Expert Zone

Straight from the Specialists

How much inflation is good for growth

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

The RBI has left it to the government to decide the inflation target since it considers it politically sensitive. The central bank will accordingly modulate its monetary policy to ensure that the government’s target is not exceeded.

Targeting inflation alone cannot be the sole objective of monetary policy, though it is an important criterion for regulating the repo rate. Even developed countries have concerns about inflation – when it is too low or too high.

In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, the sole objective of the U.S. Federal Reserve was to rev up the economy, and it used quantitative easing to pump in dollars so that the economy was flooded with cash.

Part of the overflow leaked into emerging market economies and increased inflation there. But it did not lead to inflation in the United States. Nevertheless, it helped keep interest rates low, which was expected to promote investment and consumption. More than inflation, the Federal Reserve targeted unemployment with the objective of pushing it down below 7.5 percent. That did happen, but only after five years.

Tough to get the math right in 2014/15 interim budget

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Finance Minister P. Chidambaram went more by economic considerations than political ones in manoeuvring his pre-election budget, the focus being on fiscal consolidation with an eye on rating agencies.

The 2014/15 interim budget did not have any new populist measures. The minister may have been convinced that such gimmicks just before elections do not yield votes. Also, there was hardly any time to effectively roll out a new scheme.

Slow pick-up in India’s GDP growth

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GDP estimates by the Central Statistics Office for the 2013-14 fiscal year show an improvement over the previous year. But the extent of improvement is too small for comfort. Possibly, in the final revision, that small margin may disappear or even turn negative.

This year, India’s GDP is expected to be up 4.9 percent from 4.5 percent the previous year. This additional growth has come mainly from agriculture, due to a favourable monsoon. Agricultural growth was three times the previous year. Production of non-food grains (like vegetables and fruits), and animal products (like meat and eggs), did not increase adequately in spite of the inflated demand and will continue to be the main source of inflation.

How much will U.S. recovery help India?

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After a prolonged slowdown, the U.S. economy is finally showing signs of recovery though much of it comes from investment in inventories and may not be sustained at the present high rate.

The United States is the largest economy with a share of more than 22 percent in the world GDP. Naturally, even small changes in its behaviour have a perceptible impact worldwide. To India, the United States counts for a lot, although possibly less than it does for China.

How the U.S. Fed’s tapering can affect Indian markets

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It was never expected to be permanent. Quantitative Easing (QE), designed to pep up the U.S. economy after the financial crisis of 2008-09, has survived for five years. The United States is now on a rebound and unemployment is receding. That has tempted the U.S. Federal Reserve to reconsider tapering its economic stimulus.

This was first announced on May 17 and sent tremors through global markets. Asian markets were the most affected; India was worst-hit, having come to depend on FII investment. The knee-jerk reaction of FIIs was to reduce exposure to emerging market economies in the expectation that liquidity would dry up and interest rates would harden.

Not a smooth ride for the markets

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There was subdued excitement over the Sensex hitting a record high in a special trading session on Diwali. It had taken the market quite some time to cross its previous peak in 2008. This was also the case for most other markets, although they had recovered a little earlier.

The Indian market was slow to catch up because, apart from the international conditions, there were domestic problems that affected the health of the economy.

Need to rebalance RBI’s interest structure

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In its mid-quarterly monetary policy review last month, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) made some hasty changes in the interest structure. The repo rate was raised possibly because of the rise in inflation and the marginal standing facility (MSF) rate was cut after the rupee recovered against the dollar. The interest structure is still lopsided with short rates exceeding long rates. This anomaly needs to be corrected.

It is believed that the economy is susceptible to a rundown when short rates exceed long rates. A further slowdown, in any case, needs to be prevented and is quite feasible since the compelling conditions that necessitated an interest hike have been contained. There is now enough room for the RBI to restore balance.

Raghuram Rajan and the rupee

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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.

Focus should be inflation, not just stemming rupee’s fall

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Indian stocks have been battered over the past few sessions. The market condition is not unexpected, thanks to over-action by policymakers and over-reaction by stock investors.

The apparent anxiety on the part of the government was that even if the fall of the rupee was inevitable, left entirely to the market, speculative activity would push the economy into a crisis. Presumably, the rupee at 60 to the dollar was the benchmark for intervention.

A bumper crop may energize Indian industry

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Industrial growth in India in 2012 was less than a percent and data from April and May this year doesn’t show a lot of promise. The reluctance of industry to grow has been the reason for GDP growth dropping to a disappointing 5 percent, raising doubts about whether the India story has come to an end. That may be an extreme view considering that even the best performers, such as China, are having problems.

But there is a glimmer of hope. Monsoon rains have been above average this year and a bumper crop is expected. Agriculture contributes to around 20 percent of India’s GDP and even an 8 percent increase in agricultural production will at best improve GDP growth by a percent. But agriculture does have an impact on industry and both together can make a perceptible difference.

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