By Anirban Nag
The Reserve Bank of India will probably hold interest rates at a seven-year-low on Wednesday as growth recovers, while investors will focus on whether inflation has quickened decisively enough to signal future tightening.
The repurchase rate will stay at 6 percent, according to 42 of 48 economists in a Bloomberg survey, with the rest seeing a cut to 5.75 percent. The RBI is expected to retain its growth and inflation forecasts, which indicate price pressures will rise above the 4 percent medium-term target by the end of March.
“Our focus will be on the tone of the policy guidance, divided between neutral or a hawkish bias,” said Radhika Rao, an economist at DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore. “Inflationary risks and firm second-quarter growth numbers provide the central bank with sufficient justification to sound cautious.”
The monetary authority will announce its decision at 2:30 p.m. in Mumbai followed by a press conference 15 minutes later.
Growth in gross domestic product picked up to 6.3 percent in July-September from a year ago, halting five quarters of deceleration as manufacturing rebounded. However capacity utilization is still low at 70 percent, signaling slack demand conditions, credit remains subdued and a private gauge on Tuesday showed the dominant services sector contracted in November, raising concerns about the pace of recovery.
The game changer could be the government’s plan to inject a record $32 billion of fresh capital into banks to help them tide over a festering bad-loan crisis, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
“The bank recap could break the vicious cycle between higher non-performing loans, weaker bank balance sheets and slower credit growth that has inhibited the acceleration in India’s growth cycle over the past few years,” Goldman economists said in a note. They forecast GDP growth to accelerate to 8 percent in the year through March 2019, up from a projected 6.4 percent the previous year and well above the Bloomberg consensus of 7.4 percent.
Supply chains have been disrupted across India following the roll out of a new consumption tax in July and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s withdrawal last year of high-value currency notes. That’s also contributing to a surge in prices, together with rising global oil costs and higher wages for government employees.
The RBI as well as private economists predict inflation will quicken to about 4.5 percent by March 31, and swap traders are pricing in the possibility of an increase in the key policy rate next year even as most economists see no change.
Investors would also want to know the central bank’s stance on tightening liquidity conditions.
The RBI has mopped up 900 billion rupees through open market bond sales between July and November, on top of debt sold by federal and state governments. Excess liquidity with banks is down to around 700 billion rupees from a peak of more than 5 trillion rupees in March, according to the Bloomberg Economics India Banking Liquidity Index. That has led State Bank of India and the Punjab National Bank — large state-run lenders — to raise rates on bulk deposits.
“The move signals banks’ acknowledgment of tightening systemic liquidity and an indication of the bottoming of the interest rate cycle with inflation rate normalizing and loan growth also showing signs of uptick,” Manish Karwa and Abhishek Saraf, analysts at Deutsche Equities India Pvt., wrote in a Dec. 4 note.