Sixth Monetary Policy Committee Meeting

The sixth meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), will be held on August 2 and 3, 2017 at the Reserve Bank of India. The MPC shall review the surveys conducted by the Reserve Bank to gauge consumer confidence, households‟ inflation expectations, corporate sector performance, credit conditions, the outlook for the industrial, services and infrastructure sectors, and the projections of professional forecasters. The Committee shall also review in detail staff‟s macroeconomic projections, and alternative scenarios around various risks to the outlook. The decision of the MPC shall be in accordance 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 per cent within a band of +/- 2 per cent, while supporting growth. In this blog, I shall focus on the above mentioned parameters to access the likely policy action to be taken by the RBI in their monetary policy review scheduled next week.

The current scenario of the policy rates is as follows:

  1. Repo Rate – 6.25%
  2. Reverse Repo – 6%
  3. Marginal Standing Facility – 6.50 % (Being pegged at 25 bps to the repo rate from the last policy review since the volatility of the call rates has significantly reduced)

GLOBAL ECONOMIC OUTLOOK:

The global economic activity has been growing at a modest pace, catalyzed by the emerging economies and some of the advanced economies. US markets have benefited from the wage gain and the industrial production has been steadily improving. However, US continues to face ebbed sales figures at home. The Euro zone continues to struggle in their movement towards growth. The political risk continues. Japan seems to be struggling with the subdued domestic demand and the political instability concerning the removal of Abby. Among the emerging economies, China has shown significant signs of stability, Russia has been witnessing improved recovery in their macro fundamentals while South Africa continues to face the depressing economic conditions. This clearly indicates that the global economic activity has been fairly slowed down and is expected to stay so for the coming 2 quarters as most of the emerging and advanced economies struggle to provide growth impetus.

The air freight and the container throughput have shown increasing trends indicative of strengthening global demand. Crude prices fell to a five month low in early May on higher output from Canada and the US, and remain soft, undermining the OPEC‟s recent efforts to tighten the market by trimming supply. These developments suggest that the inflation outlook is still relatively benign for AEs and EMEs alike.

GLOBAL MONETARY POLICY STANCE:

Since late June central banks of developed markets have suddenly started echoing calls for a sooner-than-anticipated normalization of policy on the back of solid growth despite sluggish inflation.

After Fed’s 25bps of rate hike in June, Bank of Canada has already followed by hiking the policy rate by 25bps, the first hike in 7 years. Meanwhile ECB and BoE, although for different reasons, have also been sounding hawkish. The coordinated policy statements led to a sharp reversal in sentiments, resulting in bear steepening of the yield curves across US and Europe. Japan remains the odd one out, given BoJ’s recent fixed rate bond intervention in order to reinforce its commitment towards massive monetary accommodation. However, lately we have witnessed some reversal in earlier tight rhetoric from Fed members, lack of hawkishness in Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s testimony and some ECB members playing down earlier hawkish comments by ECB’s Mario Draghi.

INFLATION OUTLOOK:

On the domestic front, the recent CPI inflation print of 1.54 per cent is significantly lower than RBI’s already downward revised range of 2-3.5 per cent for first half of FY2018. With another print expected to be a tad below 2 per cent (despite inclusion of 7CPC HRA component), and the sustenance of low food inflation in the pre-monsoon summer months is expected to provide comfort to RBI that at least part of the food disinflation is structural in nature.

The forecast of a favourable monsoon further bodes well for food inflation. Also, the refined core index – core excluding petrol, diesel, gold and silver – a metrics of real underlying price pressures, continues to inch lower, suggesting a slower narrowing of output gap than probably anticipated by RBI.  Overall, given the not-so-adverse global environment and benign inflation trajectory, it will be very difficult for RBI to provide a rationale for not easing in the upcoming policy. The headline inflation is likely to stay at sub-4 per cent till November 2017. Undoubtedly, the June inflation reading marks the trough and we thereafter expect a gradual uptrend through rest of the year. In 2HFY18, inflation may largely range between 3.3-4.5 percentage, mostly in line with MPC’s projections.

GROWTH OUTLOOK:

On the growth front, Index of Industrial Production has shown clear signs of stagnancy so far at 1.7% and the central bank has forecasted that the IIP index may further slow down in the next 2 quarters. Also, the Q1 earnings of most companies have not been satisfactory as compared to the inflated valuations of the markets lately. With IIP slowing down, it might act as a key parameter in deciding the policy actions this time.

BANKING SECTOR:

The banking sector has been facing turmoil because of the rising NPA’s and reduction in the overall increase in the exposures. The public sector banks have seen a sluggish credit growth of 7.26% whereas the private sector banks are clocking a fairly good credit growth rate of 17%. This trend is not new for India although, the public sector lenders have been defensive lately due to increasing bad loans. However, RBI might take some new actions in terms of forcing the public sector lenders to create sophisticated systems in order to perform an efficient credit and risk management and simultaneously clean up the balance sheets. With the probability to reduce interest rates in August 2017, the lingering fear of banks shifting their focus to credit growth from balance sheet clean ups shall continue to persist.

With the average inflation almost close to the comfortable levels of 3%, sluggish demand and higher industrial growth, RBI and the MPC would would closely watch the inflation trends in the near future. However, certain additional structural reforms in order to help banks clean up their NPA loaded balance sheets can be expected.  

I predict, that the RBI will cut the repo rates by 25 bps to 6% from the current rate of 6.25% in order to foster growth, IIP and the sentiments. CRR and SLR will be untouched due to the ample amount of liquidity and money supply in the system. The RBI would also like to ensure that the economy’s ERI  of 1% at least which is currently higher at 1.75%.

However, the forward guidance of the policy will continue to be fairly dovish, reform-driven and a certain push towards a more efficient monetary policy transformation. Although, the MPC will have to ensure that the rate cut does not impact negatively on the ongoing balance sheet clean ups and insolvency declarations with an expansionary policy action this month.

Counters are welcome. Thank you 🙂

When The Acche Din Were Around The Corner…

When the acche din were just around the corner, here are two big events that have occurred in the past two weeks (Brexit and Rexit). I would like to talk about brexit in one of my other blogs, and would be focusing on Rexit ( Dr. Rajan opting out of the second term as the RBI Governor) in this one. Raghuram Rajan will step down as the 23rd governor of the Reserve Bank of India when his term expires on 4 September,2016. In this blog, I would be giving in sense of his achievements post his appointment as the RBI Guv, the likely impacts on the markets due to REXIT and the next likely predecessors for the position of the RBI Guv. I will also share statistics in terms of the key indicators before and after Dr. Rajan took over on the Sept 4, 2013.

From converting the Reserve Bank of India into an inflation targeting central bank to forcing a long overdue clean up of the banking sector, Rajan’s three year term has created significant progress. Dr. Rajan, has always been a inflation targeting Guv since the belief was strong that neither higher inflation nor lower interest rates are going to boost growth solely, the growth is always a mix and balance of the two parameters. With his highly focused regime of concentrating on the monetary aspects of the economy by considering various external and internal events has been effective in all the possible ways.

Here’s a list of the key improvements/actions/achievement by the veteran:

  1. MPC (Monetary Policy Committee) – Dr. Rajan announced a committee to review the monetary policy. Although, the attempt was then tweaked by the Govt in such a way that currently there is a hint of RBI Guv losing his rights to take the final decision on the policy actions.
  2. Inflation Targeting – Right after taking over as the governor, Raghuram Rajan appointed a committee to review the monetary policy framework. The committee recommended that the RBI formally shifts its focus on to the consumer price inflation index as the nominal anchor for monetary policy in the country rather than WPI. As part of this framework, the RBI was to bring down inflation to 6% by March 2016 and 5% by March 2015. Over the medium term, the RBI now has a target of bringing inflation down to 4% (+/- 2%). Looking at the current situations, the RBI has fairly achieved its targets.
  3. Revitalization Stress Assets – RBI took various measures against the stressed assets of the banking sector especially in terms of the corporate and strategic debt restructuring norms.
  4. Bank Licensing – While the process of licensing another round of universal banks was kicked off during D. Subbarao’s tenure, Rajan’s tenure saw two new banks (IDFC Bank and Bandhan Bank) being licensed. The more significant step in this context, however, was the licensing of differentiated banking licenses.  11 payment banks were given an in-principle approval and at least eight of them will launch operations by early next year to increase penetration in the rural economy. In addition, ten small finance banks were also given in-principle licences to serve small borrowers and businesses. Rajan also floated the idea of wholesale banks and custodian banks, although, with no guidelines as of now. The RBI put out a draft framework for on-tap universal bank licensing as well.
  5. 5/25 Scheme – RBI allowed corporate to extend tenors of credit in case of infrastructure projects thus providing them with a higher gestation period.
  6. Market Development – Market development has been top of the agenda for Rajan as well. The RBI, under Rajan, has also for the first time put in place a framework for foreign investor participation in the bond markets. The RBI may start accepting corporate bonds as collateral for its liquidity operations.
  7. Repo Rates Decline – Repo rates were brought down to 6.5% ( Lowest in the past 6 years) with inflation targeting as the key focus.

Apart from the above mentioned monetary measures taken, Dr. Rajan’s timely actions on the monetary policy decision has enabled a huge change in the key macro economic indicators of India before and after Dr. Rajan taking over. There has been a huge difference in the numbers including the credibility in the world economy and the reduction in the instability of the economy. Here’s a quick stat on that:

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Although, it was an extremely surprising decision by Dr. Rajan, it was very well anticipated looking at the tension between the RBI and the Govt in the recent past. The markets have reacted negatively because of the sudden decision to not continue. The short-term blip will continue for the next 3 months and might settle down once the monetary front is stabilized post appointment of a new RBI governor. However, markets will keep dipping in the short term amidst the uncertainty on the global front, whereas the medium and long-term trend look significantly bullish.

Who Will Fill Rajan’s Shoes:

Lets look at behind-the-scenes scenario of how the RBI Governors have been appointed till date. Even though the Appointments Committee is the official vehicle to do the job, typically, the Prime Minister’s Office chooses the governor with inputs from the finance ministry and the outgoing governor and, on most occasions, there is no written recommendation. The politicians of the ruling party play an important role in the selection but the corporate houses that normally try to influence the appointment of CEOs of commercial banks do not have a voice here, although they have their own preferences.

Here are some of the options that the government may consider as it searches for the 24th governor of the RBI. The four likely candidates are: the current RBI Deputy Governor Urjit Patel, former deputy governors Rakesh Mohan and Subir Gokarn, and State Bank of India Chair, Arundhati Bhattacharya.

Here’s our quick analysis on who would be the probably choice of the Govt:

  1. Rakesh Mohan – A former Dy Guv and a veteran economist. Logically, he will be apt for a fiscal role rather than a monetary chair role due to experience in the former. However, politically he might stand a chance in case the Govt is looking for an economics reforms expert to head the RBI.
  2. Subir Gokarn – A former Dy Guv and a veteran economist especially in the areas of food inflation and inflation related research. However, he might not be the right candidate to head the RBI since that would require the expertise and experience on handling the monetary front of an economy.
  3. Arundhati Bhattacharya –  A career banker, Bhattacharya may make a good candidate against the bad loan crisis in the banking sector. The trouble with appointing Bhattacharya as the head of the central bank is that there is no precedent in recent times of a banker being appointed as the RBI governor. While one of the four RBI deputy governor’s is always a senior banker, the central bank chief has typically been someone who has had an understanding of the wider economy.
  4. Urjit Patel – Current Dy Guv of the RBI. Urjit Patel, who chaired the committee on a new monetary policy framework, has overseen the RBI’s transition to an inflation targeting central bank. Patel has also been driving the central bank’s liquidity policy as well. According to me, Urjit Patel has the highest probability to be appointed as the next Guv of the RBI. However, the political front of the appointment may be different from the predictions that are logically sound.

To sum up, India was in deep trouble in terms of macro economic indicators and the stability of the economy. Dr. Raghuram Rajan, took over on 4th Sept, 2013 and changed the overall image and credibility of the economy. However, it is a sad event that he choose to return back to academia from being the dashing RBI Guv. Although, he has made his choice to join academia, he will always be remembered as the youngest and the most respected Guv of RBI in the coming years. It will be difficult for any other veteran to fill in his shoes, but however, Urjit Patel and Arundhati Bhattacharya look to be the probable candidates to head the RBI so far. When the acche din were around the corner, its hard to believe that Dr. Rajan has quit. 

Thank you. 🙂