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Inflation concerns mean rates stay as is…

As was broadly expected, The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) on Wednesday left the policy repo rate and reverse repo rate unchanged at 6 percent and 5.75 percent, respectively. Out of six members, five members voted for no rate cut and one member voted for 25 bps rate cut. RBI continued to maintain its view that the 4% target on inflation remains its focus. Retail inflation measured by year-on-year change in the consumer price index (CPI) had recorded a seven-month high in October, and with an indicated range of 4.3% to 4.7% for the next two quarters, along with higher inflationary expectations getting built in through the possibility of higher oil prices and some possible fiscal pressure, this was very much in line with expectations. Surplus liquidity in the system has also continued to decline, reducing chances of rate cuts going forward.

Focus on the real rate of return

With the RBI referring to possible green shoots on growth starting to appear in the economy, it does seem that whilst they will continue to track data closely, strategies that are focussed on interest rates getting reduced are likely to face pressure. However, considering that real rates of return (returns from fixed income investments less inflation) continue to be significantly positive, we continue to believe that investing in fixed income is attractive.

Your Investments

Considering positive real interest rates, and equities continuing to trade at significant premiums to long term price to earnings ratios,  it may be a good idea to continue to have fixed income exposure through a combination of largely accrual, short to medium term, and hold to maturity strategies. For investors willing to continue to look at interest rates heading downwards, dynamic bond funds that have flexibility to move across bond maturities, can be explored for a small portion of the fixed income portfolio.

Your Loans

The RBI’s decision to hold rate cuts could indicate that there is unlikely to be any impact on existing lending rates, especially home and car loans by banks. Whilst the transmission of the rate cuts for bank loans over the last couple of years has only been partial, we believe that interest rates may not head down much more going forward.

Way Forward

Considering that the next policy meeting on Feb 6 and 7 is likely to be post the Union Budget, one will need to track how the government manages its fiscal policy and its focus on growth going forward. Global interest rates headed upwards, will also continue to drive RBI’s decisions on interest rates.

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Landing airplane

This 7th of December is the International Civil Aviation Day and marks the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Convention on International Civil Aviation.The purpose of this day, as pilots all over might be well aware of, is to recognize the importance of aviation to the overall development of the world.

And while pilots draw great confidence from being able to manage the process of reaching passengers to their destinations safely and comfortably, a more pressing question can be that are they confident when it comes to management of their finances?

The profession of a pilot demands almost all their time all year round. Hence they are left with limited personal time which they wish to live to the fullest. And like most busy professionals,more often than not money management seems to come at the end of this wish list. Pilots go through meticulous preparation and planning for their flights daily but sometimes are unable to do so for their finances.

While money is not the end, it is definitely a means to achieve certain objectives. Proper planning and structure to a pilot’s personal finances can result in he/she being prepared for all kinds of life events and responsibilities. Events such as:

  1. Sudden Illness:The requirement for pilots to be medically fit is of prime importance as they are responsible for the lives of hundreds of passengers daily. Every pilot needs to ensure a good health cover to cover sudden illness and hospitalisation. A pilot may wonder why would he need insurance when he is already covered. But if one actually things about, it might be prudent to have a separate health insurance cover for times when you may not be employed or between jobs or in cases where employer insurance is inadequate.
  2. Need for upgradation of Skill Sets:Like all professions, skill updation is a critical requirement that must be met by all pilots on periodic basis. But these do not come at a cheap cost. Ensuring enough provision and funds are kept aside and is available at the time of requirement can go a long way in avoiding last minute stress.
  3. Contingency Needs: A major issue plaguing the aviation industry is the availability of opportunities. The last few years have clearly demonstrated that problems are plenty in the Indian aviation sectors. For eg. Airlines have closed down, pay cuts are becoming common, or there have been significant delays in salary payments. Such events can have huge financial implications on pilots and their families. Having contingency funds parked in highly liquid assets can help bring some normalcy in such difficult times.
  4. Retirement and Sunset Years:Insufficient planning for your golden years i.e. Retirement can cause stress. In case of pilots, who are among the top earners amongst professionals, this only magnifies the problem. Why so? Pilots more often than not tend to have busy lifestyles with high discretionary expenses. As such they are accustomed to a lifestyle that will only get more and more expensive as years pass This year on year rise in prices is called Inflation and it is an important factor that more often that not, is grossly underestimated. Furthermore, like any other busy professional, even pilots like to keep themselves occupied during retirement years. The interests or activities that they might pursue would also usually have financial implications. Activities such as investing into various ventures, pursuing hobbies or dream goals, continuing leisure flying by enrolling in the local flying club can be just some of the examples. To be able to fund these without affecting retirement corpus requires careful planning early on.

Take the case of pilot Mr. Sharma. Currently aged 30, the household expenses for him and his family is Rs. 12 lakhs per annum. Even if we assume a general inflation of 8%, the same Rs. 12 lakh will become Rs. 1.75 crores at the age of retirement at 65. ( Rules permit pilots to fly till the age of 65 ). In other words, Mr. Sharma would need to have a big enough corpus at retirement that will provide them atleast Rs 1.75 crores every year that will help them maintain current lifestyles.

Pilots are aware of the importance of planning. Each flight requires hours of pre flight preparation which means going through weather reports, system checks among other items to ensure that the flight goes by without any hitch. Similarly having a strategic plan in place for one’s finances can also help prepare for any “rough weather” that could come along in a pilot’s financial life.

 

 

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Financial Welness image 1The traditional thoughts on wellness usually revolves around health and nutrition. However, in our current lifestyle, achieving a good health and having decent nutrition involves regular check ups and having healthy eating habits; which may be kind of difficult if we are stressed about our money. If you ask a group of working people who are having difficulties sleeping at night the reason for this, chances are high that a good number of them will cite financial stress as the cause. The impact of such stress is not unknown to us, with impact on health and loss of productivity just two of the effects.

Here are just a few reasons why Financial Wellness should be giving due consideration in today’s time:

Financial Concerns can be a major source of stress

According to the 2017 PWC Employee Wellness Survey (a survey done for employees in the United States), more than Fifty Percent of the employees surveyed are facing some sort of financial stress.

The Global Benefits Attitudes Survey conducted by Willis Tower Watson further showed that Fifty Three Percent of Indian Employee respondents claimed to have some sort of financial worry i.e. either long or short term, or maybe even both. Furthermore Seventy Three Percent of these respondents claimed that these worries have caused them above average stress. Following is a chart depicting the data collected by the Willis Tower Watson survey:

One in two survey participants have some kind of financial worry!

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It can be a major reason for loss of productivity

According to the PWC survey, distractions due to financial stress is a real thing and it can lead to wastage of working hours. The survey indicated that on average, financially stressed people spend up to 3 working hours per week on dealing with financial matters and they are also twice as likely to miss work due to personal financial matters

Improves Physical Well being

The American Psychological Association’s 2016 Stress in America report stated that Sixty Seven Percent of those surveyed revealed that money was a form of stress. And that rise in stress can lead to stress related health concerns.

While these are certain aspects that may be more applicable to an employee, employers should also look at this as a prime employee engagement tool for the following reasons:

Financial Planning take Time

As mentioned above, the stress caused by financial worries forces employees to bring these to the work place. As such they devote working hours to such matters and also altogether take leaves to attend to various financial concerns/emergencies. This only increases the burden of the employer ultimately.

Increases Employee Productivity and builds Loyalty

We have already read how financial worries leads to a loss of productivity in the office. An efficient manner in which employers can counter such trends is to increase financial awareness among its employees. Thus not only will employees worry less and reduce work hours wastage, they are also more likely to use their well deserved breaks better and therefore not be absent from work. Providing financial wellness initiatives can make them confident of planning better for major events like Retirement. This ultimately leads to trust between the organization and its employees, a great source of encouragement for all employers. 

Employees want Support and improve their Financial Literacy

Financially burdened employees would like their employers to help them in achieving wellness. Employees who stress from money issues are looking for help to improve their financial situation.

Financial Well Being is steadily gaining acceptance as an important factor of consideration for one’s overall well being. As such it it becomes critical for an individual to ensure that his/her’s financial situation does not lead to issues that has negative impacts on different aspects of life. And as an employer, Financial Wellness initiatives can be a source of efficient employee engagement and possible retention strategy.

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As was broadly expected, RBI cut policy rates by 0.25%, taking repo rates down to 6%. This was brought about largely due to the annual retail inflation in June to be the slowest for over five years and as expectations for inflation going forward remain at about 4%, a number that RBI seems to be comfortable with. In addition low core inflation, a good monsoon thus far and a reasonably decent GST roll out thus far. They also held the stance as neutral which was expected, considering that too many shifts in policy could impact long term credibility.

The good news is that the 6 member committee decision was not unanimous – four members voted for 25 bps cut, the fifth voted for a 50 bps cut and the last one voted to maintain status quo.  Hence repo rate got reduced from 6.25% to 6%, reverse repo rate from 6% to 5.75% and marginal standing facility (MSF) rate from 6.5% to 6.25%.

Big Image- What does the Monetary Policy mean for RBI monetary stance

Focus on the real rate of return

With interest rates remaining subdued, there is a tendency to want to take greater risk on the portfolio to achieve a higher absolute rate of return. We think that it is critical that investors focus on real rates of return ie the return after inflation on their portfolios. We believe RBI continues to keep its focus on real rates of return at 1.5% – 2%, which makes fixed income attractive at this stage. Avoid higher risk strategies in chasing a higher rate of return in the current environment, as the risk return trade off may not be favorable.

Your Investments

The decision of the MPC is consistent with a neutral stance of monetary policy in consonance with the objective of achieving the medium-term target for consumer price index (CPI) inflation of 4 per cent within a band of +/- 2 per cent, while supporting growth. The neutral stance does not mean that there won’t be any future rate cuts, but it does seem like rate cuts going forward may be slow and investors expecting a repeat of the returns from bonds made over the last few years, are likely to be disappointed, if they have very high expectations.  The bond and equity markets had probably already priced in this 0.25% rate cut and thus they did not react  to this announcement. It may be a good idea to have bond fund exposure being weighted two thirds towards accrual/hold to maturity strategies and one third towards duration/dynamic strategies. With global bond yields in developed markets headed upwards, investors in equities may need to be careful, especially with equity markets priced to perfection.

Your Loans

The RBI decision to cut its policy repo rate to 6 per cent is likely to lead to a further cut in the lending rates, especially home and car loans by banks. New borrowers can expect EMIs to come down and which would also cut down interest outgo over the loan tenure. Banks may come also up with promotional offers till the festival season to attract more customers. Old borrowers under the MCLR would have to wait until the next reset period to get the rate reset as normally rates are reset once in a year. There is also an option for the old borrowers of switching the loan portfolio to another lender. The decision to examine how the shift to MCLR has worked, considering that most loans are still linked to the base rate, would be interesting to watch closely as RBI has set up an expert committee to look into how monetary transmission can be more effective.

Way Forward

With inflation being the focus of the RBI, the factors determining inflation as mentioned in the Monetary Policy include:

(a) The impact on CPI of the implementation of house rent allowances (HRA) under the 7th central pay commission (CPC); could be estimated to have a 1% impact on inflation over the next 12-24 months

(b) The impact of the price revisions withheld ahead of the GST; and

(c) The movement of food and fuel inflation.

Watch out for inflation, the movement of the Indian rupee and how the economic slowdown led by weak manufacturing and cape data, till the next RBI policy on 4th October 2017.

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The RBI has not changed the repo rates, maintained at 6.25% but has cut SLR rate by 50 bps.  RBI has indicated that it wait for more clarity on data on inflation going forward before taking any decision on monetary policy action. However with inflation in terms of CPI continuing to remain low, any rate hike action which the markets were fearing over the last few weeks seems less likely. Thus a rate cut which seemed off the table till a few weeks ago continues to be an alternative going forward, depending on multiple data points. GST rollout so far has been assumed to not affect inflation meaningfully, though it will need to be watched carefully.

Investments:

Investors having investments in dynamic or duration funds can benefit from falling interest rates if inflation continues to be low. Investors having long term goal durations of 5 plus years for their fixed income portfolio can continue to invest in the duration and dynamic funds, along with tax free bonds. For investments with 3 to 5 year horizons investors can consider investing in a mix of short term and duration funds. Investor having an investment horizon of 1 to 3 years could invest into ultra-short term and short term funds to avoid volatility in interest rates.

Loans:

As there is SLR rate cut by 50bps banks will have more liquidity for lending and to pursue credit growth opportunities. The bank lending rate may go down due to excess liquidity in the banks and to increase consumption. People having loans can look for refinancing opportunities as rates could continue to remain low going forward.

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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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