India is due to report its third quarter gross domestic product (GDP) numbers next week, and they are likely to show the economy expanded by a little more than 5.5 per cent year on year (YoY), roughly the same as in the first two quarters, but substantially below where GDP was 12 months ago, the report states. This underscores the economy’s challenges, and it will be a while before GDP growth is back at its trend rate.
The corporate sector remains the weakest pocket of the economy, with sentiment weighed down by external weakness and, more important, the Congress‐led government’s cack‐handed management and policymaking in its second term, the report states. Consumer demand continues to tick over at a steady but unspectacular rate.
Overall, industrial production was a little better in the three months to September. “This, along with some slightly better trade figures, lifts our third quarter GDP forecast above that from the June quarter, but not by much, and anything with a ‘5’ at the front of it must be considered disappointing.”
The initial bounce in investor sentiment following the announcement of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Big Bang of economic reforms has faded, and the reality of India’s deep‐seated structural problems has begun to set in. Financial markets surged in the two months to October as the reforms were announced and it became clear the Prime Minister would follow through, with the Sensex rising 15 per cent and the rupee up 8 per cent against the US dollar. The Sensex has dipped in recent weeks, largely mirroring global markets, while the currency has given back most of the recent gains.
The government’s initial projection for the 2012‐2013 fiscal year was for a budget deficit around 5.1 per cent of GDP, but this was predicated on an unrealistic GDP growth projection of 7.5 per cent, putting the shortfall in danger of blowing out to 7 per cent or 8 per cent. With the government’s recent moves to lift diesel subsidies and privatize state‐owned industries, the final deficit will be close to 6 per cent of GDP, still uncomfortably high but manageable, with improvement expected from 2013 to 2014.
The blowout in the government budget, along with the slowdown in export demand, has pushed the current account deficit to dangerous levels. Recent moves to curb the budget deficit should help to narrow the shortfall, but more important is the shift in rules around foreign investment and retroactively taxing mergers and acquisitions transactions—negative for investor sentiment—which will make it easier to finance the shortfall. The rising rupee reflects abating concerns over how to finance this external deficit.
The government reforms have materially lowered risk but will do little to support economic growth over the next two years. The firm’s medium-term outlook remains unchanged. Growth will stabilize at 5.5 per cent to 6 per cent across the second half of 2012, and there is little on the horizon to lift growth from current rates.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is squeezed between weak economic growth and elevated inflation. Following an initial rate cut in April, the RBI held fire on rates over inflation concerns, although it has cut reserve ratios to ease liquidity. This is unlikely to change much in the near term.
Cuts to fuel subsidies lifted October consumer prices and have begun to show in the closely watched wholesale price measure. The government has been leaning on the RBI to ease borrowing costs. Eventually the bank will comply, but it probably won’t be until 2013, perhaps once wholesale price index inflation starts to fall again.
“Like much of Asia, the Indian economy is near the bottom of the current cycle. We see a steady acceleration beginning in the first quarter of 2013 as rising business confidence and a stable global outlook drive a cyclical upswing in demand. This washes out to GDP growth of 5.2 per cent this year and 6 per cent in 2013 before returning to its long‐run potential in 2014.
Our forecast has not changed, despite the government’s positive moves, but we are more confident in the outlook, particularly over the next five to 10 years. India’s long‐run potential growth is 7 per cent to 7.5 per cent, driven by the country’s favourable demographics and productivity convergence. But this is not a fait accompli. It needs the right policies in place and a friendly environment in which to do business, both of which have eluded India recently,” the report says.