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.


Hong Kong economy stalls amid US-China trade dispute: finance chief

Updated 17 February 2019
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Hong Kong economy stalls amid US-China trade dispute: finance chief

  • ‘The impact of China-US trade frictions on Hong Kong’s exports has clearly emerged at the end of last year’
  • Economic growth in the semi-autonomous Chinese city for the last quarter of 2018 was less than 1.5 percent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s economy stalled last year as the ongoing China-US trade dispute and retail woes dragged down local business, the city’s financial chief said Sunday.
Beijing and Washington have already imposed duties on more than $360 billion in two-way trade, roiling global financial markets and weighing heavily on manufacturing output in both countries.
“The impact of China-US trade frictions on Hong Kong’s exports has clearly emerged at the end of last year,” said finance secretary Paul Chan.
Economic growth in the semi-autonomous Chinese city for the last quarter of 2018 was less than 1.5 percent — the weakest since the first quarter of 2016 and a “significant slowdown” from the average growth rate of 3.7 percent in the first three quarters, Chan wrote on his official blog.
The slowdown brought last year’s growth rate to an estimated three percent, down from the higher-than-forecast 3.8 percent recorded in 2017, he added.
“It was almost ‘zero-growth’ for commodities exports in the fourth quarter, which was a sharp drop compared to the average 6 percent growth in the first three quarters,” he wrote.
Chan said consumer sentiment had also dampened with retail sales rising only 2.1 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarter, a far cry from the more than 12 percent increase in the first half of the year.
“The external political and economic situation remains unclear ... Therefore, we repeatedly stress the need to support enterprises, safeguard employment, stabilize the economy and benefit people’s livelihoods,” he wrote, hinting at the ongoing trade negotiations between the world’s top two economies.
Chan is expected to deliver the Hong Kong budget on February 27.