India holds rates steady on growth concerns

AP News
Posted: Dec 16, 2011 1:49 AM
India holds rates steady on growth concerns

India's central bank held key interest rates steady Friday as it struggles to foster growth amid high inflation, disappointing businesses who were looking for more drastic action.

The Reserve Bank of India kept the short-term lending rate, or repo rate, at 8.5 percent and the reverse repo rate _ the rate it pays to banks for deposits, at 7.5 percent. The bank also kept the cash reserve ratio for commercial lenders unchanged.

"Downside risks to growth have clearly increased," the bank said in a statement. "However, it must be emphasized that inflation risks remain high."

The bank's 13 rate hikes since March 2010 are starting to choke growth in Asia's third largest economy. Growth slipped to a two year low of 6.9 percent in the September quarter and industrial production fell 5.1 percent in October, its first contraction since June 2009. But inflation remains above 9 percent.

"I would like to see RBI do a major rate cut now," B. Muthuraman, president of the Confederation of Indian Industry and vice chairman of Tata Steel, told CNBC-TV18 before the policy decision.

He said he would have liked the bank to cut rates by half a percentage point and reduce the cash reserve ratio to boost lending. That would help small and medium sized businesses _ which are crucial to jobs and output in India's manufacturing sector _ get more affordable financing to grow.

"Government inaction is a big cause of concern for industry," Muthuraman said, citing coal shortages, land acquisition difficulties and slow decision making. "We can have a growth rate in excess of 8 percent, if only we'd had reforms. It's a very sad story."

The rupee, which has been trading at record lows, strengthened Friday, after the central bank took to steps to curb speculation.