India cuts key rate in surprise bid to lift flagging economy

Reserve Bank of India boss Shaktikanta Das prepares to announce the interest rate cut. (Reuters)
Updated 08 February 2019
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India cuts key rate in surprise bid to lift flagging economy

  • The cut is welcome news for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which wants to increase lending and lift growth as it faces elections by May
  • India’s rate cut continues a trend in which some major central banks, worried about slowing global growth and helped by low inflation, have moved firmly away from tightening moves

MUMBAI: India’s central bank on Thursday unexpectedly lowered interest rates and, as anticipated, shifted its stance to “neutral” to boost a slowing economy after a sharp slide in the inflation rate.
The cut is welcome news for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which wants to increase lending and lift growth as it faces elections by May.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is already in election mode. In its budget on Feb. 1, the government doled out cash to farmers and tax cuts to middle-class families, at the cost of a wider fiscal deficit and larger borrowing.
The Reserve Bank of India’s monetary policy committee (MPC) cut the repo rate by 25 basis points to 6.25 percent, as forecast by 21 of 65 analysts polled by Reuters. Most respondents expected the central bank to only change the stance, to neutral.
Four of six MPC members voted to cut the rates, while all backed the stance change to “neutral” from “calibrated tightening.”
“Investment activity is recovering, but is supported mainly by public spending on infrastructure,” the MPC said in a statement, adding there is a need to strengthen private investment and buttress private consumption.
India’s rate cut continues a trend in which some major central banks, worried about slowing global growth and helped by low inflation, have moved firmly away from the tightening moves made last year. The Federal Reserve has changed direction, and now many analysts expect no US rate hikes this year, after four in 2018.
The last Indian repo rate cut, to 6 percent, was in August 2017.
Indian shares pared gains, while 10-year bond yields slid three basis points after the surprise rate cut. The Indian rupee weakened to 71.69 to the dollar immediately after the decision was announced, but later strengthened to 71.45.
The NSE index was up 0.05 percent at 11067.05, while the 10-year benchmark government bond yield fell to 7.52 percent from Wednesday’s close of 7.56 percent.
The MPC meeting — the first for Shaktikanta Das, the RBI governor — also decided to lower India’s inflation projection for April-September to 3.2-3.4 percent from the 3.8-4.2 percent seen in December.
India’s December headline inflation fell to an 18-month low of 2.19 percent, well below the RBI’s medium-term 4 percent target.
The MPC also trimmed its economic growth forecast, to 7.2-7.4 percent during April-September from its previous 7.5 percent estimate.
“The central bank’s commentary on inflation and growth support a dovish outlook for the policy,” said Shashank Mendiratta, an economist with IBM in New Delhi, noting that on growth the RBI once again highlighted downside risks to its forecast.
“There is a possibility of another rate cut by the central bank in April. The macro backdrop as such supports the RBI’s stance,” said Mendiratta.
Economic growth had fallen to a worse-than-expected 7.1 percent in the July-September quarter from 8.2 percent for the previous one, dragged down by slower consumer spending and farm growth.


Head of Saudi Arabia’s SRC: ‘Ask banks for a mortgage, and we will refinance it’

Updated 25 April 2019
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Head of Saudi Arabia’s SRC: ‘Ask banks for a mortgage, and we will refinance it’

  • SRC CEO Fabrice Susini: One of our key objectives is to ensure that the banks are extending loans to more and more people
  • Extending home-ownership is one of the cornerstones of the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy away from oil production

RIYADH: The head of the state-owned Saudi Real Estate Refinance Company (SRC) has made an unprecedented offer to the Kingdom’s home-seekers to underwrite future mortgages.
Speaking at the Financial Sector Conference in Riyadh, Fabrice Susini, SRC CEO, told the audience: “Ask them (the banks) for a mortgage, and we will refinance it.”
Although Susini later clarified his remarks to show that he still expected normal standards of mortgage applications to be met, the on-stage show of bravado illustrates SRC’s commitment to facilitate home-ownership in the Kingdom.
“Obviously if you have no revenue, no income, poor credit history, that will not apply. Now if you have a job, it is different. We have people in senior positions at big foreign banks that could not get a mortgage,” he explained.
He said that Saudi banks have traditionally assessed mortgages on the basis of “flow stability” of earnings. Government employees, or those of big corporations like Saudi Aramco and SABIC, found it easy to get mortgages “because you were there for life.”
“One of our key objectives is to ensure that the banks are extending loans to more and more people. The government is pushing for entrepreneurship, private development, private jobs. If you work in the private sector and cannot get a mortgage the next thing you will do is go to the government for a job,” Susini said.
Extending home-ownership is one of the cornerstones of the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy away from oil production. Saudi Arabia has one of the lowest rates of mortgage penetration of any G20 country — in single digit percentages, compared with others at up to 50 percent.