THE Reserve Bank of India (RBI) may have sprung a pleasant surprise on the markets on Wednesday by choosing not to raise policy rates at a time of raging consumer and wholesale inflation — 11.24% and 7.52% respectively in November — but as governor Raghuram Rajan said, ‘the decision was a close one’. While the central bank believes inflation is very high, it didn’t want to be ‘overly reactive’ choosing instead to wait it out for the next set of readings.
“Our sense is the recent numbers add a lot of noise and another month won’t put us behind the ball,” Rajan observed at a press conference after the monetary policy announcement. The governor, however, made it clear the central bank wasn’t about to postpone a decision forever and that there was no room for ambiguity.
“If the expected softening of food inflation does not materialise and translate into a significant reduction in headline inflation in the next round of data releases, or if inflation, excluding food and fuel does not fall, the Reserve Bank will act, including on off-policy dates if warranted,” Rajan said.
Since economists believe that inflation could remain sticky and therefore monetary tightening would be necessary, it's possible that policy rates could be hiked sooner rather than later. Leif Eskesen, chief economist for India and ASEAN, HSBC wrote: “We would argue that inflation risks remain tilted to the upside and that further monetary tightening is needed to manage these risks.”
“Being potentially perceived as too soft on inflation could also pose risks to inflation expectations and the exchange rate, the latter especially in a Fed post-tapering world. Encouragingly, the RBI signalled that it would stand ready to tighten if headline inflation does not ease significantly on the back of lower food inflation or core inflation does not fall. As it turns out, it may well have to deliver on those promises soon,” Eskesen wrote.
While the industry might breathe easy for the moment, corporate India will be dismayed at the single-minded focus of the central bank on inflation. The governor briefly highlighted the persisting weakness in industry in Q3FY14 and noted that cuts in government expenditure in Q4FY14 would add to the headwinds of muted consumption demand. Rajan said he would stay with the growth forecast for H2FY14, adding that he expected growth to be better than in the first half. However, there was nothing that suggested that continuing weak