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RBI likely to hold rates, keep liquidity easy to boost bank lending

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Mumbai : Analysts expect India’s central bank to support an economy that is losing momentum by leaving interest rates unchanged at a policy meeting when just over a month ago most of them had predicted a hike.

Having resisted any temptation to jack up rates in October when the rupee was sliding to a record low against the dollar, the Reserve Bank of India has been vindicated by the currency’s subsequent recovery, and by waning inflationary pressures thanks to falling food and oil prices.

The rupee is now nearly 6 per cent off its low and is expected to rally further as lower crude prices have also eased worries over India’s current account deficit.

“We expect interest rates to be on hold until March,” said A. Prasanna, head of research at ICICI Securities Primary Dealership in Mumbai.

“We also expect the tone of the statement to be dovish given inflation and growth momentum have softened, and the RBI will continue to keep infusing liquidity as bank lending growth needs to be supported to boost overall economic growth.” Since embarking on a tightening cycle in June, the RBI has raised its policy repo rate by 50 basis points, with the last increase to 6.50 per cent made in August.

There are now clearer economic reasons to avoid going higher, analysts say. A pause in rate hikes would also be welcomed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party as it prepares for an election that must be called by May.

A Reuters poll of 70 economists predicted the RBI’s monetary policy committee would hold its repo rate steady this week, and predicted only one more increase, most likely in March. More than 60 per cent of 51 common contributors from an October poll switched their forecasts to no change from a hike.

Intense government pressure on the RBI to remove some major curbs on lending ahead of the election also means it is likely to take a more dovish stance.

Policymakers have to nurse the shadow banking sector after a series of debt defaults by a major infrastructure lender. There had already been a sharp slowdown in lending by banks, laden with bad loans, and this had made them more risk-averse.

The difficult credit conditions have hampered Indian businesses still struggling to recover from a series of economic shocks including the sudden replacement of all large denomination banknotes in late 2016 and the introduction of a goods and services tax in 2017.

Any dovishness from the RBI will be welcomed by bond traders who were until recently reeling under large losses after the 10-year benchmark government security yield rose to 8.23 per cent, before easing to 7.57 per cent as inflation concerns abated.


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Jaitley was told of Urjit Patel’s decision to quit only minutes in advance

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New Delhi : Monday was supposed to be a good day for the government. It announced the Cabinet’s decision to raise the Centre’s contribution to the National Pension Scheme for its employees, and was expecting the UK’s decision on extradition of fugitive liquor baron Vijay Mallya. But things changed after 5 pm when Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel’s resignation hit the RBI website.

Highly-placed sources in the government say that none of the senior ministers had any inkling of Patel’s resignation. Even Finance Minister Arun Jaitley came to know about it minutes before Patel quit.

The government will soon form a panel to search for a new RBI governor, an official said. RBI’s deputy governors, former government officials and top bankers and economists could be considered.

“The government acknowledges with deep sense of appreciation the services rendered by Dr Urjit Patel to this country both in his capacity as the Governor and the Deputy Governor of The RBI. It was a pleasure for me to deal with him and benefit from his scholarship. I wish Dr Patel all the very best and many more years of public service,” Jaitley tweeted, around an hour after Patel quit. Moments later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.

While Patel cited ‘personal reasons’ for his exit, former officials who’ve worked alongside him and current officials involved with the events of the past few months acknowledge that the reasons were different.

“He did not thank the government in his statement, did he?” asked an official, when contacted by Business Standard. “We all know what has been happening in the past few months.”

Sources in the government say the resignation is all the more surprising after the last board meeting, which was a cordial affair by all accounts, and a resolution was reached on two contentious issues.

The central bank decided to refer the issue of RBI’s excess capital to a committee. The constituents of the committee and its terms of reference are still being discussed by the government and the RBI. The RBI also referred its prompt corrective action norms to its Board of Financial Supervision. The next Board Meeting is scheduled for December 14.

“It is sad and unfortunate,” said a former secretary to the government, who did not wish to be named as he still works with the government in another capacity. “I thought they could resolve their differences. (Former RBI governor) Raghuram Rajan had informed the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister that he will not seek an extension, as per convention. It is one thing to feel uncomfortable with an individual, and have a conflict with him. It is another to have him been pressured through the RBI board which has all your nominees. He must have felt that this creates a perpetual state of conflict and hence his position becomes untenable.”

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Government’s contribution under NPS to be raised to 14% from 10%, entire 60% of withdrawals to be tax-free

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New Delhi: The Union Cabinet on Monday approved a few changes in the National Pension System (NPS) under which the mandatory contribution by the central government for its employees covered under NPS Tier-I will be hiked from the existing 10 percent to 14 percent.

The tax exemption limit for lump sum withdrawal on exit has been enhanced to 60 percent. With this, the entire withdrawal will now be exempt from income tax. At present, 40 percent of the total accumulated corpus utilized for purchase of annuity is already tax exempted. Out of 60 percent of the accumulated corpus withdrawn by the NPS subscriber at the time of retirement, 40 percent is tax exempt and balance 20 percent is taxable.

The Cabinet also decided that contribution by the government employees under Tier-II of NPS will now be covered under Section 80 C for deduction up to Rs. 1.50 lakh for the purpose of income tax at par with the other schemes such as General Provident Fund, Contributory Provident Fund, Employees Provident Fund and Public Provident Fund provided that there is a lock-in period of 3 years.

Under NPS account, two sub – accounts – Tier I and II are provided. Tier I account is mandatory and the subscriber has option to opt for Tier II account opening and operation. Tier – II account is a voluntary savings facility available as an add – on to any Tier – 1 account holder. Subscribers will be free to withdraw their savings from this account whenever they wish.

The proposed changes to NPS would be made applicable immediately once time critical decisions are taken in consultation with the other concerned Ministries / Departments, an official release said.

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Huawei CFO seeks bail on health concerns; Canada wants her in jail

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Toronto/Beijing: A top executive of China`s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd argued that she should be released on bail while awaiting an extradition hearing, citing fears for her health while incarcerated in Canada along with other factors, court documents showed.

Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou is fighting to be released on bail after she was arrested on December 1 in Vancouver at the request of the United States.

Meng, 46, faces U.S. accusations that she misled multinational banks about Huawei`s control of a company operating in Iran. This deception put the banks at risk of violating U.S. sanctions and incurring severe penalties, court documents said.

China has criticized her detention and demanded her immediate release. The arrest has roiled global markets as investors worried it could torpedo attempts to thaw trade tensions between Washington and Beijing.

In a sworn affidavit, Meng, the daughter of Huawei`s founder, said she is innocent of the allegations and will contest them at trial in the United States if she is surrendered there.

Meng said she was taken to a hospital for treatment for hypertension after being detained. She cited hypertension as a factor in a bail application seeking her release pending an extradition hearing. She also said she has longstanding ties to Vancouver dating back at least 15 years, as well as significant property holdings in the city.

Her family also sought leave to remain in Vancouver if she was granted bail, according to the court documents, with her husband saying he plans to bring the couple`s daughter to Vancouver to attend school during the proceedings.

Earlier on Sunday, China`s foreign ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador to lodge a “strong protest” over the arrest, and said the United States should withdraw its arrest warrant.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng told U.S. ambassador Terry Branstad that the United States had made an “unreasonable demand” on Canada to detain Meng while she was passing through Vancouver, China`s Foreign Ministry said.

“The actions of the U.S. seriously violated the lawful and legitimate rights of the Chinese citizen, and by their nature were extremely nasty,” Le told Branstad. He made similar comments to Canada`s ambassador the night before.

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