Expert Zone

Straight from the Specialists

Rajan panel proposals not a cure for disparity among states

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The report of a committee headed by Raghuram Rajan on backward states has drawn attention to development disparities among states in India. Not that these were not known or assessed before. The report offers an index for identification of states according to the degree of backwardness and their share of financial assistance from the central government.

The committee’s recommendations, even if efficiently implemented, are not likely to show results soon. The per capita income in Bihar, for example, is a fourth of the per capita income of Goa and half that of Gujarat. But it is encouraging that GDP growth in backward states has recently accelerated and, to some extent, reduced the income gap. It took place because state governments realized that growth counts politically, not because of any additional assistance from the central government.

Present-day disparities are rooted in history. Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Gujarat developed earlier and far more than other states. This is because they had the advantage of access to ports that were excellent outlets for trade. Exports of jute from Calcutta (now Kolkata) and cotton from Bombay (now Mumbai) helped the states to industrialize with mills springing up all around. To an extent, the central government also used industrial policy before 1991 to disperse industrial locations but then it hardly worked because the locations has to be commercially viable.

When it comes to industrialization, it is taken for granted that the government is committed to it. Gujarat can be a hub for manufacturing automobiles because that’s the target the government has set for itself. But commitment by itself is not enough. It must translate into creating the necessary infrastructure like provision of electricity, water or land. West Bengal lost its advantage because of labour problems, something that may happen to Haryana as well.

India Markets Weekahead: Lack of positive triggers in the near term

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Indian markets are in a corrective phase after RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan’s monetary policy review on Sept. 20 put a damper on investor expectations. If Rajan had played to the galleries, we would have seen a stock market bubble. The move from pessimism to euphoria — a rally of nearly 20 percent in less than three weeks — without any perceptible change in ground realities, would have led to a bull trap. Though participation levels were not high, FIIs had turned buyers and it would have been a matter of time before dormant market participants jumped into the fray.

Barclays is the latest to cut India’s GDP forecast to 4.7 percent. Most of the others have cut their forecast to below 5 percent although the government is still hoping for an early recovery. The banking sector was under pressure after Fitch cut its rating for a number of public sector banks such as Punjab National Bank, Bank of Baroda and Indian Bank.

Was the repo rate hike necessary?

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The decision of the U.S. Federal Reserve to delay tapering its bond purchases cheered markets, and more so in India because they were convinced of a second bonanza from the RBI. But new Governor Raghuram Rajan gave the markets a jolt by turning hawkish and increasing the repo rate.

The gains of the previous day following the Fed meeting were nearly wiped out and the rupee, which was steadily crawling towards 60 to the dollar, also fell back. The only reason why the RBI increased the repo rate was the revival of inflation, which had dropped to less than 5 percent in April-June.

NSEL crisis puts spotlight on conflict of interest

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

The ongoing National Spot Exchange Ltd (NSEL) payment crisis has highlighted the need for better regulation of commodities exchanges and increased transparency in corporate governance.

Indian markets at risk but elections could spell change

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

It’s been an eventful September so far for India. The Indian parliament cleared key economic legislation in its extended session. The Reserve Bank of India saw a new governor taking charge. FII flows reversed trend to turn positive in equity and debt markets. Volatility in the currency market subsided and the rupee staged a recovery from historic lows. Near-term bond yields shrank and the August trade deficit came in lower as exports climbed. The Syrian crisis seems to have abated. Does this mean that the worst is behind us and things will start improving?

As discussed in my previous column, some of these actions from the Indian government and the central bank seem like quick fixes to set right deteriorating macroeconomic numbers. India’s Q1 GDP is now at 4.4 percent, much lower than expected, and FY14 GDP growth is expected to be below 5 percent. The rise in interest rates on account of the central bank’s measures to lessen currency volatility will definitely affect GDP growth in the remaining three quarters. Monthly IIP and PMI numbers are not encouraging either. Both WPI and CPI inflation are not yet stable. Headline inflation soared to a six-month high in August. Input costs for the consumer staples basket are set to rise due to currency depreciation, which could have an impact on consumption volumes. On the oil subsidy front, rupee depreciation has again increased per unit under-recovery on diesel, kerosene and cooking gas. The urgent need for a substantial increase in diesel prices could eventually have a dampening impact on growth.

India Market Weekahead – Volatility expected ahead of RBI policy review

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

After a rally of 500 points on the Nifty, markets consolidated at slightly higher levels to close at 5850 this week. It’s evident that hope keeps the market ticking — this time it was various measures by the new RBI governor, Raghuram Rajan,that cheered the markets.

But expectations, at times unrealistic, could lead to disappointment. Though Rajan made the right moves, it would be interesting to see how he uses the limited manoeuvrability he currently has. The monetary policy review on September 20 would be closely watched.

Raghuram Rajan and the rupee

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

With Raghuram Rajan taking over as the governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), it’ll make for a change in the central bank’s policy perception.

His predecessor Duvvuri Subbarao used conventional methods and got no results. It is likely Rajan will opt for innovative means and his initial steps are already showing results. It’s evident that the complex problems of today demand out-of-the-box solutions.

Asian bonds: rising discrimination

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Ever since reports emerged that the United States might taper off its bond-buying program, emerging markets have whipsawed: falling currencies, rising rates and fleeing funds. India and Indonesia have been two of the most affected countries in Asia.

The Asian dollar bond markets have also been affected by the fear of tapering. On the one side, longer-term bonds have lost substantial value as U.S. interest rates have picked up. Additionally, investors have discriminated between bonds from vulnerable countries and those from stronger countries.

Time to brace yourself for a hard landing

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

In his speech to parliament last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “The depreciation of the rupee and rise in dollar prices of petroleum products will no doubt lead to some further upward pressure on prices. The Reserve Bank of India will therefore continue to focus on bringing down inflation.”

By saying this, the economist in Singh seems to have won against the politician. This has also been a vindication of sorts for outgoing RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao.

India Markets Weekahead: Cash is king

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Around mid-week, the Indian markets seemed akin to a sinking ship which saw unabated selling with Nifty hitting a low of 5,168 on Wednesday, before recovering sharply to close the week at 5,471 on the hopes of concrete action by the government to shore up the sentiments and the Reserve Bank of India’s moves to save the rupee.

The street expected structural reforms from the government to tackle this crisis whereas the textbook solutions of the RBI and the government backfired. The rupee cracked to touch 69/dollar, but recovered to close the week at 66.55.

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