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Whilst there was a consensus view of RBI cutting repo rates today, with only the extent of the rate cut being questioned (would it be 0.25% or 0.5%?), Urjit Patel or rather the monetary policy committee (MPC) sprung a surprise by keeping rates unchanged. Both equity and bond markets reacted negatively to this as they were pricing in at least a 0.25% cut.

RBI was probably concerned by multiple factors – volatility in global financial markets that could be caused by a Fed rate hike, issues in the Eurozone, oil price rises, and the potential stickiness of consumer inflation around non food components.

One needs to remember that inflation targeting continues to be the core role of the RBI moving forward, and any risks to inflation are likely to result in a more conservative approach, tilted towards managing inflation in the inflation growth trade off.  In addition, the focus towards management by data is a significant positive, as markets can sometimes allow emotions to override incoming data, that may be to the contrary.

MPC pic

Your investments

The demonetisation impact on the Indian economy continues to be rather speculative in our opinion, with a very wide range of possible outcomes,. and data around the same is likely to continue to throw up surprises. For example, we have seen over the last few weeks, the quantum of cash deposits that have come back to the banking system have been significantly larger than originally anticipated. In light of the need to take portfolio investment decisions basis data, it may be prudent to look for broader trends to capture through your investment strategy for example fixed income products continue to offer a real rate of return in the region of close to 2%, continuing to make fixed income investments an attractive option. With liquidity continuing to be significant, it would be prudent to look at locking into current interest rates, through a combination of accrual oriented short term and medium term funds, tax free bonds and to also cover reinvestment risk. A portion of the fixed income allocations can continue to be allocated to taking the benefits of falling interest rates, by investing into dynamic bond funds where the fund manager has the flexibility to move portfolio durations driven by incoming data. Equity investors may need to enhance exposures gradually through a combination of rupee averaging and value averaging strategies, as the potential slowdown on the back of a US rate hike and a consumption slowdown driven by demonetisation, is balanced by possible liquidity flows from Japan and the EU, as well as equity prices, especially of large cap indices, now at levels much closer to fair value after the recent correction.

Your loans

With the expectation of cost of funds for banks coming down post demonetisation, banks’ lending rates are likely to continue to slide further down. Since April 1, 2016, when the MCLR was introduced, most banks have been reducing it gradually as their cost of funds came down. The huge inflow of funds post demonetisation could make them cut MCLR  further. Thus one can expect loan rates to continue to head downwards, creating some additional consumption or investing surpluses for families with loans.

Way Ahead

The RBI is clearly aware of the danger to the GDP growth rate and possible liquidity outflows, driven by the twin impact of demonetization and higher interest rates in the US. Thus a wait and watch policy may actually be a great idea. Whilst everyone will await the next policy on Feb 8th, one needs to remember that action by the RBI can also be done prior to that if necessary, and therefore should not be ruled out. After all, surprises and the independent nature of the RBI are back in fashion.

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