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RBI begins policy review meet; rate cut on cards to boost economy

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The RBI on Tuesday began its rate-setting huddle amid widespread expectations that the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) headed by Governor Shaktikanta Das would slash benchmark interest rate to revive the sagging economy.

The Governor has already hinted that the benign inflation provides room for further monetary policy easing while space for fiscal space is limited.

The government has already announced a series of measures including steepest cut in corporate tax, rollback of enhanced surcharge on Foreign Portfolio Investors, among others to jump-start growth which hit a six-year low of 5 per cent during the first quarter of the current fiscal.

The six-member MPC is scheduled to announce the fourth bi-monthly monetary policy for 2019-20 on Friday, October 4, after a three-day meeting. There is no meeting of the panel due to national holiday on October 2, which marks birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

The central bank has already slashed the repo rate four times consecutively this year amounting to 110 basis points in aggregate.

At its last meeting in August, the MPC reduced the benchmark lending rate by an unusual 35 basis points to 5.40 per cent.

The upcoming MPC meeting comes in the backdrop of the RBI's mandate to banks to link their loan products to an external benchmark, like repo rate, for faster transmission of reduction in policy rates to borrowers, from October 1.

Ahead of the meeting, the Das-headed Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) sub-committee took stock of the prevailing macroeconomic situation.

Earlier, the RBI Governor had said the government has little fiscal space, giving hopes that the central bank may provide more monetary stimulus to prop up the economy.

The government's fiscal space has been squeezed on account of cut in rates of corporate tax as well as lowering of GST rate on various goods. Revenue collection too has been below the Budget estimates.

Experts opine that another rate cut is on the cards as the government's hands are tied and the onus of taking initiatives now rests with the central bank.

Shanti Ekambaram, President, Consumer Banking, Kotak Mahindra Bank, said with inflation still within the RBI's medium-term target of 4 per cent, the MPC has the headroom to cut the repo rate further.

"However, the recent volatility in crude oil prices and the fiscal measures announced by the government will have an impact on inflation in the medium term and the fiscal deficit. Hence, we expect the MPC to be more measured in its response with a rate cut of 20-25 basis points in the October policy," she said.

According to NAREDCO president Niranjan Hiranandani, there is expectation of a further 50 basis points repo rate cut in the backdrop of muted inflation which stands lower than the expected 3.2 per cent.

The further reduction of repo rate will not only bring down the lending rates but also incentivise investment and boost consumption, he said.

While economic activities are showing sings of sluggishness, the policy makers are drawing solace from the fact that retail inflation remains in the comfort zone of the central bank.

Retail inflation inched up to 3.21 per cent in August but remained within the RBI's comfort zone. The RBI has been mandated by the government to ensure that inflation remains below 4 per cent, with deviation of 2 per cent on either side.

Experts and industry feel low inflation provides enough headroom for the RBI to further lower the policy rate, especially when festive season has just started. People make huge purchases during Navratras and Diwali.

With liquidity concerns in the NBFC sector almost taken care of, the real estate sector too is hopeful that the RBI will go in for the much needed rate cut to boost demand for affordable housing.

Forex - Dollar Surges on Australian Rate Cut, Weak PMIs

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The dollar rose to within touching distance of a new two-year high in early trading on Tuesday, surging against the Australian and New Zealand dollars after the Reserve Bank of Australia cut its key cash rate to an all-time low of 0.75%.

The dollar rose almost a cent against the Aussie after the RBA’s move, which came after the economy grew at its slowest rate in a decade in the second quarter, another spillover from the U.S.-China trade war that has damped Chinese demand for Australian commodities. It also hit a new 10-year high against the kiwi.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of six developed currencies, rose to as high as 99.21, close to the two-year high of 99.33 that it hit last month. That was when it hit a 10-year high against the Aussie – a level that looks set to be tested soon.

“Further price movements may depend on Governor (Philip) Lowe's remarks at a dinner in Melbourne later today, in which he may choose to finesse expectations for future rate movements or provide more clarity on the focus on consumer spending, as opposed to the recent focus on the labour market,” Robert Carnell, chief economist for Asia-Pacific at ING, said in a note to clients.

The dollar also rose against the yen after a worse than expected Tankan survey, while it inched higher against the euro and sterling as crunch time approached in the Brexit drama. The Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will send his detailed plans for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland to the EU on Tuesday after his speech to the Conservative Party’s annual conference.

According to the Irish state broadcaster RTE, the plans involve a string of customs clearance centers set a few miles back from the border. That effectively creates a hard border in all but name, and thus effectively breach the Good Friday Agreement that the U.K. and EU have both promised to respect.

By 3:30 AM ET, the euro was at $1.0890, up 10 ticks from a new two-year low that it hit at the start of trading. The pound was back below $1.2300, while both the Swiss franc and the Swedish krona also came under pressure after sharp drops in their national purchasing managers indexes indicated contraction in both countries’ manufacturing sectors.

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RInfra to cut its Rs 6,000 cr debt, follow capital-light model: Anil Ambani

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Ambani further said the four business verticals including roads, metro, energy and airport are fully fundedReliance Infrastructure (RInfra) which is sitting on a debt of Rs 6,000 crore, is on track to reduce leverage even further as it focuses to be an asset-and capital-light entity, the company said on Monday.

Addressing the shareholders at the AGM, chairman Anil Ambanialso said the group's defence businesses will also follow an asset- and capital-light model.

"Our intent is to reduce the debt further. At present we are have around Rs 6,000 crore of debt but with a large networth," the RInfrachairman said, adding the will focus on the domestic market and take up more complex infrastructure and transportation projects.

"We hope to become one of the top five defence companiesamong the private players in the country, serving the needs of self-reliance and technological advancement and becoming a global supplier. Our defence business in partnership with global leaders will ensure optimum utilisation," he said.

He further said the four business verticals including roads, metro, energy and airport are fully funded.

"Going forward, both the growth engines of E&C and defence businesses will remain asset and capital light without the need for any further large capital infusion," he said.

On the defence opportunity, he further said the defence budget of Rs 3 trillion is a great opportunity for domestic players. "Of the Rs 3 lakh crore budget, Rs 1 trillion is for purchase of new weapons platforms and military hardware. This is a great opportunity for us to participate." The company has its presence in the defence business through two of its joint ventures with French firms Dassault Aviation and Thales.

"Both these joint ventures are operational and the factories are located in Mihan in Nagpur. Both are exporting high technology and high-value products to global markets in both civil as well as defence and aerospace area," he said.

Sounding bullish on the infrastructure space, given an outlay of Rs 100 trillion over the next five years, he said the country's infrastructure needs are very vast.

The government has announced Rs 100 lakh crore investment in infrastructure over the next five years and RInfrawill participate in these large scale opportunities and projects which are complex, he said.

The company has bagged a few large orders including the Rs 7,000 crore Versova-Bandra Sealink project and a few metro projects in the megapolis.

On the Delhi Metro arbitration award which is around Rs 5,000 crore, he said, the company had already won the case five years ago and is still waiting to receive the amount.

The transaction of the proposed sale of Delhi-Agra toll roadway, which is expected to fetch RInfraRs 3,600 crore, is likely to be closed in the next few weeks, he said.

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Auto crisis: Maruti Suzuki reports 24% decline in sales in September

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The country's largest carmaker Maruti SuzukiIndia (MSI) on Tuesday reported a 24.4 per cent decline in sales at 1,22,640 units in September.

The company had sold 1,62,290 units in September last year, MSI said in a statement.

Domestic sales declined by 26.7 per cent at 1,12,500 units last month as against 1,53,550 units in September 2018, it added.

Sales of mini cars comprising Alto and WagonR stood at 20,085 units as compared to 34,971 units in the same month last year, down 42.6 per cent.

Sales of compact segment, including models such as Swift, Celerio, Ignis, Baleno and Dzire, fell 22.7 per cent at 57,179 units as against 74,011 cars in September last year.

Mid-sized sedan Ciaz sold 1,715 units as compared to 6,246 units earlier.

Similarly, sales of utility vehicles, including Vitara Brezza, S-Cross and Ertiga, declined marginally at 21,526 units as compared to 21,639 in the year-ago month, MSI said.

Exports in September were down by 17.8 per cent at 7,188 units as against 8,740 units in the corresponding month last year, the company said.

RPT-POLL-RBI to pick up slack as India stimulus measures to fall short -economists

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Recent stimulus measures announced by the Indian government will be insufficient to boost economic growth significantly, said a majority of economists in a  poll who predicted two more interest rate cuts this year, in October and December.

To revive the ailing economy, the government in September announced a steep cut in the corporate tax rate - to 22% from 30% - triggering the biggest intraday gain in Indian stocks in more than a decade.

That along with other measures, including a rollback of a higher surcharge on foreign portfolio investment - introduced in the budget in July - led international investors to become net buyers of Indian assets in September.

But nearly 60% of around 50 economists who answered an additional question said those stimulus measures were unlikely to have a notable impact on the economy.

"While the cut in corporate taxes is sharp, its actual impact on growth is uncertain. Given that the current problem is of weak demand, a demand augmenting measure would have been more productive.

Although the economy is expected to have recovered last quarter from the sharp slowdown in the three months prior, economists downgraded their growth outlook for this fiscal year and next from three months ago.

The Sept. 24-30 poll of over 50 economists predicted gross domestic product growth to average 6.1% this fiscal year, the lowest since polling began for the period in April last year.

If realised, that would mark the slowest pace of growth in seven years.

The economy was then expected to expand 6.8% next fiscal year, a downgrade from 7.2% predicted in the July poll.

That weak outlook was driven by lack of clarity on when and how the U.S.-China trade war will end, which has already hurt business sentiment, manufacturing activity and the global economy.

But some economists argued recent measures announced by the Indian government, along with monetary policy easing, would likely boost Asia's third-largest economy.

The Reserve Bank of India has already eased policy by a cumulative 110 basis points this year.

It is now expected to cut its repo rate INREPO=ECI by 25 basis points on Friday, making it the fifth meeting in a row of easing, and is then predicted to follow that up by with another 15 basis points slice in December, taking the key rate to 5.0%.

But the RBI is then forecast to keep rates unchanged until 2021 at least.

"It looks like the authorities - both the government and the central bank - are firing up all cylinders to provide stimulus to the economy...with stimulus announced so far should start to revive growth going forward," said Prakash Sakpal, Asia economist at ING.

When asked how many more rate cuts it would take to boost growth significantly, nearly 45% of economists said cumulative rate cuts up to 50 basis points will be needed.

Eleven said between 50 and 100 basis points would do the trick, while two said over a percentage point.

The outlook for further policy easing was also backed by subdued inflation, which is not expected to breach the central bank's medium-term target of 4% until the fourth quarter of 2020.

"With inflation remaining under control, monetary stimulus in combination with the recent fiscal measures are likely to be growth supportive," said Shashank Mendiratta, economist at IBM (NYSE:IBM).

But not everyone agreed with that view.

Nearly 30% of respondents said boosting economic growth significantly is beyond the RBI's immediate control.

"Not only monetary policy but also short-term measures that the government has taken so far, are used to sugar-coat the wrong policy trajectory from a structural point of view," said Hugo Erken, head of international economics at Rabobank.

"Because what India really needs is a large-scale reform package on several fronts."

A weak growth outlook, ongoing concerns about the U.S.-China trade war and the prospect of further RBI easing are all expected to hurt the Indian rupee INR= in coming months.

After rallying as much as 3% against the dollar in September, the rupee is forecast to reverse most of those gains to trade at 72.50 per dollar in a year, compared to 70.70 on Monday.

"Despite the fact that both monetary and fiscal levers are now being deployed to prop up growth, a material recovery is still elusive," added ANZ's Sen.

"We therefore see limited scope for the current (rupee) rally to last unless demand sharply recovers. In addition, global risks including worsening in trade uncertainties or an oil price surge could add to rupee volatility."

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FOREX-Dollar index hits two-year high, Aussie falls after RBA cut

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The U.S. dollar rose to its highest in more than two years versus a basket of currencies on Tuesday before data that is forecast to show the U.S. manufacturing sector returned to growth, which would ease concern about the impact of the trade war with China.

The euro teetered near its lowest in more than two years against the greenback before data expected to show European inflation has remained tepid, suggesting euro zone policy will remain accommodative for some time.

The Australian dollar edged lower after the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) cut interest rates and expressed concern about job growth, while the New Zealand dollar hit a new four-year low as weak business sentiment continued to weigh on the kiwi.

A host of economic data and comments from central bankers this week will set the tone for major currencies as traders try to determine how far policymakers will go to bolster growth.

"Economic data can be supportive of the dollar, and the Federal Reserve's comments are not as dovish as some people think," said Masafumi Yamamoto, chief currency strategist at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.

"An RBA rate cut and the risk of a stagnant European economy both should be positive for the greenback."

The dollar index .DXY against a basket of six major currencies rose 0.10% to 99.479, after briefly touching the highest since May 12, 2017.

The dollar rose 0.17% to 108.26 yen JPY=EBS , close to its strongest level in almost two weeks.

The yen remained weak after the Bank of Japan's tankan showed business confidence in the third quarter slid to its lowest in six years. was subdued in Asian time because China's financial markets are closed until Monday for public holidays. Financial markets in Hong Kong were also closed on Tuesday for a holiday.

The Institute for Supply Management's measure of U.S. manufacturing activity later on Tuesday is forecast to show a return to expansion in September, but just barely.

In August, U.S. manufacturing activity contracted for the first time in three years due to the U.S.-China trade war.

Several Fed policymakers are scheduled to speak this week, but traders said they will focus most on comments from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on Friday for hints about the direction of U.S. monetary policy.

The Fed has cut interest rates twice this year, but there are signs that it is reluctant to ease policy further because the jobs market remains strong.

The euro fell 0.09% to $1.0889 EUR=EBS , close to its lowest since May 12, 2017.

Data due on Tuesday are forecast to show consumer prices in the euro zone rose an annual 1.0% in September, unchanged from the previous month and well below the European Central Bank's target.

Annual inflation in Germany, Europe's largest economy, slowed to the lowest in almost three years, data on Monday showed. ECB unleashed a new round of monetary easing measures on Sept. 12, but there is growing concern that the central bank is reaching the limits of what it can achieve and the burden will fall to eurozone governments to boost fiscal spending.

The Australian dollar briefly rose after the RBA cut its cash rate to a record low of 0.75%, as expected. However, the Aussie surrendered those gains to trade down 0.21% at $0.6742 AUD=D3 .

The RBA said forward-looking indicators suggest employment growth is likely to slow, which could bolster expectations that it will cut rates again by early next year. New Zealand dollar fell to a new four-year low of $0.6238 NZD=D3 . The kiwi has taken a hit as weakening business confidence bolstered expectations for monetary easing.

German inflation slows unexpectedly in September

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