March 16, 2020 / 2:51 PM / 13 days ago

UPDATE 1-India's central bank disappoints markets, leaves rates on hold

(Updates with details, quotes, background)

By Swati Bhat

MUMBAI, March 16 (Reuters) - The Reserve Bank of India said on Monday its policy actions will be “considered and calibrated,” after it left interest rates unchanged in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.

The timing of any interest rate action would be based on the “evolving situation,” Shaktikanta Das, the governor of the RBI, said at a suddenly announced press conference that had raised hopes for an emergency rate cut.

Das said the central bank also has several other policy instruments and tools that it can deploy, as needed.

The central bank announced a second round of long-term repo operations for a total of 1 trillion rupees ($13.51 billion) to pump rupee liquidity into the banking system. It also announced a second six-month dollar/rupee sell/buy swap for $2 billion on March 23 to supply dollars to the market.

The RBI has already cut interest rates by a total of 135 basis points in five moves in 2019 before surprising markets by keeping rates on hold in December and February.

“We will use the various policy instruments from time to time depending on requirements. Our response will be caliberated,” Das said.

Hopes for a rate cut had surged following a second surprise cut by the U.S. Fed on Sunday and massive liquidity infusions and rate cuts by other central banks globally.

Yields on the benchmark 10-year bond, which had earlier dropped as low as 6.12% as expectations for an out-of-turn rate cut, rose following the press conference.

Yields eventually closed at 6.21%, compared with their close of 7.32% on Friday.

The U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks had moved aggressively on Sunday and Monday to buttress a world economy unravelling amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Fed slashed its benchmark rate to near zero.

India had over 110 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Monday, with several hundred people in isolation as a precaution to help limit the spread of the disease.

Earlier in the day, RBI had asked supervised entities like banks to assess the impact on their balance sheet, asset quality and liquidity arising from various situations, such as further spread of COVID-19 in India.

“Based on the above studies, they should take immediate contingency measures to manage the risks,” the RBI said in the statement.

Das kept hopes for a potential cut alive.

“The repo rate decision can only be taken in the MPC (monetary policy committee) meeting as per the RBI Act, but I don’t rule out anything. I am not ruling out any possibility,” Das said.

The governor can choose to call for an emergency monetary policy committee meeting if he feels it is warranted. The MPC is scheduled to meet in early April, with any decision due to be announced on April 3.

“The governor has effectively closed the door on an inter-meeting cut,” said Rahul Bajoria, chief economist at Barclays. “Nonetheless, we believe the cut has been delayed, but not denied, and RBI is still likely to cut rates in April meeting.” ($1 = 74.0280 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Swati Bhat; editing by Euan Rocha, Larry King)

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