On the front foot: On RBI holding rates

The RBI’s efforts to boost growth could change the sentiment in the economy

Updated - February 07, 2020 11:59 am IST

Published - February 07, 2020 12:05 am IST

The humble onion almost halted the onward march of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in its endeavour to bring down financial costs in the economy. Almost, because the RBI, despite finding its hands tied by rising inflation thanks to onion prices, found other means to drive down interest rates in the market, and in the system, in its monetary policy announcement on Thursday. At the press conference after the announcement, Governor Shaktikanta Das declared, only half in jest, that the proceedings of the Monetary Policy Committee, which decided to hold rates , had already been discounted by the market. “But don’t discount the RBI,” he warned, pointing out that the central bank had at its disposal various instruments. True to the statement, the RBI unleashed several measures that had an electric effect on the markets, driving down bond yields by 10-20 basis points in a matter of a minutes. The exemption to banks from providing for cash reserve ratio on fresh retail loans disbursed after January 31 to purchase automobiles and residential houses, and to MSMEs, will help banks shave off a part of their costs. The hope is that they will pass on at least a part of that saving to borrowers as lower rates. Second, the introduction of one- and three-year term repos at policy rate of 5.15% for a total of ₹1 lakh crore is also aimed at prodding rates downward as banks now pay 6%-6.5% on deposits. Third, the RBI has fine-tuned its liquidity management process in a manner designed to help banks manage their interest costs better.

Whether banks really do what the RBI has signalled to them — transmit lower rates to borrowers — depends on various factors, not the least of which is demand for credit. The RBI’s statement that it would maintain an accommodative stance “as long as necessary to revive growth” clearly signals its commitment to growth. By explicitly saying that there is “policy space available for future action”, the RBI has signalled that there could be at least one more cut in the months ahead in this rate-easing cycle. The decision to extend the one-time restructuring of MSME loans, linking pricing of loans to medium enterprises to an external benchmark, and the nod for permitting extension of date of commencement of commercial operations for loans to commercial real estate are all welcome measures that raise questions of excessive forbearance but will certainly help the industry. The inflation projection — 6.5% in the current quarter and 5.4%-5.0% in the first half of 2020-21 — reflects the current realities. The projected GDP growth of 6% for 2020-21 appears achievable, assuming that the nascent signs of recovery sustain. The RBI has gone on the front foot to boost growth in this policy after the conservative Budget presented last week. It is to be hoped that these steps will change the sentiment in the economy.


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