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New RBI chief delivers election cut for PM Modi in a surprise move

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Mumbai: India’s new central bank chief delivered an unexpected interest rate cut, providing Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the kind of stimulus he needs to stoke economic growth in an election year.

In a sharp reversal from October, when the Reserve Bank of India took rate cuts off the table, Governor Shaktikanta Das — who took office in December — opened the door to more policy easing and brought growth firmly back onto the Monetary Policy Committee’s agenda. That was a departure from his predecessor Urjit Patel, whose singular aim was to meet the RBI’s 4 percent inflation mandate.

The surprise move came almost a week after Modi’s administration unveiled an expansionary budget, which included $13 billion of help for consumers ahead of the poll that’s due by May, and days after a top adviser to the prime minister said the RBI should cut rates.

 

Das, a career bureaucrat, was appointed shortly after Patel resigned as governor amid a heated public battle with the state, which led to questions about the central bank’s independence from politics. Modi’s government has been pushing the RBI to transfer more of its excess capital to the state as well as ease lending restrictions on banks to spur growth.

Government officials were quick to praise the RBI’s move, while economists were more cautious, concerned that the monetary and fiscal stimulus would be inflationary.

“A very balanced and pragmatic policy statement,” Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Garg said after the rate move. It “underlines low inflation and high growth path for India for 2019-20.”

Das pointed to a sharp slowdown in inflation as justification for the 25 basis-point reduction, taking the repurchase rate to 6.25 percent. The MPC also reversed its policy stance to neutral from ‘calibrated tightening’ adopted in October.

“Reading between the lines, it appears that Mr. Das has changed the RBI’s paradigm overnight, to one where growth is the focus of policy and inflation merely an input into decisions,” said Freya Beamish, chief Asia economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics Ltd.

That opens the way for more rate cuts, she said, adding “we are worried by the U-turn and what this week says about the RBI’s frail autonomy and discipline.”

Market reaction to the surprise rate cut was subdued. The yield on the most-traded 2028 sovereign bonds fell just seven basis points, the rupee eked out a gain and the main stocks gauge closed flat on Thursday.

The U.S. Federal Reserve’s shift to a more dovish stance is giving emerging markets like India a reprieve after last year’s rate hikes. Central banks in the Philippines and Thailand also held rates steady this week.

Developed economies too are altering stance, with the Reserve Bank of Australia governor this week shifting to neutral.

Das, who was one of four MPC members who voted for a cut on Thursday, reiterated his commitment to supporting growth.

“It is vital to act decisively and in a timely manner to address the objective of growth once price stability as defined in the Act is achieved,” Das told reporters in Mumbai. “The shift in stance from calibrated tightening to neutral provides flexibility to address, and the room to address, sustained growth of India’s economy over the coming months as long as inflation remains benign.”

Inflation slowed to an 18-month low of 2.2 percent in December, remaining well below the RBI’s medium-term target, and not expected to breach that goal in the next 10 months, according to the central bank’s latest forecast.

Thursday’s move was the first rate cut since August 2017. The decision was predicted by just 11 of 43 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, with the rest expecting no change.

Since taking office Dec. 12, Das has eased banks’ asset recognition norms for medium and small scale enterprises, removed lending curbs on three weak state-run banks and has agreed to consider payment of an interim dividend to the government.

“Das has delivered what the Modi government was hoping for,” said Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London. While this “pre-election rate cut” might boost growth, the longer-term concerns for investors will be about the RBI’s credibility as an inflation fighter, he added.


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Sensex jumps over 250 points, rupee rises 3 paise to 71.31 against US dollar

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Mumbai: The 30-share index was trading 269.24 points, or 0.76 per cent, at 35,621.85. Similarly, the 50-share NSE Nifty rose 74.40 points, or 0.70 per cent, to 10,678.75.

The Sensex had settled 145.83 points lower at 35,352.61 in the previous session, while the Nifty had fallen 36.60 points to 10,604.35.

Top gainers in the Sensex pack on Wednesday include ONGC, Vedanta, Yes Bank, Bajaj Finance, Axis Bank, Sun Pharma, L&T, Tata Steel, HDFC, Reliance and Bharti Airtel, rising up to 2.12 per cent.

 

On the other hand, HCL Tech, Hero MotoCorp, Bajaj Auto and M&M were the losers, falling up to 0.76 per cent.

According to traders, investor sentiment was positive on strong buying by domestic institutional investors (DIIs).

How India responded to Imran Khan’s ‘will retaliate’ speech on Pulwama

On a net basis, DIIs were net buyers to the tune of Rs 1,163.85 crore, while foreign institutional investors sold shares worth a net of Rs 813.76 crore on Tuesday, provisional data available with BSE showed.

Investors also took cues from other Asian equities that were trading positive on hopes of a resolution to US-China trade tiff.

US President Donald Trump Tuesday said that negotiations with China on a trade deal were going very well, but refrained from committing any extension of the March 1 deadline to arrive at such an understanding. Global markets are also eyeing minutes from the US Federal Reserve, scheduled for release later in the day, for clues on key interest rates, traders said.

Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was up 0.50 per cent, Kospi jumped 1.17 per cent, and Japan’s Nikkei gained 0.70 per cent; while Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.15 per cent in earlytrade.

On Wall Street, Dow Jones Industrial Average ended almost flat at 25,891.32 points on Tuesday. The benchmark Brent crude futures rose 0.08 per cent to USD 66.50 per barrel.

The rupee inched up 3 paise to 71.31 against the US dollar in early trade Wednesday even as foreign fund outflows continued amid firming oil prices.

At the Interbank Foreign Exchange (forex) market, the domestic unit opened strong at 71.29 but gave up the gains to trade at 71.31. The rupee had closed at 71.34 versus the greenback Monday. Money markets were closed Tuesday on account of Chhatrapati Shivaji Jayanti.

Foreign institutional investors (FIIs) remained in sell-off mode, offloading shares worth a net Rs 813.76 crore Tuesday, while domestic institutional investors (DIIs) bought equities to the tune of Rs 1,163.85 crore, provisional data showed.

Brent crude futures, the global oil benchmark, was trading 0.14 per cent higher at USD 66.54 per barrel.

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Reliance Group stocks under pressure; tank up to 10.3% on SC move

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New Delhi: Shares of Reliance Group companies tumbled up to 10.3 per cent Wednesday after the Supreme Court held RCom chairman Anil Ambani guilty of contempt of court for willfully violating its order and not paying Rs 550 crore dues to telecom equipment maker Ericsson.

Reliance Capital tumbled 10.26 per cent, Reliance Communications tanked 9.46 per cent, Reliance Infrastructure 8.75 per cent, Reliance Power 5.52 per cent and Reliance Home Finance 5 per cent on BSE.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday held RCom chairman Anil Ambani and two others guilty of contempt of court for violating its order by not paying dues of Rs 550 crore to Ericsson, and said they faced a three-month jail term if Rs 453 crore was not paid to Ericsson in four weeks.

 

The apex court said Ambani and the others will have to purge contempt by paying Rs 453 crore to Ericsson in four weeks.

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Sops for all in Gujarat’s Interim Budget, focus on fishermen, farmers

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Gandhinagar: After presenting a surplus budget of 12,241 crore in the Assembly, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said that perks announced for various communities in the Interim Budget were part of the existing schemes of the government. He also said that he decided not to increase tax because of the jump in the state’s “own tax income”that shot up by over 11 per cent in 2017-18.

“We have increased allowances provided for various schemes that are already operational… New schemes or items can also be introduced while presenting a full budget. Whatever we have done here — for instance, widow pension, allowances of aanganwadi workers — are all part of the current schemes,” Patel, who holds the Finance portfolio, told mediapersons after presenting the budget in the House.

Sops for all in Gujarat’s Interim Budget, focus on fishermen, farmers

 

Finance Department officials said that of the total provisions made in the Interim Budget of Rs 1,91,817 crore, the government plans to spend Rs 63,939 crore in the four months, between April and July, 2019.

“The House will be able to discuss the demand for the whole year when the modified budget will be presented,” Patel said, indicating that Assembly will hold a special session after the Lok Sabha elections.

With an eye on the Koli community votes, the BJP government increased the VAT (Value Added Tax) subsidy in diesel, used in fishing boats, by Rs 3. This is expected to benefit nearly 10,600 boatmen in the state.

The government also doubled the daily livelihood allowance — from Rs 150 to Rs 300 — provided to the families of fishermen held captive in jails of Pakistan. At present, there are about 503 Indian fishermen in Pakistani custody, as per the figures shared in Lok Sabha in February 2019. Most of them are from Gujarat. The government has also decided to allot an additional 5,000 hectares of land to encourage prawn culture in the state. This land is in addition to the 7,500 hectares and will generate employment of 25,000 aqua-culturalists, said Patel in his budget speech. The government also announced setting up new fish landing centres in Valsad which has a population of 23,000 fishermen.

Explained: Govt’s attempt to keep everyone happy ahead of Lok Sabha polls

While the government did not announce any farm-loan waiver as demanded by the Opposition Congress, it announced to set up a Rs 500 crore “revolving fund” to provide crop loans at zero percent interest to farmers in the state.

Patel, however, reiterated on the floor of the House that his government will waive of Rs 691 crore of outstanding dues of 6.74 lakh farmers, poor and medium class power consumers under a one-time waiver scheme.

“The state government has decided to waive of principal and interest and penalty amount of electricity bills of all eligible domestic power connections of BPL consumers of urban areas, all agricultural power connections, power connections of all residences of rural areas, commercial power connections of small traders of rural areas,” the Deputy CM said.

Talking about the vote on account presented by the state government, Patel said, “This year, the Union Government has presented a vote on account. Therefore it is befitting that the state’s economic approach is shaped in accordance with the policies of Union of India. We have accordingly decided to present and seek vote on account for the period of four months, ie up to July 31, 2019.”

Chief Minister Vijay Rupani termed the Interim Budget “progressive and sensitive”. “This vote-on-account has been prepared and presented keeping in mind the well-being of all sections of society, be it backward communities, tribals, Dalits, youth, women and minorities. This is a progressive and sensitive budget which takes care of even the last man in the last line,” Rupani said.

Listing the schemes, he said, “This vote-on-account reflects our sensitiveness, transparency, progressiveness and decisive approach. There is something for everyone in this,” the CM said.

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