Analysis: India's growth budget sparks concerns on inflation, tighter rates

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  • Traders sees risks from growth-focused budget, record borrowing
  • High oil prices, prospect of Fed hikes contribute to worries
  • Cenbank held key repo rate at record low of 4% since May 2020
  • Plan to borrow record 14.95 trln rupees exceeds market estimates

NEW DELHI, Feb 2 (Reuters) - India's growth-focused budget for the upcoming fiscal year, on the back of record market borrowing, has fuelled worries among bond traders who fear the central bank may now be forced to act on the inflationary risks, despite its dovish policy stance.

Coupled with global crude oil prices at seven-year highs and expectations for the U.S. Federal Reserve to raise rates more aggressively, traders fear the government's plans mean the Reserve Bank of India may need to act sooner rather than later.

India announced capital expenditure of 7.5 trillion rupees ($100 billion) for 2022/23, or 2.9% of gross domestic product, an increase of 35.4% from the last fiscal year. read more

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The government is also set to borrow a record 14.95 trillion rupees, exceeding market expectations for a maximum of 12 trillion to 13 trillion rupees.

"We expect the RBI to focus on reining in inflation to 4% from current high levels through next year with domestic growth on a relatively better footing and assuming no surprises on the COVID-19 front," said Upasna Bharadwaj, an economist at Kotak Mahindra Bank.

India's central bank has held its key repo rate at a record low of 4% since May 2020, and assured markets it will continue to keep its policy stance accommodative until economic recovery is firmly entrenched.

Consumer prices (INCPIY=ECI) accelerated to a five-month high of 5.59% in December, however, close to the upper end of the central bank's mandated inflation band of 2% to 6%.

"The RBI should look to revise their accommodative stance as a countermeasure to the expansionary budget," said Sandeep Bagla, the chief economic officer at Trust Mutual Fund.

"The longer RBI waits to normalise, the more markets will lose the confidence in RBI's ability to control inflation and inflation expectations."

Bhardwaj said a policy review due on Feb. 9 should undertake a one-shot hike of 40 bps in the reverse repo rate so as to restore normalcy and provide clarity.

"However, sentiment in the bond markets has weakened further post the budget and hence, RBI may prefer to postpone the decision to the April policy,." she added.

Economists believe the benchmark bond yield, which has risen about 45 bps in 2022, after last year's rise of 55 bps, is likely to keep heading higher in the near term, in the absence of open market operations or liquidity-neutral operation twists.

"The budget definitely makes RBI's job tougher from the yield management perspective," said Yuvika Singhal, an economist with QuantEco Research.

Economists polled before the budget had expected the repo rate to be raised 25 basis points in the June quarter and then go up by a total of 75 bps over the next fiscal. read more

The reverse repo rate was forecast to be raised at next week's policy review and increase by a total of 90 bps in FY23.

Six economists and market participants said they now expect an swifter pace and quantum of rate hikes as the RBI alone must tackle inflation.

"Across the yield curve, over the course of the year, we will expect bond yields to rise by 20 bps to 30 bps for now,"

said Arvind Chari, the chief investment officer at Quantum Advisers.

"The RBI will also have to start hiking its policy rates and we would expect at least a 100 bps increase in rates in FY23."

($1=74.9330 Indian rupees)

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Reporting by Swati Bhat; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Clarence Fernandez

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