RBI ignores govt pressure, keeps interest rates unchanged

RBI ignores govt pressure, keeps interest rates unchanged
Rebuffing pressure from the government to reduce cost of borrowing, RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan today kept interest rates unchanged, citing a spike in food prices and banks passing on to consumers only less than half of its previous rate cuts.

Rajan, in his third bi-monthly policy of the fiscal, left benchmark lending (repo) rate unchanged at 7.25 per cent as also the cash reserve ratio (CRR) at 4 per cent. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has already reduced the policy rate by a total of 75 basis points, or 0.75 per cent, since January, when it embarked on an easing cycle.

The banks, however, have passed on only 0.3 per cent to borrowers, Rajan said. "Given that policy action was front-loaded in June, it is prudent to keep the policy rate unchanged at the current juncture while maintaining the accommodative stance of monetary policy," he added.

The central bank, he said, will look for more room to ease policy rate depending upon fuller transmission of rate cuts by banks, food prices and US Federal Reserve normalisation signs.

A top finance ministry official had yesterday pitched for the fourth interest rate cut this year, saying inflation can not be the sole driving factor in deciding on monetary policy action. Keeping rates unchanged was driven by RBI not wanting to risk inflation from surging, a poor monsoon and a possible increase in interest rates in the US next month. RBI said sustained hardening of inflation, excluding food and fuel, is "most worrisome".

"Significant uncertainty will be resolved in the coming months, including likely persistence of recent inflationary pressures, full monsoon out-turn, as well as possible Federal Reserve actions," he added.

Inflation projections for January to March 2016 are lower by about 0.2 per cent, he said.
Retaining economy growth forecast at 7.6 per cent for 2015-16, RBI said outlook was improving gradually. Rajan also said that RBI will announce at least one set of bank licences before end of August.

On the controversial issue of curtailing the veto power of RBI Governor to set interest rates, Rajan said it would be better for the monetary policy committee (MPC) to decide benchmark rates rather than one individual.

He added that while the details of the monetary policy committee would have to be ironed out, "there are no differences between the RBI and government" in this matter. The revised draft of Indian Financial Code (IFC), as released by Finance Ministry last month, had suggested doing away with this veto power and wants the seven-member MPC to take decisions by a majority vote.

Of the seven members of the MPC, four would be government nominees and rest from the RBI. Referring to the resistance shown by banks to pass on policy rate cuts to borrowers, Rajan said banks have only cut 0.30 per cent at the median level as against RBI's cut of 0.75 per cent this year.

He hoped that with a likely pick-up in loan demand from the third quarter, "banks will see more gains from cutting rates to secure new lending and transmission will take place".
Welcoming the government's move to infuse more capital into state-run banks, Rajan said it will help both loan growth as well as transmission as the liquidity conditions ease.

On retail inflation, he said the June reading of 5.40 per cent resulted in the projections being elevated, but exuded confidence of meeting the 6 per cent target for early 2016.

However, he said "most worrisome" factor is the hardening in the non-food and fuel inflation, adding that the impact of the hike in service tax rates to 14 per cent, effected in June, will flow into the inflation reading through the year.

As regards growth, Rajan said the outlook is improving gradually and maintained the projection at 7.6 per cent for financial year 2015-16. He, however, warned that the contraction in exports "could become a prolonged drag" on growth going forward.

The global economic activity has recovered "modestly" in the June quarter but recessionary conditions in Russia and Brazil with downside risks from commodity prices and geopolitical conditions do cast a shadow on the outlook, Rajan added.
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