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Revitalizing the economy through monetary policy

The policy explicitly addresses demands regarding working capital loan guidance, as of 2022. While these loans have not been a major issue previously, NRB acknowledges the necessity of revising guidelines to tackle pertinent problems associated with such loans

Revitalizing the economy through monetary policy

The monetary policy for the current fiscal (2023/24) has garnered contrasting reactions from different groups. While some have supported the policy’s intention to mitigate risk associated with stock and real estate lending, others have raised concerns over the absence of an explicit economic growth target, signaling Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB)’s shift in priorities. In the last fiscal, economic activities faced significant challenges due to a dearth of investable capital in banks, rather than high interest rates. During the period from Dec 2021 to Dec 2022, banks experienced a shortage of investable funds, leading to a contraction in loan provision and a subsequent slowdown in economic activities. The confluence of these factors placed entrepreneurs in a precarious situation, further exacerbating the economic dilemma.

Since Jan 2022, the available investable amount in banks has shown an upward trend. However, a certain degree of ambiguity persisted among banks regarding the inclusion of debentures in local-level deposits. Despite this, the demand for loans failed to escalate amid the dormant economic landscape. Consequently, loans were not extended by banks during this period.

The existing scenario suggests that banks still possess an untapped reserve of around seven percent, approximately Rs 4bn, available for investment. This amount is expected to suffice the loan demand for the next 6-7 months. Additionally, auxiliary resources from remittances and debt recovery further augment the investable capital pool. In light of these developments, the Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) has astutely introduced a flexible monetary policy for the current fiscal, entailing a reduction in the policy rate from seven percent to 6.5 percent. This strategic move aims to ameliorate loan interest rates, as already evidenced by banks’ recent reductions.

Anticipated decrease in interest rates is likely to spur a surge in loan demand, consequently reducing operational costs for businesses. With a relatively low CD ratio, banks can source affordable funds from the NRB and invest them at favorable interest rates into loans, thereby fostering increased economic activities. As a result, entrepreneurs are poised to be more enticed to avail themselves of loans. Meeting the demand of entrepreneurs, interest rate reduction appears to be a key factor facilitated by the current monetary policy, ensuring economic continuity. Additionally, the increment of the real estate loan limit from Rs 15m to Rs 20m is likely to stimulate systematic real estate business and encourage small investors in share loans, both of which contribute positively to overall economic activities.

Furthermore, the monetary policy explicitly addresses the demands regarding working capital loan guidance, as of 2022. While these loans have not been a major issue previously, the NRB acknowledges the necessity of revising guidelines to tackle pertinent problems associated with such loans, ultimately contributing to sustained economic activities.

The introduction of the “Stressed Loan Resolution Framework” to facilitate debt restructuring for borrowers facing challenges due to natural disasters or special circumstances serves as a welcome measure. Effectively utilized, this framework can aid the recovery of affected industries and bolster overall economic viability. However, it is crucial for banks to exercise discretion and refrain from haphazardly rescheduling and restructuring loans, as such practices could engender future complications. Responsible and targeted use of this facility is advisable.

In alignment with government policies aimed at revitalizing the economy, the Nepal Rastra Bank has formulated a monetary policy to complement the budgetary initiatives. The policy focuses on promoting loans to productive sectors, continuing the provision of loans up to two crore rupees for businesses operating in Nepal, and instilling optimism in the prospects of the economy.

In a positive stride, the monitoring of major borrowers has been prioritized, seeking to prevent disproportionate allocation of bank funds and address any inquiries or doubts surrounding their utilization. NRB’s vigilance over large borrowers and the prospects of introducing a policy to extend loans to companies and businessmen with 49 percent public shares are potential measures to bridge the wealth disparity gap.

Additionally, amendments to the Banking Offenses Act are proposed to deter chaotic activities observed in the banking sector recently. Such actions are expected to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions, thereby promoting a more secure financial environment. Moreover, NRB's collaboration with relevant agencies in combating money laundering and ensuring a safer borrowing environment bodes well for the development of the financial sector.

An encouraging development is NRB’s commitment to supporting the supervision and regulation of savings and credit cooperatives. The establishment of a separate regulatory body, backed by the government and the NRB, is crucial to address the prevailing issues in the cooperative sector, furthering its stability and efficacy.

Business communities anticipate caution in expectations, emphasizing that cheaper interest rates are necessary to foster a conducive business environment, but effective implementation of existing policies is equally crucial. The market’s significant message is that relying solely on monetary policy may not be wise in the future. Instead, policy decisions should consider the broader economy rather than just market demand. To meet political and market expectations, certain flexible elements have been integrated, especially in providing support to the real estate and stock market sectors.

It appears that the NRB aims to strike a cautious balance, considering the improved liquidity situation. Stakeholders may need to adopt a more cautious approach, as no radical shift in policy regimes is expected. The NRB may revisit and revise its actions if the need arises.

The author is Deputy Director at Nepal Rastra Bank. Views expressed herein are personal