MUMBAI: India's central bank kept its key interest rate on hold Tuesday because of high inflation and warned that a weak monsoon and intensifying global risks will drive down growth faster than anticipated in Asia's third largest economy.
The Reserve Bank of India slashed its growth forecast for the fiscal year ending in March 2013 to 6.5 percent from 7.3 percent. It said inflation for the fiscal year will be 7.0 percent, up from its April forecast of 6.5 percent and far higher than the bank's target of 4.0 to 4.5 percent.
"The primary focus of monetary policy remains inflation control in order to secure a sustainable growth path," the bank said in its policy statement. "In the current circumstances, lowering policy rates will only aggravate inflationary impulses without necessarily stimulating growth."
India's economy has slowed for four straight quarters, hitting a nine-year low of 5.3 percent growth in the quarter ended March.
Growth has been dragged down by weak investment and warning private consumption. Though the rupee has been hitting lifetime lows, its depreciation has yet to have a positive impact on exports, the bank said. The bank said its earlier growth projection was based on the assumption of normal rainfall — crucial for India's vast and largely unirrigated agricultural sector — and an improvement in industrial output, neither of which materialized. Global growth and trade are also slowing, the bank warned, which will hit India's industrial and services sectors.
The bank said that the inadequate monsoon — rainfall this season is about 20 percent below normal — coupled with a weak rupee, which drives up the domestic price of imported oil, are pushing up inflation, which has been stuck above 7 percent for months.
"The deficient and uneven monsoon performance so far will have an adverse impact on food inflation," the bank said.
Core inflation — the prices of non-food manufactured products — has not fallen in tandem with India's slowing growth. The bank blamed infrastructure bottlenecks in coal, minerals and power supply, all of which lie beyond the reach of monetary policy.
The bank again warned that India's current account and fiscal deficits "pose significant risks to macroeconomic stability." The deficit in the current account, which is a broad measure of India's investment and trade balance with the rest of the world, rose to 4.2 percent of gross domestic product in the fiscal year ended in March. That was up from 2.7 percent of GDP the year before.
In April and May, food subsidies fell, but fertilizer subsidies were more than twice as high as they were last year, which will make it difficult for the Finance Ministry to make good on its pledge to restrict subsidy spending to 2 percent of GDP unless "immediate action" is taken, the bank said.
"While monetary actions over the past two years may have contributed to the growth slowdown — an unavoidable consequence — several other factors have played a significant role," the bank said. "As the multiple constraints to growth are addressed, the Reserve Bank will stand ready to act appropriately."
The bank left the key repo rate unchanged at 8.0 percent.