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April 25, 2002 | 1130 IST
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What is RBI's Monetary Policy?

Salil Panchal/Morpheus Inc.

The Reserve Bank of India will announce its Monetary and Credit Policy for the first half of the financial year 2002-03 on April 29. Even as RBI Governor Bimal Jalan puts the finishing touches to the document, have you ever considered what is the significance of the biannual exercise?

In a world of policies in the financial sector, nothing could get as alien as the Monetary Policy. Terms like M3, CRR, SLR, PLR and OMO would make you think that the typical IT-bug has caught the financial sector. But take a closer look as the Monetary and Credit Policy is crucial to all of us and more so to the banking sector.

For the uninitiated, this policy determines the supply of money in the economy and the rate of interest charged by banks. The policy also contains an economic overview and presents future forecasts.

What is the Monetary Policy?

The Monetary and Credit Policy is the policy statement, traditionally announced twice a year, through which the Reserve Bank of India seeks to ensure price stability for the economy.

These factors include - money supply, interest rates and the inflation. In banking and economic terms money supply is referred to as M3 - which indicates the level (stock) of legal currency in the economy.

Besides, the RBI also announces norms for the banking and financial sector and the institutions which are governed by it. These would be banks, financial institutions, non-banking financial institutions, Nidhis and primary dealers (money markets) and dealers in the foreign exchange (forex) market.

When is the Monetary Policy announced?

Historically, the Monetary Policy is announced twice a year - a slack season policy (April-September) and a busy season policy (October-March) in accordance with agricultural cycles. These cycles also coincide with the halves of the financial year.

Initially, the Reserve Bank of India announced all its monetary measures twice a year in the Monetary and Credit Policy. The Monetary Policy has become dynamic in nature as RBI reserves its right to alter it from time to time, depending on the state of the economy.

However, with the share of credit to agriculture coming down and credit towards the industry being granted whole year around, the RBI since 1998-99 has moved in for just one policy in April-end. However a review of the policy does take place later in the year.

How is the Monetary Policy different from the Fiscal Policy?

Two important tools of macroeconomic policy are Monetary Policy and Fiscal Policy.

The Monetary Policy regulates the supply of money and the cost and availability of credit in the economy. It deals with both the lending and borrowing rates of interest for commercial banks.

The Monetary Policy aims to maintain price stability, full employment and economic growth.

The Reserve Bank of India is responsible for formulating and implementing Monetary Policy. It can increase or decrease the supply of currency as well as interest rate, carry out open market operations, control credit and vary the reserve requirements.

The Monetary Policy is different from Fiscal Policy as the former brings about a change in the economy by changing money supply and interest rate, whereas fiscal policy is a broader tool with the government.

The Fiscal Policy can be used to overcome recession and control inflation. It may be defined as a deliberate change in government revenue and expenditure to influence the level of national output and prices.

For instance, at the time of recession the government can increase expenditures or cut taxes in order to generate demand.

On the other hand, the government can reduce its expenditures or raise taxes during inflationary times. Fiscal policy aims at changing aggregate demand by suitable changes in government spending and taxes.

The annual Union Budget showcases the government's Fiscal Policy.

What are the objectives of the Monetary Policy?

The objectives are to maintain price stability and ensure adequate flow of credit to the productive sectors of the economy.

Stability for the national currency (after looking at prevailing economic conditions), growth in employment and income are also looked into. The monetary policy affects the real sector through long and variable periods while the financial markets are also impacted through short-term implications.

There are four main 'channels' which the RBI looks at:

  • Quantum channel: money supply and credit (affects real output and price level through changes in reserves money, money supply and credit aggregates).
  • Interest rate channel.
  • Exchange rate channel (linked to the currency).
  • Asset price.

All this is more linked to the banking sector. How does the Monetary Policy impact the individual?

In recent years, the policy had gained in importance due to announcements in the interest rates.

Earlier, depending on the rates announced by the RBI, the interest costs of banks would immediately either increase or decrease.

A reduction in interest rates would force banks to lower their lending rates and borrowing rates. So if you want to place a deposit with a bank or take a loan, it would offer it at a lower rate of interest.

On the other hand, if there were to be an increase in interest rates, banks would immediately increase their lending and borrowing rates. Since the rates of interest affect the borrowing costs of corporates and as a result, their bottomlines (profits), the monetary policy is very important to them also.

RBI Governor Bimal JalanBut over the past 2-3 years, RBI Governor Bimal Jalan has preferred not to wait for the Monetary Policy to announce a revision in interest rates and these revisions have been when the situation arises.

Since the financial sector reforms commenced, the RBI has moved towards a market-determined interest rate scenario. This means that banks are free to decide on interest rates on term deposits and loans.

Being the central bank, however, the RBI would have a say and determine direction on interest rates as it is an important tool to control inflation.

The bank rate is a tool used by RBI for this purpose as it refinances banks at the this rate. In other words, the bank rate is the rate at which banks borrow from the RBI.

How was the scenario prior to recent liberalisation?

Prior to recent liberalisation, the RBI resorted to direct instruments like interest rates regulation, selective credit control and CRR (cash reserve ratio) as monetary instruments.

One of the risks emerging in the past 5-7 years (through the capital flows and liberalisation of the financial sector) is that potential risk has increased for institutions. Thus, financial stability has become crucial and there are concerns relating to credit flows to the agricultural sector and small-scale industries.

What do the terms CRR and SLR mean?

CRR, or cash reserve ratio, refers to a portion of deposits (as cash) which banks have to keep/maintain with the RBI. This serves two purposes. It ensures that a portion of bank deposits is totally risk-free and secondly it enables that RBI control liquidity in the system, and thereby, inflation.

Besides the CRR, banks are required to invest a portion of their deposits in government securities as a part of their statutory liquidity ratio (SLR) requirements.

The government securities (also known as gilt-edged securities or gilts) are bonds issued by the Central government to meet its revenue requirements. Although the bonds are long-term in nature, they are liquid as they can be traded in the secondary market.

Since 1991, as the economy has recovered and sector reforms increased, the CRR has fallen from 15 per cent in March 1991 to 5.5 per cent in December 2001. The SLR has fallen from 38.5 per cent to 25 per cent over the past decade.

What impact does a cut in CRR have on interest rates?

From time to time, RBI prescribes a CRR or the minimum amount of cash that banks have to maintain with it. The CRR is fixed as a percentage of total deposits. As more money chases the same number of borrowers, interest rates come down.

Does a change in SLR and gilts products impact interest rates?

SLR reduction is not so relevant in the present context for two reasons:

First, as part of the reforms process, the government has begun borrowing at market-related rates. Therefore, banks get better interest rates compared to earlier for their statutory investments in government securities.

Second, banks are still the main source of funds for the government.

This means that despite a lower SLR requirement, banks' investment in government securities will go up as government borrowing rises. As a result, bank investment in gilts continues to be high despite the RBI bringing down the minimum SLR to 25 per cent a couple of years ago.

Therefore, for the purpose of determining the interest rates, it is not the SLR requirement that is important but the size of the government's borrowing programme. As government borrowing increases, interest rates, too, rise.

Besides, gilts also provide another tool for the RBI to manage interest rates. The RBI conducts open market operations (OMO) by offering to buy or sell gilts.

If it feels interest rates are too high, it may bring them down by offering to buy securities at a lower yield than what is available in the market.

How does the Monetary Policy affect the domestic industry and exporters in particular?

Exporters look forward to the monetary policy since the central bank always makes an announcement on export refinance, or the rate at which the RBI will lend to banks which have advanced pre-shipment credit to exporters.

A lowering of these rates would mean lower borrowing costs for the exporter.

The stock markets and money move similarly, in some ways. Why?

Most people attribute the link between the amount of money in the economy and movements in stock markets to the amount of liquidity in the system. This is not entirely true.

The factor connecting money and stocks is interest rates. People save to get returns on their savings. In true market conditions, this made bank deposits or bonds (whose returns are linked to interest rates) and stocks (whose returns are linked to capital gains), competitors for people's savings.

A hike in interest rates would tend to suck money out of shares into bonds or deposits; a fall would have the opposite effect. This argument has survived econometric tests and practical experience.

Is the money supply related to jobs, wages and output?

At any point of time, the price level in the economy is determined by the amount of money floating around. An increase in the money supply - currency with the public, demand deposits and time deposits - increases prices all round because there is more currency moving towards the same goods and services.

Typically, the RBI follows a least-inflation policy, which means that its money market operations as well as changes in the bank rate are generally designed to minimise the inflationary impact of money supply changes. Since most people can generally see through this strategy, it limits the impact of the RBI's monetary moves to affect jobs or production.

The markets, however, move to the RBI's tune because of the link between interest rates and capital market yields. The RBI's policies have maximum impact on volatile foreign exchange and stock markets.

Jobs, wages and output are affected over the long run, if the trends of high inflation or low liquidity persist for very long period.

If wages move slower than other prices, higher inflation will drive real wages lower and encourage employers to hire more people. This in turn ramps up production and employment.

This was the theoretical justification of a long-term trend that showed that higher inflation and employment went together; when inflation fell, unemployment increased.

What are the measures to regulate money supply?

The RBI uses the interest rate, OMO, changes in banks' CRR and primary placements of government debt to control the money supply. OMO, primary placements and changes in the CRR are the most popular instruments used.

Under the OMO, the RBI buys or sells government bonds in the secondary market. By absorbing bonds, it drives up bond yields and injects money into the market. When it sells bonds, it does so to suck money out of the system.

The changes in CRR affect the amount of free cash that banks can use to lend - reducing the amount of money for lending cuts into overall liquidity, driving interest rates up, lowering inflation and sucking money out of markets.

Primary deals in government bonds are a method to intervene directly in markets, followed by the RBI. By directly buying new bonds from the government at lower than market rates, the RBI tries to limit the rise in interest rates that higher government borrowings would lead to.

Considering that interest rates are now tweaked looking at market conditions, is the Monetary Policy losing its importance?

Bimal Jalan has said he would make the Credit Policy a 'non-event' and would use the policy only to review developments in the banking industry and money markets. Interest rate announcements since 1998-99 were based on economic and market developments.

The policy now concentrates mostly on structural issues in the banking industry.

Some Monetary Policy terms:

Bank Rate

Bank rate is the minimum rate at which the central bank provides loans to the commercial banks. It is also called the discount rate.

Usually, an increase in bank rate results in commercial banks increasing their lending rates. Changes in bank rate affect credit creation by banks through altering the cost of credit.

Cash Reserve Ratio

All commercial banks are required to keep a certain amount of its deposits in cash with RBI. This percentage is called the cash reserve ratio. The current CRR requirement is 8 per cent.


Inflation refers to a persistent rise in prices. Simply put, it is a situation of too much money and too few goods. Thus, due to scarcity of goods and the presence of many buyers, the prices are pushed up.

The converse of inflation, that is, deflation, is the persistent falling of prices. RBI can reduce the supply of money or increase interest rates to reduce inflation.

Money Supply (M3)

This refers to the total volume of money circulating in the economy, and conventionally comprises currency with the public and demand deposits (current account + savings account) with the public.

The RBI has adopted four concepts of measuring money supply. The first one is M1, which equals the sum of currency with the public, demand deposits with the public and other deposits with the public. Simply put M1 includes all coins and notes in circulation, and personal current accounts.

The second, M2, is a measure of money, supply, including M1, plus personal deposit accounts - plus government deposits and deposits in currencies other than rupee.

The third concept M3 or the broad money concept, as it is also known, is quite popular. M3 includes net time deposits (fixed deposits), savings deposits with post office saving banks and all the components of M1.

Statutory Liquidity Ratio

Banks in India are required to maintain 25 per cent of their demand and time liabilities in government securities and certain approved securities.

These are collectively known as SLR securities. The buying and selling of these securities laid the foundations of the 1992 Harshad Mehta scam.


A repurchase agreement or ready forward deal is a secured short-term (usually 15 days) loan by one bank to another against government securities.

Legally, the borrower sells the securities to the lending bank for cash, with the stipulation that at the end of the borrowing term, it will buy back the securities at a slightly higher price, the difference in price representing the interest.

Open Market Operations

An important instrument of credit control, the Reserve Bank of India purchases and sells securities in open market operations.

In times of inflation, RBI sells securities to mop up the excess money in the market. Similarly, to increase the supply of money, RBI purchases securities.

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