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May 27, 2017

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India expected to see first cut in interest rates for 9 months

NEW DELHI -- India's central bank is expected to cut interest rates this week for the first time in nine months in response to the government's recent economic reform spree and slowing inflation, economists say.

With inflation at a three-year low and a flurry of new measures to ease investment rules, now is seen as the right time for the bank to focus on pulling the economy out of its worst growth slump in a decade.

Policymakers are "clearly teed up for rate cuts," banking on a further easing of inflation in coming quarters, lower government borrowing and more pro-market reforms, HSBC economist Leif Eskesen said.

However, those hoping the Reserve Bank of India will announce a big cut following its policy-setting meeting on Tuesday are likely to be disappointed.

The bank "is likely to tread very carefully — given lingering inflation risks," Eskesen added.

Like other economists, he said he expected the bank to limit any rate cut to 25 basis points. The bank's key repo rate — at which it lends to commercial banks — now stands at 8.0 percent.

Any reduction would be welcomed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's scandal-scarred Congress party government, which is anxious to revive growth before facing voters in general elections due in the first half of next year.

Indian shares have been nosing higher to trade at around two-year highs in the past week on hopes of lower rates.

"The market is betting on a rate cut of 25 basis points," said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at Care Ratings.

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