MUMBAI: Home, auto and other loans are set to become costlier with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Tuesday hiking key short-term rates to contain inflation, while giving relief to small savers by increasing the savings bank rate to 4 per cent from 3.5 per cent now.
The signal was given by the RBI in its annual policy review meeting for 2011-12, where it hiked the repo rate (the rate at which banks borrow from the RBI) by 50 basis points to 7.25 per cent, the ninth increase since March, 2010.
RBI Governor, Mr D Subbarao made it clear that containing inflation would take precedence over growth, which has been pegged at a lower level of 8 per cent for 2011-12 as against the government’s projection of 9 per cent.
The move to hike the rates has been necessitated as the RBI feels inflation would remain at an “elevated level” of 9 per cent in the first half of the current financial year before moderating to 6 per cent by March 2012.
Mr Subbarao’s hawkish stance was supported by Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee who said, “This (hike in rates) was necessary to contain inflation. Inflationary pressure in the economy is still very high.”
Planning Commission Deputy Chairman, Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia also endorsed the RBI stance and welcomed the hike in both, the lending rate as well as the savings rate. “Personally, I am very glad that the RBI has given a clear signal going beyond the usual 25 basis points (revision),” he added.
The RBI chief said over the long run, high inflation is inimical to growth as it harms investment by creating uncertainty. “Current elevated rates of inflation pose significant risks to future growth. Bringing them down, therefore, even at the cost of some growth in the short run, should take precedence,” he added.
Most bankers felt there was no option but to increase interest rates as the cost of borrowing funds has also gone up, with the RBI hiking the short-term lending rates. However, the industry is disappointed. “This is certainly a very hawkish monetary stand, which would make the investment environment even more difficult… We are afraid that with growth slowing down, employment targets will not be achieved and this could generate greater social pressures,” Ficci Director General, Mr Rajiv Kumar said.
The RBI, however, kept the Cash Reserve Ratio (the portion of cash banks are required to keep with the RBI) at 6 per cent, ensuring sufficient liquidity in the system.
The central bank also introduced a new mechanism – Marginal Standing Facility – under which banks would be permitted to borrow short-term funds (overnight) up to 1 per cent of their deposits at 8.25 per cent.
The RBI also made out a case for hiking petroleum prices in line with global crude prices and said the government must act immediately to manage the fiscal situation. “The critical assumption that petroleum and fertiliser subsidies would be capped is bound to be seriously tested at prevailing crude oil prices. Even though an adjustment of domestic retail prices may add to the inflation rate in the short run, the RBI believes that this needs to be done as soon as possible,” Mr Subbarao said.
Bankers said they are likely to hike interest rates on home, auto and corporate loans by half a percentage point as their cost of funds has gone up. “I think banks do not have any other option but to increase rates. It could be 25 basis points or 50 basis points depending on individual banks,” IDBI Bank executive director, Mr R K Bansal said. Commenting on the RBI policy action, Union Bank of India executive director, Mr S C Kalia said the stance is very clear and signals hardening of interest rates. The monetary measures are aimed at anchoring inflationary expectations without impacting credit growth, Mr Kalia said.