Mon, Jun 01, 2015 - Page 15 News List

Indian bank expected to cut rates again

THIRD TIME CHARM?The Reserve Bank of India cut its repo rate by 25 basis points in January and March and some analysts think it will do so again when it meets tomorrow

AFP, MUMBAI, India

India’s central bank is expected to cut interest rates for a third time in five months when it meets this week, confident that inflation is stable enough to weather the summer monsoon.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has already lowered its benchmark repo rate, the level at which it lends to commercial banks, by 50 basis points to 7.5 percent this year.

Analysts believe the RBI will snip rates again at its next meeting tomorrow in a bid to encourage greater lending to businesses and increased consumer spending, stimulating the economy.

“I expect the RBI to cut the rate by 25 basis points,” IIFL Institutional Equities economist Ashutosh Datar said.

L&T Financial Services head economist Rupa Rege Nitsure said she believed the Mumbai-based bank would opt for a “modest” cut.

“Given the uncertainty concerning oil prices and the depreciation in the rupee, which have a high inflationary potential, I don’t think many people are expecting a 50-point cut,” she said.

The RBI, led by Governor Raghuram Rajan, sliced 25 basis points off the repo rate in January — the first reduction in 20 months — before a surprise repeat cut in March.

It kept the key rate unchanged last month, citing inflation concerns and a failure of most commercial banks to pass on lower borrowing costs to customers in Asia’s third-largest economy.

However, Nitsure said 20 banks were now heeding Rajan’s call to reduce their base rate and another cut would motivate others to “follow suit.”

“There is a need for borrowing costs to come down because demand is so low and inflation is not a threat,” she said.

Consumer inflation fell to a four-month low of 4.87 percent in April, well within the RBI’s target range. India’s economy grew 7.5 percent in the first three months of the year, government data showed on Friday.

The government would like the RBI to cut rates further, but Rajan has so far made controlling inflation a priority, setting a target of bringing it consistently below 6 percent by January next year.

Last week India’s top economic advisor Arvind Subramanian said that food stocks were plentiful enough to help contain inflation even if the three-month monsoon — expected imminently — is weakened by the El Nino weather phenomenon as forecast.

Monsoon rains are vital for Indian crops and a particularly dry season can reduce farm output, raising food prices which can be crippling for the tens of millions of India’s poor.

“It is possible to contain [inflation] going forward even if the monsoon is not going to be as good,” Subramanian added.

Not all experts agreed that a cut this week would be the right way to go though.

Dun & Bradstreet senior economist Arun Singh said the monsoon’s inflationary “risk” meant the RBI should wait until it had passed.

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