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RBI monetary policy: Rate hike or not, MPC set to indicate rise in interest rates from here on

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Irrespective of a rate hike or status quo, the Reserve Bank of India on Wednesday is set to change its policy stance to signal a rise in interest rates from here on.

Most experts are expecting a higher probability of key repo rate to remain unchanged at six percent, and a shift in stance from the current “neutral” to “withdrawal of accommodation” by the central bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).

Repo rate is the rate at which banks borrow from RBI for their short-term funding requirements.

Withdrawal of accommodation is when a reversal in the interest rate cycle towards a rate cut, to accommodate those wishing it, is ruled out.

The six-member MPC, headed by RBI Governor Urjit Patel, is meeting for three days starting Monday to deliberate on the second bi-monthly monetary policy review for 2018-19 and will announce the verdict on Wednesday, June 6.

“A policy rate hike is likely to be on hold and almost certain to change stance to tightening. A hike is not ruled out but a high chance of it being on hold. I would say a 70:30 ratio between hold and hike,” said Saugata Bhattacharya, Chief Economist at Axis Bank.

According to Bhattacharya, the voting pattern will be keenly watched. “…unlikely to be a split vote. If it's a hold, likely would be 2:4 and if it is a hike would 4:2 (RBI Governor’s final vote in favour of the decision).”

With most banks already increasing their interest rates on both deposits and lending front and a rise seen in inflation and bond yields, a hawkish tone is inevitable.

Moreover, in the minutes of the April MPC meeting, two of the six MPC members — RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya and Executive Director Michael D. Patra — have already decided to vote in favour of a 25 basis points (bps) hike.

One bp is a hundredth of a percentage point.

Also Read: RBI’s monetary policy committee to meet for 3 days in June instead of 2 days

Inflation, GDP and oil prices

India’s retail inflation for April was higher at 4.58 percent from March’s 4.28 percent due to rise in prices of miscellaneous items such as education, household goods, personal care items as well as petrol and diesel prices.

The gross domestic product (GDP) data released last week showed that the economy grew at 7.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017-18, beating analyst expectations. It should please policymakers.

Therefore, in order to control inflation amid satisfactory GDP growth numbers, the language will be more hawkish and the inflation forecast will be revised upwards, Bhattacharya added.

In its April review, the MPC noted that inflation in the first half of the current fiscal would be in the range of 4.7-5.1 percent and moderate to 4.4 percent in the second half, with risks on the upside. Although the monsoon is expected to be normal this year, there is a risk of a significant hike in the minimum support price, as announced in the Union budget, which could push inflation.

Further, crude prices have firmed up in recent months. Members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and Russia have indicated that production will be increased, but prices are unlikely to come down significantly.

Most experts believe that if the policy rate is on hold, it will be followed by rate hikes in the forthcoming meetings in August and October.

“I think there is an even chance of rate change in this or the next policy. US rates, its bond yields have gone up significantly, oil prices have gone higher and so that has created a situation that there is less liquidity in the system and hence bond yields here have gone up.”

The uncertainty in the global financial market has also increased since the last policy, with a tightening in financial condition resulting in an outflow by foreign portfolio investors. Moreover, the growing economic problems in the eurozone has added to the uncertainty.

A note by Kotak Economic research said: “We pencil in 50 bps of rate hike in FY2019 (earlier pause) possibly split between August and October. But we do believe that the MPC votes are likely to be evenly balanced in the June meeting thereby keeping the chances of a rate hike alive in June.”

Indian manufacturing PMI growth slows in May, inflationary pressures pick up

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Activity in India's manufacturing sector grew at a weaker pace in May from the previous month, a business survey showed on Friday, while inflationary pressures picked up again amid rising oil prices in another sign that an interest rate hike is around the corner.

A slower expansion in output and domestic demand helped push the Nikkei Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index, compiled by IHS Markit, down to 51.2 in May from April's 51.6. It also lagged a Reuters poll median of 51.5.

But it remained above the 50-mark that separates growth from contraction for the tenth month in a row.

More significantly, the survey yet again showed a build-up of inflationary pressures that would no doubt be watched closely by policymakers.

It backs a Reuters poll of economists that forecast the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to hike rates in August, a dramatic turnaround from just a month ago when a survey predicted an increase only in the second half of 2019.

"A build-up of inflationary pressures re-emerged with input cost and output charge inflation at the strongest since February, due to the upswing in global oil prices," Aashna Dodhia, an economist at IHS Markit, said in a release.

A surge in oil prices over the past few months means India's retail inflation has remained above the RBI's target of 4 percent for six months, increasing pressure on the central bank to act sooner than previously expected.

"In efforts to contain inflation and maintain financial stability, it is likely that the RBI will raise interest rates over the summer," said Dodhia.

Friday's survey also showed foreign demand for manufactured goods rose at the strongest pace in three months, though the same cannot be inferred about domestic demand.

A sub-index tracking overall demand declined to 51.6 last month from 52.0 in April, suggesting domestic demand may still be recovering from the botched implementation of a new national tax system last year.

So overall output expanded at a slower pace, leading firms to hire only modestly, and optimism about future output declined after hitting a nine-month high in April.

India GDP grew at its fastest annual pace in nearly two years during the January-March quarter, expanding a better-than-expected 7.7 percent, and retaining its title as the fastest growing major economy by beating China's growth rate of 6.8 percent.

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Death toll from Nipah virus rose to 15 in Kerala

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The death toll due to Nipah virus in the state rose to 15, with a 28-year-old man succumbing to the deadly virus here, a health department official said today.

Akhil, a native of Karassery, who was undergoing treatment at the Kozhikode Medical college hospital (KMCH) since May 29, died last night, the official said.

Two more persons, confirmed of having contracted the virus are being treated at KMCH, he said.

Besides, 1,353 people who had been in contact with the affected persons before the confirmation of the disease, are under observation, the official said.

Yesterday, Madhusudhanan (55) of Nellikode in the district, who was undergoing treatment in a private hospital here also breathed his last.

He was working as a Senior superintendent in the Kozhikode District Court.

The outbreak of the Nipah virus infection, a newly emerging zoonosis that causes severe disease in both animals and humans, is suspected to be from an unused well in Perambra which was infested with bats.

The natural host of the virus is believed to be fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family, Pteropus genus.

Delhi govt can't even waive tax on films due to GST: Manish Sisodia

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In the name of "cooperative federalism", the Centre is reducing powers of states, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said today and claimed that since the GST came into force, the Delhi government cannot even waive tax on a film on its own.

Sisodia, who besides finance, holds art, culture and languages portfolio, made the remarks here at the screening of 'Life of an Outcast', a crowd-funded film which highlights the plight of Dalits.

"Ever since GST came into force, we don't even have the power to make a film tax-free in Delhi," he said.

Touted as India's biggest tax reform since Independence, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was implemented in July last year. Under the GST, which subsumed all taxes, a state government no longer has the power to waive tax for films.

"By chance, we have reached an era, where in the name of federal structure, in the name of cooperative federalism, states don't have even this much power that they can make tax-free any good movie, play or other art-form presentation which is thought-provoking, important for society," the deputy chief minister said.

Sisodia, who is also the education minister, stressed on the need for films highlighting social evils which are still prevalent in the country.

The film's director Pawan K Shrivastava said he plans to get the movie sub-titled in 10 Indian languages and screen it across 500 villages, besides releasing it in urban theatres and at film festivals.

At this point, Sisodia interjected to suggest that the "problem of caste bias" was not confined to rural areas.

"Don't think that the problem is only in rural areas. The kind of (public) policies, mindset you want to talk about. All the newspapers are printed here (in cities), the media is here, advocates and policy-makers are also here. The system is here. If the film focuses more here, then the source of mud, can be cleaned," he said.

Falling global crude prices spell no relief for Indian consumers; petrol hits Rs 86.24 in Mumbai

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The steep rise in fuel prices comes at an inopportune time for the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government, which completed four years in power last week. Petrol and diesel prices have been on a tear over the last couple of weeks, and continue to climb even as global prices have begun to ease.

An unchecked rise in retail fuel prices will feed into inflation before long, and with the general election barely a year away, the government faces a difficult choice.

Should crude prices continue to rise, the government will have to decide between taking a hit on its own revenue from fuel, and burdening oil marketing companies by asking them to absorb the higher prices. Simply passing on higher prices to consumers will certainly hurt its prospects in the election next year.

A persistent complaint against the Modi government has been that consumers have not received the full benefits of falling crude prices in the past, but have to shell out more when crude prices rise.

When prices were falling, the government kept hiking excise duty on fuel to make up for the fall in revenue, since taxes on oil are levied as a percentage of its price. So when oil prices fall sharply, the government's import bill shrinks, but its revenue declines too.

Whether deliberate or not, oil marketing companies had suspended the dynamic fuel pricing system at the start of the month, only to resume it two days after the Karnataka election concluded on May 12. Since then, oil marketing companies have hiked fuel prices for 16 consecutive days.

Critics of the government say fuel prices were kept in check to woo voters in the southern Indian state.

During his electoral campaign in 2014, Prime Minister Modi had attacked the Congress on rising fuel prices back then and said that under the BJP’s rule, people would witness a steep decline in petrol and diesel prices, and the rupee-dollar exchange rate. But, truth be told, the PM has clearly failed on this front.

Global crude prices have been on an uptrend since the start of the year, thanks to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). This meant that the government had to follow suit at some point and hike domestic prices. However, as Russia and the oil cartel agreed to increase supplies, crude prices have eased off considerably.

Brent crude was up 31 cents at $75.61 a barrel early on May 29. It had previously settled at $75.30, which was its lowest since May 8.

Price change

On May 29, the price of petrol was hiked by 16 paise to Rs 86.24 per litre in Mumbai, while that of diesel was hiked by 15 paise to Rs 73.79 per litre. In the national capital, petrol price was increased by 16 paise to Rs 78.43 per litre, and that of diesel was raised by 14 paise to Rs 69.31 per litre.

Since the dynamic pricing system resumed on May 14, petrol and diesel prices have risen by Rs 3.80 and Rs 3.38, respectively, in Delhi.

Failure to curb prices

On May 25, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari had suggested that petrol and diesel should be brought under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime to curb the rise in price. Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had also said that the government will intervene to reduce prices. However, nothing has been done so far to reduce the burden on the common man.

What experts say

"If you look at the way stock markets have performed, oil marketing companies have underperformed. This is because the market doesn’t believe that the decrease in prices in global crude, would be passed on [to customers]," said Sreesankar Radhakrishnan, Co-head - Equities at Prabhudas Lilladher.

"Moreover, the government has been pretty clear on pricing and is unlikely to reduce excise, which is one factor why oil marketing companies could continue to underperform," he said.

In a recent analysis of crude oil prices, BNP Paribas said, "Given our baseline estimates of robust demand growth and moderate supply growth we expect the global crude oil market to remain in deficit for the remainder of 2018 and potentially into 2019."

"Demand could disappoint, notably in the non-OECD bloc which accounts for slightly more than half of global demand. The second principal risk, in our view, is higher-than-expected inflation, notably in the US. This could reflect strong growth which is supportive for crude demand, but also would involve tighter Fed monetary policy and a strong US dollar.

"We find it difficult to see Brent crude prices materially above $80/bbl (close to current spot prices) in such an environment. As such, we believe the risk/reward for crude prices is currently skewed to the downside."

RBI appoints Sudha Balakrishnan as its first CFO

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National Securities Depository Limited (NSDL) executive Sudha Balakrishnan has been appointed the first chief financial officer (CFO) of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) effective May 15.

This is the biggest organisational change since Urjit Patel took over as RBI Governor in September 2016.

Balakrishnan, a chartered accountant, was until recently a vice-president at the NSDL, India’s first and largest depository. She will be the 12th executive director at RBI, and will serve a three-year term.

RBI has been on the look out for a CFO since May 2017 when it first advertised for the post. A foreign bank executive was reportedly selected for the post, but declined to join due to differences in remuneration.

National Securities Depository Limited (NSDL) executive Sudha Balakrishnan has been appointed the first chief financial officer (CFO) of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) effective May 15, according to a news report.

This is the biggest organisational change since Urjit Patel took over as RBI Governor in September 2016.

Balakrishnan, a chartered accountant, was until recently a vice-president at the NSDL, India’s first and largest depository. She will be the 12th executive director at RBI, and will serve a three-year term.

RBI has been on the look out for a CFO since May 2017 when it first advertised for the post. A foreign bank executive was reportedly selected for the post, but declined to join due to differences in remuneration.

India state banks' bailout stumbles as losses mount

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When the government announced a surprise $32 billion bailout plan for the nation's state-controlled banks last October, credit rating firms and the nation's central bank saw it as a huge step to getting the industry back to robust health and lending more to businesses and consumers.

But their optimism may have been majorly misplaced judging by the latest numbers coming out of the banks. And that may in turn crimp economic growth in Asia's third-largest economy.

Thirteen state banks have reported combined losses of $8.6 billion for the year to March - including $6.5 billion in the last quarter - and their non-performing loans have surged nearly a fifth from end-December levels. Two state banks have reported modest profits and six are still to report.

While many of the banks, including top lender State Bank of India, have said the worst is probably over, they still see one or two more quarters of pain. That means more bad loans getting disclosed and loss provisions shooting up as a central bank order will cause more debt defaulters to be dragged into bankruptcy.

"The government capital is only going to just plug the hole, there is definitely no growth capital," said Udit Kariwala, an analyst at Fitch Ratings' India Ratings & Research. He said smaller state lenders with limited ability to raise capital from the market will have to curtail their lending.

The 21 state lenders hold two-thirds of India's banking assets, and accounted for the bulk of the record $150 billion of soured loans in the banking sector last year.

The banks, which have been blamed for indiscriminate lending to sectors such as metals and power that turned sour, can still be held responsible for much of the balance sheet carnage.

A more than $2 billion fraud at India's second-biggest state lender, Punjab National Bank, disclosed less than four months ago, not only left a hole but also underlined how weak the banks' grip on risk is.

Exacerbating the problems is a move in February by the Reserve Bank of India, the nation's central bank, to withdraw half a dozen loan restructuring schemes that banking experts said were helping banks to avoid disclosing dud loans. It also tightened other rules governing bad loan accounting.

In addition, the RBI this month banned Dena Bank, a loss-making smaller state-run lender, from making any new loans. Days later, Allahabad Bank, another smaller state-run lender, said it had been asked by the regulator not to increase the number of risky loans and costly deposits on its books due to its capital and leverage position

Bank analysts say more state banks could come under similar restrictions aimed at conserving limited capital. The RBI already has 11 state lenders under its "prompt corrective action" framework that restricts them from expanding.

That is not all. Capital needs will also be exposed by global banking rules fully kicking in by March 2019. They mandate banks to have a minimum core capital ratio of 8 percent, and at least six banks, including PNB are short of that number.

ELECTION AGENDA

Under New Delhi's recapitalisation plan - aimed mainly at driving credit growth in an economy where bank loans are the main source of funding for everything from buying a car to building a port - the government has already injected about 880 billion rupees ($13 billion) into 20 banks as of end-March.

It has 650 billion rupees to inject in the current fiscal year, and the banks themselves were supposed to raise 580 billion rupees through share and asset sales.

Some, including SBI and PNB, last year raised funds from share sales, but several others have postponed such plans.

Kariwala at India Ratings estimates the banks now need 800 billion to 1 trillion rupees to fund soured-asset provisions and maintain minimum capital ratios alone, which means there will be little left from the bailout for lending growth.

Some bank analysts say the government may have to increase the size of the bailout.

Certainly, bank lending - and its impact on growth - will be on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's agenda ahead of a general election that has to be held within a year.

"Given how the stocks are doing, the nearly 0.6 trillion rupees banks need to raise looks difficult. So, the government may have to slightly increase the amount they are planning to inject," said Srikanth Vadlamani, vice president of the Financial Institutions Group at Moody's Investors Service.

Moody's said this week that PNB alone would need 120-130 billion rupees of new capital in the year to March to achieve an 8 percent core capital ratio. At the end of the last quarter it was at just 5.95 percent.

IMPORTERS' FUNDING CHANNEL SHUT

Businesses, especially the smaller ones, are already complaining of not getting the loans they want.

In February to March, lending to small businesses dropped 0.2 percent, though overall lending grew 5.9 percent.

For importers, a major channel of funding - overseas credit through letters of undertakings from Indian banks - has been shut after the PNB fraud, forcing those businesses to depend more on domestic rupee loans.

The Indian government will ensure that all state banks including the weaker ones meet the minimum regulatory capital ratio, said Rajeev Kumar, the top bureaucrat overseeing the banking sector at the finance ministry.

He also said with the planned recapitalisation some of the banks will have room to grow, while bad loan recoveries in the bankruptcy process will further aid banks' bottomlines, He said he expects the banks woes to subside in a quarter or two.

"Whenever you do the cleaning part, a bit of dust, a bit of pain, upfront is okay," said Kumar. "It's only one quarter that you have to just wait."

Subsidising petrol, diesel will be at the cost of welfare schemes, says Nitin Gadkari

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Union Minister Nitin Gadkari has said that subsidising petrol and diesel to bring down their retail prices will take money away from government’s social welfare schemes, according to an Indian Express report.

Gadkari said that the increase in oil prices is “unavoidable” as India is now linked to the global economy.

“This is an unavoidable, economic situation. It is directly linked to the global economy. If we have to sell it (petrol/diesel) cheap, it means we will have to buy it at higher prices and subsidise it here,” Gadkari told the newspaper on May 23.

“If we subsidise that, all the money from our social security schemes will vanish,” he added.

The union minister said that money may have to be taken away from irrigation schemes, free LPG for villages scheme, rural electrification project, Mudra scheme and other Central schemes.

“Now there is a health insurance scheme planned for 10 crore families. There is the crop insurance scheme. We have only a limited amount of money. So if we subsidise (petrol/diesel), toh gadbad ho jaayega [that would create issues],” he stressed.

When asked whether taxes levied on petroleum products should be cut to bring prices down, Gadkari explained, “That is the foundation of the economy. If anything has to be decided on that, our finance minister will decide.”

Gadkari stated that the government was working on increasing use of biodiesel, methanol, ethanol and electric vehicles as alternatives.

Meanwhile, petrol and diesel prices continued to soar and touched another peak on May 24. Petrol was hiked by 26 paise to Rs 85.29 per litre in Mumbai.

This is the 11th straight hike in a row. Diesel prices on the other hand, were hiked by 16 paise to Rs 72.96 per litre in Mumbai. Petrol prices in Delhi were increased by 26 paise to Rs 77.47 per litre and diesel by 15 paise to Rs 68.53 per litre.

Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, traded above $79.47 a barrel on the ICE.

While a reduction in excise duty is being considered, the Centre is in discussion with states to cut Value Added Tax (VAT) on petrol and diesel.

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