On October 3, 2013, the finance ministry headed by P Chidambaram put out a rather nondescript press release, in which it said "The Central Government has decided in principle to enhance the amount of capital to be infused into Public Sector Banks (PSBs).It may be recalled that in the Budget for 2013-14, a sum of Rs. 14,000 crore was provided for capital infusion. This amount will be enhanced sufficiently. The additional amount of capital will be provided to banks to enable them to lend to borrowers in selected sectors such as two wheelers, consumer durables etc, at lower rates n order to stimulate demand."
In other words, the government of India will provide public sector banks more money than what it had budgeted for, so that they can lend it to borrowers to buy two wheelers and consumer durables. And this would revive consumer demand and in turn economic growth.
Now only if economics worked in such a linear sequence, even I could be the RBI governor. The first question is where is the government going to get this 'extra' money from? As Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India KC Chakrabarty put it on Saturday "How much (will the government put in)? If the government has so much money, then no problem."
The government of India (like most governments in the world) spends more than it earns. Hence, it runs a fiscal deficit. This deficit is financed by selling government bonds. Who buys these bonds? Banks and other financial institutions.
Latest data released by RBI shows that as on September 20, 2013, the banks had a credit deposit ratio of 78.2%. This means that for every Rs 100 that banks had borrowed as a deposit, they had lent out Rs 78.2.
The banks need to maintain a cash reserve ratio of 4% i.e. for every Rs 100 they borrow as a deposit, they need to maintain a reserve of Rs 4 with the RBI. Other than this banks need to maintain a statutory liquidity ratio of 23% i.e. Rs 23 out of every Rs 100 borrowed as a deposit, needs to be invested in government bonds.
Hence, Rs 27 (Rs 23 + Rs 4) out of every Rs 100 borrowed as a deposit goes out of the equation straight away. This means only Rs 73 out of every Rs 100 borrowed as a deposit can be given out as a loan. But as we saw a little earlier the Indian banks have lent Rs 78.2 for every Rs 100 they have borrowed as a deposit.
This means is that banks are borrowing from other sources in the market to lend money. Why would they do that ? They are doing that because they aren't able to raise enough enough deposits. Lets look at data over the last one year (i.e. between Sep 21, 2012 and Sep 20, 2013). Deposits have grown at a pace 11.9%. Loans have grown at a much faster 15.4%. The incremental credit deposit ratio is at 101.4%. What this means is that for every Rs 100 raised as deposit, banks have given out Rs 101.4 as loans. Ideally, for every Rs 100 raised as a deposit, banks shouldn't be lending more than Rs 73.
Hence, banks have a paucity of funds going around. In this situation, if the government chooses to hand over extra capital to public sector banks, it will have to finance this transaction by selling government bonds. Banks and other financial institutions will buy these bonds. As we saw, banks are already stretched when it comes to deposits. In order to buy these bonds, banks will have to raise extra deposits by offering a higher rate of interest. Or they will have to raise money from sources other than deposits, and that will mean paying a higher rate of interest. And when they do that how can they be expected to lend at lower interest rates?
The finance minister has been pretty vocal about the fact that the government won't let the fiscal deficit cross the level of 4.8% of the GDP, that it had projected in the annual budget. The trouble is that in the first five months of the financial year (i.e. between April-August 2013), the fiscal deficit has already touched 74.6% of its annual target. If the government wants to provide extra capital to public sector banks then it would lead to more expenditure, making it more difficult for the government to stick to the fiscal deficit target.
Given this, the government may look to finance this transaction by cutting other expenditure. In this scenario, it is more likely to cut planned expenditure than non planned expenditure. Planned expenditure is essentially money that goes towards creation of productive assets through schemes and programmes sponsored by the central government. Non- plan expenditure is an outcome of planned expenditure. For example, the government constructs a highway using money categorised as a planned expenditure. But the money that goes towards the maintenance of that highway is non-planned expenditure. Interest payments, pensions, salaries, subsidies and maintenance expenditure are all non-plan expenditure.
As is obvious a lot of non plan expenditure is largely regular expenditure that cannot be done away with. Hence, when expenditure needs to be cut, it is the asset creating planned expenditure which typically faces the axe and that is not good for the overall economy.
It also needs to be pointed out that currently the market for two wheeler and consumer durable loans is dominated by private players and not public sector banks. People stay away from public sector banks because of the high level of documentation required. As a senior executive of Bajaj Auto told DNA recently "Currently, NBFCs and private banks dominate the two-wheeler finance market. So, I don't think the move will have any major impact." Hence, just offering lower interest rates on loans is not enough to get people to borrow from public sector banks.
Further, trying to get public sector banks to lend at lower interest rates is "inconsistency in public policy approach." As Sonal Varma of Nomura put it in a note dated October 3, 2013, "The government is prodding public sector banks to lend at a subsidised rate at a time when the RBI has just hiked the repo rate - a signal to banks to hike their lending rate. We do not see this as a sustainable strategy to kickstart consumption." The RBI had also recently asked banks not to offer 0% EMI plans for the purchase of consumer goods. And now the government is telling the banks that we want you to lend at lower interest rates.
Also, some little bit of basic maths can show us why interest rates do not have much of an impact, when it comes to people taking loans to buy consumer goods and two wheelers. Lets us say an individual takes on a two year loan of Rs 25,000, at an interest of 17%. The EMI for this works out at around Rs 1236. For every 100 basis point (one basis point is one hundredth of a percentage) fall in interest rate, the EMI comes down by Rs 12. Yes, you read it right.
So, if the rate of interest falls to 16%, the EMI will come to around Rs 1224 from Rs 1236 earlier. At 15% it would come to Rs 1212 and so on. Hence, even if interest rates crash by 700 basis points and come down to 10%, the EMI will come down by only Rs 84 per month.
Considering this no one is going to go ahead and buy a consumer good or a two-wheeler because the EMIs fall by Rs 12, for every 100 basis points cut in interest rates. As Chakrabarty rightly put it "You cannot lure the people (to buy goods) by lowering interest rates."
People are not buying because they do not feel confident enough of their job prospects in the days to come. As Varma puts it "The job market and income growth - the key drivers of consumption - remain lacklustre." And that's the main problem. Lower interest rates alone can't just address that.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)
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Updated Date: Dec 21, 2014 00:36:58 IST