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Straight from the Specialists

Budget 2013: Political strategy, not economic blueprint

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

With the dust settling after Budget 2013, the picture is getting a bit clearer. Opinions on the budget have ranged from praise to outright criticism. The true position lies somewhere in between — depending on one’s political inclination, views on the finance minister and one’s financial interests.

Most agree there is considerable misalignment between diagnosis and prescriptions in the budget. The three biggest problems identified by P. Chidambaram are:
- rising fiscal deficit that needs to be controlled
- high current account deficit and
- declining economic growth rate.

But the solutions proposed in the budget seem to address only the fiscal deficit problem and that too temporarily. While the finance minister has done well to stay within the limit of 5.3 percent, the improbable arithmetic of the budget for FY14 suggests that the fiscal deficit target of 4.8 percent of GDP seems to be a strategy for buying time and a leap of hope.

The economy has to grow about 6.5 percent in FY14 to generate the necessary tax revenues and also have a large enough denominator. This appears to be too optimistic. Too many hurdles remain — economic slowdown may not have bottomed out, little improvement in the investment sentiment, and a weak global economy.

Budget 2013: A rather ambitious budget

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(Rajan Ghotgalkar is Managing Director of Principal Pnb Asset Management Company. The views expressed in this column are his own and do not represent those of either Principal Pnb or Reuters)

Rating agencies have left India’s sovereign rating unchanged after the 2013 Budget. A rating downgrade would mean India getting junk status which is certainly not something one would want when the current account deficit is widening.

Risk factors in Budget 2013

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

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has apparently done the impossible. He has brought down the fiscal deficit in the current year from the budgeted 5.3 percent to 5.2 percent in spite of the fall in revenues. What’s more, the deficit was further slashed to 4.8 percent in the 2013/14 budget. Is that realistic?

Look at the expenditure. In the current year, subsidies on food, petroleum products and fertilizer were up by 676 billion rupees or 36 percent. These are precisely the expenditures the minister had to curtail, though he did make an effort to do that too late in the day. With the jump in non-Plan expenditure, the fiscal deficit could be brought down only by cutting Plan expenditure.

Budget 2013 not a death knell for reforms

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

In announcing the new budget, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram tried to square the circle. On the one hand, with the prospect of elections next year or possibly sooner, handing out costly goodies was always going to be a temptation. On the other hand, like its Western counterparts, the Indian government was faced with the fact that it must rein in public spending, which could anger some voters, not to mention dampen economic growth.

The trick, therefore, was to cut spending on areas where the negative impact would be least damaging. On that count, the budget met our expectations. We had long thought the deficit could be cut from 5.2 percent of GDP to 4.8 percent in 2014. And while the underlying nominal GDP growth assumption of 13.4 percent may be a stretch, we didn’t think it was beyond the realm of possibility.

Budget 2013: A run-of-the-mill affair

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

After the sustained hype of a game changer budget, Budget 2013 was a totally run-of-the-mill affair with no announcements of any kind of deregulatory or growth propelling initiatives.

True enough, some of the more promising measures taken in the last 12 months were not related to budgetary statements. Not surprisingly, the Sensex greeted Budget 2013 by falling.

Budget 2013: A high-calorie budget

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

India’s left-leaning government believes in the ‘eat more, burn more’ philosophy in managing its finances. Budget 2013 takes that idea further with an even stronger projected rise in spending.

If the increased spending is aimed at productive use, it may still end up doing some good. But the track record does not inspire confidence. I hope that after talking the talk, the finance minister will not lose his nerve when it’s time to walk the walk.

Budget 2013 does have some words of wisdom

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

The finance minister had a tough job in hand with this being the government’s last budget before elections due in 2014. P. Chidambaram had to focus on fiscal consolidation while walking a tightrope between populism and pragmatism.

In my previous column, I had written about the issues he needs to address. Here’s a look at how Budget 2013 fared on these counts.

Budget 2013: An opportunity missed

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

Industry leaders have hailed Budget 2013 saying that this is the best Finance Minister P. Chidambaram could have done under the circumstances. Opposition leaders have slammed the budget. Each had their own compulsions but I feel the truth lies somewhere in between.

Budget 2013: Visible impetus on growth

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

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram presented the annual budget at a time when India’s economy is going through a challenging period. India faces the four-pronged problem of high fiscal deficit, an unacceptably high current account deficit, declining growth and lower savings.

South China Sea: The zero-sum game

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

The Chinese have shown far greater alacrity in resolving disputes over land boundaries with neighbours than in drawing lines across international waters that they claim. A nation with land borders with 14 countries has settled its disputes with 10 of them, but finds it difficult to resolve its problems in the South China Sea.

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