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• 6.1% growth in 2009-10Q1, drought restricts potential ahead
• Construction and services power growth while manufacturing picks up
• Need to target rabi crop as monsoon deficit stands currently at 25%
• Growth estimated at 6.6% this fiscal, inflation bigger worry
• While food price pressure will ease by winter, commodities set to rise e.g steel
India: Kal, aaj aur kal
Throughout the gloom of last year, we have been optimistic about the growth in India, our estimates of more than 6% growth this year were amongst the highest while finance whizzes were busy forecasting dire numbers in the range of 4-6%. In our January newsletter we had said that by the second half of this year, there would be an overall improvement. We had also cautioned that a deflationary situation that was being discussed was of little import here where inflation would be the prime worry. As the months passed and the revival became more apparent, estimates were rapidly revised upwards, both of growth and inflation. Though some find this surprising, we maintain, that this was all predictable, as was the downturn, and as is the inflationary environment in coming months.
As we go ahead, growth will show ‘surprising’ levels, e.g. the IIP numbers can get close to 10% - on the back of low base of last year, electricity and mining are doing better this year, vehicle sales are soaring with domestic festival demand etc. We see no reason to cheer though. The past year has taken a heavy toll on the finances of the government and investment plans in the private sector, consumer confidence has also been hit hard, while inflation has eaten gaping holes in the common man’s wallet. Moreover, the true impact of the poor monsoon will be known only by the year end. The financial sector types meanwhile are having a field day once more, rapidly pushing up spirits and stock markets. Some are even getting into debates on whether this slowdown would take the shape of a V, U, W, or the Riemann’s zeta function, as Bloomberg columnist Moynihan quipped.
It is important to remember though that the ‘green shoots’ which are growing tall now have sprung up in response to fiscal stimuli and rate cuts worldwide, not through any change in fundamental factors. Work is on towards changing standards of regulation and supervision internationally, but these will take time to be implemented. In the meanwhile, we have to point out that we are now tired of stressing on one issue - that such high levels of expenditures, in India and abroad, are inflationary whatever way one tries to handle it. Expectedly, the rational components of financial markets recognize this problem and we are seeing significant upward pressure on interest rates. This is a natural outcome of government over-spending.
There is a possibility that to get around this problem this government may try to borrow from abroad. And if that happens on a large enough scale, the final degree of freedom that the government will have, would have been used up. We therefore do not support such an initiative, despite its short term advantages of keeping upward interest rate pressures under check. Note that India has done something similar in the past (during the Rajiv Gandhi years) when it borrowed internationally and spent on unproductive activities. For a few years things looked very good, but pressures were building. The ruling conglomeration in the post Rajiv Gandhi years just did not have the ability to handle the pressures so generated. We all know the final outcome.
At the end of the day we cannot spend this much without paying for it one way or another. And it is better to pay by way of lower investment, higher interest and prices, rather than macro-economic instability. But the first best solution remains the same - don’t spend on unproductive activities please.
PS. Please visit our new homepage for interactive time series graphs of economic indicators