"If you see, since September 20 the repo rate has gone up by 50 bps and so we thought it necessary to raise these rates. But having raised them, we tried to raise it to the minimum extent possible. Even after raising, we continue to remain one of the cheapest in the market," Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairperson, SBI, told FE.
SBI has become the second bank to have raised its base rate after the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced its quarterly monetary policy on October 29, where it raised the repo rate by 25 bps to 7.75%, while cutting the marginal standing facility (MSF) by the same quantum to 8.75%.
Private sector lender HDFC Bank too raised its base rate by 20 bps to 10% on Tuesday.
Analysts see the rate action by SBI as a way to protect net interest margins (NIM) in the bank's domestic business. Domestic margins for the bank have registered a constant downward trend in every quarter since March 2012. From a 4.17% NIM reported as on March 31, 2012, it dropped to 3.44% in the quarter ended June 30, 2013.
"This action is not to align with the market. This has got to do with the increase in repo rate and the impact on margins. SBI has always been cautious of its NIM position and deposit rates are still quite firm. The only rates they could tinker with are the lending rates," said Rajiv Mehta, an analyst with IIFL.
When asked whether the hike in base rate will affect SBI's credit growth, Bhattacharya said the recent spike in credit growth witnessed by the banking system was due to high interest rates in the short-term money market. As commercial paper (CP) rates soared during August and the first half of September, corporates found it unaffordable to raise funds and thus shifted to the cheaper bank loan market, resulting in an impressive credit of 17%-18% for the banking system.
"As CP rates are correcting, the CP portion of the demand has moved back. But you must remember the busy season is starting, so we expect to see 17%-18% credit growth this year," she said.
Last week, India's largest lender had cut interest across maturities on deposits worth over R1 crore by 25-200 bps. However, it left the interest on most retail deposits (worth less than R1 crore) untouched, except the 180-210 day maturity bucket which it hiked by 20 bps.
Experts say even though short-term rates have fallen by over 100 bps since September 20 when RBI first announced a partial reversal of its liquidity control measures by cutting the MSF rate this will barely have an impact on SBI since the bank relies mostly on retail deposits.
While SBI and HDFC Bank have already announced lending rate hikes, other large banks are ruling out rate hikes and are watching the situation closely. Ranjan Dhawan, executive director, Bank of Baroda, told FE that his bank is not considering an increase in base rates in the near future.
On September 19, SBI had last hiked its base rate by 10 bps to 9.8%, while also hiking the spread it charged over the base rate on home and auto loans.