Sunday, March 17, 2013

Monetary policy: the case for an interest rate cut

Industry as well some members of the fraternity of economists are clamouring for a rate cut on the ground that it will stimulate growth. Those oppose to it say the RBI can't afford a rate cut when consumer inflation is in the double digits (and has risen lately) and the current account deficit is alarming. I think there is a case for a rate cut but not because it will stimulate growth. The case I would make is a different one.

Let me address the reasons given for not having a rate cut. Inflation is now driven by food inflation and demand management can't do much about that. As for the impact of a rate cut on the CAD, the RBI governor addressed the issue in his recent I G Patel memorial lecture at Oxford:

The risk of the CAD widening further because of the stimulus offered by the rate cut is much less than apprehended for a host of reasons. First, when growth is sluggish as is the case now, the rate cut is unlikely to translate into import demand. Second, the rate cut was a response to softening inflation. Lower inflation will improve the competitiveness of our exports. Third, the rate cut was effected during a phase of easing commodity prices - particularly of oil - which will reduce the pressure on the CAD. Finally, empirical evidence shows that in emerging economies such as India, import demand is less a function of lower interest rate than of increased income. In other words, the marginal propensity to import by borrowing money is small.
However, the case for a rate cut is not that it will stimulate growth by boosting investment. Real interest rates today are way below the real interest rate of 7.8% in the 2004-08 boom period, so high interest rates are not why growth is being held back. The villains are policy and regulatory uncertainty and a weak global environment. There is not a damned thing fiscal policy can do to stimulate growth because if the fiscal deficit is not brought down as promised, the rating agencies will downgrade us.

The finance minister has said his principal worry is the CAD. His budget was driven by his concern that any fiscal deterioration would cause a downgrade and result in a flight of FII flows. We need, as he said, $75 bn to finance our CAD. An interest rate cut  would improve corporate profits and valuations and hence keep FII interest in India alive. It would also help banks access capital needed to meet Basel 3 norms and ease credit constraints in growth which seem to have emerged. (Proof: SLR holdings are 30% instead of the mandatory 23%). A cut in interest rate, as the RBI governor points out in his lecture, might cause FII flows into debt to slow down but it would still have a positive effect on equities. Monetary policy would thus reinforce fiscal policy in sustaining the financing the our large CAD.

More in ET column, Will Mint Street and Dalal Street unit to sustain FII flows?



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Parag said...

Sir, you may want to moderate the comments.. lots of these are spams. Btw, I still think that increased money supply due to lowered rates will not help inflation go down. Don't you think part of the additional money supply will flow to people who are consuming less than what they would ideally? One can argue that things will improve for such people.. but those who are deprived of such flows will suffer.

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