Indian inflation remains high, premature to lower guard - MPC minutes
By Swati Bhat
MUMBAI (Reuters) -Price pressures in India remain high and it would be premature to lower the guard on inflation, majority of the members of the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) monetary policy committee (MPC) wrote, according to minutes published on Wednesday.
Earlier in February, the MPC hiked the key repo rate by a quarter percentage point, as expected, but surprised markets by leaving the door open to more tightening, saying core inflation remained high.
"It will be premature to pause when there are no definitive signs of slowdown in inflation, particularly core inflation," RBI executive director and MPC member Rajiv Ranjan wrote.
"Nevertheless, as the policy rate adjusted for inflation has now turned positive, albeit barely so, there is a case for paring down the pace of rate hike to the usual 25 bps," he added.
The MPC is mandated to bring retail inflation down to 4% over the medium term, while keeping it within the target band of 2%-6%.
"We must ... remain unwavering in our commitment to bring down inflation to ensure a decisive and durable moderation in inflation towards the target of 4% over the medium term, while being mindful of growth," RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das said.
Persistently high core inflation is a crucial concern at this stage, external member Shashanka Bhide said.
"It is important to reduce the demand side pressures on inflation and bring the inflation expectations of the various stakeholders closer to the policy target to sustain the growth momentum".
India's annual retail inflation rate rose to 6.52% in January from 5.72% in December, breaching the central bank's upper threshold for the first time in three months, on higher food prices.
The monetary policy stance will need to remain disinflationary till inflation is returned to target, RBI deputy governor Michael Patra said.
External members Jayant Varma and Ashima Goyal, however, voted against the decision to raise the key repo rate.
"In the second half of 2022-23, monetary policy has, in my view, become complacent about growth, and I fervently hope that we do not pay the price for this in terms of unacceptably low growth in 2023-24," Varma said.
Goyal, warned that as the aggressive MPC tightening is more fully passed through, it will further reduce demand.
"It is better to give time for possible softening of both inflation and growth and effects of past monetary tightening to play out," she said.
(Additional reporting by Siddhi Nayak, Sudipto Ganguly and Chris Thomas; Editing by Mark Potter and Shounak Dasgupta)