The Indian economy expanded at its weakest since 2014 first quarter. It grew at just 5.7 percent year-on-year in the second quarter of 2017, below 6.1 percent in the previous period. In this article we will look at the current health of economy, which parts of GDP are falling, what is causing it to fall, and when will it be able to recover.
The GDP fell by 6.4% in first quarter compared to previous quarter and 72% of this fall is due to reduction in private consumption, rest was due to fall in exports.
The strongest driver of GDP in recent years – private consumption (represented by PFCE, Private Final Consumption Expenditure), fell 8.5% in first quarter of 2017-18 compared to previous quarter from Rs 24.36 lakh crores to 22.27 lakh crores. It has the largest proportion in GDP out of the four engines of growth, the other three being government expenditure, investments, and net exports. As a percentage of GDP, private consumption fell to 57.3% in first quarter compared to 58.7% in previous quarter. Though compared to same quarter in last year, the fall was negligible.
Second biggest reason is a drop in exports which fell sharply by 11.3% in first quarter of 2017-18 compared to previous quarter from Rs 7.98 lakh crores to 7.08 lakh crores.
Government spending increased by a massive 30% to Rs 5.19 lakh crores in first quarter of 2017 compared to Rs 3.99 lakh crore in previous quarter. Private investments were modestly higher in this quarter.
We described above the reasons for fall in GDP for the first quarter of 2017-18 but if we look at the fall in GDP since 2014, we find that except private consumption, all other three growth drivers – investments, government, and exports, are sharply falling. Consumption has declined only in recent quarter. Investments and government spending were in decline since 2007, and exports started dropping from 2014.
Source World Bank - General government final consumption expenditure % of GDP
Source World Bank - Gross capital formation as % of GDP
Source World Bank - Exports of goods and services as % of GDP
When the government froze 86% of India’s currency on November 8, it was definitely going to hurt the economy in the short term. Cash accounts for 40% of India’s GDP and 75% of employment. This is still affecting the consumption demand, some sectors have recovered, but some like real estate will remain under pressure for long time. Since a large number of industries like cement, steel, electrical, aluminum, paints, capital goods, etc are strongly based on real estate, the slowdown in real estate will affect labor wages, rural demand, and demand in these connected industries. Government tried to boost demand by sharply increasing the government spending on infra and related sectors, but it was only able to absorb some shock from demonetization and in spite of this front loading of spending, the private consumption fell by 8.5% in first quarter 2017.
Exports have been declining since 2013 due to appreciating rupee and restrictive global trade policies. GST has also affected the exports negatively in last two months. Due to GST, working capital of exporters is getting locked up. Before GST, exporters used to get exemption from duties. Now, they have to pay the duty first and then seek a refund, a process that ties up a portion of their working capital with the government and pushes up manufacturing costs. According to industry estimates, over Rs 1.85 lakh crore of exporters may get stuck with the government due to GST every year. Exporters have to arrange money for inputs, manufacturing and payment of duties and taxes.
India’s non-food credit growth has fallen to a 50 years low indicating that private sector is still not increasing its investments. Gross capital formation has been in declining trend since 2008 mainly due to excess capacity and partly due to inability of debt-laden banking sector to fund investments. Banks are saddled with $150 billion of sour debt which has constrained their ability to grant loans, especially to businesses perceived as riskier. Revival in private investments is crucial for growth, job creation and social and political stability.
Demonetization was introduced when all growth engines except consumption were not firing. Demonetization at such a time when growth was already weak caused further acceleration in its decline. But demonetization impact is a one-time phenomena and it does have some crucial long term benefits. It will definitely give push to digitalization of economy, though it had no positive impact on curbing black money. Similarly, GST is causing some serious problems to growth but with time, the hurdles are expected to be removed and it will achieve its intended benefits of tax simplification, less administration, one nation-one market, and wider tax net.
Government spending has already been utilized mostly and one can expect little from this area. Private investments are expected to take 1-2 years before we see any revival, as they already have excess capacity. One immediate positive area is exports which may see a pickup due to a reversal in appreciating rupee. Fed hike chances are rising substantially that would cause rupee to weaken and would help exports.
Consumption and exports were the most affected areas by demonetization and GST, and it is expected that in next 1-2 quarters GST would become streamlined. With exports picking up, liquidity back to normal post demonetization, and GST hopefully streamlined, economy should bottom out in next six months. GST success is now the most important factor.
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