Moneycontrol
Dec 05, 2017 06:45 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Is there a case for RBI to cut policy rate on Wednesday?

The fifth monetary policy for the financial year 2017-18 is likely to be a non-event as most experts predict a status quo.

Beena Parmar @BeenaParmar

Risks to inflation, stable growth, and uncertainty ahead are likely to keep the Reserve Bank of India away from changing the key policy repo rate from the current 6 percent in its monetary policy review on Wednesday.

Though it needs to be seen if the central bank would go against popular perception to cut interest rates as the growth still remains at sub potential levels.

However, even as the policy itself, which is the fifth for the current financial year, may remain a non-event as most experts predict a status quo, the direction and language of the policy statement will be crucial.

Saugata Bhattacharya, Chief Economist at Axis Bank, told Moneycontrol, “One of key drivers for a status quo on inflation as there is still too much uncertainty at least for a couple of months more… I think the important point would be the verdict, the language of the monetary policy which will signal and indicate the way forward of where are we headed from here.”

According to him, the voting pattern of the monetary policy committee (MPC) members will be crucial on the stance going ahead.

The six-member MPC, chaired by the Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel, will meet on two days – December 5 and 6 – to decide on the movement of key interest rate going forward.

The resolution of the MPC will be placed on the website at 2.30 pm on December 6.

Rating agency ICRA, also anticipates the MPC to leave the repo rate unchanged at 6.0 percent in a non-unanimous decision in the December 2017 policy review, given the expectation of a further rise in the CPI inflation in the coming months.

Retail inflation or CPI (consumer price index) inflation inched up to a 7-month high of 3.58 percent in October from 3.28 percent in September.

Based on the staggered impact of the revision in HRA, housing inflation is expected to continue to harden over the rest of this fiscal. Moreover, the announcements of pay revision by various state governments, which would continue into FY2019, would add to inflationary pressures, ICRA said.

After a dip of 5 quarters, GDP growth in the second quarter of 2017-18 was 6.3 percent. The growth was at 5.7 percent in the April-June period, lowest growth rate since the NDA Government took office.

Despite the uptick, Fitch Ratings cut its growth forecast for the full year FY18 to 6.7 percent from 6.9 percent and forecast for FY19 was revised to 7.3 percent from 7.4 percent.

Going by this, Bhattacharya forecasts a marginal likelihood of a rate reduction in the year ahead.

“There is very slim probability of one more rate cut. There are risks to inflation, global commodity prices will need to stabilise, fiscal situation needs to be under control, tax collections need to improve and Federal Reserve’s signals on interest rates, etc…all of this together will be watched,” he said.

Additionally, in a recent interview to Bloomberg, Ashima Goyal, a member of Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, said that India does not need a real rate of more than 1 percent. RBI’s assessment range is 1.25-1.75 percent.

She added that the RBI’s notion that keeping rates higher will anchor inflation expectations has worked against them and proved to be a drag on growth.

MPC view

Urjit Patel

In its previous policy review, the MPC highlighted upside risks to inflation with Governor Patel calling for a “cautious approach” maintaining the neutral policy stance.

While the MPC voted in favour of a status quo in October, the only member in favour of a rate cut was Ravindra Dholakia, who pushed for a steep 50 basis point cut.

However, another member - Michael Patra - had advocated a rate hike saying “it is time to be in readiness to raise the policy rate to quell the underlying drivers of inflation if they strengthen further”.

The RBI had also raised its inflation forecast while cutting growth projection for fiscal 2018 due the lingering effects of demonetisation, the rollout of GST and the spurt in crude oil prices around the globe.

Governor's take

Governor Patel also suggested the recent structural reforms may have had some impact on growth in the short run. However, they will boost medium-to long-term growth prospects.

“To improve immediate growth prospects, teething troubles relating to GST need to be addressed expeditiously. Concerted efforts also need to be made to encourage investment activity by removing various constraints. Resolution of stressed balance sheets of banks remains important for supporting a revival in the investment cycle. Finally, government should adjust administered interest rates on savings instruments every quarter as per the formula to help with monetary transmission,” he had said.
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