Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why RBI could not raise interest rate more than 25bps?

Yesterday the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced hike in Repo and reverse repo rates by 25bps each. Some commentators argued that RBI is behind the curve and should be aggressive in rate hikes. I disagree.

India is not entering the Volcker age
The question of aggressive RBI puts the Indian economy in some ways (not in magnitude) similar to US when Paul Volcker became the Fed chairman. There is high demand side pull and supply side needs catch up. But there is a key difference in India's position.

India needs investments in supply infrastructure
India needs more than INR 2 Trillion worth of investments to de-bottleneck the supply side. I am not talking about creating supply but simply reducing wastage and time lags to ensure supply gets to consumer. This investment is required in roads, cold-chains, food processing, storage and markets etc. This infrastructure is government responsibility. Either government create this infrastructure or create conditions in which private player can create it. Without this not much can be achieved on supply side.

Interest rate puts pressure on this investment
By increasing interest rates in arbitrary manner RBI will create uncertainty that will impact these investments in two ways. First, it will postpone the investments because of uncertain business environment. Secondly, it will increase the cost of capital and thus reduce profitability of these investments.

Hence, I believe, the RBI acted prudently to signal inflation concerns but allow markets to steadily adjust to higher interest environment.