India keeps key interest rate on hold

India's central bank kept its key interest rates unchanged on Tuesday as predicted, but delivered bleak forecasts for the slowing economy and warned about the country's deficits.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said the benchmark repo rate, at which it lends to commercial banks, would remain at 8.0 percent because of the risks of higher inflation.

"In the current circumstances, lowering policy rates will only aggravate inflationary impulses without necessarily stimulating growth," said RBI governor Duvvuri Subbarao in a release after Tuesday's decision.

India's Sensex index was up 0.54 percent to 17,236.14 at 0945 GMT, erasing intra-day losses.

The move to hold interest rates had been widely expected by economists after the bank hinted in a report released late Monday that it was unable to cut them further because of inflationary pressures.

India's once-booming economy grew just 5.3 percent between January and March, its slowest annual quarterly expansion in nine years, and the bank revealed gloomy predictions for the near-term.

It slashed its GDP growth forecast for this financial year to April 2013 from 7.3 percent to 6.5 percent, while predicting that inflation at the end of the year would be 7.0 percent instead of 6.5 percent as previously forecast.

"India is clearly an outlier -- even though our growth is slowing in line with the rest of the world, our inflation continues to be high," Subbarao told a news conference.

Wholesale inflation stands at 7.25 percent -- far above the bank's comfort level of five to six percent -- while the consumer price index, which covers a smaller band of goods, is at 10.02 percent.

The government's chief economic adviser Kaushik Basu described the RBI's decision as the "right move" and said he expected inflation to fall below 7 percent in September.

Indranil Pan, chief economist with private Kotak Mahindra bank, said the RBI's policy maintained a "hawkish overtone" and "remains skewed towards containing inflation at all costs".

While other central banks around the globe have been easing interest rates to revive their troubled economies, the RBI has said that economic reforms are needed first in order to remove chronic bottlenecks in the economy.

Subbarao also warned about the deficit in India's current account, largely caused by its large import bill, and its fiscal deficit, caused by government overspending.

"Failure to narrow twin deficits with appropriate policy actions threatens both macroeconomic stability and growth," he said.

In a move to stimulate growth, the bank cut its statutory liquidity ratio for commercial banks by 100 basis points to 23 percent on Tuesday.

This reduces the amount of short-term liquid assets that banks have to hold in reserves and should help to boost the credit available to businesses.

The bank lowered rates in April to kickstart growth -- its first such move in three years. But it has since kept monetary policy steady, citing inflationary pressures, despite calls from business leaders to stimulate the economy.

A weak monsoon, in which the rains have been more than 20 percent lower than normal so far, has stoked the bank's inflation worries because of the potential impact on food prices if crops fail.

India's projected growth remains enviable by Western standards but it is too slow to fulfil government pledges of significant poverty reduction and to create enough jobs for a soaring young workforce in the country of 1.2 billion.

The RBI on Monday said the economy was at a "critical juncture" and it encouraged "policy actions to encourage investment", which would include removing constraints on foreign direct investment.

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