RBI governor’s perennial dilemma: Growth Vs inflation

The RBI is again facing a chicken and egg situation, as it has the unenviable task of deciding its priority, whether controlling inflation or propelling growth, when it announces its annual monetary policy on 17 April, 2012

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is again facing a chicken and egg situation, as it has the unenviable task of deciding its priority, whether controlling inflation or propelling growth, when it announces its annual monetary policy on 17 April, 2012.  The central bank has been flooded with suggestions and expectations, bordering on pressure, to cut interest rates and ease liquidity with a view to encourage growth, which has fallen below 7% during 2011-12. The macro-economic indicators, however, are giving contrary signals, indicating on the one hand continued high inflation and on the other, slower growth of industrial production. The index of industrial production (IIP) numbers of February 2012 just released shows a growth rate of 4.1%, which is much below expectations, What will the RBI do under these circumstances is being watched with keen interest.

RBI as the monetary authority has the responsibility of controlling inflation and all its monetary policies in the recent past have been directed towards this goal. Though there were some indications of the inflation getting into moderation, the wholesale price index continues to be just under 7% and the consumer price index is very close to 9%, which do not augur well for any reduction in interest rates, at least for the present. Unless the inflation is bought down to 5% on a continuous basis, the RBI should not risk cutting down interest rates in the name of growth.

However, there is a need to provide liquidity in the system, as the deposit growth has been sluggish during the previous year. As on 23 March 2012, year-on-year non-food credit grew at 16.8% against 21.3% during the corresponding previous year.  Deposit growth, on the other hand, has fallen from 15.9% to 13.4% during the same period.  This has put pressure on the banks to borrow funds from the RBI under the Liquidity Adjustment Facility through repo transactions and the banks are still borrowing over Rs1 lakh crore daily to meet the shortfall. This has helped the banks to keep the credit deposit ratio at a high level of over 78% against the normal level of around 70%.  Besides, RBI has been emphasizing that the genuine demand for credit for productive purposes from the industrial and the priority sectors should not be rejected.

In order to meet this liquidity constraint, banks have been clamoring for reduction in the cash reserve ratio (CRR), which makes sense for two reasons. Banks are in a difficult situation in meeting the provision requirements for NPAs due to the rising defaults, and the fall in profitability due to the high cost of borrowing both from the market and from RBI, affecting their net interest margins. Against this background, release of funds blocked under CRR will not only give them the required leeway to continue to lend for productive enterprises, but also will help them in improving their profitability, as these funds do not earn any interest when kept with RBI.

A few suggestions have also been made to cut statutory liquidity ratio (SLR) instead of CRR to improve liquidity. But this does not bring any real benefit either to the banks or to the borrowers, as the banks are already holding excess SLR securities which are used for borrowing through the repo mechanism by banks.  Besides, reduction in SLR does not help, as the govt. has budgeted for huge borrowings in the first half of this year. However, a decrease in CRR may have implications for money supply, which can very well be controlled through open market operations by RBI. By reducing CRR, there are chances that the banks will bring down the lending rates without sacrificing profitability, and this will help in propelling growth as well.

But the question is how the RBI will bring down inflation, if it reduces CRR, which increases money supply and fuel rise in prices. RBI has been stating in its previous policy announcements that the inflation in our country is fuelled more by supply side mis-management rather than the demand side and has been asking the government to take steps to improve the supply of essential commodities and goods to combat inflation. Here the RBI, too, could play its role. The need of the hour is to bring back “selective credit control” into the armoury of RBI to fight inflation.

The RBI should consider reintroducing the tool of “selective credit control” by stipulating quantitative restrictions, higher margin requirements and higher interest rates on lending by banks against essential commodities to discourage hoarding of such commodities, thereby helping to bring down prices of foodgrain to whatever extent possible. Besides, the central bank should encourage lending for movement of essential commodities from the producing centres to consumption markets so as to serve the needs of cities and urban centres.  RBI could judiciously use the tool of open market operations either to suck liquidity from the market or to pump in additional funds, whenever required. These steps, coupled with fiscal initiatives, should help in bringing down inflation without upsetting the apple cart of growth, which is no doubt required to generate employment and sustain industrial production.

 (The author is a banking analyst and he writes for Moneylife under the pen-name ‘Gurpur’.)


Life Exclusive
The recruitment process: Fulfilling their dreams

The trip to Sri Lanka was intended to pick up skilled workers for the new garment factory. The 20th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business

Some ten days before my visit to Colombo was finalized, I made a quick visit to see my old friends in Gulf Industries; the boys and girls who helped me stand on my feet in the industry and let me learn the art. Of course, I was in touch with them on a regular basis, but this time it was paying back time, when I could help their own friends and relatives to work for me in the new plant.

Some of them had actually come and visited our plant under construction. This lead time helped them to drop their letters in advance, most of whom had taken my business card, as a sort of introduction.
Haji Cader himself received me at the airport, early in the morning when I arrived; and it took almost one hour before I could reach the hotel. I had left Dubai late Sunday night to arrive early Friday morning—our main job was to set for both Saturday and Sunday, when the applicants would gather for tests.
Haji Cader, whom I had not personally met, but had exchanged mails was in office, aided by his son, popular known and called as Kumar. His elder son was running a separate garment factory and as a ‘reward’ for good staff members, as a matter of policy, they offered the jobs overseas.  They also had a continuous training programme in this plant, so that this acted as the first step towards overseas placements, if work and loyalty were found acceptable and of very high standards.
Our Friday mission was not only for general discussions, but also for picking up the best of the senior staff available in the market. Because of the sudden demand in the Middle East, particularly in the UAE, the number of qualified and competent managers was increasing. We had picked up some supervisors and the final pick was Piyasena Perera, a fine young man whose knowledge of the industry and background were impeccable. The first major selection of staff was in place and we advised them to proceed with documentation and notifications to their bosses that they should be relieved at the end of the 30-day period after their resignations.
Our work on Saturday and Sunday began as early as 9am sharp and continued up to 6pm or even a little later, until every single person present was given a fair chance. I did not know a word or two in Sinhala, but, having picked up a book on this language, I had spent considerable time reading them, and was able to catch a word or two, here or there, to understand them.  More importantly, it was their facial expression that guided me in my selection process. Most knew their jobs, in terms of machinery usage and operation, but, obviously, nervousness sets in when you sit for an interview. In all such cases, I ensured that they were asked to rest and do it all over again; speed was not the deciding factor, but doing the job perfectly and without any mistakes on making various parts of the garment was strictly enforced.
Haji Cader had brought a lot of cut materials from his factory so that actual tests could be carried out; this is the reason, why his recruitment agency remained the top of the heap for a long time.
Once the candidate was selected, the process of paper work, accompanying passport formalities, submission of photos, no objection letters from their husbands, if married, and of course, release from the existing employers would take quite some time. I had presented the list of documents required for each applicant that would enable the Free Zone to process and issue the visa, which was between four to six weeks; Haji Cader had to ensure that these girls and boys also met in his office, so that they could establish some rapport before they arrived in an unknown place; he had to arrange for a batch of 60-70 to be booked on a single flight; and they were all identified with pink sarees when they reached Dubai. It was not an easy task,
Once these were received in Dubai, I had to start the process with Free Zone to obtain the visa; we received these in various lots, and I began my process to get the visa. We had placed orders for the machinery and the shipment was due in the first week of June. The first batch of men, who would arrive to get the machinery and assemble them were to arrive by middle of June and their visas process on a priority basis. Perera and his team arrived in time, as the electrical work was being completed; our plant was designed to operate with a 360-machine capacity and the first lot of some 140 machines were in the port for clearance.
The Free Zone had allocated the men’s quarters very near the entrance; and our own site was less than a mile way, a simple 15 minutes walk and the canteen or catering facility was within the staff compound. Although we met on the day of their arrival and visited the plant site, our work would actually begin the following day, when the machinery was delivered. Perera was systematic and ably helped by man Friday, known as Vimala Sena, brother-in-law of Donald, who had managed our Gulf Industries.
Until this point of time I had not finalized the orders for production in the plant, as I was confident of picking them up from other plants in operation in the Free Zone, whose owners by now had become friendly, once they visited our plant and realised that we all could work together and be successful.
By first week of July, I had already sent all the visas for the selected staff and the first lot of 60 workers were scheduled to arrive on 15th July; and by 20th the entire 140 would be in house. I visited the plant on a daily basis and coordinated the work progress, and met Perera’s requirements of small items like tools, etc, so that the machinery would be ready for use. These were received in CKD basis and his team would assemble and locate them suitably in the plant.
On 15th July, I was in the plant, and Perera had already placed the machinery in place for our batchline production, in two rows. He had set up machines at the appropriate places so that production becomes a smooth operation. The flight was scheduled to touch down at about 1330 hours and I was planning to return to the city to be at the airport. The pick-up bus was also expected to reach the airport by this time, though we knew that it would take not less than an hour for all the girls to be cleared from the customs.
About 11 30 or so, as we were discussing the final plans, Bob Eaustace, the engineer in charge of electrification and inspection of sites had come in and having met me earlier several times, confirmed that he would activate the power upon my request on 16th when I told him that our workers would be coming in to report for duty, as they were actually air borne at that time. “No problem, Mr Ram everything is fine”. I reconfirmed to him that the first batch was landing in Dubai airport in two hours.
Not known to us, there was another person, pardon my saying, an Englishman, who just walked in and asked for the plant manager; Perera, who took him around, asked for drawings, which he saw and asked him, “When do you plan to start your work here?” Perera advised him that our staff was on their way, and we plan to start our production on 17th. “You mean this month?” “Yes, of course,” replied Perera. “No, sorry, I can’t permit that; there are many irregularities, and these need to be rectified, before you can commence work". “You ask your boss or owners to talk to me.” Perera directed him to speak to me, as I was the boss and working partner in the firm. He simply stated that he was from the engineering department and because of the discrepancies in the plant he cannot permit us to start the work.
This was in direct contrast to what Bob had said half an hour earlier. This man had not even told exactly what his status was in the department. “Can you tell me, at least briefly, what the defects are?” “There are many.” “Have you checked with the approved drawings?” “No, I don’t have to and I will have to list the whole thing out when I get back to my office.” He was jumpy and I felt showing off all because of his position of being a staff from the engineering department!
I looked at him in the eye and told him; “Sir, I really do not know who you are and why you claim our workmanship is defective. You better go back and tell chief engineer Brown that the drawings approved by him are defective and so you cannot let us operate on schedule.”
For a moment he stood right in front of me, nonplussed. “I am collecting my staff in the next two hours; they will be here tomorrow at 8am, and there will be power at 7.30 for us to operate. If you want to stop the power connection, please go ahead after intimating the reasons to chief engineer Brown”.
“Piyasena, I am leaving for the airport and take the staff to their camp. They will be here tomorrow at 8 am and you can plan your work accordingly.”  With that, I left the plant with the visitor standing as though lightening had struck him.
On my way, I stopped at Bob’s office and briefed him about the engineer and his threat to stop our work the next day. He smiled and assured, “Not to worry Ram, your power will be on by 7 as soon as I arrive in the office.”
The Air Lanka flight arrived just a few minutes late and it took more than an hour and half for the staff to be cleared; almost everyone had only large hand bag, and once the head count was over and all passports collected with relative documents, they boarded the waiting bus to be taken to their camp.
They had come on a three-year contract, most of whom would stay much longer enabling them build their dream houses back home in Colombo and other places in the outskirts, help their family financially and give much-needed education to their children. A new life dawned for them.

(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)


Economy & Nation Exclusive
Infosys falls over 13% on disappointing Q4 results

Infosys, the second largest listed IT company in India, reported numbers that fell short of market expectations. Analysts feel that this may raise questions on the demand for IT services in the coming quarters

Infosys shares fell by over 13% on Friday due to the company’s disappointing fourth quarter results. According to analysts, the lower-than-expected results and guidance for next quarter declared by the company will re-ignite fresh debate on structural issues with Infosys and also questions the demand for IT services going into next year.

Infosys shares closed 12.6% down at Rs2403 on the Bombay Stock Exchange, while the benchmark Sensex ended 1.37% down at 17,094.

For the quarter to end-March, the IT company, reported a net profit of Rs2,316 crore compared with Rs1,818 crore a year ago period. Infosys' total revenues increased 22.1% to Rs8852 crore from Rs7250 crore same quarter last year. However, on a quarter-on-quarter (q-o-q), its net profit and total revenues declined 2.4% and 4.8%, respectively.

In a press release, SD Shibulal, managing director and chief executive, Infosys, said, “The year ahead looks challenging for the IT services industry, with slow recovery in the global markets. We are executing on our Infosys 3.0 strategy which is meant to deliver high quality growth in the medium to long term. We are making investments and have put in place a structure to deliver on this strategy.”

Infosys results disappointed on the back of a miss in the March quarter, on both topline growth as well as margins, which showed a steeper decline than expected. "We are not worried on the structural debate regarding off shoring—concerns resurface with every weak quarter. The company's performance is volatile and management's ability to predict this performance has become less accurate in the face of poor visibility in the macro environment. We expect this to continue for some time and hence continued pressure on the stock," said Barclays Capital in a research note.

Other Indian IT companies, notably TCS, have also indicated that the March quarter could be weaker than earlier expectations and hence similar issues though magnitude may differ could be plaguing the entire sector.

“We had a very difficult quarter with revenues declining sequentially. The global currency market volatility continues to be a challenge for the industry. Our focus on high quality growth coupled with strong financial discipline helped us to deliver on EPS guidance in US dollar terms,” said V Balakrishnan, Member of the Board and chief financial officer.

"We would wait for volatility around results to subside. Infosys remains India's premier IT services company, although it faces a tough short-term, in our view. Strong balance sheet, good cash flows and the high corporate governance of the company are other attractions," Barclays added.


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