RBI keeps repo rate unchanged at 4.0%, says economy experiencing unprecedented stress
Reserve Bank of IndiaFile photo

RBI keeps repo rate unchanged at 4.0%, says economy experiencing unprecedented stress

Mumbai, August 6, 2020

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) today kept its key policy repo rate under the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) unchanged at 4.0 per cent, pointing out that the economy is experiencing unprecedented stress in an austere global environment against the background of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has hit the world.

The decision was taken at a three-day meeting of the RBI's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) held from August 4-6 on the basis of its assessment of the current and evolving macroeconomic situation.

Consequently, the reverse repo rate under the LAF remains unchanged at 3.35 per cent and the marginal standing facility (MSF) rate and the Bank Rate at 4.25 per cent.

The MPC also decided to continue with the accommodative stance as long as it is necessary to revive growth and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, while ensuring that inflation remains within the target going forward.

"These decisions are in consonance with the objective of achieving the medium-term target for consumer price index (CPI) inflation of 4 per cent within a band of +/- 2 per cent, while supporting growth," the Monetary Policy Statement, 2020-21 issued by the MPC said.

"The MPC noted that the economy is experiencing unprecedented stress in an austere global environment. Extreme uncertainty characterises the outlook, which is heavily contingent upon the intensity, spread and duration of the pandemic – particularly the heightened risks associated with a second wave of infections – and the discovery of the vaccine.

"In these conditions, supporting the recovery of the economy assumes primacy in the conduct of monetary policy. In pursuit of this objective, the stance of monetary policy remains accommodative as long as it is necessary to revive growth and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. While space for further monetary policy action in support of this stance is available, it is important to use it judiciously and opportunistically to maximise the beneficial effects for underlying economic activity," the resolution of the MPC said.

"At the same time, the MPC is conscious that its primary mandate is to achieve the medium-term target for CPI inflation of 4 per cent within a band of +/- 2 per cent. It also recognises that the headline CPI prints of April-May,2020 require more clarity. At the current juncture, the inflation objective itself is further obscured by (a) the spike in food prices because of floods in eastern India and ongoing lockdown related disruptions; and (b) cost-push pressures in the form of high taxes on petroleum products, hikes in telecom charges, rising raw material costs reflected in upward revisions in steel prices and rise in gold prices on safe haven demand.

"Given the uncertainty surrounding the inflation outlook and taking into consideration the extremely weak state of the economy in the midst of an unprecedented shock from the ongoing pandemic, it is prudent to pause and remain watchful of incoming data as to how the outlook unravels.

"Meanwhile, the cumulative reduction of 250 basis points since February 2019 is working its way through the economy, lowering interest rates in money, bond and credit markets, and narrowing down spreads. Financing conditions have eased considerably, enabling financial flows via financial markets, especially at a time when banks remain highly risk averse.

"Accordingly, the MPC decides to stay on hold with regard to the policy rate and remain watchful for a durable reduction in inflation to use the available space to support the revival of the economy," the resolution said.

All members of the MPC – Chetan Ghate, Pami Dua, Ravindra H. Dholakia, Mridul K. Saggar, Michael Debabrata Patra and RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das – unanimously voted for keeping the policy repo rate unchanged and continue with the accommodative stance as long as necessary to revive growth and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, while ensuring that inflation remains within the target going forward.

In its assessment of the global economy, the MPC noted that, since it last met in May 2020, global economic activity has remained fragile and in retrenchment in several geographies.

"While the uneasy and differently-paced withdrawal of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in some countries enabled a sequential improvement in high frequency indicators during May-July, a renewed surge in COVID-19 infections in major economies and threats of a second wave of infections appear to have weakened these early signs of revival. Contractions in economic activity have been more severe in Q2:2020 than in Q1, and the near-term outlook points to a slow, uneven and hesitant recovery pushed into the second half of the year, with risks steeply slanted to the downside.

"Among advanced economies (AEs), output in the US and the Euro area underwent a deeper contraction in Q2:2020 than in the preceding quarter. Emerging market economies (EMEs) are expected to shrink in Q2 as reflected in high frequency indicators," it said.

On the domestic front, the MPC said economic activity had started to recover from the lows of April-May following the uneven re-opening of some parts of the country in June.

However, surges of fresh infections have forced re-clamping of lockdowns in several cities and states. Consequently, several high frequency indicators have levelled off, it said.

"The agricultural sector has emerged as a bright spot. Its prospects have strengthened on the back of good spatial and temporal progress of the southwest monsoon," it said.

The MPC said the pace of contraction of industrial production, measured by the index of industrial production (IIP), moderated to (-) 34.7 per cent in May from (-) 57.6 per cent a month ago, with the easing of lockdowns in different parts of the country. All manufacturing sub-sectors, except pharmaceuticals, remained in negative territory. The output of core industries in June contracted for the fourth successive month though with a considerable moderation.

The Reserve Bank’s business assessment index (BAI) for Q1:2020-21 hit its lowest mark in the survey’s history. The manufacturing PMI remained in contraction, shrinking further to 46.0 in July from 47.2 in the preceding month.

High frequency indicators of services sector activity for May-June indicate signs of a modest resumption of economic activity, especially in rural areas, although at levels lower than a year ago, it said.

As far as the outlook is concerned, the MPC said supply chain disruptions on account of COVID-19 persist, with implications for both food and non-food prices. A more favourable food inflation outlook may emerge as the bumper rabi harvest eases prices of cereals, especially if open market sales and public distribution offtake are expanded on the back of significantly higher procurement.

"The relatively moderate increases in minimum support prices (MSP) for the kharif crops and monsoon are also supportive of benign inflation prospects. Nonetheless, upside risks to food prices remain. The abatement of price pressure in key vegetables is delayed and remains contingent upon normalisation of supplies. Protein based food items could also emerge as a pressure point, given the tight demand-supply balance in the case of pulses.

"The inflation outlook of non-food categories is, however, fraught with uncertainty. Higher domestic taxes on petroleum products have resulted in elevated domestic pump prices and will impart broad-based cost-push pressures going forward. Volatility in financial markets and rising asset prices also pose upside risks to the outlook.

"Taking into consideration all these factors, headline inflation may remain elevated in Q2:2020-21, but may moderate in H2:2020-21 aided by large favourable base effects," it said.

Turning to the growth outlook, the MPC said the recovery in the rural economy is expected to be robust, buoyed by the progress in kharif sowing. Manufacturing firms responding to the Reserve Bank’s industrial outlook survey expect domestic demand to recover gradually from Q2 and to sustain through Q1:2021-22. On the other hand, consumer confidence turned more pessimistic in July relative to the preceding round of the Reserve Bank’s survey. External demand is expected to remain anaemic under the weight of the global recession and contraction in global trade.

"Taking into consideration the above factors, real GDP growth in Q2-Q4 is expected to evolve along the lines noted in the May resolution. For the year 2020-21, as a whole, real GDP growth is expected to be negative. An early containment of the COVID-19 pandemic may impart an upside to the outlook. A more protracted spread of the pandemic, deviations from the forecast of a normal monsoon and global financial market volatility are the key downside risks.

"The June release of headline inflation after a gap of two months and imputed prints of the CPI for April-May have added uncertainty to the inflation outlook. The NSO has adopted best practices in producing these imputations for the purpose of business continuity in the face of challenges to data collection due to the nation-wide lockdown. The NSO has, however, not provided inflation rates for April and May. For the purpose of monetary formulation and conduct, therefore, the MPC is of the view that CPI prints for April and May can be regarded as a break in the CPI series," the resolution added.

The minutes of the MPC’s meeting will be published by August 20, 2020.


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