Expert Zone

Straight from the Specialists

Gold not a good investment for now

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

Since November, the price of gold has been unstable but in April, its decline was precipitated. What is surprising is not the fall itself but its speed. In just two sessions, gold prices dropped 13 percent in the steepest fall in 33 years. It wasn’t gold alone that got caught in the bear grip. Prices of other commodities such as silver, crude oil, copper and so on also declined, but not as sharply.

Why? Simply because the factors that caused commodity prices to rise in the last five years were no longer relevant. Gold was selling at $625 an ounce (860 rupees per gram) only six years back in 2008. That October, the world was plunged into a financial crisis of an unusual magnitude. Since then, there has been a rush for gold as an investment. Stock markets crashed, interest rates plunged, investors lost faith in financial assets and opted for gold as a safe investment.

That presumption was supported by subsequent trends in gold prices. Over the next five years, prices shot up in India as much as 3-1/2 times, making gold not only safe but also the most lucrative investment. The stock market took all that time to recover from the 2008 shock but has not, even now, come up to pre-crisis levels. Gold became a preferred part of the portfolio and gold-backed exchange traded funds (ETFs) were a favourite with investors.

Pitfalls of the food security bill

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

The food security bill will be introduced in the current budget session of parliament, more because of its populist appeal than any economic urgency. Even when the bill was discussed by the Cabinet, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar reportedly had reservations. They had valid reasons.

Subsidized food distribution is nothing new. Already 400 million people avail of it from over 500,000 fair price shops. What the bill intends is to widen the scope of the present scheme and cover two-thirds of the population with five kg of grain per beneficiary at nominal rates.

The battle for patent protection

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

The Supreme Court verdict on Glivec brought to an end the battle by Swiss drugmaker Novartis to exclusively market the cancer medicine. In doing so, the bench enunciated a principle to justify a patent only by its intrinsic worth of innovation.

The stock market’s delayed response to Budget 2013

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

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram tried to humour the market in his budget by cutting the Securities Transaction Tax (STT) which had been one of its sore points. But the market was not amused. The Sensex continued to slide, indifferent to the budget which was presented with a lot of expectations.

This appears to be rather strange because the budget was well received by the industry, in spite of the increase in surcharge from 5 to 10 percent. It was possibly the realization that the finance minister lived up to his promise of cutting fiscal deficit to 4.8 percent which created an infectious confidence in growth revival.

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 should trim expenditure

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

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram is only too aware of the damage done by the last budget and has to an extent repaired it to unleash investment. The next budget should confirm his commitment to growth.

The year the Indian economy stalled

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

The year 2012 has seen the worst an emerging market economy can tolerate. Had the government been a little less reticent and more proactive, growth would not have dropped this low in spite of the economy being mauled by inflation. Other emerging market economies did exactly that.

The burden of India’s cash transfer scheme

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The government’s cash transfer scheme (CTS) has been accepted by economists as the most  efficient method of delivering subsidies to the poor. This became possible with the identification of the poor after the introduction of “Aadhaar” or unique identity scheme. The scheme is going to be implemented from the beginning of 2013.

Yet another infructuous parliament session?

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Thomson Reuters)

The last session of parliament was a washout. The present one looks to be no different going by its chaotic start.

Higher growth can help lower deficit

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

India’s bloating budget deficit has been a matter of concern. It means more borrowing by the government which results in overcrowding of the debt market and consequently, a higher rate of interest for the private sector. It also raises the rate on borrowings from abroad due to the downgrading by rating agencies which is bound to follow.

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