The outlook for inflation has turned adverse relative to expectations in the last two months. The substantial wedge between wholesale and retail inflation points to the supply-side bottlenecks and large margins being charged to the consumer. While cereal prices may continue to soften with the bumper kharif harvest arrivals and vegetable prices may ease with the winter crop, other food prices are likely to persist at elevated levels. Crude oil prices have picked up on optimism of demand recovery, continuation of OPEC plus production cuts and are expected to remain volatile in the near-term. Cost-push pressures continue to impinge on core inflation, which has remained sticky and could firm up as economic activity normalises and demand picks up. Taking into consideration all these factors, CPI inflation is projected at 6.8 per cent for Q3:2020-21, 5.8 per cent for Q4:2020-21; and 5.2 per cent to 4.6 per cent in H1:2021-22, with risks broadly balanced.
Turning to the growth outlook, the recovery in rural demand is expected to strengthen further, while urban demand is also gaining momentum as unlocking spurs activity and employment, especially of labour displaced by COVID-19. These positive impulses are, however, clouded by a possible rise in infections in some parts of the country, prompting some local containment measures. At the same time, the recovery rate has crossed 94 per cent and there is considerable optimism on successes in vaccine trials. Consumers remain optimistic about the outlook, and business sentiment of manufacturing firms is gradually improving. Fiscal stimulus is increasingly moving beyond being supportive of consumption and liquidity to supporting growth-generating investment. On the other hand, private investment is still slack and capacity utilisation has not fully recovered. While exports are on an uneven recovery, the prospects have brightened with the progress on the vaccines. Demand for contact-intensive services is likely to remain subdued for some time due to social distancing norms and risk aversion. Taking these factors into consideration, real GDP growth is projected at (-)7.5 per cent in 2020-21: (+)0.1 per cent in Q3:2020-21 and (+)0.7 per cent in Q4:2020-21; and (+)21.9 per cent to (+)6.5 per cent in H1:2021-22, with risks broadly balanced.
The MPC is of the view that inflation is likely to remain elevated, barring transient relief in the winter months from prices of perishables. This constrains monetary policy at the current juncture from using the space available to act in support of growth. At the same time, the signs of recovery are far from being broad-based and are dependent on sustained policy support. A small window is available for proactive supply management strategies to break the inflation spiral being fuelled by supply chain disruptions, excessive margins and indirect taxes. Further efforts are necessary to mitigate supply-side driven inflation pressures. Monetary policy will monitor closely all threats to price stability to anchor broader macroeconomic and financial stability. Accordingly, the MPC in its meeting today decided to maintain status quo on the policy rate and continue with the accommodative stance as long as necessary – at least during the current financial year and into the next financial year – to revive growth on a durable basis and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, while ensuring that inflation remains within the target going forward.
On the basis of an assessment of the current and evolving macroeconomic situation, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) at its meeting today (December 4, 2020) decided to:
- keep the policy repo rate under the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) unchanged at 4.0 per cent.
Consequently, the reverse repo rate under the LAF remains unchanged at 3.35 per cent and the marginal standing facility (MSF) rate and the Bank Rate at 4.25 per cent.
- The MPC also decided to continue with the accommodative stance as long as necessary – at least during the current financial year and into the next financial year – to revive growth on a durable basis and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, while ensuring that inflation remains within the target going forward.
These decisions are in consonance with the objective of achieving the medium-term target for consumer price index (CPI) inflation of 4 per cent within a band of +/- 2 per cent, while supporting growth, MPC Statement said.