India cuts interest rates, says little room for more easing

Last Updated: Fri, May 03, 2013 05:40 hrs

MUMBAI, May 3 (Reuters) - India's central bank cut its policy interest rate by 25 basis points on Friday for the third time since January, as expected, as growth slows and inflation ebbs, but said there is little room to ease monetary policy further.

The Reserve Bank of India trimmed the repo rate to 7.25 percent, its lowest since May 2011, and kept the cash reserve ratio (CRR) for banks unchanged at 4 percent, also in line with expectations.

However, it warned that the risk of inflationary pressure persists despite a recent sharp decline in wholesale price index (WPI) inflation, and said a high current account deficit poses the biggest risk "by far" to the Indian economy.

"The balance of risks stemming from the Reserve Bank's assessment of the growth-inflation dynamic yields little space for further monetary easing," the RBI wrote in its policy statement.

Some in the market had been hoping for more aggressive policy easing action and a less hawkish tone from RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao as India grapples with economic growth that slowed to about 5 percent in the fiscal year that ended in March, its weakest in a decade.

India's headline inflation in March fell to its lowest in more than three years at 5.96 percent, but the consumer price index remained elevated at 10.39 percent.

The current account deficit swelled to a record 6.7 percent of GDP in the December quarter. While it is expected to ease on lower global commodity prices and a rise in exports, it is on track to remain well above the 2.5 percent level that is seen as sustainable.

"Should global liquidity conditions rapidly tighten, India could potentially face a problem of sudden stop and reversal of capital flows jeopardising our macro-financial stability," it said.

The central bank said it expects the economy to grow at 5.7 percent in the fiscal year that started in April, and projected headline WPI inflation at around 5.5 percent during the year.

It said its intention is to lower WPI inflation to 5 percent by March 2014 "using all instruments at its command."

The RBI once again urged the government to take measures to ease supply constraints in the economy and encourage investment.

"Without policy efforts to unlock the tightening supply constraints and bring enduring improvements in productivity and competitiveness, growth could weaken even further and inflationary strains could re-emerge," it said. (Reporting by Tony Munroe and Suvashree Dey Choudhury)

More from Sify: