Expert Zone

Straight from the Specialists

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.

The equity market volatility index has risen despite markets moving up and may indicate that near-term volatility will continue. Before the end of September, there would be more information on the probable withdrawal of QE measures by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

With the monsoon session of parliament over, the political focus would shift to state elections this year that would set the stage for general elections due in 2014. Government spending, which has been curtailed so far to reduce the fiscal deficit, may see resurgence. This could give some support to sagging GDP growth in the second half of FY14. The markets may not cherish any populist announcements ahead of the elections.

No quick fixes to India’s growth problems

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

Over the past year, the government has silenced its critics with several pro-reform policy initiatives including the relaxation of FDI norms, freeing FII debt investment limits and a calibrated deregulation of petroleum prices. These reforms were cheered by the markets by way of increased FII inflows.

India’s widening twin deficits – fiscal and trade – appeared to have been reined in. But in the first few months of the fiscal year 2013-14, everything seems to have come undone for India – be it the potential end of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing policy or the dollar’s appreciation against emerging market currencies.

Budget 2013 does have some words of wisdom

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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: Getting the wow factor back

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Gone are the days when Indians used to wait for the budget in February to buy new things. In the 1990s, capital market investors also waited with bated breath for the annual budget to spell out tax and policy measures that affected the fortunes of sectors and companies.

But over the years, the budget lost its wow factor, becoming more of a ritual presentation of the government’s finances, resource allocation, fundraising and spending. This is because most taxes have been rationalized (although some scope still exists) by successive governments and different ministries announce various policy measures throughout the year.

Taking the Indian economy to a higher orbit

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

Space research in India has come of age in the last five decades and the country is now in the elite club of countries capable of launching satellites for commercial purposes. What made this possible? An environment made conducive by government policy, objectives clearly spelled out, availability of funds, a homegrown talent pool and international tech support. Can a similar strategy work to take the Indian economy and the capital market to stratospheric levels?

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