Why interest rates do not follow Newton's third law of motion

Vivek Kaul
Newspaper editors are great believers in Newton’s third law of motion i.e. every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So if the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Duvvuri Subbarao cut the repo rate by 0.25%, it should immediately translate into banks cutting interest rates on their loans as well. Repo rate is the interest rate at which RBI lends to the banks.
So if you are the kind who still reads newspapers you would have come to the conclusion by reading today’s edition of almost any newspaper that equated monthly instalments(EMIs) on loans are about to take a dip. The logic being that now that the RBI has cut the repo rate and that will lead to banks cutting the interest rates on their various loans as well and passing on the benefits to their current consumers and prospective customers.
Now only if it was as simple as that. Lets try and understand why.
The basic business model of any bank is very simple. It raises money as deposits at a certain rate of interest and then lends it out at a higher rate of interest. The difference in interest rate at which it lends and the interest rate at which it borrows is the money that a bank makes.
So for a bank to be able to cut interest rates on its loans it should first be in a position to cut interest rates on its deposits. Now this is where things get interesting.
The loans of banks (non food lending i.e.) over the last one year (between January 13, 2012 and January 11, 2013, which is the latest data available) have grown by around 15.7%. During the same period the deposit growth of banks has been at 12.8%.
Over the last period of the last six months (i.e. between July 13, 2012 and January 11, 2013) the trend is similar. The lending by banks has grown by 6.8% whereas the deposits have grown by 5.1%.
What this means in simple English is that banks are lending money at a much faster rate than they are able to raise through deposits. Hence, money is tight and banks will need to continue offering high rates of interest on their deposits. Given this, they will have to keep charging higher rates of interest on their loans.
And hence lower EMIs won’t be possible despite the firm belief of newspaper editors in Newton’s Third Law of Motion.
What is interesting is that this trend has been playing out for a while now. In 2011-2012 (i.e. the period between April 1, 2011 and March 31, 2012) bank deposits grew by 13.8% whereas loans grew by 16.3%. In 2010-2011 (i.e. the period between April 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011) the deposits grew by 16.7% whereas loans grew by 23.3%.
The other metric to look at here is the incremental credit deposit ratio. For the period of the last six months this stands at 99.3%. This means that for every Rs 100 that the bank has raised as a deposit in the last six months it has given out Rs 99.3 as a loan.
Now this is a problematic situation to be in. For every Rs 100 raised as a deposit the bank has to maintain a statutory liquidity ratio of 23% i.e. invest Rs 23 in government bonds. Governments bonds are basically bonds issued by the central government to finance its fiscal deficit. Fiscal deficit is the difference between what a government earns and what it spends.
Banks also needs to currently maintain a cash reserve ratio of 4.25% with the RBI i.e. for every Rs 100 raised as a deposit the bank needs to maintain Rs 4.25 with RBI as a deposit. The CRR will come down to 4% from February 9, 2013.
So what does this mean? It means that for every Rs 100 raised as a deposit Rs 27.25 (Rs 23 + Rs 4.25) cannot be given out as a loan. The remaining Rs 72.75 (Rs 100 – Rs 27.25) can be loaned out. Even there the bank needs to maintain some cash in its vaults to pay people who may be withdrawing money from the bank.
So given all this for every Rs 100 that a bank raises as a deposit it can basically loan out around Rs 65-70. But in the last six months the banks have loaned almost every rupee that they have raised as a deposit.
How has that been possible? That has been possible because banks have been withdrawing money that they have invested in government bonds in the previous years and giving that money out as loans.
This is something that may not be possible forever because banks needs to maintain a SLR of 23%. They can’t go below that. As T N Ninan wrote in the Business Standard sometime back “In the last two of these years, the credit growth rate (i.e. the loan growth rate) outpaced that of deposits; as should be obvious, this cannot go on indefinitely. And here’s the thing; nearly 40 per cent of the lower credit growth over the past year has been financed by a drop in banks’ investment in government securities; so a good bit of the money that has been lent has not come from customer deposits. Banks could continue to pull money out of government securities, but if they did that the government would not be able to finance its deficit.”
In this scenario where banks are lending out almost every bit of the money they are raising as deposits it is difficult for them to cut interest rates on their deposits and hence on their loans.
The only way bank interest rates can come down is if the government borrowings come down. And that is only possible if the government is able to manage its burgeoning fiscal deficit. Whether that happens on that your guess is as good as mine.
Meanwhile, newspaper editors will continue to believe in Newton’s third law of motion.

The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on January 30, 2013, with a different headline
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])