Low inflation provides room for policy rate cut: Gokarn

The central bank has raised rates 13 times between March 2010 and October 2011 in bid to rein in inflation

Ahead of its annual monetary policy, the Reserve Bank of India said cutting policy rate to promote investment depends upon moderation in inflation and fiscal consolidation.

"We need to have low inflation, we need to have rising investment ratio, we need to have strong fiscal consolidation and this in turn provides space for monetary policy to actually support investment ..." RBI deputy governor Subir Gokarn said at a summit.

RBI is scheduled to announce annual monetary policy for 2012-13 on 17 April 2012. There is widespread expectation that the central bank may cut policy rate later this month to prop up growth and investment.

RBI has been following tight monetary policy stance since beginning of 2010 following spike in prices of commodity. The central bank has raised rates 13 times between March 2010 and October 2011 in bid to rein in inflation. Inflation rose to 6.95% in February, 2012 from 6.55% in January.

Since October 2011, the repo or the short-term lending rate of the RBI stands at 8.5%. Repo rate is the signalling rate. Other policy rates like reverse repo and bank rate adjust automatically with change in the repo rate.

Last month, RBI slashed CRR (cash reserve ratio), the percentage of deposits that banks have to keep with the RBI, from 5.5% to 4.75%. With this, the central bank had infused Rs48,000 crore into the economy.

This was the second reduction in the CRR since the 24 January 2012 policy announcement, when it had slashed CRR by 50 basis points releasing Rs32,000 crore into the system. Amid tight liquidity condition, bankers are expecting further cut in the CRR by the RBI.

 "My personal stance is that cut CRR. Everything else follows. Lending rate will come down eventually. I would expect 75 basis point cut in CRR," SBI chairman Pratip Chaudhuri had said after the pre-monetary policy consultation of Indian Banks' Association (IBA) with the RBI.
 
"We saw last year that growth was not very substantial. We have seen the overall interest rate scenario reigning high. So, perhaps some policy measures are required to ensure growth is also catered to without compromising on inflation," MD Mallya, IBA chairman and CMD of Bank of Baroda said. Mallya said overall liquidity is likely to improve after government spending starts.

About asset quality, Mallya had said things would improve for better as economy started picking up.

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Vested interests from developed economies stalling big projects in India

The letter to the Prime Minister said "There is a need for evolving a strong mechanism to check the vested interests of these developed countries to derail the economy of the developing countries like India”

Indian miners' body Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI) fears that vested interests in the US and Western Europe are stalling big projects like POSCO's  $12 billion steel mill and Vedanta's $1.7 billion plans and has sought prime minister Manmohan Singh's intervention in the matter.

FIMI secretary general RK Sharma told PTI that “There is a concerted move by vested interests in US and Western Europe for stalling economic development in India and we have sent a letter to PM on these issues.”

The letter to the Prime Minister said "There is a need for evolving a strong mechanism to check the vested interests of these developed countries to derail the economy of the developing countries like India.”

Mentioning a latest report by international environmental NGO Greenpeace FIMI said that it is easier to stop an industry before it begins. Vested interests have percolated extensively in this country particularly in Odisha.

He added: “I have every apprehension that denial of environment clearance to Niyamgiri Bauxite Mining Project in Odisha and withdrawal of environmental clearance by National Green Tribunal was such an effort by US and Western countries.”
 
The letter said that “Since countries like us who are having natural resources will be able to set up the mineral-based industries at very competitive prices compared to what these developed countries manufacture, the developed countries put all sorts of impediments through local NGOs and provoking people against these mineral based industries in developing countries.”

 It added that the Prime Minister himself had talked about vested interests involvement in creating a problem in Kudankulam Atomic Power Project.

It added: “Once you (Prime Minister) made public statement, everything came out in the open: NGOs were booked and the whole movement fizzled out.”

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China to end monopoly of state-owned banks

“Consensus has emerged among leadership of the ruling Communist Party to let private capital play greater role to reduce, if not break, the state sector’s banking monopoly,” Premier Wen Jiabao said

Challenging for the first time the monopoly of the state-owned banks, China has announced plans to broaden the financial sector reforms by allowing private capital financing. Consensus has emerged among leadership of the ruling Communist Party to let private capital play greater role to reduce, if not break, the state sector’s banking monopoly, Premier Wen Jiabao said.

This is the first time China has acknowledged the monopoly of state-owned banks following last month's announcement of a pilot project to reform the financial sector in Wenzhou, an eastern coastal city with a tradition of entrepreneurship.

Wen, who along with President Hu Jintao and other top leaders is set to retire this year, made the remarks while visiting some companies in Fujian province and the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, state-run China Daily reported on Thursday.

Analysts say the move to open up financial capital was aimed at increasing investment and competition in financial and banking sectors of the world’s second largest economy, giving more scope for its currency Yuan to play bigger role.

Economists have long complained about a lack of progress in reform of the state-dominated banking and financial industry and of inadequate service for the country’s large number of small and medium-sized enterprises.

 “Regarding raising funds for your businesses, I think it has been too easy, quite frankly, for our banks to make profits,” Wen told businessmen during his visit to the factories.

He added: "The reason is that a small number of large banks are in a monopolistic position. It is only from them, and nowhere else, that companies get the loans they need." This is why we've now come to make way for private capital to enter the financial services sector, which ultimately requires breaking monopolies. There is already a consensus among the central leadership, which is reflected, as you can see, by the pilot reform in Wenzhou. "I think some successful practices from Wenzhou's pilot reform can be introduced nationally. Some of the practices may even be immediately implemented."

Under the current system, China's state-owned banks live off an effectively guaranteed spread between deposit and lending rates that are set by the central bank. The spread now stands at around 3 percentage points. The so-called Big Four banks — Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Agricultural Bank of China — raked in a combined profit of about 630 billion yuan ($100 billion) last year against the backdrop of slowing economic growth.
 
The Wenzhou reform was announced by the government on 28 March 2012. It allows private financial services, including setting up village banks and rural financial cooperatives.

Wang Jianhui, chief economist with Southwest Securities Co Ltd, said that a more competitive banking sector would significantly boost the vitality of private businesses.

“The monopoly in the sector makes getting loans expensive. Private businesses, especially smaller ones, have to get cheaper loans to flourish,” he told the daily.
Qiu Zhiming, president of the privately owned Beifa Group, a maker of stationery in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, said big state-owned lenders are charging his company twice as much as the benchmark interest rate by imposing various charges.

He said banks always think up new ways to charge his company more and if he doesn't accept it then he does not get the loan. "At the end of the day you find that a significant part of the profit goes to the banks. Something has to be done, urgently," he said.

The financial sector reforms come at a time when the economy is set to hit a slow-growth cycle. GDP growth may hit a three-year low of 8.4% in the first quarter, Zhang Xiaoqiang, deputy minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, said. That figure implies an annualised quarter-on-quarter growth of just 6.5%, below the 7.5% target this year.

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