India central bank on course to cut rates after growth slump
Mumbai, India - India’s deepening economic slowdown gives the central bank more reason to cut interest rates this week, adding to the fiscal stimulus already in the works.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will deliver its rate decision on December 5, days after a report showed growth collapsed to 4.5 per cent in the July-September quarter, the first time it’s been below 5 per cent since 2013.
Led by governor Shaktikanta Das, the RBI has already cut interest rates by 135 basis points in five moves this year, the most by any Asian central bank. Policy makers have had their focus squarely on boosting Asia’s third-largest economy, and last week’s weak data gives them added reason to continue pushing for growth.
“The weak numbers emphatically underscore the need of policy focus on growth,” said Shubhada Rao, chief economist at Yes Bank Ltd in Mumbai. “We are expecting the RBI to execute another rate cut of 25 basis points at its next meeting.”
Last quarter’s growth slump showed a contraction in manufacturing and subdued investments. It was only government spending that bolstered the economy, with private consumption still fairly low key. Sovereign bonds were broadly unchanged on Monday, while the rupee was steady against the dollar.
A slew of high-frequency indicators suggest the slowdown extended into October. The central bank may be pushed to lower its growth forecast for the fiscal year through March 2020 from 6.1 per cent, with economists in a Bloomberg survey already predicting expansion of just 5.6 per cent.
“We expect the central bank to take note of the downward surprises in the data versus forecasts and acknowledge a deeper-than-expected slowdown in economic activity,” said Rahul Bajoria, a senior economist at Barclays Plc in Mumbai.
In the interest-rate swap market, investors are betting the repurchase rate - which is currently at 5.15 per cent - will be 5 per cent in the next 12 months, while economists are forecasting it at 4.75 per cent by the end of March as growth remains subdued.
Despite the monetary stimulus and a slew of government measures to boost the economy - including a US$20bn tax bonanza to companies - a recovery looks uncertain.
Rupal Agarwal, Asia quantitative strategist at Sanford C Bernstein in Mumbai, told Bloomberg Television that the composite leading indicator that she tracks has been indicating a ‘recession for India for the last four months’.
Businesses have cut back on investments, preferring to repay loans instead, while consumers have curbed spending, fearing more job losses. The rural economy remains weak and borrowing is hamstrung by debt-laden banks and a crisis-ridden shadow lending sector.
Banks also haven’t passed on all of the 135 basis points of central bank rate cuts to borrowers, leaving policy makers frustrated.
Monetary policy space is slowly closing as inflation starts to accelerate. Consumer prices rose 4.62 per cent in October from a year earlier, the first reading above 4 per cent - the RBI’s medium-term target - since July 2018, and the highest since June last year.
The spike was driven by a surge in onion prices, although core inflation - which strips out volatile food and fuel prices - slowed to 3.4 per cent.