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India central bank hints weak rupee means no rate cut

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A gardener tends to plants at the entrance to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) headquarters in Mumbai on April 17, 2012. India's central bank appeared to rule out any cut in interest rates ahead of its monetary policy-setting meeting, saying its "priority" is to restore stability to the ailing rupee.AFP/File

India's central bank appeared to rule out any cut in interest rates ahead of its monetary policy-setting meeting Tuesday, saying its "priority" is to restore stability to the ailing rupee.

Central bankers, slated to meet Tuesday for a regular policy meeting, were widely expected to keep benchmark lending rates on hold with the rupee hovering just above lifetime lows.

"The priority for monetary policy now is to restore stability in the currency market so macro-financial conditions remain supportive of growth," the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said in a report issued late Monday.

Growing macro-financial risks warrant "a cautious monetary policy stance", the RBI report added.

Calling for the government to put its financial house in order, the RBI said its strategy of supporting the currency would "succeed only if reinforced by structural reforms to reduce the current account deficit and step up savings and investment".

The current account deficit, the broadest measure of trade, hit a record 4.8 percent of gross domestic product in the financial year to March, sparking concern among global credit rating agencies.

Last week, the central bank raised two short-term lending rates to ease pressure on the Indian currency, which hit a lifetime low of 61.21 rupees to the dollar earlier this month.

The rupee's sharp fall has pushed the RBI into crisis management mode.

The RBI kept interest rates unchanged when it met last in June -- after three successive rate cuts in 2013 -- citing concerns about stubbornly high consumer price inflation and the soft rupee.

The rupee has fallen 12 percent against the dollar this year.

The central bank is under pressure from businesses to ease rates further to spur economic growth, which is running at a decade low of five percent.

But analysts expect the central bank to resist the industry's demands due to its focus on bolstering the rupee.

India is caught in a vicious circle with its sluggish economy and weak currency discouraging foreign investment that it urgently needs to help revive growth, economists say.