Monetary Policy Committee meets, RBI likely to hold rates
Mumbai: The RBI’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) began its two-day meeting here on Wednesday preparatory to announcing its first bi-monthly policy review of 2017-18 fiscal in a context of rising inflation.
The Reserve Bank of India at its sixth and final monetary policy review of 2016-17 in February kept its repo, or short term lending rate for commercial banks, unchanged at 6.25 per cent, while changing its policy stance from “accommodative” to “neutral”.
While the six-member MPC was unanimous in its concern about inflation when holding rates, four of them backed the need to shift the central bank’s policy stance to “neutral” from “accommodative”, as per the released minutes of their February meeting.
“While pursuing 4 per cent CPI (consumer price index) headline inflation, it is necessary to adopt a calibrated approach so as to minimise the collateral costs of achieving the target as well as ensure its durability,” said RBI Governor Urjit Patel.
“By shifting the stance of monetary policy from accommodative to neutral, there will now be sufficient flexibility to move the policy rate in either direction, depending on future data outcomes and projections, to help ensure that inflation is brought closer to 4 per cent,” he said.
The two other RBI members on the committee — Deputy Governor Viral Acharya and Executive Director Michael Patra — agreed with the Governor’s view in their statements.
Analysts expect the RBI to maintain status quo on lending rates on Thursday.
“We are maintaining status quo on repo rate in April policy,” said a state-run State Bank of India report authored by Chief Economic Adviser Soumya Kanti Ghosh.
Expectations that the RBI will maintain status quo on rates has been fuelled by inflation numbers, with wholesale inflation soaring to over a three-year high of 6.55 per cent in February and retail inflation climbing to 3.65 per cent due to rise in food and fuel prices.
“Although the CPI inflation is likely to significantly undershoot the March 2017 target, we do not expect a repo rate cut in the upcoming policy review in April 2017, with the Monetary Policy Committee firmly focused on the medium term target of 4 per cent,” rating agency Icra said in a report.
MPC members were unanimous in their February decision to keep the policy rate unchanged, with all six citing concerns that inflation could quickly accelerate and threaten the RBI’s medium-term target of 4 percent.
“The decision of the MPC is consistent with a neutral stance of monetary policy in consonance with the objective of achieving consumer price index (CPI) inflation at 5 per cent by Q4 of 2016-17 and the medium-term target of 4 per cent within a band of +/- 2 per cent, while supporting growth,” the RBI policy review statement said.
Noting that excluding food and fuel, inflation has been unyielding at 4.9 per cent since September, the RBI said: “The Committee is of the view that the persistence of inflation excluding food and fuel could set a floor on further downward movements in headline inflation and trigger second-order effects.”
“It is important to note three significant upside risks that impart some uncertainty to the baseline inflation path — the hardening profile of international crude prices; volatility in the exchange rate on account of global financial market developments, which could impart upside pressures to domestic inflation; and the fuller effects of the house rent allowances under the 7th Central Pay Commission.”
The average level of retail inflation in 2015-16 was at 4.9 per cent.