RBI slashes repo rates by 100 basis points to provide growth stimulus
December 6, 2008: Reserve Bank of India has decided to reduce the repo rate under the LAF by 100 basis points from 7.5 per cent to 6.5 per cent and the reverse repo rate by 100 basis points from 6.0 per cent to 5.0 per cent, effective December 8, 2008.
The global economic outlook has deteriorated sharply over the last two months. In its World Economic Outlook, published in early October, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast global growth of 3.9 per cent in 2008, and of 3.0 per cent in 2009. The IMF has since revised its forecast for global growth downwards to 3.7 per cent for 2008, and 2.2 per cent for 2009. Many economists are now predicting the worst global recession since the 1970s. Several countries, notably the United States, the UK, the euro area and Japan are all officially in recession. More worryingly, current indications are that the recession will be deeper and the recovery longer than earlier anticipated.
2. Confidence in global credit markets continues to be low, and credit lines remain clogged. The tight and hesitant conditions in the credit markets are precipitating erosion of demand which, in turn, is feeding a recession - deflation vicious cycle. Central banks around the world are responding to the developments by aggressive and unconventional injection of liquidity, monetary easing and relaxation of collateral norms and eligibility criteria for their lending to financial institutions.
3. Contrary to earlier expectations that emerging economies will be affected only marginally, growth prospects of emerging economies have most definitely been undermined by the ongoing crisis with, of course, considerable variations across countries. The transmission to emerging economies is taking place via both trade and financial channels. Reflecting the contagion of the crisis, the IMF revised its growth forecast for emerging economies for 2009 to 5.1 per cent, down from its early October figure of 6.1 per cent.
4. The outlook for India going forward is mixed. There is evidence of economic activity slowing down. Real GDP growth has moderated in the first half of 2008/09. Industrial activity, particularly in the manufacturing and infrastructure sectors, is decelerating. The services sector too, which has been our prime growth engine for the last five years, is slowing, mainly in construction, transport and communication, trade, hotels and restaurants sub-sectors. For the first time in seven years, exports have declined in absolute terms in October. Recent data indicate that the demand for bank credit is slackening despite comfortable liquidity. Higher input costs and dampened demand have dented corporate margins while the uncertainty surrounding the crisis has affected business confidence.
5. On the positive side, headline inflation, as measured by the wholesale price index, has fallen sharply, and the decline has been sustained for the past four weeks, pointing to a faster than expected reduction in inflation. Clearly, falling commodity prices have been the key drivers behind the disinflation; however, some contribution has also come from slowing domestic demand. The reduction in prices of petrol and diesel announced last night should further ease inflationary pressures. To be sure, consumer price inflation for the months of September and October did increase. This is possibly owing to the firm trend in food articles inflation and the higher weight of food articles in measures of consumer price inflation. Historically there has been a correlation between wholesale and consumer price inflation, and given this correlation, consumer price inflation too can be expected to soften in the months ahead.
6. In response to the evolving global and domestic developments, the Reserve Bank has taken a number of measures since mid-September 2008. The aim of these measures was to augment domestic and forex liquidity and to enable banks to continue to lend for productive purpose while maintaining credit quality so as to sustain the growth momentum.
7. Measures aimed at expanding rupee liquidity included significant reduction in the cash reserve ratio (CRR), reduction of the statutory liquidity ratio (SLR), a special repo window under the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) for banks for on lending to non-banking financial companies (NBFCs), housing finance companies (HFCs) and mutual funds (MFs), and a special refinance facility which banks can access without any collateral. The Reserve Bank is also unwinding the Market Stabilization Scheme (MSS) securities roughly synchronised with the Government borrowing programme in order to manage liquidity.
8. Measures aimed at managing forex liquidity include upward adjustment of the interest rate ceilings on the foreign currency non-resident (banks) [FCNR(B)] and non-resident (external) rupee account [NR(E)RA] deposits, substantially relaxing the external commercial borrowings (ECB) regime, allowing NBFCs/HFCs access to foreign borrowing and allowing corporates to buy back foreign currency convertible bonds (FCCBs) to take advantage of the discount in the prevailing depressed global markets. The Reserve Bank has also instituted a rupee-dollar swap facility for banks with overseas branches to give them comfort in managing their short-term funding requirements.
9. Measures to encourage flow of credit to sectors which are coming under pressure include extending the period of pre-shipment and post-shipment credit for exports, expanding the refinance facility for exports, contra-cyclical adjustment of provisioning norms for all types of standard assets (except in case of direct advances to agriculture and small and medium enterprises which continue to be 0.25 per cent) and risk weights on banks' exposure to certain sectors which had been increased earlier counter-cyclically, and expanding the lendable resources available to the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) and the National Housing Bank (NHB).
10. To improve the flow of credit to productive sectors at viable costs so as to sustain the growth momentum, the Reserve Bank signaled a lowering of the interest rate structure by reducing its key policy repo rate by 150 basis points from 9.0 per cent as on October 19 to 7.5 per cent by November 3, 2008.
11. Taken together, the measures put in place since mid-September 2008 have ensured that the Indian financial markets continue to function in an orderly manner. The cumulative amount of primary liquidity made available to the financial system through these measures is over Rs.300,000 crore. This sizeable easing has ensured a comfortable liquidity position starting mid- November 2008 as evidenced by a number of indicators. Since November 18, the LAF window has largely been in the absorption mode. The weighted average call money rate has come down from a recent high of 19.7 per cent on October 10 to 6.1 per cent on December 5. The overnight money market rate has consistently remained within the LAF corridor (6.0 per cent to 7.5 per cent) since November 3. The yield on the 10 year benchmark G-Sec has declined from 8.6 per cent on September 29 to 6.8 per cent on December 5. Taking the signal from the repo rate cut, the top five public sector banks have reduced their benchmark prime lending rates (BPLR) from 13.75 – 14.00 per cent as on October 1 to 13.00 – 13.50 per cent presently.
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