New capex announcements have dried up even as one in five private sector projects remains stuck
The proportion of stalled private sector projects rose to a 52-quarter high of 20.2% in the March quarter even as fresh project announcements saw tepid growth, according to the latest data from the project-tracking database of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).
The latest numbers seem to suggest that the Indian economy is unlikely to witness a sharp acceleration in growth in the coming months. CMIE’s capex database is the most widely tracked capex database in the country.
The proportion of stalled projects rose to double digits in 2013, during the fag end of the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) term because of what analysts described as “policy paralysis". But despite a change in regime and no apparent signs of such paralysis, stalling rates continue to inch upwards.
The overall stalling rate in the March-ended quarter (for public and private sector put together) is 12.3%, the third-highest level on record for data over 88 quarters that goes back to June 1995. The March quarter marks the first time since 2004 when the private sector stalling rate has breached the 20% mark. The stalling rate in the public sector remained unchanged at 6.2% in the March-ended quarter but public sector projects are a small fraction of the overall capex pie. The stalling rate is calculated as the value of projects stalled as a proportion of the overall value of capex projects under implementation.
Two sectors—manufacturing and power—account for more than 40% of all the stalled projects. Manufacturing accounts for 28.14% of the stalled projects, while electricity projects account for 14.65% of stalled projects. These two sectors have witnessed persistently high stalling rates for several quarters in a row.
The share of stalled projects in the construction and real estate sector saw a sharp 3 percentage point jump to 12.5% in the March-ended quarter, perhaps in part because of the impact of demonetisation. The mining sector and services (other than financial) accounted for roughly 7% of stalled projects each.
As in the past several quarters, lack of clearances have been the major hurdle in getting projects off the ground, with 23% of the projects (in terms of value) stuck because of such clearances. The lack of environmental clearances alone accounted for 14% of stalled projects. The other big reason for stalling of projects has been the lack of fuel, feedstock and raw materials, the CMIE data shows. Land acquisition problems no longer seem to be as big a reason for stalling as earlier.
Even as existing projects remain stuck, new project announcements appear to be drying up. The year-on-year growth in project announcements slipped to its lowest level in 10 quarters in the March-ended quarter. This makes it the first quarter since September 2014 when growth in under-implementation projects has exceeded growth in announced projects.
The slowdown in project announcements began towards the latter half of the December quarter itself, and seems to have been triggered by the demonetisation exercise, according to a CMIE analysis which looked at trends in capex announcements before and after 8 November 2016. The March quarter figures seem to suggest that the animal spirits of the Indian industry have not recovered yet.
The private sector accounted for 79.38% of new projects announced. A significant chunk of Rs2.04 trillion in new projects was because of SpiceJet Ltd, which announced plans to spend Rs0.73 trillion on acquiring 100 new aircraft. Renewable power projects in Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh were among the March quarter’s other major announcements.
It is worth noting that not all project announcements turn into actual investments.
Given India’s twin balance-sheet problem—the high levels of leverage among India’s indebted firms and the pile-up of bad debt banks are facing—a broad-based capex recovery does not appear to be on the horizon. Nonetheless, if the pipeline of stalled projects is unclogged, it could help kick-start a capex revival. A quick resolution of the bad debt mess can also help revive the capex cycle and bolster growth over the medium term.
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