RBI retains rates of interest on maintain; to proceed assist for eco revival

Mumbai, February 5

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Friday kept interest rates on hold for the fourth time in a row but vowed to support growth as long it is needed even as it began withdrawing some pandemic-era policies.

While the Union Budget 2021 earlier this week laid out an expansive fiscal strategy over the medium term to strengthen the growth engine in the economy, the RBI affirmed its support to such a plan through appropriate monetary tools.

The six-member Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) kept the repurchase or repo rate unchanged at 4 per cent, said Governor Shaktikanta Das.

Consequently, the reverse repo rate will continue to earn 3.35 per cent for banks for their deposits kept with the RBI.

The central banks had last year cut borrowing costs by 115 basis points before hitting the pause button in mid-2020 over inflation worries.

All six members of the MPC voted to continue with the accommodative stance as long as it is necessary to revive growth and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the economy while ensuring that inflation remains within the target.

Signalling rollback of pandemic-era policies, the RBI announced a gradual increase in the Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) – the amount of deposits lenders must set aside as reserves – to 3.5 per cent by March and to 4 per cent by May.

The cash returning to the central bank can be used by it for open market operations and other liquidity measures.

To absorb higher government borrowings, the central bank provided retail investors a direct option to invest in government securities.

Acknowledging the strengthening signs of recovery, the RBI applauded the Union Budget 2021-22 for providing a strong impetus for revival while stating that the near-term inflation outlook has turned favourable.

RBI expects Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for next year to grow by 10.5 per cent, a tad lower than 11 per cent predicted by the government’s Economic Survey last week.

The growth compares to an estimated 7.7 per cent contraction in the economy during the current fiscal ending March 31.

The inflation forecasts are pointing to a decline from 5.2 per cent in March 2020 quarter (Q4) to 5-5.2 per cent in H1-FY22 and 4.3 per cent in Q3.

The outlook on growth, Das said, has improved significantly with positive growth impulses becoming more broad-based and the rollout of the vaccination programme in the country auguring well for the end of the pandemic.

The economy had contracted by 23.9 per cent in the April-June period of last year and by 7.5 per cent in the following three months.

“… going forward, the Indian economy is poised to move in only one direction and that is upwards,” Das said while unveiling the bi-monthly monetary policy.

“Although the RBI did not tinker with the policy rate in its meeting held on February 5, 2021, there was expectation that the RBI may unwind some of the regulatory relaxation given to the banks earlier to overcome the COVID-19 impact,” India Ratings said in its comments on the monetary policy decisions.

The developmental measures announced by the RBI included the inclusion of NBFCs in the on tap TLTRO (Targeted Long Term Repo Operations) scheme, the incentive to banks to lend to new MSME borrowers through a lower CRR requirement and further deferment of capital conservation buffer.

The RBI Governor said the economy’s growth outlook had improved and that inflation was expected to remain less than the central bank’s upper target of 6 per cent over the next few quarters.

“Given that inflation has returned within the tolerance band, the MPC judged that the need of the hour is to continue to support growth, assuage the impact of COVID-19 and return the economy to a higher growth trajectory,” he said.

“The RBI stands committed to ensure the availability of ample liquidity in the system and thereby foster congenial financial conditions for the recovery to gain traction.”     

The 27th meeting of the rate-setting MPC with three external members – Ashima Goyal, Jayanth R Varma and Shashanka Bhide – began on February 3.

This is the first meeting of the panel after the Budget 2021-22 earlier this week projected a nominal GDP growth rate of 14.5 per cent and fiscal deficit of 6.8 per cent for the financial year beginning April 1, 2021.

The MPC has been given the mandate to maintain annual inflation at 4 per cent until March 31, 2021, with an upper tolerance of 6 per cent and lower tolerance of 2 per cent.

On inflation, Das said it had eased below the upper tolerance level of 6 per cent for the first time during the COVID-19 period.

“Going ahead, factors that could shape the food inflation trajectory in coming months, including the likely bumper Kharif harvest arrivals in markets, rising prospects of a good rabi crop, larger winter supplies of key vegetables and softer poultry demand on fears of avian flu are all indicative of a stable near-term outlook,” he said.

As far as gross market borrowing of Rs 12 lakh crore in 2021-22 is concerned, he said the RBI as the government’s debt manager and banker would ensure the orderly completion of the programme in a non-disruptive manner.

“In this context, we look forward to the continuance of the common understanding and cooperative approach between market players and the RBI during 2021-22 also,” he said.

The RBI has also decided to defer the implementation of the last tranche of the Capital Conservation Buffer (CCB) of 0.625 per cent and also defer the implementation of Net Stable Funding Ratio (NSFR) by another six months from April 1 to October 1, 2021. PTI

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