With the first quarter GDP for the current financial year i.e. 2009-10 recording a growth of 6.1% (as compared to 7.8% in Q1 of 2008-09), many analysts have become gung ho on the development. The Central Statistical Organisation (CSO), the government body that publishes the data, said the effect was drought had not reflected in the Q1 GDP but may reflect in the coming quarters. “The economy can still clock over 6% growth in FY10 despite the drought,” the CSO said. Even the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, reacting to the numbers, said the worst may be over on the GDP growth front. “We expect GDP growth to improve in the subsequent quarters,” Ahluwalia said.
A closer look at the data, however, seems it is more like government speak on the expected line (to shore up the sentiment) rather than one that is grounded on reality.
First let us focus on the agricultural sector. As compared to Q1 2008-09 when it recorded a growth of 3%, the farm sector grew by 2.4%. This is even lower than 2.7% growth in the immediate previous quarter. While this in itself need not be bad, fact is, the agricultural sector contains data of the Rabi crop. The effect of the severe drought on India’s Khariff crop is yet to be recorded and this is going to take a major hit in the coming quarters. Corollary – much subdued rural demand. Fact is, anecdotal evidence already suggests such a pull back as is being felt by many FMCG companies. Soon, even the automotive companies especially the tractor and the two-wheeler companies will feel the heat.
What has really carried the day, like the previous quarter, was higher government expenditure. As per the data, the Government Final Consumption Expenditure (GFCE) grew by as much as 10.24%, while the Private Final Consumption Expenditure (PFCE), or simply consumption demand, virtually stagnated (a growth of only 1.63%). Fact is, the 7.8% growth in Q1 2008-09 was fundamentally much stronger, because it was on the back of higher domestic demand, while the GFCE was stagnant. The current growth has been recorded on a steroid of higher governmental spending on the social sector (as part of the stimulus package), as was the case during Q4, 2008-09. What is more important to note here is that the rural demand generated by higher government spending in the rural sector and comparatively high growth of 2.7% and 2.4% during the last two quarters have still resulted in virtually unchanged domestic consumption. In essence, this means that the urban consumers are pulling back. Now as the effect of the stimulus package wanes as does the intensity of government expenditure, hamstrung as they are by higher deficit, and the farm sector growth rate falls, the GDP is bound to record lower growth.
This growth number also has a lot to thank the statistics for. Let me explain. India’s exports impacts the GDP positively, while imports do so negatively. So, higher trade deficit reduced GDP while lower deficit improves GDP. In case of India, while India’s exports in INR terms was lower by a little more than 10% during Q1, imports fell at more than double the rate (about 20.5%). As a result trade deficit improved, thereby impacting the GDP positively. Hence we have a curious situation wherein lower domestic demand has resulted in lower imports and hence improved GDP. This does not bode well for the future, for two reasons. As mentioned, it implies slackening domestic demand. More importantly, non-oil import was down substantially. This implies lower import of capital goods, which is an indication of lower business confidence going forward as investment slackens.
Even Gross Fixed Capital formation (GFCF) during this quarter was up by a mere 4.23%, while the same increased by close to 18% during the same quarter in the previous year. Similar phenomenon was also witnessed during Q4, 2008-09. In fact, domestic production of capital goods during the first quarter was up by a mere 1%, while the same for Apr-Jun 2008-09 was up by 7.9%. With lower investments, the economy is clearly lacking the necessary tailwind that can propel the economy forward.
With likely lowering of domestic demand, it is quite possible that manufacturing might be impacted further as manufacturers start to draw down on inventories. Inventories currently account for about 3.1% of the GDP. This is not unlikely as manufacturing grew by a much lower 3.4% as compared to 5.5%. Although this is better than the growth recorded in the previous two quarters, even the current growth rate might not be sustainable on the face of slowing demand. And, a drop in manufacturing growth rate will also pull down the overall GDP growth.
Looking at monthly numbers, there is some pick-up in domestic capital goods production off late, but sustainability remains a question. Going forward, it is very important to keep on manufacturing, especially on the capital goods sector, since investment demand will be an important growth driver.
In effect, I am sticking to my projection of a sub-six percent GDP growth for the full year, more likely to be about 5.8%.
Contrary to what many experts believed, the problems for the US economy are, by no means, over. I strongly believe that unless the labour market shows a sustainable turnaround, the US economic problem will not cease, since recovery consumer spending will depend on recovery of job market to start with.
Yesterday's Initial Claims data shows how mistaken the market was, as the claims figure rose (rather than declined as expected) by 15,000. Fact is, the analysts were rejoicing when the unemployment rate fell to 9.4% from 9.5%, thinking that this was it i.e. a recovery is round the corner, failing to realise that this was more statistical in nature. Fact is, the unemployment rate fell despite 247,000 people losing their job. This happened because there were about 500,000 people who were technically not counted as unemployed, although they did not have a job, simply because they were not looking out for a job for some reason or the other during the 4 weeks preceding the survey.
Fact is, during this recession, the US has lost 6.9 million private non-farm jobs starting from December 2007, when the employment number peaked. Even an annual destruction of 5.8 million jobs (as compared to July 2008) is the highest ever annual decline recorded. In effect, not only has all the private sector job created after the last recession has vanished, the total private sector employment number is currently back to what it was 10 years ago. And, during this ten year period, a little more than 15 million people entered the work force
Things turn even scarier when one looks at long term unemployment numbers, i.e. a person who is unemployed for 27 weeks or more. This number has increased drastically to nearly 5 million with every third (33.8% as per BLS) unemployed person being unemployed for long time. This not only means that jobs are becoming very difficult to get, but it also exposes the other green shoot that many analysts are bandying about. That of improving continuous claims data. In this context, it is important to remember that a person, who is unemployed for 26 continuous months, will cease to get allowance. Hence they fall out of the statistics after completing the period. As per the press release issued by BLS, on an average, every month since March 2009, 400,000 plus people become ineligible for the allowance. Naturally, the statistics show improvement. Add to this the fact that there are nearly 800,000 workers who are considered ‘discouraged’ (i.e. they are not looking for job because they believe no jobs are available for them), and the final trace of euphoria would vanish.
For a more detailed view on the US market, you need to wait for a week when my article gets published in Dalal Street Investment Journal.
Its high time one calls the inflation bluff. A three decade low figure of -1.74% can scare the living daylights out of many investors. But worry not. It is only a piece of statistics that is definitely not a bikini because it reveals nothing. Take heart. It is not deflation. One can simply call it dis-inflation. But tell the consumers on the street that prices are falling and they would think you have fled from a mental assylum.
Sky rocketing CPI inflation is a worry for most of us. And WPI? Well its losing any meaning. Of course, the falling WPI has a lot to do with base effect as the Index peaked in August last. Not surprisingly it is on the lower side. Fact is, within the WPI, the food articles index jumped 10%.
From September onwards, the trend is sure to be reversed. And, therefter, as the low base effect kicks in, it will start moving up. Not surprisingly, RBI is expecting the inflation rate to touch 5% by 31st March 2010. But even that may be belied as weak monsoon threatens to derail the economy. Food inflation is a very real threat now. As inflation starts to inch up, it is only a matter of time before interest rates start moving north.
Not supsrisingly the inflationary expectation is playing in the mind of the corporates as it would jack up interest rates. As a result, for the fortnight ended July 31, 2009 bank credit went up by a whopping Rs. 29,471 crores as the corporates have started taking the loans that were sanctioned earlier. All this time they were avoiding taking up the loan as they expected the interest rates to fall. But now, with every chance of the falling trend being reversed, the loans are being taken up.
Clearly, inflation is going to be worry sooner rather than later.
Am back to blogging after a long time. Have been writing a few articles that have been published elsewhere. But I had to write this today, because suddenly another green shoot has been sighted. The June IIP number. Up by 7.8% as compared to June 2008. Indeed that's a big jump. Fact is, if this kind of growth is sustained for the rest of the year, then the GDP growth will be much stronger than my expectation. As is clear from my articles, I do not expect the Indian GDP to exceed 6% this financial year. But I am not convinced that this growth is going to be maintained. Reasons:
1) The growth has come mostly from 15.5% growth in consumer durables. This has been possible due to rural demand supported by governmental expenditure and residual demand from the 6th pay commission largesse. This is not going to last
2) Weak monsoon (with severe droughts in some places and major flood in others) would put a break in rural demand going forward
3) There is some case of inventory built up taking place which pumped up the number. High inventory level and potentially faltering demand can weaken future production prospects
4) While some investments are taking place in some pockets, the rate of investment might slowdown in some time, as rising inflationary pressure would lead to rising intererst rates
In fact, I am inclined to think that even the June growth number will be revised downward as has happened in the case of both April and May numbers.
Clearly, sustainability is the key and I am not comfortable with the idea that demand is rebounding.