Less than a week after third-quarter GDP estimates showed a lower-than-expected 5.3 per cent growth rate, the Reserve Bank of India on Wednesday surprised the market and sent fresh signals to banks to lower lending and deposit rates by pruning the repo rate and the reverse repo rate by 50 basis points each.

 The repo rate, or the rate at which RBI lends to banks, has been cut to 5 per cent, while the reverse repo rate, or the rate at which the central bank absorbs liquidity, has been pared to 3.5 per cent. The market had given up hopes of an immediate reduction after the central bank prodded banks last week to lower rates.


Repo rate (%)

Oct 20 ‘08 8.00

Nov 3 ‘08 7.50

Dec 8 ’08 6.50

Jan 2 ‘09 5.50

Mar 4 ‘09 5.00

Reverse repo rate (%)

Jun 8 ‘06 5.75

Jul 25 ‘06 6.00

Dec 8 ‘08 5.00

Jan 2 ‘09 4.00

Mar 4 ‘09 3.50

Around the time the central bank announced its latest move to boost economic activity, Canara Bank said it would cut interest rates on housing and vehicle loans and domestic term deposits, effective March 11.

Others banks, however, said their asset-liability committees (alcos) would meet over the next few days to examine the cost of funds and then decide whether to reduce lending rates.

“Wednesday’s move is prompted by the fact that inflation is coming down and there is a possibility that the numbers may go down to negative territory in June. We expect the cost of funds to drop in a fortnight. When the cost of funds comes down for us, we will pass on the benefit to borrowers,” said HDFC Vice-Chairman and Managing Director, Keki Mistry.

An Axis Bank executive said that the bank would review its home loan rates soon but did not comment on the prime lending rate.

“This is a signal from RBI to review the rates. Our alco will meet in three or four days to take stock of costs and then decide the issue,” Bank of Maharashtra Chairman and Managing Director Allen C A Pereira said.

“RBI has sought to create conditions conducive to consumption and investment, taking into account global developments and their impact on India: a slowdown in growth on one hand and decline in inflation on other,” said ICICI Bank CEO-designate Chanda Kochhar.

The RBI move is largely a sentiment booster for banks rather than a technical one, as banks already have ample liquidity and hardly borrow from the repo window right now, she added.

A cut in reverse repo rates will discourage banks from parking surplus funds with RBI through the liquidity adjustment facility and encourage them to boost lending to the commercial sector. Over the past three months, RBI has slashed the rate 250 basis points.

With the latest repo rate reduction, the fifth since October 20, the overall cut since the global credit crisis intensified adds up to 400 basis points.

Since September, the central bank has also lowered the cash reserve ratio, or the proportion of deposits that banks set aside, by another 400 basis points to inject Rs 1,60,000 crore into the system. Through the series of measures, RBI has provided Rs 3,88,000 crore of primary liquidity to the system.

Banks have, however, refrained from passing on the entire benefits to borrowers and have reduced lending rates 50 to 200 basis points, with private and foreign banks being reluctant to cut rates.

As a result of banks’ risk aversion that prompted them to park larger sums of money in government securities, the flow of resources to the commercial sector from banks and non-banks fell to Rs 4,98,136 crore between April and February 13, against Rs 6,08,351 crore in the corresponding period of the last year. On a year-on-year basis, non-food credit growth, which rose to 29.4 per cent on October 10, decelerated to 19.7 per cent on February 13.

RBI, while advising banks to “monitor their loan portfolio and take early action, to prevent asset impairment” also asked lenders to appropriately price the risk “and ensure that creditworthy enterprises continue to get funding”.

Overall economic activity has slowed, with the economy projected to grow 7.1 per cent this year, against over 9 per cent during the past three years. Industrial output contracted in December, exports have shrunk for four months in a row and growth in the services sector has slowed.

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