State Borrowing Costs Rise Even As RBI Provides Short-Term Relief
Indian two thousand and five hundred rupee banknotes are arranged for a photograph in Mumbai, India (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

State Borrowing Costs Rise Even As RBI Provides Short-Term Relief

Indian states, strapped for funds as they seek to counter the fallout of Covid-19 outbreak, saw borrowings costs spike at the first bond auction of the current financial year.

The fear that states and the centre will have to borrow more to fund expenditure related to the spread of Covid-19 has pushed up bond yields even after the Reserve Bank of India cut policy rates and flooded the system with liquidity.

Over and above the central government bond yields, investors are now demanding a higher spread for subscribing to state government bonds. The spread represents the additional amount over the so-called risk free rate that investors demand to compensate for either increased supply of bonds or higher risk of default.

At Tuesday’s auction of state government bonds:

  • A total amount of Rs 32,560 crore was raised compared to Rs 37,500 crore on offer.
  • Of this, nine states raised 10-year bonds at yields between 7.80-8 percent.
  • For this 10-year borrowing, investors charged a spread of 140-160 basis points above the 10-year central government bond yield of 6.4 percent.
  • In the previous auction, on March 30, the spread for 10-year state government bonds over central government bonds was at 115 basis points.

As a result of the higher interest rates, some states accepted only partial amounts compared to what was on offer. Andhra Pradesh did not accept any amount in the 13-14 year maturity bucket, while Punjab did not accept any amount in the 10-year bucket. Gujarat, Kerala and Rajasthan accepted partial amounts and Himachal Pradesh did not accept any amount.

The highest borrowing rate was paid by Kerala which raised Rs 1,930 crore for a 15-year duration at 8.96 percent.

Higher Borrowings, Increased Uncertainty

The rise in borrowing costs from states is a consequence of both higher planned borrowings and increased uncertainty.

Based on the planned borrowing calendar, the central government will borrow 62.5 percent or Rs 4.88 lakh crore in the first half of the year. The indicative calendar released by state governments pegs state borrowings at Rs 1.27 lakh crore in the first quarter, an increase of 15 percent over last year.

The planned borrowings and budgets have been thrown off track by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

According to SBI Economic Research, even if states spend an additional 1 percent of Gross State Domestic Product based on 2018-19 data, the additional expenditure could be to the tune of Rs 1.6 lakh crore. All these could push the state fiscal deficit from budgeted 2.06 percent to 3.5 percent of GSDP, unless backed up by capital expenditure cuts, Soumya Kanti Ghosh, chief economist at SBI, wrote in a note dated March 31.

Ghosh called for increased central support to help states tide over a period of financial stress.

RBI Offers States More Short-Term Support

Separately, the RBI has given some short-term flexibility to states in managing their cash flow mismatches.

  • The central bank has decided to increase the number of days for which a state/ Union territory can be in overdraft continuously to 21 working days from the current stipulation of 14 working days.
  • The number of days for which a state/ UT can be in overdraft in a quarter has been increased to 50 working days from 36 working days.
  • Last week, the RBI had increased the limit for short term state borrowings under the ‘Ways and Means’ advances facility by 30 percent.

The RBI has also set up a committee to give a broader view on the use of the WMA window by states.

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