistake in the quarterly GDP data released by CSO.

### What is going wrong?

These examples are part of a larger theme, of problems of the official statistical system. The Indian statistical system is afflicted by three levels of problems:
1. The first level is conceptual problems and analytical errors. As an example, the weights of the WPI basket are wrong; the estimation methods used in the IIP are likely to be wrong, etc. Quarterly GDP measurement does not have a demand side (which requires a quarterly household survey, which the government does not know how to do).
2. The second level is the lack of rugged IT systems. The production of statistics requires high quality enterprise IT systems. The government does not have the ability or incentive to roll these out. As an example, the September 2010 mistake in quarterly GDP data seems to have come about because quarterly GDP data is produced in a spreadsheet. As with all usage of spreadsheets, this is highly error prone. The hallmark of a reliably executed process is the absence of spreadsheets.
3. The third level is the problems of truant front-line staff. In a country which is not able to get civil servants to show up at school to teach, it is not surprising that front-line staff of statistical agencies are untrustworthy in going out into the field and filling out survey forms. More generally, the statistical system is a set of public goods produced by civil servants, who are unresponsive about the needs of users, or the unhappiness of users, either on flaws about what is done or about the gaps in what is not done.
The rash of mistakes that we're seeing, lately, are merely a reflection of #2 (the lack of rugged enterprise IT systems). But there is much more going on which holds back the usefulness of official statistics.

### How to make progress?

Government officials in this field have pinned a lot of hope on the implementation of the report of the statistical commission (headed by C. Rangarajan, 2001). I am personally not optimistic about this. The report seems to emphasise an incremental agenda of building the statistical system, emphasising the interests of the incumbents. In any case, it's been a decade after 2001, and it's important to ask fresh questions about what is going wrong and why.

What is required is a ground-up rethink about the statistical system, from first principles, so as to address the three difficulties above. As an example, most of the civil servants processing data in a labour-intensive manner are not required if a good quality enterprise IT system is put into place (and it is hence not surprising that the incumbents are un-enthusiastic about business process transformation). The revolution of computers and telecommunications needs to be brought into this field, just as it has done in so many others. This does not require large sums of money; it requires superior public administration.

### What should users of data do?

Turning to the users of official statistics, most economists attach enormous prestige to phrases like GDP, IIP, CPI, etc. But in India, we cannot unthinkingly use some numbers just because they come with the label GDP' from some government agency. We have to always skeptically ask first principles questions about how the data is generated. All too often, the standard Indian government data is useless.

Global financial firms who now operate in India have brought a certain cookie-cutter mentality. They produce a major report about each release of quarterly GDP for all countries that they write research reports about. Hence, once they started having such analyst coverage of India, they have started writing a report about quarterly GDP. Such a mechanical approach is a waste of resources. The quarterly GDP data is mostly uninformative.

In the class of government data that I know of, I feel the CPI is reasonably okay. The WPI is a fairly useful database about prices but useless as a price index. The quarterly GDP data, IIP, NSSO, ASI are untrustworthy.

Decision makers in government and in the private sector need to struggle with these issues, carefully thinking about what statistics are allowed to influence their decision processes.

Academic users of data need to be much more careful about avoiding garbage-in-garbage-out (GIGO).  With a large number of academic papers that work with Indian data, I stop reading the paper after I have read the data description; I know the data is rubbish, so the paper will not change my mind, so I should not bother reading it. A good referee blocks papers which are GIGO. But even if the referee in a faraway place thinks that quarterly GDP in India is well measured, the researcher should ponder whether there are better uses of his time - are there projects which can be more meaningful and genuinely answer important questions, over and beyond merely getting past a referee?

### Finding out more

For more on this subject, you might like to look at the label statistical system' on this blog.

## Monday, December 12, 2011

China's Pakistan Conundrum by Evan A. Feigenbaum, in Foreign Affairs.

The most important task of government is the public goods of law and order: laws, courts and judiciary. The first step towards strengthening these lies in sound measurement. Writing in Pragati, Sushant K. Singh has an excellent article on the problems of measurement of crime in India.

An independent judiciary by Ruma Pal.

Devesh Kapur, in the Business Standard, on the HR crisis in the Indian State.

Shyam Saran in the Business Standard on a more sensible approach that we should bring to intra-South-Asia logistics.

The lack of freedom of speech in India: Karan Singh Tyagi in the Hindu.

Amit Rai writes in the Times of India about the mistakes of the legal actions following the AMRI fire.

Mobis Philipose in Mint on how charges by exchanges have made a difference to the currency futures market.

Dreze and Sen on what India does right and wrong. We may not agree with most of this, but they are smart people and it's worth reading.

Hard times at UTI: Anirudh Laskar and Vyas Mohan in Mint, and Niladri Bhattacharya and N. Sundaresha Subramanian in Business Standard.

Air India and Maharashtra PSUs remind us, in interesting ways, about why government should not be in business.

Martin Feldstein explains what went wrong with the Euro.

Look at profiles of Mario Monti, who will try to fix Italy, and Loukas Papadimos, who will try to fix Greece. I guess that every now and then, the professional politicians foul up big time, and then bring in the economists to clean up. It reminds me of a perspective by C. B Bhave on urban governance in India: when things are going well, the politicians want an accomodating civil servant; when the city goes to hell, they want a tough competent one. Also see Greece and Italy Seek a Solution From Technocrats by Rachel Donadio in the New York Times.

Charles Moore looks back at the story of Maggie Thatcher, who ended Britain's long decline in the 20th century.

Read Larry Summers in the Financial Times on the problem of inequality and three things that need to be done about it.

Two important platforms for modern web development were Flash and HTML5. It now looks like Flash is dying. Looks like Steve Jobs was right on one more thing.

## Saturday, December 10, 2011

### Business cycle conditions in India: It's mostly cycle, not trend

There is a lot of gloom in India today about the broad-based failure of the UPA strategy of combining left-of-centre populism, fiscal profligacy, theft, and a lack of interest in the foundations of India's growth. We learn from history that we learn nothing from history; India has clearly learned very little from its escape from the Hindu rate of growth. The moment we got a little bit of growth, the old style socialism and theft reared up again. In one of the many pessimistic articles of this theme, Shekhar Gupta in the Indian Express says:
What is the Hindu Rate of Growth two decades after reform? It certainly can’t be the 2-3 per cent of India’s socialist Brezhnev decades. The new Hindu Rate of Growth is 6 per cent, and on all evidence, from macroeconomic data to the empty billboards of Mumbai, we are headed there next year.
In thinking about GDP growth, it's always useful to think about both growth and fluctuations. Growth is about the underlying trend growth rate.  In the olden days, this was all you needed to worry about. The economy trundled along at roughly the trend growth rate (the Hindu rate of growth of 3.5 per cent), being kicked up or down by good or bad monsoons. In that period, macroeconomics in India required thinking in completely different ways, when compared with standard Western textbooks.

But from the early 1990s onwards, India changed. The market-oriented reforms, which began with the Janata Party in 1977 and gathered momentum in the 1980s, had started creating a market economy. And every market economy in the world experiences business cycle fluctuations. So, in addition to the trend, we got a cycle about the trend. There were good periods and bad periods, and the story running in there was much like that found in mainstream Western textbooks, with a prominent role being played by profitability, inventories and investment by firms.

From this viewpoint, it's useful to decompose two elements of what we are seeing after 2009. On one hand, trend growth has been influenced by decisions of the UPA. Any perceptive observer also tends to rage at the lost opportunities, of policy decisions that should have been taken, which would have accelerated trend growth. But the second big story is that of fluctuations. Corporate investment is a major driver of business cycle fluctuations in India, and there has been a certain deceleration in this. This may have set off a downturn.

The bulk of the drama that we're now seeing, and what will play out in 2012, is business cycle fluctuations. This is about fluctuations, not the trend. When trend growth is 7 per cent, the fluctuations make GDP growth range from 4 per cent to 10 per cent. Even if trend growth does not change by even a bit, business cycle fluctuations can take us from a high of 10 per cent to a low of 4 per cent, which is a huge swing of 6 percentage points.

Many elements of economic policy are pro-cyclical: when times are good, they make things better and when times are bad, they make things worse. The financial system tends to suffer from pro-cyclicality: when times are good, bankers lend exuberantly (thus expanding the boom) and when times are bad, bankers tend to be cautious (thus accentuating the bust). It is important to look for a framework for stabilisation, of tools that will counteract business cycle fluctuations. India has crossed one major milestone, in getting to a floating exchange rate. The floating exchange rate is stabilising, in and of itself. In addition, it opens up the possibility of stabilising monetary policy.

As of today, by and large, I think of both fiscal policy and monetary policy as being part of the problem and not part of the solution. While floating the exchange rate (decisions from 2007 to 2009) opened up the possibility of sound monetary policy, the logical next step did not materialise. As of yet, we do not have a sound monetary policy regime. We're going to require far-reaching surgery to laws and institutions, in order to craft frameworks for fiscal policy and monetary policy that do stabilisation. Until these changes are made, Indian GDP growth will have the high volatility that is characteristically found in countries with weak institutions.

A lot of our work in the Macro/Finance group at NIPFP is rooted in this conceptual framework. In particular, you might like to see two relatively non-technical articles: New issues in macroeconomic policy and Stabilising the Indian business cycle.

## Friday, December 02, 2011

### Talk by Thomas Laubach on inflation expectations, inflation targeting, monetary policy

Thomas Laubach will do a talk titled Inflation: Expectations, Targets and the Institutional Framework for Monetary Policy at the NIPFP auditorium at 3:30 PM on December 9 (Friday). He is Professor at Goethe University in Germany. All are welcome.

## Thursday, December 01, 2011

### The rupee: Frequently asked questions

q: How big is the market for the rupee?

The rupee is now a big market. Summing across both spot and derivatives, perhaps \$30 billion a day of onshore trading and \$40 billion of offshore trading takes place. Both these markets are tightly linked by arbitrage. In other words, for all practical purposes, it's like NSE and BSE which are a single market unified by arbitrage. If you place a small order to buy 100 shares on either NSE or BSE, you get essentially the same price, and arbitrageurs are constantly at work equalising the price across both markets. It is a similar state of affairs between the onshore and the offshore rupee. Both markets are tightly integrated by arbitrage.

The offshore market for the rupee, and a large part of the onshore market, is OTC trading. Hence, the efficiencies of algorithmic trading and algorithmic arbitrage cannot be brought to bear on onshore/offshore arbitrage. So the arbitrage is done by manual labour. Still, it gets done. Both markets are tightly linked and show the same price. We should think of them as one market. It's one big market, it is one of the big currencies of the world, it's roughly \$70 billion a day. q: How might RBI do manipulation of this market? If RBI wants to hit the market with orders big enough to make a difference, they have to be ready to do fairly big orders and to be able to do it on a sustained basis. As a rough thumb-rule, I might say that in order to make a material difference to a market with daily volume of \$70 billion, they have to be in the market with atleast \$2 to \$3 billion a day.

q: What would go wrong if they tried this?

Three things would go wrong.

First, foreign exchange reserves are \$275 billion. If RBI sells off \$2.75 billion a day, the reserves would be quickly gone.

Second, when RBI sells dollars and buys rupees, this sucks liquidity out of the market. The side effect of selling dollars would be a sharp rise in domestic interest rates. In other words, monetary policy would get hijacked by currency policy. This would not be wise. Monetary policy should be focused on delivering low and stable inflation: it should have no ulterior motives. We have to make a choice: Do we want to use up the power of monetary policy to achieve domestic goals, or do we want to use up the power of monetary policy to achieve currency policy goals?

Third, suppose you and I saw a market price of Rs.45 per dollar, which is created by RBI and not a market reality. We would know that in time, the truth will out, that the price will go back to Rs.52 a dollar. The rational trading strategy for each of us would be: To sell any and every domestic asset, and shift money out of the country. This would trigger off an asset price collapse in India. We would take the money out, and wait for the distortion of the currency market to end. At that point (perhaps Rs.52 a dollar, perhaps worse) we would bring the money back to India and buy back our assets. We might make two returns here: first, on the move of the INR/USD from 45 to 52 (or worse) and the second, on the gain from the drop in asset prices.

q: Isn't it hard to take money out of India in this fashion?

It's easier than we think. Remember September 2008? The mythology in our heads was: we in India are crouching safely behind a wall of capital controls. In truth, the wall wasn't there.

q: But until recently, RBI used to give us a pegged INR/USD exchange rate! What changed?

In late 2003, RBI ran out of bonds for sterilisation. Associated with that, there was a first structural break in the rupee exchange rate regime, with a doubling of volatility. A short while later, in March 2007, there was another structural break, with another doubling of volatility. From April 2009 onwards, RBI's trading in the market has gone to roughly zero. RBI stopped managing the exchange rate a while ago.

The exchange rate is the most important price of the economy. The decontrol of this exchange rate is the biggest achievement of the UPA in economic reforms. The credit for this goes to Y. V. Reddy and Rakesh Mohan (who took the first two steps of doubling exchange rate flexibility twice) and to Dr. Subbarao (who got out of trading on the currency market, which did remarkably little to INR/USD volatility).

q: Why did nobody tell me that something changed in the exchange rate regime?

RBI should be talking more transparently about what is going on. But they are not transparent about what they do. Even though hundreds of millions of people are affected by their trading on the currency market (or the lack thereof), the manual which governs their currency trading at any point in time (i.e., the documentation of the prevailing exchange rate regime) is not transparently disclosed to the people of India. We have to decipher what is going on by statistically analysing exchange rate data.

The dates of structural break of the exchange rate regime are extremely important dates in thinking about what was going on in macroeconomics and international finance. Any time one is using data about exchange rates, interest rates, etc., it is important to work within one segment of the prevailing exchange rate regime at a time. It is wrong to pool data across many years. All users of data need to be careful in this regard.

q: So what might happen to the rupee next? Is there a law of gravity' which will pull it back to erstwhile values of Rs.45 or Rs.50?

When you don't manipulate a financial market, the price time-series comes out to something close to a random walk. In the ideal random walk, all changes are permanent. The random walk never forgets; there is no law of gravity which takes it back to recent values. Your best estimator of what it will be tomorrow is: what you see today.

In order to get a sense of what will come next, go through the following steps. First, go to INR/USD options trading at NSE, and pluck out the implied volatility for the four at-the-money options. I just did that, and the values are: 10.43, 10.32, 10.33 and 10.08. Calculate the average of these four numbers. With the above four values, the average is: 10.3. (This is a quick and dirty method; here is one which is much better).

This tells a very important thing: The options market believes that in the future, the volatility of the INR/USD rate will be 10.3 per cent per year.

In order to re-express this as uncertainty per month, we divide by sqrt(12). This gives the volatility for a month as : 3% per month.

Roughly speaking, the 95% confidence interval for what might happen over a month, then, runs from -6% to +6% (this is twice the standard deviation, which we just worked out was 3% per month).

The INR/USD is now Rs.51.62. By the above calculation, we can be 95% certain that one month from today, it will lie somewhere between 48.5 and 54.7.

These trivial calculations have been done by equity market participants for the longest time. It is a standard and trivial idea: To read the implied volatility off the Nifty options market, and to do such calculations to get a sense of what might come next with Nifty. But on the currency market, this is relatively novel. Only recently have we got a nice currency options market, and only recently have we got to a genuine market. Now these skills can be brought to bear on the currency market. It's a brave new world, one in which the operations of financial derivatives markets (Nifty options, INR/USD options) produces forward-looking and timely information about the economy (implied volatility).

q: What changed in imports and exports which gave us the big recent move of the rupee?

The current account (goods, services, and then some) adds up to a mere buying and selling of \\$4 billion a day. The bulk of currency trading is about the capital account. The currency is a financial object; the exchange rate is defined by financial considerations and not by current account considerations.

q: What happens to the Indian economy when the rupee depreciates?

This has been the source of a great deal of confusion and it's important to think straight about this. There are three important effects in play:
1. Some people had borrowed in dollars, and left it unhedged since they were speculating that the INR would appreciate. They have got burned. That's okay - in a market economy, many people place bets about future fluctuations of financial prices, and half the time the speculator loses money. (If the rupee had not depreciated sharply, these speculators would have been truly joyous).
2. When the rupee depreciates, imports become costlier and India's exports become more competitive. So exports (X) gradually start going up and imports (M) gradually start going down. The net gain in X-M is increased demand in the local economy. In this fashion, INR depreciation is good for aggregate demand (and conversely INR appreciation pulls back demand). However, we have to bear in mind that these effects are small and take place with long lags.
3. Many things in India are tradeable. It is important to focus on the things that are tradeable and not just on the things that are imported. As an example, there are many transactions between a domestic producer of steel and a domestic buyer of steel. The buyer and seller are both in India. But the price at which they transact is the world price of steel (which is quoted in dollars) multiplied by the INR/USD exchange rate. This situation is called import parity pricing'. Through this, the domestic prices of tradeables goes up when the rupee depreciates.

q: What is the impact of costlier tradeables for RBI?

RBI's job is to fight inflation. RBI must work to deliver year-on-year CPI inflation (a.k.a. headline inflation') of four to five per cent. When tradeables become costlier, domestic CPI inflation goes up. So the rupee depreciation has made RBI's job harder. RBI will have to respond by hiking interest rates. (Note that one impact of higher interest rates will be that more capital will come into India, which will tend to yield a rupee appreciation; import parity pricing has created a new channel through which RBI rate hikes combat inflation).

q: What is the impact of costlier tradeables for business cycle conditions in India?

As the example above about steel suggests, the price realisation of all tradeables companies goes up when the rupee depreciates. Costs change by less by revenues (since many costs are not tradeables), and profitability goes up.

Firm profitability has dropped sharply in 2011. My prediction is that firms producing tradeables will show better profitability in Oct-Nov-Dec 2011 when compared with the previous quarter, thanks to the rupee depreciation.

This is great news for business cycle conditions. Profitability goes up, which yields more cash for investment by financially constrained firms. And, when profitability is higher, more investment projects look viable.

q: In the bottom line, what is the link between the rupee and India's business cycle stabilisation?

If RBI tried to peg the exchange rate, the lever of monetary policy would get used up to deliver the target exchange rate. By not trading on the currency market, the lever of monetary policy is now available. A pretty good use for this lever is to deliver low and stable CPI inflation. If this is done, then an RBI focused on inflation would help stabilise the economy by cutting rates when CPI inflation drops below 4% and hiking rates when CPI inflation goes above 5%.

But floating the exchange rate also yields stabilisation purely in and of itself. In bad times, capital leaves India, the rupee depreciates. This gives higher profitability in tradeables firms and bolsters investment. Conversely, when times are good, more capital comes into India, the INR appreciates, which crimps profitability of tradeables firms. The floating exchange rate exerts a stabilising influence upon the economy: purely by doing nothing on the currency market, RBI has unleashed this new force of stabilisation which will help India.

q: What should RBI do next?

RBI should do as they have done, i.e. avoided trading on the currency market.

RBI should keep driving up the short-term interest rate until point-on-point seasonally adjusted CPI inflation shows a decline and goes into the target zone of 4-5 per cent. After this hangs in there for a year, `headline inflation' (y-o-y growth of CPI) will be in the target zone.

q: What do other countries do?

When we look at countries with good governance, the mainstream strategy seen worldwide is an open capital account and a central bank that delivers on an inflation target. By and large, this goes with a floating exchange rate. Trading on the currency market interferes with achieving price stability and has hence been dispensed with, by most good countries. Japan and Switzerland come to mind as exceptions to this broad regularity.