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Bankers see more rate cuts in the offing

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MUMBAI: With the change in the monetary policy stance to “neutral” from “calibrated tightening” and a benign inflation forecast, the Reserve Bank may deliver more positive surprises on the rate front, say bankers.

At the sixth bi-monthly monetary policy review Thursday the
RBI surprisingly reduced the repo rate by 25 basis points to 6.25 percent and also changed the policy stance to ‘neutral’ from the earlier ‘calibrated tightening’ it had said in the December review, signalling further softening on its approach to rates if the inflation prints at the projected lower levels.

“The policy rightfully signals that rates may further soften further going forward, with the headline inflation numbers consistently undershooting the
RBI inflation mandate and inflation expectations materially down,” State Bank’s Rajnish Kumar said.

The central bank also lowered its headline inflation forecast for the next year, and expects the numbers to print in at 2.8 percent in the March quarter, 3.2-3.4 percent in first half of the next fiscal and 3.9 percent in the third quarter of FY20.

In December, the retail price index had cooled off to an 18–month low of 2.2 percent.

“Going forward, the neutral stance certainly provides flexibility to act in line with the data flow. This suggests that, unless food prices reverse sharply or inflation suddenly surges, there could be space for another rate cut in the current easing cycle,” HDFC Bank‘s Abheek Barua said.

“The sharp lowering of inflation forecast can enable further policy easing in April,” ICICI Bank‘s B Prasanna said.

There is an emphasis on the need to support growth if inflation objectives are achieved and the MPC noted that the slack in the economy is rising, Prasanna said.

Indian Banks Association chairman and the head of Punjab National Bank Sunil Mehta said Das’ maiden policy has a big positive effect on the banking sector.

Standard Chartered’s Zarin Daruwala said the
RBI has been supplying liquidity through sustained OMOs and with this rate cut, there could be a moderation in borrowing rates.

“Overall, the intent is growth supporting and to alleviate the fear of liquidity deficit from the market,” Bank of India’s Dinabandhu Mohapatra, said.

According to Bandhan Bank‘s CS Ghosh, today’s rate cut will help boost credit flow and also drive consumption.

SBI’s Kumar said there are several innovative announcements in the policy apart from a rate cut that can potentially trigger a new paradigm for financial markets.

The decision to rationalise risk weights for on- lending to rated-NBFCs will enable better price discovery, lower capital requirement and facilitate better credit flow from banks to them, he said.

“This will enable stronger/well rated NBFCs to raise more funds at competitive price,” Mohapatra said.

The central bank also raised the limit of collateral free agriculture loan from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.60 lakh.

Mohapatra said it will enhance coverage of small and marginal farmers in formal banking system and will help in growth of agricultural activities and agrarian economy.

Daruwala said providing banks with increased flexibility on bulk deposits is a welcome move and will assist them in better managing their asset liability mismatches.

Kumar said opening up the ECB route for applicants under the IBC could facilitate a faster turnaround.

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