Economic Roundup, July 05, 2019

Economic Environment

  • Budget

How are the Indian and global economic environments affecting the financial markets?

The salient implication of the budget is the need for the development of a bond market in India to fund road, rail, water, power, and gas infrastructure through public-private partnerships. Agriculture should continue to remain in focus because nearly 50% of workers are employed in the sector and climate change requires particular attention to the sector as a critical part of India’s economic development.

The budget gave mixed signals to the financial markets: for the financial year 2019-20, on the one hand, there is an expectation of 7% growth and on the other, a lower fiscal deficit target of 3.3% which may not be achievable. The markets reacted accordingly closing out mixed for the week.

What to expect from the markets next week?

Corporate earnings results and global economic conditions will determine whether the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will cut the repo rate again in August. Financial markets will react to corporate earnings, macroeconomic data on industrial production and inflation, and any new Information on China, Iran and the global economic front.

Economic Roundup, June 07, 2019

Economic Environment

  • Consumer Confidence and Future Expectations
  • Reserve Bank of India (RBI) policy

How are the Indian and global economic environments affecting the financial markets?

  • The jobs situation in the country appears to be impacting confidence and future expectations of consumers. Both indices have turned downward. This has been a chronic issue and should be dealt with by the government. All eyes, therefore, would be on the government budget.

  • The RBI has cut the benchmark repo rate by 25 basis points to 5.75 percent from 6 percent. Given the situation with the banking sector, the easing effect of the RBI would be in doubt if banks do not lend by lowering the borrowing rates of investors and consumers. It is a wait and see situation on the policy front.

The jobs situation and economic expectations have not appeared to negatively affect the financial markets yet. RBI rate cut may have actually boosted the market sentiment as both the benchmark indices – Sensex and Nifty – are in record territory.

What to expect from the markets next week?

The financial markets could continue to maintain their upward momentum if FII continues to flow into India though this also poses a risk should the economy slowdown because of the rising probability of the reversal of hot money flows potentially leading to a financial crisis. Of note would be US-China trade tensions which could, in fact, favor capital flows into India given the risks to the Chinese economy from US tariffs and any other situations that could arise in the Chinese financial markets and the economy.

Economic Roundup, May 31, 2019

Economic Environment

  • Growth, Foreign Institutional Investment (FII), and Imports

How are the Indian and global economic environments affecting the financial markets?

  • As we feared all along, India’s prime minister Modi’s second term has begun on a difficult note for the Indian economy. India’s growth has decreased to 5.8% in the first quarter (January – March 2019) of the year, slower than China’s and thereby losing its status as the world’s fastest growing major economy. This combined with slowing exports will pressure the foreign reserves position of India this year. India, at the moment, has about 8 months of dollar reserves to pay for its imports compared to China’s of about 18 months. The government, in its first budget from the new finance minister, and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) at its next meeting on June 06 given that inflation is at the lower end of the RBI’s inflation targeting range, should send strong signals that they are supporting growth without which the trend of slowing growth could continue taking the wind out of the financial markets. We will know more in the first week of July when corporations begin releasing their April-June 2019 quarterly earnings. 

What to expect from the markets next week?

The financial markets could continue to maintain their upward momentum if FII continues to flow into India though this also poses a risk should the economy slowdown because of the rising probability of the reversal of hot money flows potentially leading to a financial crisis. 

Economic Roundup, May 17, 2019

Economic Environment

  • Exit polls
  • Oil price, Exports and Trade Deficit

How are the Indian and global economic environments affecting the financial markets?

Exit polls across the board, though doubtful in their accuracy, predict a second term for the incumbent NDA government. This should be encouraging for the markets because of expectations of continuity of reforms and market-friendly policies.

Oil price is firming up because of the tense US-Iran standoff. This is pressuring India’s trade deficit especially when exports are uncertain to grow due to the tentative global economy.

What to expect from the markets next week?

The financial markets will closely follow the election results due on May 23rd and the US-China and US-Iran situations. Foreign Institutional Investment (FII) is continuing to push the markets up. Should oil price rise, it would put pressure on the rupee.

Economic Roundup, March 15, 2019

Economic Environment

  • India macro indicators

How are the Indian and global economic environments affecting the financial markets?

  • India’s macro indicators such as trade deficit and inflation in February were indicative of a stable macro environment. The trade deficit narrowed due to growth in exports and lower imports of oil, gold and electronics. The lower imports, however, could imply a weakening economy as seen by low growth in industrial production in January. Inflation was higher in February than in January but continues to stay well below than the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) medium term inflation target of 4 percent. It is likely that the RBI, at its next meeting in April, the first in the new 2019-20 fiscal year, could lower the benchmark repo rate by another 25 basis points to support growth while maintaining a neutral monetary policy stance.

What to expect from the markets next week?

Indian financial markets, once the affects of foreign portfolio investment (FPI) inflows wane, could be range-bound and perhaps even flat given slowing growth. The fact that the major central banks of the world are now all supporting growth in 2019, the financial markets will look to corporate performance in the last quarter of fiscal 2018-19 when earnings reports begin to be released in April.

Economic Roundup, March 08, 2019

Economic Environment

  • Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPI) inflows into India

  • US 1st Quarter 2019 growth estimate and February 2019 jobs report

How are the Indian and global economic environments affecting the financial markets?

  • The services sector in India is performing strongly while growth is dampening in manufacturing and agriculture. The global economic environment has resulted in lower growth forecasts of the Indian economy in 2019 and 2020 because of slowing international trade. However, globally, on a relative basis, India continues to be the fastest growing major economy despite signs of slowing growth among the large economies including the United States in 2019. Efforts to support growth both by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the incumbent government before the general elections in May 2019 are attracting FPI inflows leading to large buys across industry sectors, pushing up the equity market indices.

  • Within the context of Brexit, European growth and monetary policy, and US-China trade talks, US economic growth expectations in the 1st quarter of 2019 are significantly lower compared to the 4th quarter of 2018. This could be more because of the longest government shutdown in US history and the bottoming of unemployment and affects on growth of Trump tax cuts. After all, US may not be immune to growth slowdown which is being experienced around the world. The US Federal Reserve is taking a second look at its monetary policy stance under these conditions by signaling a slow down or even stopping monetary tightening.

What to expect from the markets next week?

Indian financial markets, once the affects of FPI inflows wane, could be range-bound and perhaps even flat.

Economic Roundup, March 01, 2019

Economic Environment

  • 2018-19 Third Quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate

  • External environment in March 2019

How are the Indian and global economic environments affecting the financial markets?

  • Indian growth rate in the 3rd quarter of 2018-19 compared to a year ago has come in at 6.6 percent, below median economist expectations. This slower growth has been attributed to liquidity issues and lackluster growth in the agriculture sector despite pre-election government spending. The financial markets, however, could be fickle affected by geopolitical tensions between India and Pakistan until elections in India even though they reacted positively to the temporary easing of the situation this week. Further, the markets are yet to build-in the slower GDP growth rate which is expected to slow further in 2019 reacting to the slowing trade as the rest of the global economy slows: global slowdown could hurt India’s manufacturing sector – hitting auto, engineering, textile and some other labour intensive sectors and also the export-intensive IT and pharma sectors, lowering exports. Oil price fall this week has benefited the rupee. With inflation low, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is on the right track on monetary policy. Should growth continue to be weak, it is likely RBI could further lower interest rates to support growth.

  • Brexit, European growth and monetary policy, US-China trade talks and China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) and US economic growth expectations in the 1st quarter of 2019 will affect global sentiment in March 2019.

What to expect from the markets next week?

Indian financial markets could be range-bound and perhaps even flat as the markets absorb the 3rd quarter GDP data and global sentiment.

Economic Roundup, February 15, 2019

This week’s economic roundup is essentially unchanged from our February 08, 2019 edition. A notable piece of data is that consumer price index (CPI) inflation is 2.05 percent in January 2019. It continues to stay close to the lower end of the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI’s) inflation targeting range of 2 – 6 percent justifying RBI’s monetary policy stance to favor growth. Moreover, there continues to be macroeconomic stability on the front of India’s budget and trade deficits though the government must be wary of fiscal slippage (indicating higher fiscal deficit – the government’s fiscal deficit target for both 2018-19 and 2019-20 has increased 0.1 percent to 3.4 percent from 3.3 percent) and slowing global growth (indicative of possible reduction in India’s exports) even as India’s growth continues to remain on target looking into 2020. The financial markets will continue to be range-bound.

Economic Roundup, December 07, 2018

Economic Environment

  • Reserve Bank of India (RBI) monetary policy

  • US-China trade uncertainty

  • The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia

  • Global growth

How are the Indian and global economic environments affecting the financial markets?

  • The RBI left interest rates unchanged given the slowdown of the Indian economy in the July-September quarter and lower than target inflation while maintaining its stance of ‘calibrated tightening’. This decision by the RBI was widely expected though the markets also expected a change in the RBI’s stance to ‘neutral’. The reaction of the Indian equity markets was bearish because of the RBI signal that it is not bullish on the economy. Some deterioration in the macro situation was also reported by the government with the Indian fiscal deficit exceeding the fiscal year target with the year still one quarter away from being completed. It must be noted here that the trade deficit is also increasing and is highly sensitive to the oil price. The twin fiscal and trade deficits do not bode well for the strength of the rupee. If inflation holds at or below target, we expect the RBI to return to ‘neutral’ stance with a bias of lowering interest rates next year depending on economic growth to boost the economy though we also expect the RBI not to act on lowering interest rates because of inflation concerns until Indian gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate falls to about 6.5% in 2019. Therefore, given the forecast of 7.2% for GDP growth rate in 2019, we expect, on balance, the RBI to maintain status quo on interest rates through the end of the fiscal year 2018-2019.

  • Indian equity market reaction to US-China trade uncertainty was mixed despite a sharp fall in US markets. It is still unclear how the US-China trade dispute would be resolved while noting that India, in fact, stands to benefit from both US and China should their trade dispute continue.

  • OPEC and Russia agreed on Friday to together cut oil production by 1.2 million barrels-per-day for the next 6 months to prop up the oil price. It is unclear to what extent they would succeed in doing so given rising US production which will only stand to benefit from propped up oil prices. This, however, is not good news for India because higher oil prices will only cause the trade deficit to rise and pressure the rupee.

  • Concerns about global growth have caused all the major advanced and emerging equity markets to fall. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has clarified that it only expects global growth to slowdown without the risk of a recession.

    What to expect from the markets next week?

Indian financial markets will continue to takes cues from global markets on global growth though they could breathe a sigh of relief because of expected slower pace of Fed rate increases because of probable slowing of US growth at around the Fed’s inflation target and the RBI status quo but with concern about Indian economic growth outlook also at around the RBI’s inflation target.

India Importing Cotton is an Example of What is Wrong With World Trade

Cotton has a long history in India. It is the crop which galvanized the independence movement against the British. The movement led by Gandhi to produce domestic cloth woven from domestic cotton and the boycott of cloth imports from Great Britain had undercut the colonial British economy. Economic self-reliance or a form of near-autarky was what was advocated by Gandhi to undermine the British empire which imported cheap natural resources from its colonies and sold finished and semi-finished goods made in the industrial mills in Britain in the territories it occupied. Many argue that this is also the neo-colonial strategy that China is currently pursuing in its trade relations with other countries.

India is usually an exporter of cotton. Lately it has begun importing it, contributing to the country’s trade deficit. Two reasons standout for India’s cotton imports. One, limited domestic supply because of droughts or crop disease and two, a strong rupee which sometimes makes it cheaper to buy cotton in the world market than produce it domestically. While the first reason may, on occasion, make imports necessary and sensible, the second reason is purely the current global paradigm of trade at work: in a regime of free trade, under Ricardian comparative advantage, if it is cheaper to produce a good or a service in another country then countries which incur higher costs of producing the same goods or services domestically will import. The importing countries’ economic structure and labor market will shift away from producing the imported goods and services domestically and focus on others where they have comparative advantage in the ideal world that trades in goods and services freely across borders without any protections for domestic products.

The Ricardian comparative advantage may be attractive at an initial glance because it envisions a world of freely trading countries engaging in only that economic activity in which they are more economically efficient. However, the reality is such a division of labor across countries in the production of goods and services may be unsustainable because the world demand for various goods and services will always be higher than the possible world supply due to fewer producers and a disproportionately large number of consumers. Prices could be higher than in autarky over the long run and oligopolies of suppliers of goods and services will be created around the world.

Moreover, if, for example, selling natural resources cheaply is the comparative advantage of some countries, no domestic industry will be developed in such countries because they would import goods and services with the revenues earned from their natural resource exports. This lack of development of domestic industry has negative feedback effects on the amount of revenues extraction of natural resources can generate for these countries because the technology to extract natural resources does not belong to them but to other countries which specialize in those technologies. Therefore, despite being rich in natural resources, many countries remain poor due to lack of technical know how to exploit their own resources to their maximum benefit and they also enter into lopsided bad deals in their eagerness to earn income.

What we see in reality is some balance between economic specialization in world trade and competitive domestic production of the same or similar goods and services in various countries. What needs to be done in this age of the multinational corporation (MNC) in a largely sovereign and democratic world – which is very different from the age of the colonial multinationals such as the East India Company when the colonial master profited from the assets of the colonies without colonial development – is to institute a global trade regime of quasi-autarky as Gandhi had envisioned. Only natural resources and food that countries are deficient in and management and technical know how cross borders, and most needs of goods and services of countries are met through production within their borders by both the MNCs and domestic companies either in collaboration or in competition with each other.

India, given that it has proven to be self-sufficient in agriculture, must ensure its agriculture sector does not trigger the need for imports as with cotton as an example. This, however, does not mean that India should shoot for a cheaper rupee to make Indian cotton less expensive. It means that whatever the global price of cotton, India should specialize in cotton and cotton-related goods and services while committing to at least self-sufficient domestic cotton production through perhaps better agricultural techniques or better seeds that are drought and disease resistant. India should commit to innovation in agriculture, develop its own agricultural MNCs while welcoming foreign MNCs into its domestic market. This applies not only to agriculture but to all sectors of the Indian economy.

Quasi-autarky is a feasible option for India and in fact, as Gandhi envisaged, for the rest of the world as well.