Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Highlights of RBI’s Sixth Bi-monthly Monetary Policy Statement, 2017-18:

Policy Measures
  • The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) decided to keep the policy repo rate under the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) unchanged at 6.00%.
  • Consequently, the reverse repo rate under the LAF remains unchanged at 5.75%, and the marginal standing facility (MSF) rate and the Bank Rate are at 6.25%.
  • The decision of the MPC is consistent with a neutral stance of monetary policy in consonance with the objective of achieving the medium-term target for consumer price index (CPI) inflation of 4% within a band of +/- 2%, while supporting growth. 
Global economic activity has gained further pace with growth impulses becoming more synchronised across regions. Among AEs, the Euro area expanded at a robust pace, supported by consumption and investment. The US economy lost some momentum with growth slowing down in Q4 of 2017 even as manufacturing activity touched a multi-month high in December. The Japanese economy continued to grow as manufacturing activity gathered pace in January on strong external demand. Economic activity accelerated in EMEs) in the final quarter of 2017. The Chinese economy grew above the official target, driven by strong domestic consumption and robust exports. However, some downside risks to growth remain, especially from easing fixed asset investment and surging debt levels. In Russia, strong private consumption, rising oil prices and high exports are supporting economic activity, although weak investment and economic sanctions are weighing on its growth prospects. In Brazil, data on household spending and unemployment were positive in Q4. However, recovery remains vulnerable to political uncertainty, which has dampened consumer confidence. South Africa continues to face challenges on both domestic and external fronts, including high unemployment and declining factory activity.

Global trade continued to expand, underpinned by strong investment and robust manufacturing activity. Crude oil prices touched a three-year high as production cuts by the OPEC coupled with falling inventories weighed on the global demand-supply balance. Bullion prices touched a multi-month high on a weak US dollar. Inflation remained contained in most AEs and was divergent in key EMEs due to country-specific factors.

Global financial markets have become volatile in recent days due to uncertainty over the pace of normalisation of the US Fed monetary policy. The volatility index (VIX) has climbed to its highest level since Brexit. Equity markets have witnessed a sharp correction, both in AEs and EMEs. Bond yields in the US have hardened sharply, adding to the upward pressures seen during January, with concomitant rise in bond yields in other AEs and EMEs. Forex markets have become volatile as well. Until this episode of recent volatility, global financial markets were buoyed by investor appetite for risk, corporate tax cuts by the US, and stable economic conditions. Equity markets had gained significantly in January, driven by robust Chinese growth, uptick in commodity prices, and positive corporate sentiment in general. In currency markets, the US dollar had touched a multi-month low on February 1 on fiscal risks and improving growth prospects in other AEs.

In India as per the first advance estimates released by the CSO is estimated to decelerate to 6.1 per cent in 2017-18 from 7.1 per cent in 2016-17 due mainly to slowdown in agriculture and allied activities, mining and quarrying, manufacturing, and public administration and defence services. Manufacturing output boosted the growth of IIP in November. After a period of prolonged weakness, cement production registered robust growth in November-December, which along with continuing healthy growth in steel production led to acceleration of infrastructure goods production in November. The manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) expanded for the sixth consecutive month in January led by new orders. Assessment of overall business sentiment in the Indian manufacturing sector improved in Q3 as reflected in the Reserve Bank’s Industrial Outlook Survey (IOS). However, core sector growth decelerated in December due to contraction/deceleration in production of coal, crude oil, steel and electricity. Acreage in the case of wheat, oilseeds and coarse cereals was lower than last year and there was a higher shortfall in area sown for rabi crops as of end-January.

 Retail inflation, measured by year-on-year change in the CPI, increased for the sixth consecutive month in December on account of a strong unfavourable base effect. After rising abruptly in November, food prices reversed partly in December, reflecting mainly the seasonal moderation, albeitmuted, in prices of vegetables along with continuing decline in prices of pulses. Cereals inflation moderated with prices remaining steady in December. However, inflation in some components of food – eggs; meat and fish; oils and fats; and milk – increased. Fuel and light group inflation, which showed a sharp increase in November, softened somewhat in December, driven by moderation in electricity, LPG and kerosene inflation.
CPI inflation excluding food and fuel, increased further in November and December, largely on account of increase in housing inflation following the implementation of higher HRA for government employees under the 7th CPC award. Inflation also picked up in health and personal care and effects. Reflecting incomplete pass-through to domestic petroleum product prices, inflation in transport and communication remained muted in December. Inflation also slowed down in clothing and footwear, household goods and services, recreation, and education. Organised sector wage growth remained firm, while the rural wage growth decelerated.

The liquidity in the system continues to be in surplus mode, but it is moving steadily towards neutrality. The weighted average call rate (WACR) traded 12 bps below the repo rate during December-January as against 15 bps below the repo rate in November. On some days in December and January, the system turned into deficit due to slow down in government spending and large tax collections, which necessitated injection of liquidity by the Reserve Bank. For December as a whole, however, the Reserve Bank absorbed Rs. 316 billion (on a net daily average basis). For January, on the whole, the Reserve Bank absorbed Rs. 353 billion.

Merchandise exports bounced back in November and December. While petroleum products, engineering goods and chemicals accounted for three-fourths of this growth, exports of readymade garments contracted. During the same period, merchandise import growth accelerated sequentially with over one-third of the growth emanating from petroleum (crude and products) due largely to high international prices. Gold imports increased – both in value and volume terms – in December, after declining in the preceding three months. Pearls and precious stones, electronic goods and coal were major contributors to non-oil non-gold import growth. With import growth exceeding export growth, the trade deficit for December was US$ 14.9 billion. Even though the current account deficit narrowed sharply in Q2 of 2017-18 on a sequential basis, it was higher than its level a year ago, mainly due to widening of the trade deficit. While net FDI inflows moderated in April-October 2017 from their level a year ago, net FPI inflows were buoyant in 2017-18 (up to February 1). India’s foreign exchange reserves were at US$ 421.9 billion on February 2, 2018.
 GVA growth for 2017-18 is projected at 6.6 per cent. Beyond the current year, the growth outlook will be influenced by several factors. First, GST implementation is stabilising, which augurs well for economic activity. Second, there are early signs of revival in investment activity as reflected in improving credit offtake, large resource mobilisation from the primary capital market, and improving capital goods production and imports. Third, the process of recapitalisation of public sector banks has got underway. Large distressed borrowers are being referenced for resolution under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC). This should improve credit flows further and create demand for fresh investment. Fourth, although export growth is expected to improve further on account of improving global demand, elevated commodity prices, especially of oil, may act as a drag on aggregate demand. 

Headline inflation averaged 4.6 per cent in Q3, driven primarily by an unusual pick-up in food prices in November. Though prices eased in December, the winter seasonal food price moderation was less than usual. Domestic pump prices of petrol and diesel rose sharply in January, reflecting lagged pass-through of the past increases in international crude oil prices. Considering these factors, inflation is now estimated at 5.1 per cent in Q4, including the HRA impact.
Developmental and Regulatory Policies
  • Relief for MSME Borrowers: (for which the aggregate exposure of banks and NBFCs does not exceed ₹ 250 million as on January 31, 2018), MSMEs who have registered under GST, be allowed by banks and NBFCs to pay the amounts overdue as on September 1, 2017 and payments due between September 1, 2017 and January 31, 2018, within 180 days from their original due date, as a measure to support their transition to a formalised business environment.
  • Remove the currently applicable loan limits of Rs. 50 million and Rs. 100 million per borrower to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, (Services) respectively, for classification under priority sector.
  • It has been decided that the sub-target of 8 percent of Adjusted Net Bank Credit (ANBC) or Credit Equivalent Amount of Off-Balance Sheet Exposure (CEOBE), whichever is higher, will be made applicable for lending to the small and marginal farmers for foreign banks with 20 branches and above from FY 2018-19. Further, the sub-target for bank lending to the Micro Enterprises in the country of 7.50 percent of ANBC or CEOBE, whichever is higher, will also be made applicable for foreign banks with 20 branches and above from FY 2018-19.
  • It has been decided to harmonize the methodology of determining benchmark rates by linking the Base Rate to the MCLR with effect from April 1, 2018. 
  • With a view to harmonizing regulations across different types of collateral and also to encourage wider participation, especially for corporate debt repos, the repo directions are proposed to be streamlined and simplified. 
  • It is now proposed to allow non-residents hedging their INR currency risk arising out of their current and capital account transactions to dynamically hedge their currency and interest rate exposures onshore using any of the permitted instruments.
  • It is now proposed to merge position limits across all foreign currency-INR pairs and provide a single limit of USD 100 million per user (both resident and non-resident) across all exchange traded currency derivatives, in all exchanges combined. 
  • It is proposed that (i) FBIL would assume the responsibility for standardising the valuation of Government securities (issued by both the Centre and States) currently being done by FIMMDA; and, (ii) FBIL would also assume the responsibility for computation and dissemination of the daily “Reference Rate” for Spot USD/INR and other major currencies against the Rupee, which is currently being done by the Reserve Bank.
  • With a view to providing customers of NBFCs with a cost-free and expeditious grievance redress mechanism, it has been decided to introduce an Ombudsman Scheme for NBFCs. The scheme will cover all deposit taking NBFCs and those with customer interface having asset-size of Rupees One Billion and above. 
  • Standardize the note printing processes, procurement of raw materials, quality assurance processes, security, etc.
  • With a view to promote a less cash economy it has been decided to discontinue the incentives for installation of Cash Recycler Machines (CRMs) and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs).

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