Reminiscing My $100B Moment as India’s Forex Reserves Touch $500B
- Published on
- 15 Jun 2020, 03:18 PM
By Sophia Rodrigues
Earlier this month, India joined an elite club, becoming the fifth country in the world to have foreign-exchange reserves of over half a trillion dollars.
The milestone was reached on June 5 but as per convention it was published by the Reserve Bank of India a week later when it reports data on forex reserves for the Friday before. India’s forex reserves were at $501.7 billion as of June 5, up $8.2 billion from the week before.
It was up a whopping $78.1 billion from a year earlier. It was up $400 billion from December 2003.
DECEMBER 19, 2003
I have a special connection with India’s forex reserves. When India’s forex reserves reached a milestone of $100 billion, I broke that story and to this day I regard it as my best work.
It is my best because I beat India’s Finance Minister, and it is my best because I wrote it on the day it happened, and it involved a lot of perseverance.
Back then, I worked with Crisil MarketWire in Mumbai, now called Cogencis.
The day was Friday, 19 December 2003. On that day, the available data was for Friday, 5 December, 2003 when forex reserves were at $97.5 billion.
I knew there was a chance in two weeks the reserves could have grown to $100 billion based purely on the reserves trend in the weeks prior to that. But as a journalist and for a story like this, I can’t report on the possibility because anyone could do that.
What I needed was a confirmation that reserves indeed touched $100 billion on Friday.
But there was another problem. No one, not even the RBI, could say with certainty that reserves touched $100 billion. This is because India reports its reserves in US dollars but the foreign currency portion of its reserves comprised of US dollars, Euro, Pound Sterling, Japanese Yen, etc.
Each week the reserves are subject to valuation changes based on how the US dollar moves against those main currencies. While the RBI could calculate reserves at a particular time on Friday and it would have reached $100 billion, there was no certainty it would remain above $100 billion by the end of the day.
I did my calculations based on my estimate of what part of the reserves was in other currencies, and how much the US dollar had moved in two weeks. I was convinced there was a reasonable chance of getting to $100 billion.
The bigger challenge was to get as much information as possible to further convince me that the reserves were very likely to have reached $100 billion.
I started making calls to my sources at the RBI. It would be sources because one can’t get this information from the Communications Office. I would find out later that RBI would never confirm the news because it was going to be Finance Ministry moment of glory.
I called every important source I had at the RBI – five of them, and I called each one at least twice that day.
My biggest break was when one source told me there was lot of activity going on at the RBI, meaning something big was happening.
I called my source at a department which wasn’t connected to forex, and they told me,”Why don’t you check with forex department?”
Again, that was a hint that something was “cooking.”
I called another source, again at a different department, and even that conversation gave me a sense that something was happening but there were not telling me.
I spoke to my source in Monetary Policy and I got the same feeling.
Each call told me something was going on, but no one was willing to confirm it.
ALL ABOUT VALUATION CHANGES
My best break came from my source in forex department. They told me what was a Statement of Fact but it meant more, if I read between the lines.
They said there was no way to know if $100 billion was touched because the valuation would be done at the end of the day, and it depends on how the US dollar moves.
I knew at that moment I had my story. I had the story because I read that comment in the context of all the comments from my other sources.
I would have spoken at least twice to five people, but I made many, many more calls that day. Getting them on the phone was a challenge, and I had to try numerous times.
I wrote the story and wondered why RBI had not chosen to issue a press release at the end of the day to make the announcement.
THAT PHONE CALL
I got my answer the next day. It was Saturday and I distinctly remember the call I got from my editor when I was with my family in a car returning from a trip to an exhibition.
My editor told me India’s Finance Minister Jaswant Singh issued a statement announcing forex reserves has touched $100 billion. The RBI governor, “informed me today that India's foreign exchange reserves comprising foreign currency assets, gold and Special Drawing Rights have reached $100.248 billion on December 19,” Singh said.
It marks a “Period of Great Confidence,” he said, according to an article in The Times of India.
Singh’s joy was also my big moment of pride.
I had beaten the Finance Minister…