RBI holds rates amidst easing of inflation

The Reserve Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) at its meeting today decided to keep the policy repo rate unchanged at 6.0 per cent, as lower inflation levels – both wholesale and retail – reduced pressure for a rate hike.

RBI Governor Urjit Patel

RBI said the MPC at decided to retain its “neutral” stance, on the basis of an assessment of the current and evolving macroeconomic situation. 
Consequently, the reverse repo rate under the LAF remains at 5.75 per cent, and the marginal standing facility (MSF) rate and the Bank Rate at 6.25 per cent, respectively, RBI stated in a release.
RBI said the decision of the MPC is consistent with the neutral stance of monetary policy in consonance with the objective of achieving the medium-term target for consumer price index (CPI) inflation of 4 per cent within a band of +/- 2 per cent, while supporting growth.
RBI noted that since the MPC’s last meeting in February 2018, global economic activity has gathered further momentum, both in advanced and emerging market economies, though financial market volatility and potential trade wars pose a threat to the outlook.
On the domestic front, the second advance estimates for 2017-18 released by the CSO on 28 February, revising India’s real gross domestic product (GDP) growth marginally upward to 6.6 per cent from 6.5 per cent in the first advance estimates released on 5 January. GDP growth in 2017-18 at 6.6 per cent was lower than 7.1 per cent in 2016-17 and the deceleration was broad-based, but each component revealed intra-year turning points.
Private consumption growth – whose contribution to GDP growth in 2017-18 was 68 per cent – moderated in the second half. Goods and services tax (GST) implementation had an adverse, even if transient, effect on urban consumption through loss of output and employment in the labour-intensive unorganised sector. Government expenditure provided sustained support to aggregate demand, with a pick-up in pace in the second half, the central bank pointed out.
RBI said gross fixed capital formation turned around in Q2 and accelerated in the second half – markedly so in Q3 – reflecting the first signs of a sustained expansion in capital goods production and a modest revival of construction activity.
However, net exports dragged down aggregate demand in 2017-18 due to a surge in imports and deceleration in exports in Q3, the latter being driven in part by GST-related working capital disruptions.
For Q4, the RBI said, high frequency indicators point to a further strengthening of demand conditions. Private consumption seems to be improving on the back of strong growth in domestic air passenger traffic and foreign tourist arrivals, rising sales growth of passenger vehicles and a strong upturn in the production of consumer durables. The growth in sales of two-wheelers and tractors reflects buoyant rural consumption. Capital goods production registered a 19-month high growth in January 2018, indicative of the likely traction in investment demand.
Housing loans extended by banks have increased significantly, which is a positive for residential investment. External demand remains a weak link. Merchandise import growth has slowed because of gold imports; simultaneously export growth has also weakened.
Turning to the supply side, RBI said, at a disaggregated sectoral level, the kharif foodgrain production for 2017-18 has been revised upward by 2.8 per cent in the second advance estimates released in February 2018 as compared with the first advance estimates released in September 2017. Total foodgrains production for 2017-18 is estimated at 277.5 million tonnes, up by 0.9 per cent from the level of 2016-17, with the production of rice, pulses and coarse cereals estimated to reach a record high. Wheat production is estimated to be lower than last year due to a decline in acreage and low soil moisture, but imports of 1.6 million tonnes and comfortable buffer stocks should cushion potential adverse effects. Horticulture production touched a new peak of 305.4 million tonnes in 2017-18, up by 1.6 per cent from last year.
For the year 2017-18 as a whole, the CSO estimates that value added in industry decelerated in relation to the previous year; in terms of quarterly performance, however, expansion set in by Q2 and was built upon in Q3 and Q4. This was mainly driven by the rebound in manufacturing. The manufacturing PMI remained in an expansionary mode for the eighth consecutive month in March, although there was some moderation in Q4. Assessment of overall business sentiment for manufacturing also improved in Q4 as reflected in the Reserve Bank’s Industrial Outlook Survey, driven by increasing output and new orders.
Growth of value added in the services sector accelerated through the year, driven by trade, hotels, transport and communication and a significant pick-up in construction activity. Other high frequency indicators of services sector activity such as domestic air passenger traffic, international freight traffic, port traffic and commercial vehicles sales also expanded at a fair pace. The services PMI moved out of contraction and stabilised in March on a renewed increase in new business and strengthening expectations.