RQ | Certainty in monetary policy

Two big takeaways from today’s monetary policy review are the institution of a formal inflation target and a commitment to consistency in monetary policy

I found two major takeaways from RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan’s press conference this morning following the RBI policy review (where both the policy rate and the cash reserve ratio were held constant).

Firstly, Rajan used this opportunity to set for the bank a long-term inflation target. In a previous review, it had been announced that the RBI was focussed on targeting a 6% inflation rate by January 2016, and that conversations were on between the RBI and the Government regarding setting a formal inflation target.

In today’s review, Rajan took this one step further announcing that after January 2016, the RBI will set its policy rate targeting an inflation rate of 4% +/- 2%. This is extremely significant for for the first time it signifies a primarily inflation-targeting objective for the Reserve Bank of India. Over the last few months Rajan has made several attempts to explain that low and stable inflation is a necessary condition for a high and stable growth rate, and having primed us with this narrative, he has finally committed to a long-term inflation target.

The second important takeaway was the emphasis on consistency in policy. Rajan mentioned that while he is prepared to cut rates when the conditions are ripe, what he doesn’t want to do is to flip-flop on rates. This means he is likely to cut rates in this policy review only if he is confident that the requirement of having to raise rates in the next policy review is going to be low. This is extremely significant, as this kind of a direction is an implicit commitment to both savers and borrowers that they can expect the same direction for a significant amount of time, which means that they can plan better.

While some commentators might be disappointed that rates were not cut today, I think today’s policy review was extremely fruitful and some of the commitments made will have important consequences in the long run. Consistency in policy is an extremely important step, and the adoption of a formal inflation target at a time when global oil and food prices are dropping is excellent timing.

The press conference itself was quite insightful, and the way Rajan and his deputies handled the questions was extremely instructive. For example, one journalist mentioned that we’ve already hit 6% inflation which was the target for January 2016, and asked why rates weren’t cut on that account. Rajan replied that the fact that inflation is 6% today doesn’t imply that it will stay there a year later, and we need to work towards holding it there, and that the holding of rates in today’s review was a step in that direction.