Monday, August 10, 2020

Economy showing signs of getting back to normalcy, but medium term outlook still uncertain: Indian governor

Jul 12. 2020
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By The Statesman

Shaktikanta Das added that COVID-19 pandemic perhaps represents so far the biggest test of robustness and resilience of our economic and financial system.

India’s economy is showing signs of getting back to normalcy, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das said on Saturday.

Delivering a keynote address at the 7th SBI Banking and Economics Conclave, Das said, “Despite the substantial impact of pandemic in our daily lives, the financial system of the country, including all the payment systems and financial markets, are functioning without any hindrance”.

“The Indian economy has started showing signs of getting back to normalcy in response to the staggered easing of restrictions,” he said.

He added that COVID-19 pandemic perhaps represents so far the biggest test of robustness and resilience of our economic and financial system.

The RBI chief, however, noted that medium term outlook still remains uncertain. He cautioned that it is still uncertain when supply chains will be restored fully, how long will it take for demand conditions to normalise and what kind of durable effects the pandemic will leave behind on India’s potential growth.

“COVID-19 is the worst health and economic crisis in the last 100 years with unprecedented negative consequences for output, jobs and well being. It dented the existing world order, global value chains, labour and capital movements across the globe,” Das noted.

Elaborating on moves taken by the RBI till the pandemic struck, Das said, “From February 2019 onward, on a cumulative basis, we had cut the repo rate by 135 basis points till the onset of COVID-19. That was done mainly to tackle the slowdown in growth which was visible at that time”.

The lagged impact of these measures was about to propel a cyclical turnaround in economic activity, the RBI chief said, when COVID-19 brought with it calamities, miseries, endangering of lives and livelihood of people.

He further elaborated that a multi-pronged approach adopted by the Reserve Bank has provided a cushion from the immediate impact of the pandemic on banks.

“Policy action for the medium-term would require a careful assessment of how the crisis unfolds. Building buffers and raising capital will be crucial not only to ensure credit flow but also to build resilience in the financial system.”

According to Shaktikanta Das, the RBI has asked financial institutions to carry out a COVID stress test to see weaknesses in their balance sheet.

“We have recently advised all banks, non-deposit taking NBFCs and all deposit-taking NBFCs to assess the impact of COVID-19 on their balance sheet, asset quality, liquidity, profitability and capital adequacy for the financial year 2020-21.

“Based on the outcome of such stress testing, banks and non-banking financial companies have been advised to work out possible mitigating measures, including capital planning, capital raising, and contingency liquidity planning, among others. The idea is to ensure continued credit supply to different sectors of the economy and maintain financial stability,” Das said.

Besides, he cited that RBI has strengthened its offsite surveillance mechanism to proactively find weak institutes and to immediately take corrective steps.

“As the lock-down has obstructed our on-site supervisory examination to an extent, we are further enhancing our off-site surveillance mechanism. The objective of the off-site surveillance system would be to ‘smell the distress’, if any, and be able to initiate pre-emptive actions.”

“This requires use of market intelligence inputs and on-going engage ments with financial institutions on potential vulnerabilities. The off-site assessment framework, which takes into account macro and micro variables, i s more analytical and forward looking and aimed at identifying vulnerable se ctors, borrowers as well as supervised entities,” he said.

Furthermore, he said the supervisory approach of the Reserve Bank is to further strengthen its focus on developing financial institutions’ ability to identify, measure, and mitigate the risks.

“The new supervisory approach will be two-pronged – first, strengthening the internal defences of the supervised entities; and second, greater focus on identifying the early warning signals and initiate corrective action,” Das said.

He cited that to strengthen the internal defences, higher emphasis is now be ing given on causes of weaknesses than on symptoms.

“The symptoms of weak banks are usually poor asset quality, lack of profitability, loss of capital, excessive leverage, excessive risk exposure, poor conduct, and liquidity concerns. These different symptoms often emerge together,” he said.

“The causes of weak financial institutions can usually be traced to one or more of the following conditions: inappropriate business model, given the business environment; poor or inappropriate governance and assurance functions; poor decision making by senior management; and misalignment of intern al incentive structures with external stakeholder interests.”

Accordingly, he said RBI is placing special emphasis on the assessment of business model, governance and assurance functions, as these have been the are as of heightened supervisory concern.

“Supervised entities generally tend to focus more on business aspect seven to the detriment of governance aspects and assurance functions. There was also an apparent disconnect between their articulated business strategy and actual business operations. The thrust of the approach, therefore is, to improve the risk, compliance, and governance culture amongst the financial institutions,” he said.

In addition, he said that post the containment of Coronavirus, “a very careful trajectory has to be followed in orderly unwinding of counter-cyclical regulatory measures and the financial sector should return to normal function ing without relying on the regulatory relaxations as the new norm”.

“The Reserve Bank is making continuous assessment of the changing trajectory of financial stability risks and upgrading its own supervisory framework to ensure that financial stability is preserved,” he said.

“Banks and financial intermediaries have to be ever vigilant and substantially upgrade their capabilities with respect to governance, assurance functions and risk culture.”

Meanwhile, in his keynote address, the RBI governor said that the MPC has decided to cumulatively slash the policy repo rate further by 115 basis points.

With this, from February 2019, the total rate cut that the RBI has undertaken would be 250 basis points.

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