RBI governor Shaktikanta Das cuts interest rates by 75 basis points to 4.4%

  • RBI governor Shaktikanta Das cuts interest rates by 75 basis points.
  • Experts expect a 50 basis rate cut from RBI governor’s press conference today.
  • A lot of experts have been seeking a possible solution for burgeoning EMIs, and a possible extension to pay loans.
  • All these rate cuts and CRR will release ₹3.74 lakh crore into the system.
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Asia's third-largest economy, India, is reeling under the sudden squeeze due to the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Hope floats that Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Shaktikanta Das will take steps to improve the flow of cash and credit, ease compliances and keep borrowers solvent, till the situation improves.

The monetary policy panel decided to cut the repo rate by 75 basis points and the reverse repo rate by 90 basis points. The reverse repo rate has seen a sharper cut to disincentivise the banks from depositing money with the RBI. "Banks have been depositing ₹3 lakh crore daily with the RBI in the last few days," the RBI Governor said while citing that credit flow has stopped.

The banking regulator also reduced the cash reserve ratio that banks have to maintain by 1% to 3% to release over Rs 1.3 lakh crore into the system.

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“This kind of uncertain outlook was never seen before. Tough times don’t last but tough people and tough institutions do,” said Das speaking of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The last quarter of 2019-20 was expected to grow at 4.7%. It is now at risk, the governor said. Das said that if “everyone follows the rules” to contain the virus, some of the growth worries can be reduced.

Retail inflation has been 30 basis points above the RBI estimate in January and February 2020 largely due to a spike in onion prices. However, going forward, the aggregate demand may weaken further and oil prices may fall, easing consumer price inflation. "The situation is fast changing, outlook is uncertain like never before, and therefore, the Monetary Policy Committee refrained from forecasting the impact of Covid-19 on GDP and inflation," Das said.

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Banks and financial institutions must do all that they can to ensure credit flow.

However the prices of food grains will be softened in the near future, after the government announced its plan to distribute grains to underprivileged class.

Experts were expecting a 50 basis point rate cut today from the RBI governor, considering that inflation is comparatively low. “We need to get through the next 2-3 weeks without causing much more damage to the financial system” Sajid Chinoy of JPMorgan told CNBCTV18.

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Yesterday, India’s middle class was clamouring for a break from paying their loans after the 21-day lockdown came into effect to contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus. However, Nirmala Sitharaman’s financial action plan of ₹1.7 lakh crore ($22 billion) did not offer any relief on equated monthly installment (EMI) payments.

HDFC Bank’s managing director Aditya Puri expressed the need for an unscheduled interest rate cut last week, ahead of the monetary policy revision scheduled for April 3. He also sought a directive to relax the terms of loan repayment.

A lot of experts have been seeking a possible solution for burgeoning EMIs, and a possible extension to pay loans. While most salaried class is working from home, a lot of them are being forced to take unpaid leaves and salary cuts

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Here are highlights of Das’s speech:

We are meeting in extraordinary circumstances today. The Monetary Policy Committee has decided to advance its meeting which was originally scheduled on March 31 and announcements due on April 3.

MPC undertook a careful evaluation of the current and evolving macroeconomic and financial conditions — and, ofcourse, the outlook.

After extensive discussion, the MPC voted for a sizable reduction in the policy repo rate and for maintaining the accommodative stance of the monetary policy as long as necessary to revive growth, mitigate the impact of Covid-19 while ensuring that inflation remains within the target range.
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While there were some differences in the quantum of reduction, the MPC voted by 4-2 majority to reduce the policy repo rate by 75 basis points to 4.4%.

Repo rate - 5.15% to 4.4%

Reverse repo rate - reduced by 90 basis points to 4%. Simultaneously, the fixed reverse repo rate which sets the floor of the liquidity adjustment facility was reduced by 90 basis points to 4%. Thus creating an asymmetrical corridoor. The purpose of this measure relating to reverse repo is to make it relatively unattractive for banks to passively deposit funds with the RBI and instead, to use these funds for on-lending to the productive sectors of the economy.

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It may be recalled that, in the month of March, the banks have been parking close to ₹3 lakh crore on a daily average basis under reserve repo — even as the growth of bank credit has been steadily slowing down.

These measures have been warranted by the disruptive course of the coronavirus. It is intended to:

  1. Mitigate negative effects of virus
  2. Revive growth
  3. Preserve financial stability
A war effort has to be mounted, and is being mounted in order to combat the virus involving both conventional and unconventional measures in a continuously battle-ready mode. MPC noted that global economic activity has come to near standstill as Covid-19 related lockdowns and social distancing is imposed across a widening swarth of affected countries.

Expectations of a shallow recovery in 2020 from 2019’s decade-low in global growth have been dashed. Outlook is now heavily contingent on the intensity, spread and duration of the pandemic.
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There is a rising probability that large parts of the world will slip into recession.

The implied GDP growth of 4.7% in Q4 of 2019-20 by NSSO within the estimate of 5% annually, is now at risk.

The outlook for 2012, aside from continued resilience of agriculture and allied activities, most other sectors of the economy will be adversely impacted by the pandemic.
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RISK FACTORS

If Covid-19 is prolonged and supply chain disruption is accentuated the global slowdown could deepen with adverse implication for India. Slump in crude prices can provide some relief in terms of trade gains. Down side risks to growth arise from Covid-19 and prolonged lock downs.

Upside growth impulses are expected to emminate from monetary, fiscal and other policy measures and the early containment of Covid-19.

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The prints for Janurary and February indicate that actual outcome for the quarter are running 30 basis points above earlier projections, reflecting the onion price shock. Looking ahead, food prices may soften even further under the beneficial effects of the record food grain and horticulture productions — at least until the onset of the usual summer uptake.

Furthermore, the collapse in food prices could work towards easing both fuel and core inflation pressures depending on the level of pass through to retail prices.

Aggregate demand may weaken and ease core inflation in the future. Heightened volatility in the market also have a bearing on inflation.

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Projections of growth and inflation would be heavily contingent on the how Covid-19 plays out. This is why the MPC refrained from giving out specific growth and inflation numbers because the situation is fast-changing and the outcome is extremely uncertain. This kind of uncertain outcome has never been seen before.

Both demand and supply risks brought on by Coronavirus could be severe.

Banks and financial institutions should do all that they can to ensure to keep the credit flowing to the economic agents which are facing financial stress on account of the isolation that has been imposed.

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Comprehensive package with force multipliers.

Category 1: Measures to expand liquidity in the sytem to ensure markets and financial institutions are able to function normally
Category 2: Steps to reduce monetary transmission so that banks credit flows on easier terms is sustained
Category 3: Steps to ease financial stress caused by Covid 19 disruptions by relaxing repayment pressures and improving access to working capital
Category 4: Endeavour to improve markets in view of the high volatility
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See also: India’s anxious middle class is left waiting for EMI relief after the $22 billion Coronavirus lockdown package
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