Expert Zone

Straight from the Specialists

Targeting inflation at 4 percent

Photo
-

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley seems to have finally taken the responsibility of targeting inflation as it is a sensitive political issue and could not be left to the discretion of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). With CPI as the anchor, the target will be 4 percent measured annually (+/-2 percent).

Inflation has been a bone of contention for nearly three years now. The RBI has kept the repo rate a wee bit above inflation rate on the supposition that inflation will go down and growth will follow. But the finance ministry wanted the interest rate to be low enough to stimulate growth, which has almost halved in the past two years. The RBI had the upper hand in deciding interest policy because it enjoys autonomy and need not go by the insinuations of the finance ministry.

With a new government at the centre, perceptions have also changed. Picking on the RBI’s suggestion made way back in January, the finance ministry has proposed to decide the inflation target.

Surely, the government has an ear on the pulse of the people and can assess what level of inflation would be acceptable. An average of 4 percent inflation would mean that the repo rate would be 5-6 percent and bank credit 7-8 percent. That should create the right environment for growth.

Third party premium for motor insurance increased

Photo
-

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

It is compulsory for every vehicle in India to have a third party insurance, which covers risks involving damage or loss to others caused by the vehicle you drive.

Since it is mandatory, the pricing has traditionally been administered by the insurance regulator, IRDA. With the price controlled and risk unlimited, the portfolio is bound to look messy.

How much inflation is good for growth

Photo
-

(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.

Health insurance sector poised for more growth

Photo
-

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

With the arrival of Cigna TTK, there are now five standalone health insurers offering products and services in India. Religare Health is also a recent entrant that started operations only last year.

At a time when we are seeing several exits in the life insurance sector, this is an indicator of the growth potential in India’s health insurance sector.

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

Photo
-

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

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.

As liquidity dries, time for fundamentals

Photo
-

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

The focus is back where it should be for equity investors – fundamentals.

In the past few years,  markets around the world have swayed to the wave of liquidity unleashed by central banks in a bid to get their economies back on track. The U.S. Federal Reserve, for one, was buying as much as $85 billion of bonds a month since September 2012. But that tap is beginning to taper with the Fed reducing purchases by $10 billion in January and another $10 billion in February.

We feel that this, together with a host of factors at home, sets the stage for a more sanguine approach to equities. I indicated in my note last month that we expect 2014 to be a year of fragile recovery for the Indian economy. The scenario will be similar for Indian equities.

Time for a relook at FDI in insurance intermediaries

Photo
-

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

Insurance companies in India have an FDI limit of 26 percent, which may be revised upwards in the coming months. The industry requires funds to grow and the revision can be an enabler, but the process may take some time as it requires legislative approval and there seems to be some opposition to the move.

Since the industry is still in its nascent stage, the insurance regulator also places the same FDI cap on insurance intermediaries such as brokers and web aggregators, severely limiting their ability to raise funds to grow their business.

Was the repo rate hike necessary?

Photo
-

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.

Indian markets at risk but elections could spell change

Photo
-

(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.

A bumper crop may energize Indian industry

Photo
-

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

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.

  • Editors & Key Contributors