Money & Banking
Strengthen RBI's balance sheet

To ensure that temptations of the government emanating from external compulsions do not to dilute the strength of RBI’s balance sheet, the government should take measures to augment the share capital of the RBI after amending the RBI Act

The building up of the contingency reserve is particularly important as the government is in no position to pick up the losses once the contingency reserve is wiped out. One of the saddest events that can occur is the death of a central bank. This has happened in some countries and the RBI can never be too careful.
—S S Tarapore, former deputy governor, RBI and economist.


The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has published its Annual Report 2011-12 on 23 August 2012. The accounts presented in the report shows that RBI’s income increased during 2011-12 by about 43% as compared to the previous year (from Rs37,070 crore to Rs53,176 crore). Transfer of surplus profit to the Government of India (GOI) was Rs16,010 crore which as percentage to gross income is lower by around 10.4% as compared to 2010-11. Obviously, the transfer of “surplus income” to the government in a routine manner when the reserves position of the central bank shows a declining trend needs a review. Considering the size of RBI’s balance sheet, recouping the reserves position to healthier levels will be a Herculean task.


Considering the size of its balance sheet and the internal and external pressures on its income generating capabilities, as also the nature of shocks RBI has to absorb from time to time, GOI should support the central bank’s efforts to augment its reserves at least on par with the 12% norm of capital adequacy RBI expects from banks it supervises.


RBI, on its part, should think in terms of generating reasonable income from deployment of captive funds it is mandated to manage, without any compromise on safety of investments. In this context, the addition of about 200 tonnes to holdings in gold three years back was a welcome move. The central bank should further augment the gold component in reserves by tapping domestic gold stock with policy and legislative support from GOI.


Earnings from Foreign Sources

 The RBI’s rate of earnings on Foreign Currency Assets and gold was lower at 1.47% in 2011- 12 compared with 1.74% in 2010-11. The report attributes this to the low interest rates prevalent in international markets. The following table gives the details.

It is a fact that our Forex Reserves Management has not been getting the attention it deserved, as RBI’s own priorities hovered more around internal debt management and monetary policy concerns. It is comforting to see that RBI governor Dr D Subbarao is focusing on the components of forex reserves and their vulnerabilities. The return on forex investments has not been encouraging and one gets an impression that there has been some complacency in augmenting the reserves position, resulting in the reserves stagnating around $300 billion for quite some time now. On the part of GOI/RBI, it was a late decision in the last quarter of 2009 to increase the gold component in the country’s forex reserves by about 200 tonnes, by a purchase from the International Monetary Fund. In the context of improving the country's image as one with a decent net-worth, it is important to manage the domestic gold holdings outside the forex portfolio also and make them visible and available as part of the nation’s resources. Let us not forget the 1991 episode when solid gold had to be carried abroad for pledging and borrowing. Such shameful experiences can be avoided in future, if a part of domestic stock of the estimated 18,000 tonnes of gold is made tradable and a decent domestic stock of standard gold acceptable in international market is built up.


RBI’s internal reserves

Contingency Reserve (CR) represents the amount set aside on a year-to-year basis for meeting unexpected and unforeseen contingencies, including depreciation in the value of securities, exchange guarantees and risks arising out of monetary/exchange rate policy operations. In order to meet the needs of internal capital expenditure and make investments in subsidiaries and associate institutions, a further sum is provided and credited to the Asset Development Reserve (ADR). The amount of transfer to the CR and the ADR and the surplus transferred to the government as a percentage of the total income in the last five years is set out in the table below:

The report recalls that “to meet the internal capital expenditure and make investments in its subsidiaries and associate institutions, the RBI had created a separate ADR in 1997-98 with the aim of reaching 1% of the central bank’s total assets within the overall indicative target of 12% of the total assets set for CR and ADR taken together”. But despite a transfer of Rs2,348 crore in 2011-12, from income to ADR raising its level to Rs18,214 crore as on 30 June 2012, the CR and the ADR together constituted only 9.7% of the total assets of the RBI as on 30 June 2012 showing a fall of 0.6% from the level of 10.3% during the previous year, taking the original target of 12% further away. It may be recalled that in 2009 the target was almost in sight when the level reached 11.9%. The ADR now accounts for 0.8% of the total assets of the RBI as against the target of 1%.

The position of CR and ADR during the last five years was asunder:
To ensure that temptations of the government emanating from external compulsions do not to dilute the strength of RBI’s balance sheet, the GOI should take measures to augment the share capital of RBI after carrying out appropriate amendments to the RBI Act. Till such time RBI should be allowed to retain surplus income by transfer to reserves. Considering the size of its balance sheet and the internal and external pressures on its income-generating capabilities, as also the nature of shocks the apex bank has to absorb from time to time, the central bank’s reserves need to be augmented on an ongoing basis.


 (The writer is a former general manager, Reserve Bank of India.)



Global economy: Five reasons to fear the fall

Whatever happens in China, the US, Europe or emerging markets, one thing is absolutely certain: the global economy is slowing and with it, corporate earnings. Now that is a real terror
For most of the worlds’ markets the summer has been quite kind. Traders departed for the mountains or the beaches and left the machines in charge. Since algorithms have only Zen-like concentration, they never worry about the future. They only concentrate on the present. Which way is the momentum moving? Where is there an arbitrage? Markets also benefitted from both the threat by Ben Bernanke of the US central bank (Fed) and the most recent attempt by Mario Draghi and the European Central Bank to put a floor under the bond markets. But are these actions going to prevent the real problems from rearing their ugly heads. Probably not, for there are five very strong reasons to “Fear the Fall”.

The first and most obvious problem is Europe. The bond-buying program announced last week by the ECB might help save the euro, but it won’t help save the European economy. The program is subject to certain ‘conditions’. No doubt these will require more austerity, which is guaranteed to exacerbate the present recession. The ECB was also very clear that their program would not provide any additional stimulus. It is supposed to remove as much money from the system as the bond buying creates. So although the bond buying program will bring some temporary stability, it may prevent changes necessary to return the Eurozone to growth.

The second issue concerns the United States. In a rather bizarre effort to deal with a bitter partisan divide, the US Congress created a process where disastrous automatic budget cuts would occur if comprise wasn’t reached. Compromise wasn’t reached. These budget cuts along with the expiration of tax cuts will occur automatically on 1st January unless something is done. The combination of a plunge in government spending and a rise in taxes will push the US into recession. The problem can really only be solved by the November election. There is little doubt that some solution will be found, but only at the very last minute. In the meantime the uncertainty will weaken the present anaemic growth.

The third and potentially most devastating is that the promised “soft landing” in China has become harder with every data point and may evolve into a crash. Years of state capitalism have created an economy that is so distorted that it is difficult to find a sector that is not subject to over capacity, over supply or a credit bubble. Real estate restrictions are unlikely to be removed, because the real estate market hasn’t died. What have died are the land auctions that support local governments and their ability to repay massive loans or provide the promised stimulus. Economic weakness in the rest of the world makes it unlikely that the Chinese export market will return to health. Without buoyant export and real estate sectors, the credit pyramids and shadow banking systems create a huge possibility of a systemic failure.

But what happens in China won’t stay there. China’s booming economy was the crucial factor in the growth of most of other emerging markets. China dependency is a real issue especially in Asia and Latin America, but also for 135 companies in the S&P 500 index. Large profit expectations did not come from US or Europe, but from the emerging markets.

The fourth problem is that the overleveraged credit issues thought to be the preserve of developed countries have migrated en masse to the emerging markets. China is not the only emerging market with credit issues. Although many of the large banks, the ones that reach most analysts’ radar screens, in emerging markets are generally considered healthy, almost without exception there are parts of the financial systems of each emerging market that are in serious trouble. Like smaller institutions in Europe, many of these have major transparency issues. So a collapse will come as a surprise.

The fifth issue has to do with inflation. Inflation in developed countries isn’t an issue, at least for now, but the same cannot be said of other countries. A major drought in the US and India coupled with problems in Russia and the Ukraine and infrastructure issues in Brazil all add up to higher food prices. The recent spike in energy prices also doesn’t help. These issues weigh proportionally greater on emerging markets, since food makes up a larger part of consumers budgets and fuel subsidies drain national budgets.

The probability for each of these events is certainly high, but it is not the events themselves that are relevant to investors. Investors invest in companies, not countries. Whatever happens in China, the US, Europe or emerging markets, one thing is absolutely certain, the global economy is slowing and with it, corporate earnings. So the real fear is the reaction of the market when expectations of double digit growth dissipate. Now that is a real terror.

(William Gamble is president of Emerging Market Strategies. An international lawyer and economist, he developed his theories beginning with his first hand experience and business dealings in the Russia starting in 1993. Mr Gamble holds two graduate law degrees. He was educated at Institute D'Etudes Politique, Trinity College, University of Miami School of Law, and University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. He was a member of the bar in three states, over four different federal courts and has spoken four languages. Mr Gamble can be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected].)


Economy & Nation Exclusive
Bellary to Belekeri Port: A free ride!

The Supreme Court has decided to lift the ban on 18 Category A mines in Karnataka. However, it will take a year to complete with the clearance formalities, and also hope for revival of the steel market, internationally by then!
The Supreme Court’s decision to lift the ban on 18 “Category A” mines was well received in the industry as it would help revive the iron ore export from Karnataka.
However, the work, actually, cannot commence in these mines immediately but can do so only after implementing the land reclamation and rehabilitation plan, statutory clearances, environment, pollution control boards and other related approvals from various departments concerned. These will probably take several months to accomplish.
In the meantime, the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) approved by the Supreme Court has recommended that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) be entrusted with the task of investigating all the illegalities that have occurred at the Belekeri port.
Further reports on the subject in the media indicates that as many as 5 lakh truck trips are estimated to have been involved in carting the iron ore illegally to the port, “right under the nose of every one”. As much as 50.79 lakh tonnes have been exported out of this port!
A great number of people have been involved at every stage of these trucks moving without any hindrance under the very eyes of law enforcing officials. There have been flagrant violations of all sorts of rules in this unauthorized and illegal transportation of iron ore for a full stretch of
400 km from Bellary to Belekeri without being stopped and checked for legal documents for carrying the ore. It will become clear when CBI completes its investigation and submits its reports.
Meantime, in due course, life will slowly return to normalcy in the affected areas of Bellary, Chittradurga and Tumkur districts in Karnataka. It will revive the employment opportunities to 75,000 to 100,000 people involved in the iron ore industry, both directly and indirectly.
In fact, as a sequel to the Supreme Courts' decision, some of the Category A miners have began their work on related compliance issues. They have been their activities relating to obtaining of clearances so that work can commence as soon permission is obtained after completing all the required formalities.
However, the world market situation for iron ore has taken a nose-dive in recent months.
Australia is the world's fourth largest producer, but has begun to curtail its mining operation due to falling prices, particularly after China has slowed down its imports. Iron ore is also
Australia's single largest export and the international price has touched the rock bottom price of $89 per dry metric tonne, which was prevailing in October 2009.
Indian supplies to China has also received a setback as exports from Karnataka mines stopped some 18 months ago and it will resume probably by middle of 2013 when exports may be able to make an attempt at recovery. In any case, at least for the Category A mines, it will take this much time to complete with the clearance formalities, and also hope for revival of the steel market, internationally, by then!

(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; and later to the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)


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