Hardly anyone appears to be interested in what Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan does to interest rates or liquidity management in his monetary policy review on Tuesday,  most assume rates will remain unchanged. What they really want to know is this: Is he staying or going, said a report in The Economic Times.

 

This is probably the first time since the liberalisation of the economy began in 1991 that the prospects of the financial markets and industry have seemingly become so inextricably linked with the office of the RBI governor, or rather, who's in it. Rajan's three-­year term ends in September. A methodical approach to monetary policy rather than haphazard calls on interest rates and a painful, ongoing clean-up of the Indian banking system has led to the belief that credibility has improved under Rajan.  Of course, no one really expects any sort of answer on Tuesday.

 

"Amid speculation of Dr Rajan's extension, people will be keen to get a word from the horse's mouth, but they would be disappointed only," said Abheek Barua, chief economist at HDFC Bank. A poll of economists by ET shows that no one is expecting any action on interest rate

 

The expectations come against a backdrop in which the future remains uncertain regarding consumer prices, which have started climbing due to higher vegetable and oil prices, and the US Federal Reserve's impending interest rate increase. The cloud over continuation of the UK in the European Union is an added worry. A referendum is due there on June 23. "The economic environment has become more uncertain," said Saugata Bhattacharya, chief economist at Axis Bank. "Commodity prices, especially oil, seem to be creeping up, which, with a weakening rupee, might pass through to higher Indian inflation. This may change RBI's forecasts for FY17 inflation and growth."

 

Inflation as measured by the consumer price index (CPI) rose last month at a more ­than expected 5.39 per cent, up from 4.83 per cent in March, the first increase in the measure since January. In April last year, it was 4.87 per cent. Rajan's target is 5 per cent retail inflation by March 2017. Investors are also keen to see whether the RBI raises its inflation forecast for next year. In its previous review, it said CPI inflation is expected to decelerate modestly and remain around 5 per cent in 2016­17 with small inter­-quarter variations.

 

 Although both private forecasters and the India Meteorological Department have forecast abundant rains during the upcoming monsoon, many are keeping their fingers crossed. "We expect RBI to retain its accommodative stance on prospects of better monsoon even as it sounds cautious on the recent hardening of CPI inflation," said Anubhuti Sahay, economist at Standard Chartered Bank. "We expect May CPI at 5.9 per cent on higher prices of perishable food items." Yet another reason that traders and bankers are unconcerned about interest rates is because the liquidity situation has improved in the past two months, giving relief after the central bank changed its rigid stance on liquidity management in the past review. It had said it would move to a neutral stance on liquidity, which means banks need not borrow on a daily basis from the central bank, in contrast with a negative stance that forces them to do so.