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

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.


Powell: No clear hint on rates but says Fed will aid economy

Updated 43 min 23 sec ago

Powell: No clear hint on rates but says Fed will aid economy

  • The outlook for the US economy, Powell said, remains favorable but continues to face risks
  • Trump, who has relentlessly attacked Powell and the Fed over its rate policies, kept up his verbal assaults on Twitter

WASHINGTON: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell sent no clear signal Friday that the Fed will further cut interest rates this year but said it would “act as appropriate” to sustain the expansion — phrasing that analysts see as suggesting rate cuts.
Powell said President Donald Trump’s trade wars have complicated the Fed’s ability to set interest rates and have contributed to a global economic slowdown.
Speaking to a gathering of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Powell didn’t give financial markets explicit guidance on whether or how many rate cuts might be coming the rest of the year. The Fed cut rates last month for the first time in a decade, and financial markets have baked in the likelihood of more rate cuts this year.
The outlook for the US economy, Powell said, remains favorable but continues to face risks. He pointed to increasing evidence of a global economic slowdown and suggested that uncertainty from Trump’s trade wars has contributed to it.
Reacting to the speech Friday, Trump, who has relentlessly attacked Powell and the Fed over its rate policies, kept up his verbal assaults on Twitter:
“As usual, the Fed did NOTHING!” Trump tweeted. “It is incredible that they can ‘speak’without knowing or asking what I am doing, which will be announced shortly. We have a very strong dollar and a very weak Fed. I will work “brilliantly” with both, and the US will do great.”
Trump added:
“My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powel (sic) or Chairman Xi?“
Powell’s speech comes against the backdrop of a vulnerable economy, with the financial world seeking clarity on whether last month’s rate decision likely marked the start of a period of easier credit.
The confusion only heightened in the days leading to the Jackson Hole conference, at which Powell gave the keynote address. Minutes of the Fed’s July meeting released Wednesday showed that although officials voted 8-2 to cut their benchmark rate by a quarter-point, there was a wider divergence of opinion on the committee than the two dissenting votes against the rate cut had indicated.
The minutes showed that two Fed officials favored a more aggressive half-point rate cut, while some others adopted the polar opposite view: They felt the Fed shouldn’t cut rates at all.
The minutes depicted the rate cut as a “mid-cycle adjustment,” the phrase Powell had used at his news conference after the rate cut. That wording upset traders who interpreted the remark as suggesting that the Fed might not be preparing for a series of rate cuts to support an economy that’s struggling with a global slowdown and escalating uncertainty from President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.
There was even a difference of opinion among the Fed members who favored a rate cut, the minutes showed, with some concerned most about subpar inflation and others worried more about the threats to economic growth.
Comments Thursday from Fed officials gathering in Jackson Hole reflected the committee’s sharp divisions, including some reluctance to cut rates at least until the economic picture changes.
“I think we should stay here for a while and see how things play out,” said Patrick Harker, the president of the Fed’s Philadelphia regional bank.
Esther George, president of the Fed’s Kansas City regional bank and one of the dissenting votes in July, said, “While I see downside risk, I wasn’t ready to act on that relative to the performance of the economy.”
George said she saw some areas of strength, including very low unemployment and inflation now closer to the Fed’s target level. She said her decision on a possible future rate cut would depend on forthcoming data releases.
Robert Kaplan, president of the Fed’s Dallas branch indicated that he might be prepared to support further rate cuts.
If “we are seeing some weakness in manufacturing and global growth, then it may be good to take some action,” Kaplan said.
George was interviewed on Fox Business Network; Harker and Kaplan spoke on CNBC.
The CME Group, which tracks investor bets on central bank policy, is projecting the likelihood that the Fed will cut rates at least twice more before year’s end.
Adding to the pressures on the Fed, Trump has kept up his attacks on the central bank and on Powell personally, arguing that Fed officials have kept rates too high and should be cutting them aggressively.
Trump has argued that a full percentage-point rate reduction in coming months would be appropriate — a suggestion that most economists consider extravagantly excessive as well as an improper intrusion on the Fed’s political independence.
The president contends that lower rates in other countries have caused the dollar to rise in value and thereby hurt US export sales.
“Our Federal Reserve does not allow us to do what we must do,” Trump tweeted Thursday. “They put us at a disadvantage against our competition.”
Earlier in the week, he had told reporters, “If the Fed would do its job, you would see a burst of growth like you have never seen before.”
Powell has insisted that the White House criticism has had no effect on the Fed’s deliberations over interest rate policy.