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Rajan surprises everyone yet again; leaves rates unchanged

Mumbai (PTI): RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan surprised the markets today by leaving all key policy rates unchanged, notwithstanding persistent high inflationary pressure.

The short-term lending rate was kept unchanged at 7.75 per cent, while the cash reserve ratio (CRR) remained at 4 per cent, the Reserve Bank of India said in its Mid-Quarter Monetary Policy Review.

The decision to keep rates unchanged will be a big breather for the industry and retail borrowers in particular as the markets had expected another 25 bps hike in the short-term lending rate.

The Reserve Bank said it will take “calibrated action” in the future, based on inflationary trends and action by the US Federal Reserve.

The status quo decision came as a surprise as only last week the RBI had pulled up banks for not helping it in monetary policy transmission.

Since taking over as the RBI chief in September, Rajan had increased the key rate by 0.50 per cent in two instalments.

Shifting his stance to promote growth from inflation management, Rajan said continuing weakness in growth was the main driver of his policy action.

The stock markets reacted positively and the S&P BSE Sensex shot up 140 points to 20,852 immediately after the policy was announced.

State Bank of India Chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya said the bank would not contemplate cutting deposit rates as “it really hurts the depositors and we would not like to do that. Our rates are still higher than what it was on July 15, I see no immediate response toward rate cut.

“In view of the fact that liquidity is ample in the system, we will definitely be looking at the rates and we will try to see if something needs to be done…may be for the bulk (depositors) we might look at doing something.”

Commenting on the policy, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) Chairman C Rangarajan said: “It is a difficult balancing act…I certainly think that the priority to RBI is price stability and therefore they should keep continuous watch on what is happening to inflation.”

While retail inflation soared to a nine-month high of 11.24 per cent in November, the index based on wholesale prices zoomed to a 14-month high of 7.52 per cent last month.

Analysts are of the opinion that inflation has peaked and will ease from December as food prices cool on better supplies with winter crops coming in.

Rajan, however, sounded cautious when he said, “The policy decision is a close one. Current inflation is too high. However, given the wide bands of uncertainty surrounding the short-term path of inflation from its high current levels, and given the weak state of the economy…there is merit in waiting for more data to reduce uncertainty.”

GDP growth in the second quarter of this financial year came in at 4.8 per cent after a reading of 4.4 per cent in the first quarter, resulting in a 4.6 per cent expansion in the first half.

However, October factory output shrank 1.8 per cent, the first contraction in four months.

There was a massive improvement in the current account deficit (CAD), which narrowed to 1.2 per cent of GDP in the second quarter after a steep decline in gold imports. The CAD was 4.9 per cent of GDP in the first quarter (April-June).

The central bank RBI said there are risks to waiting for more data on inflation, including the possibility that the tapering of the US bond-buying programme may disrupt the external markets and the perception that the RBI is soft on inflation.

“Even though the Reserve Bank maintains status quo today, it can help guide market expectations through a clearer description of its policy reaction function.

“…If the excepted softening of food inflation does not materialise and translate into significant reduction in headline inflation in the next round of data releases, or if inflation excluding food and fuel does not fall, the RBI will act, including on off-policy dates if warranted, so that inflation expectations stabilise and an environment conducive to sustainable growth takes hold,” the Governor said.

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