Unmesh Kulkarni – Managing Director and Senior Advisor at Julius Baer India
The monetary policy was on expected lines, and the fixed income markets were pretty much anticipating the 50 basis point hike in policy rates, especially after the 75 bp hike by the US Fed along with their hawkish messaging.
Overall, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) is concerned about the emerging shocks on the global front – Covid shocks followed by Ukraine shocks and, now, the rate hike aggression shocks by global central banks – as these shocks tend to have spillover effect on other economies.
On the other hand, the RBI Governor exuded a lot of confidence around the state of the Indian economy – resilience of domestic demand, encouraging signs around credit growth, capacity utilisation, the government's thrust on capital expenditure, and the strength of our forex reserves along with better performance of rupee vis-à-vis other currencies.
On the liquidity front, given the advanced stage of tightening that we are already in, one would have expected an official change in the policy stance to include the word “tightening”; however, the MPC has chosen to stay with the stance “withdrawal of accommodation”. RBI has been successful in bringing down the excess system liquidity through its VRRR (variable rate reverse repo) auctions. The money markets have reacted sharply to the tightening liquidity, with the call rates hovering around 5.75 percent – 5.85 percent in the past one week, and closer to the enhanced repo rate of 5.90 percent.
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Inflation remains on the higher side and above the RBI’s comfort zone. The RBI has retained its overall projections for inflation (as per the previous policy) and expects CPI to moderate sequentially over the next few quarters, from the current expected 7.1 percent in the second quarter to five percent in FY24. Despite easing of crude oil prices and food inflation, RBI perceives uncertainty on the overall inflation trajectory on supply concerns as well as the strength of the US dollar (leading to imported inflation).
Given the lower-than-expected GDP growth in the first quarter (13.5 percent versus projected 16.2 percent), the MPC has lowered its growth outlook for FY23 from 7.2 percent to seven percent, but raised the growth outlook for the coming quarters, as well as for the first quarter of FY24 (7.2 percent versus earlier projection of 6.7 percent). This projection seems optimistic and will likely be tested over time, as the world is staring at a recession, and not a phase of accelerated growth, as a fallout of the continuous and massive rate hikes by global central banks.
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Overall, the policy managed to perform a balancing act, between inflation and global concerns on the one hand, and providing optimism around the domestic growth/demand situation on the other. We do expect the RBI to continue on the path of rate hikes for some more time (December and February policies).
Although the Governor mentioned that the MPC would avoid providing guidance around a terminal policy rate, it would be reasonable to assume a repo rate of 6.5 percent at the end of FY23, especially against the backdrop of an aggressive Fed, dollar strengthening and rising global bond yields.
In the near term, as fixed income markets had already priced in this 50 bp rate hike, there is a possibility of some pullback in yields; however, the yield curve will continue to be under upward pressure until the markets start sensing that we are close to the end of the tightening.