Monday, January 30, 2012

The Value of Indian Rupee

The Economist recently published the Big Mac Index that shows Indian Rupee as most undervalued currency contrary to the popular perception of its value. The Big Mac is priced at $1.62 in India vs. $4.2 in the US thereby giving undervaluation of 2.6x.

It raises some hard questions:
  1. Has Indian Government absorbed substantial part of costs? Indian government subsidizes diesel and that could show up as mark down. This bloats the government balance sheet but keeps inflation from showing up in consumer goods prices. This has double effects, when high oil prices are absorbed by the government, Indian prices languish. Further, when the global prices start correcting, Indian prices tend to remain firm.
  2. INR is undervalued because Indian government finances are not in good shape. India's government finances look more like developed countries than developing countries. To compound the problems, Indian export basket is quite price sensitive while import basket is not. So then does it mean Indian inflation has substantial way to go? 
  3. Does it mean that Big Mac Index works better when government budget is nearly balanced?
  4. Another important thing is that the price of entry-level burger at McDonalds has been coming down since McDonalds came to India. Part of the reason is product development, but significant part is because of raw material efficiency. This latent competitiveness has not yet been harnessed, but if done so, will make India more resilient to global factors. It may even make Indian exports more competitive.