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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

RBI tries a ‘shock and awe’ tactic to tame inflation

In what seems like a last-ditch effort to bring inflation under control, the RBI decided to use a ‘shock and awe’ tactic – even if it meant a slow down in growth in the near term – by raising the repo and reverse repo rates by 50 bps (i.e. 0.5%) each.

That may not seem like much, except that the consensus estimate in the market was a 25 bps hike. Some even hoped for a pause in the rate hike, as there were some signs of slow down in inflation and growth. The 50 bps increase came as a bolt from the blue, and the bears didn’t waste a moment in extracting a heavy toll.

Wikipedia describes the ‘shock and awe’ tactic as follows:

‘Shock and awe (or rapid dominance) is a military doctrine based on the use of overwhelming power, dominant battlefield awareness, dominant maneuvers, and spectacular displays of force to paralyze an adversary's perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight.’

Whether inflation will get tamed or not remains to be seen. But a 100 point drop in the Nifty and a 350 point fall in the Sensex may seriously hamper the bulls’ will to fight. However, the rate increase should not have come as a big surprise to readers of this blog. After the previous rate hike in June ‘11, this was my cautionary statement:

‘… without appropriate fiscal and policy measures to support the RBI's monetary tightening, inflation is not going to come down any time soon. … Which means more tightening and further increase in repo and reverse repo rates in future, while the governments 'addiction' remains uncured.’

I paid Rs 50 a kg for fresh ‘bhindi’ yesterday. People living in Mumbai and Delhi may laugh at such ‘cheap’ rates, but it is the maximum I have ever paid for a non-exotic vegetable in Kolkata. Now there is talk of allowing only 6 LPG cylinders per family per year at the ‘subsidised’ rate of Rs 405. Any additional cylinders will be billed at Rs 700 to mitigate under-recoveries of the oil marketing companies.

Even the current slightly moderated inflation rate – which the RBI is trying to bring down further with the 50 bps rate hike – is actually an artificially lower rate due to subsidised prices of diesel, kerosene and LPG. The actual rate is way higher.

So, be prepared for more rate hikes, more EMI payments, slower growth in the economy and a sliding stock market. The press conference of bank CEOs following the RBI announcement made one thing crystal clear. Things will get a little worse, before they get any better.

But there is a silver lining to every dark cloud. Shorter-term fixed deposit rates are likely to be raised soon. Time to take some profits off the table, and reallocate to fixed income. Looks like a very testing time for the bulls till Diwali.

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