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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  Narendra Modi’s note ban may have been in vain as India outlook dimming
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Narendra Modi’s note ban may have been in vain as India outlook dimming

As investors try to assess the impact of Narendra Modi's note ban move, all eyes will be on the government's forecast for the year through Marchdue 7 January

A file photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: ReutersPremium
A file photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Reuters

Mumbai: Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs a new narrative for his banknote ban.

He’d touted the surprise move to scrap high-value bills as India’s biggest step against unaccounted cash, which the government estimated at Rs5 trillion. The bulk of this money has already been deposited with two more weeks to go before the deadline lapses, meaning the shock to the system may have been in vain.

The decision sucked out 86% of currency in circulation, akin to withdrawing all US dollar bills except about half of the $1 notes. Only 50% of this is projected to be replaced by the year-end, leaving authorities scrambling to push digital payments as public anger rises.

Also read: Currency in circulation continues to plunge

“India’s ‘own goal’ currency swap initiative has put a crimp on the cash-dependent economy," said Singapore-based Paul Gruenwald, chief economist for Asia-Pacific at S&P Global. The government’s “well-intentioned but poorly thought through demonetisation program" is driving down the pace of economic activity, he said.

Growth

As investors try to assess the impact of Modi’s move, all eyes will be on the government’s forecast for the year through March—due 7 January. The central bank and private economists have lowered their projections for the economy where 98% of consumer payments are made in cash.

Factory output

The Nikkei purchasing managers’ index signals a contraction in the key services sector, which accounts for about 60% of gross domestic product. Car purchases, a main indicator of manufacturing demand, grew at the slowest pace in nine months in November while sales of motorcycles and scooters—where about 65% of payments are in cash—fell for the first time in almost a year.

Loan growth

Commercial credit sank to a 19-year low as backlogs piled up at factories and banks stayed busy with the task of exchanging currency notes. Meanwhile deposits surged, pushing the credit-deposit ratio to a six-year low.

“For a cash dependent economy, a cash crunch is not good," said Madhavi Arora, Mumbai-based economist at Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd.

Trade

The trade deficit widened to a 16-month high as export growth slowed in November and imports surged. Most worryingly, gold shipments jumped 26% in November, triggering speculation that consumers were converting their cash into non-productive holdings of the precious metal.

Jobs

Export numbers also hinted at the employment outlook. A decline in gems and jewelry, a sector that depends on unorganized manual labour, suggested the cash crunch was affecting employment, said Kapil Gupta, an analyst at Edelweiss Securities Ltd. Rafeeque Ahmed, chairman of the council for leather exports, said Modi’s move has slashed about 75,000-100,000 jobs from his industry.

Inflation

As demand dips for goods, price pressures are easing. The benchmark consumer inflation gauge plunged more than estimated to below the mid-point of the central bank’s target. However, this wouldn’t be the first time that economists have been surprised and it may not open much room to ease policy. So-called core inflation—excluding food and fuel—is sticky, the central bank said this month.

Ratings

India’s currency clampdown won’t impact the nation’s credit ratings, according to S&P Global Ratings. However, the company said Indian corporates and banks will face short-term “execution and adjustment risks."

Fitch Ratings called the demonetisation a “one-off event" and said that while the short term hit will be significant, people will find “inventive ways" around the cash crunch. Moody’s Investors Service placed on negative watch three micro-finance lenders, indicating that their ratings may be downgraded.

Digital payments

Data on card transactions indicate plastic is taking the place of currency usage at a faster pace. With the data incomplete, conclusions are tentative, but the analysis strengthens Bloomberg Intelligence Economics’ view that demonetisation will not deal a major blow to growth.

Consumer sentiment

A central bank survey of 4,686 respondents also pointed to robust consumer sentiment despite the cash ban. Perceptions of general economic conditions and financial situations have improved, the central bank said 7 December, adding that the surveys were conducted between 27 October and 13 November and more data must be analyzed to draw conclusions.

“A puzzle has arisen of late—why are some activity indicators still in the positive range, albeit slowing, when cash has contracted so sharply?" said Pranjul Bhandari, chief India economist at HSBC Holdings Plc. “One answer might be that growth will be affected with only a lag. Another is that informal arrangements, like vendor credit, have helped to fill the void." Bloomberg

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Published: 19 Dec 2016, 08:31 AM IST
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