India's long wait for rate cut seen ending as RBI reviews policy

RBI

India's central bank is widely expected to make a modest cut in interest rates on Tuesday to support an economy set for its slowest growth in a decade, with a deeper cut unlikely due to worries over the fiscal and external deficits and inflation.

A Reuters poll earlier this month showed most economists foresaw the RBI cutting its policy repo rate by 25 basis points to 7.75 percent in the policy review, and follow it up with a cumulative 75 bps of cuts by the end of September.

Since the last cut nine months ago, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has resisted pleas from businesses and politicians for further reductions, putting the onus back on the government to take action.

But the central bank had held out hope of a cut sometime this quarter after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's fractious coalition in September ended a debilitating phase of policy inaction to make urgently needed reforms to reduce the fiscal deficit and attract foreign investment.

The measures, which included giving foreign players more access to its retail and aviation sectors, helped India forestall the threat of a sovereign debt credit rating downgrade to junk status.

Recently, as part of an ongoing drive to trim spending, the government gave oil companies more room to set regulated diesel prices.

In December, inflation slowed to a three year low of 7.18 percent, further building expectations for a cut in rates.

Hopes of a large rate cut, however, were quashed after RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao said two weeks ago that inflation was still high.

His comment pushed the benchmark 10-year bond yield up to 7.89 percent from a 29-month low of 7.79 percent touched after the soft December inflation number.

In a report on the economy, issued a day before its policy review, the RBI spoke of taking a measured approach to support growth while balancing the risks.

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