MUMBAI — The era of easy money for Indian banks may be coming to an end.
Unlimited access to relatively cheap overnight funding from the Reserve Bank of India was tightened about midyear as part of measures to support a plunging rupee, and now the central bank is eager to use the restrictions to help it deepen money markets.
The ability of banks to tap funds continuously through the central bank’s Liquidity Adjustment Facility reduces their need to raise cash in the markets, which has thwarted the development of a proper money-market yield curve.
That seems set to change under the new governor, Raghuram Rajan, who has pledged to deepen and develop India’s financial markets.
Two people close to the central bank, who were not authorized to speak on the record, say it will deliberately go slowly in removing the cap on funds that banks can borrow via the facility, even as it unwinds other emergency measures imposed to prop up the rupee.
Having a money-market yield curve would help investors and companies better price risk across a range of maturities and should make markets more liquid.
Under the terms of the facility, banks borrow overnight funds at the central bank’s main lending rate, the repo rate, currently set at 7.75 percent.
The facility is intended to help lenders smooth over daily fluctuations in their liquidity needs, but banks have instead used it to borrow easy money and pay for longer-term lending by repeatedly rolling over their collateral.
That changed in the middle of this year, when the central bank limited borrowing first to 1 percent of bank deposits and then to 0.5 percent, about 400 billion rupees, or about $6.4 billion, daily, in measures to tighten the supply of rupees and support its exchange rate.
“L.A.F. is a liquidity management tool. But banks are using it to fund their loan book and they are not very actively mobilizing deposits,” said an official familiar with the central bank who was not authorized to speak on the record.
Estimates are that banks now have to raise at least about 800 billion rupees each day outside of the facility.
Some of that can be tapped through other central bank facilities, including an export refinance window in which funds are borrowed at the benchmark rate, and the Marginal Standing Facility, which is emergency funding that comes with a more punitive rate of 8.75 percent.
Banks can also raise funds from seven-day and 14-day term repurchase agreements, or repos, introduced in October. The first three auctions have attracted strong demand.
With banks having become accustomed to unlimited low-cost cash, the shift to market-based funding has led to some volatility, as banks have adjusted to the new environment.
The Mumbai Interbank offer rate, an overnight rate that determines the pricing of short-term debt like commercial paper, is moving in a range of about one percentage point, compared with 0.1 to 0.2 percentage point in mid-July.
One of the major issues seen restricting the interbank term-repo market is a set of regulations preventing collateral from being reused by the party providing the funds, a common feature in more developed markets.
“The R.B.I. is trying to wean away banks from using the overnight window to support their balance-sheet activities,” said R. Sivakumar, head of fixed income at Axis Mutual Fund. “The ultimate success will be if they can develop a term money market outside the central bank’s window.”