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Rupee at new low, RBI steps in to keep it below 54/$

Closes at 53.96 a dollar just three trading days after Wednesday?s previous record low of 53.83 dealers see 54 level breached soon

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The hit a new low today as it closed at 53.96 a amidst a central bank intervention aimed at preventing it from touching the 54-a-dollar level.

According to dealers, the Reserve Bank of India () intervened when the rupee touched 53.90 levels and helped it appreciate by 16 paisa. But, undiminished demand for the greenback made the touch a new low just three trading days after it posted the previous record low of 53.83 on Wednesday. Intra-day, the rupee had touched 54.30 on December 15, 2011.

On Friday, it had closed at 53.63 a dollar with the sixth consecutive weekly loss. The Indian currency has depreciated nearly nine per cent since March.

The central bank’s foreign exchange intervention, believed to be in the range of $200-300 million, was seen at the 53.90-a-dollar level. “The RBI intervened but the supply wasn't enough. The exchange rate was back to the day's low towards the close. We may see the 54 mark tomorrow, probably, even if the RBI steps in,” said a foreign exchange dealer with a domestic brokerage.

Other than oil companies contributing to the underlying demand, there was high dollar buying by gold importers as well. "With every drop in gold prices, dollar payments were seen coming," said the dealer. Bloomberg data show international gold prices fell one per cent today, compared to the previous close.

Last week, the RBI had asked exporters to liquidate half of their dollar holdings within a fortnight, fixed intra-day trading limits at five times the limits on net overnight open positions of banks and increased the ceiling on interest rates offered on foreign currency non-resident deposits. However, foreign exchange outflows on account of negative growth in industrial production rendered the impact of these measures relatively ineffective.

and of have said in a report such actions are likely to provide respite only during a period of stable global risk appetite.

"They are not enough to fully offset the fundamental stresses that continue to haunt India's balance of payments," they added in the report.

Today, there were foreign exchange inflows of Rs 355 crore despite Indian equities ending in the red. However, there were net outflows of about Rs 500 crore last week, according to Securities and Exchange Board of India data.

“The RBI was stepping in the market to curtail the weakening of the rupee. The RBI changed the norms related to EEFC accounts and overnight bank limits, which supported the rupee for a while. The poor IIP figures continued to state the poor fundamentals faced by the Indian economy,” India Forex Advisors said in a note.

The central bank has sold $ 20 billion in the foreign exchange market since September to arrest rupee depreciation. However, the RBI’s intervention is constrained by the low level of excess foreign exchange reserves and liquidity implications.

Liquidity has been tight with the deficit in the system — as indicated by banks’ borrowings from the RBI's repo window — double the central bank's comfort level of plus/minus one per cent of banks’ net demand and time liabilities or Rs 60,000 crore.

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