Mumbai: Reserve Bank of India (RBI) surprised markets by raising banks’ cash reserve requirements by more than expected and warned of mounting inflation, suggesting its next move may be an interest rate rise.
The central bank kept short-term interest rates steady at its quarterly policy review on Friday and warned that monetary policy would be ineffective unless the government rolls back its borrowing, on track to hit a record Rs4.5 trillion ($97 billion) this fiscal year.
The RBI lifted the reserve ratio by 75 basis points rather than by up to half a percentage point as pencilled in by markets, joining other Asian central banks in gradual tightening of loose monetary policies.
On Thursday, the Philippines raised a rate on a short-term lending facility, and this month China started to tighten policy by raising banks’ reserve requirements, clamping down on loan growth and accepting higher yields at bill auctions.
Despite rising inflationary pressures, the government has pressured the RBI to hold off raising rates, saying it would undermine economic recovery, hurt only slowly picking up bank lending and spark potentially destabilising capital inflows.
“An increased confidence in recovery has encouraged RBI to clearly and explicitly shift their stance from ‘managing the crisis’ to ‘managing the recovery’,” said Deepali Bhargava, economist at ING Vysya Bank in Mumbai.
India’s benchmark 10-year bond yield jumped 5 basis points after the central bank’s decision, but later pared its gains. The partially convertible rupee weakened after the announcement but recovered to be basically unchanged at 46.35/36 per dollar. The one-year swap rate initially rose 4 basis points before falling back to 4.90/94.
Stock prices extended losses to 2%. They pared the fall to about 1.2% but were still weaker than before the review.
Higher inflation, growth
The central bank lifted its wholesale price index inflation forecast for the end of the fiscal year in March to 8.5% from 6.5%.
It said it expected inflation to moderate from July, assuming a normal monsoon and global oil prices holding at current levels, but the new forecast convinced many analysts an interest rate rise was on the cards.
“The increase in growth and inflation forecasts suggests that policymakers are increasingly uncomfortable with keeping rates at current levels,” said Brian Jackson, economist at the Royal Bank of Canada in Hong Kong.
The RBI said the CRR would be increased by 50 basis points from 13 February and a further 25 basis points to 5.75% from 27 February.
It held its lending rate, or the repo rate, unchanged at 4.75% and its reverse repo rate, at which it absorbs surplus cash from banks, unchanged at 3.25%.
It also lifted its forecast for GDP growth for Asia’s third-largest economy in the current fiscal year to 7.5% from 6%, and said that the current rate of growth was likely to be sustained in 2010-11 (April-March).
The cash reserve ratio was cut by 4 percentage points between October 2008 and January 2009 as the central bank moved to support the economy during the global financial crisis.
Australia was the first Group of 20 country to begin raising rates as the global economy recovers from its worst downturn since the Great Depression. The Reserve Bank of Australia has raised its key cash rate by 75 basis points since October.