October 25, 2008 1:23:25 am
Whatever message the stockmarkets may appear to give, Friday’s credit policy statement was not entirely unexpected. It announced no further changes in the interest rates or in the cash reserve ratio of banks. But this came after sharp cuts in both these instruments in the last few days. With these measures having had an impact and having brought down inter-bank call money rates, it is now time for the RBI to watch the liquidity situation before announcing any further liquidity enhancing measures. When seen in conjunction with the speed with which the RBI has reacted in the last few days, the credit policy indicates that steps will be taken as required. The markets reacted negatively, but news of UK’s GDP decline and weak markets in Europe played a significant role in pulling the Sensex down almost 11 per cent.
However, more should have been done in the policy. The lack of action should have been backed by a strong and clear direction of monetary policy, one that should have turned the focus away from managing future inflation, already declining, to maintaining future growth, which is also coming down. This change is not clear. As a consequence, for example, the policy statement is not sufficient to lead to a reduction in bank lending rates. The policy statement expresses concern over the growth of bank credit at 29 per cent, even though bank credit for the petroleum sector — that has grown by 91 per cent as oil companies have turned to banks for loans — is responsible for a large element of this. The statement says that the RBI would like to see the growth of non-food credit, including investments in bonds/debentures/shares of public sector undertakings and private corporate sector and CP, reduce to around 20 per cent. If the RBI is going to work towards reducing credit growth it is not a signal to banks to reduce lending rates. Also, as long as the liquidity situation in the money market gets affected by the RBI’s sale of dollars, which sucks out rupees and can create tight liquidity conditions any day, not many banks are feeling reassured that the easing is here to stay.
The uncertainty created in the market by trying to prevent the rupee from weakening, which it has not been able to do, has been extremely counterproductive. Unfortunately, RBI Governor Subbarao had nothing to say on this. In order to maintain the gains made in terms of easing liquidity and to translate them into bank lending, he needs to reassure banks that all the steps he takes will be intended to keep liquidity comfortable and make growth and financial stability top priorities.
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