India faces hard economic times with Gold and Liquor

by Shaun Richards

Early this morning we got news on a topic we have been pursuing for several years now and as has become familiar it showed quite an economic slow down.

At 27.4 in April, the seasonally adjusted IHS Markit India
Manufacturing PMI® fell from 51.8 in March. The latest reading pointed to the sharpest deterioration in business conditions across the sector since data collection began over 15 years ago.

It caught my eye also because it was the lowest of the manufacturing PMI series this morning. Although some care is needed as the decimal point is laughable and the 7 is likely to be unreliable as well. But the theme is clear I think. Of course much of this is deliberate policy.

The decline in operating conditions was partially driven by
an unprecedented contraction in output. Panellists often
attributed lower production to temporary factory closures that were triggered by restrictive measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

So that deals with supply and here is demand.

Amid widespread business closures, demand conditions were severely hampered in April. New orders fell for the first time in two-and-a-half years and at the sharpest rate in the survey’s history, far outpacing that seen during the global financial crisis.

So there was something of a race between the two and of course external demand was heading south as well.

Total new business received little support from international markets in April, as new export orders tumbled. Following the first reduction since October 2017 during March, foreign sales fell at a quicker rate in the latest survey period. In fact, the rate of decline accelerated to the fastest since the series began over 15 years ago.

The plunges above sadly have had an inevitable impact on the labour market as well.

Deteriorating demand conditions saw manufacturers drastically cut back staff numbers in April. The reduction in employment was the quickest in the survey’s history. There was a similar trend in purchasing activity, with firms cutting input buying at a record pace.

Background and Context

We learn from noting what had already been happening in India.

Real GDP or Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at Constant (2011-12) Prices in the year 2019-20 is estimated to attain a level of ₹ 146.84 lakh crore, as against the First Revised Estimate of GDP for the year 2018-19 of ₹ 139.81 lakh crore, released on 31st January 2020. The growth in GDP during 2019-20 is estimated at 5.0 percent as compared to 6.1 percent in 2018-19. ( MOSPI )

Things had been slip-sliding away since the recent peak of 7.7% back around the opening of 2018. So without the Covid-19 pandemic we would have seen falls below 5%. In response to that the Reserve Bank of India had been cutting interest-rates. I would have in the past have typed slashed but for these times four cuts of 0.25% and one of 0.35% in 2019 do not qualify for such a description.

Before that was the Demonetisation episode of 2016 where the Indian government created a cash crunch but withdrawing 500 and 1000 Rupee notes. This was ostensibly to reduce financial crime but also created quite a bit of hardship. Later as so much of the money returned to the system it transpired that the gains were much smaller than the hardship created.

For newer readers you can find more details on these issues in my back catalogue on here.

Looking Ahead

On April 17th the Governor of the RBI tried his best to be upbeat.

 India is among the handful of countries that is projected to cling on tenuously to positive growth (at 1.9 per cent). In fact, this is the highest growth rate among the G 20 economies………For 2021, the IMF projects sizable V-shaped recoveries: close to 9 percentage points for global GDP. India is expected to post a sharp turnaround and resume its pre-COVID pre-slowdown trajectory by growing at 7.4 per cent in 2021-22.

He was of course running a risk by listening to the IMF and ignoring what the trade date was already signalling.

In the external sector, the contraction in exports in March 2020 at (-) 34.6 per cent has turned out to be much more severe than during the global financial crisis. Barring iron ore, all exporting sectors showed a decline in outbound shipments. Merchandise imports also fell by 28.7 per cent in March across the board, barring transport equipment.

On Friday the Business Standard was reporting on expectations much more in line with the trade data.

While acknowledging some downside risks from a lockdown extension in urban areas beyond 6 June, we maintain our GDP projection of 0% GDP growth for CY2020, and 0.8% for FY21,” wrote Rahul Bajoria of Barclaysin a report.

If we stay with that source then we get another hint from what caused the drop in share prices for car manufacturers today.

Shares of automobile companies declined on Monday as many firms reported nil sales in the month of April after a nationwide lockdown kept factories and showrooms shut.

At 10:11 AM, the Nifty Auto index was down 7.33 per cent as compared to 5.1 per cent decline in the Nifty50 index.

Monetary Policy

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You will not be surprised to learn that the RBI acted again as the policy Repo Rate is now 4.4% and the Governor gave a summary of other actions in the speech referred to above.

 In my statement of March 27, I had indicated that together with the measures announced on March 27, the RBI’s liquidity injection was about 3.2 per cent of GDP since the February 2020 MPC meeting.

Those who follow the ECB will note he announced something rather familiar.

 it has been decided to conduct Targeted Long-Term Repo Operations (TLTRO) 2.0 at the policy repo rate for tenors up to three years for a total amount of up to ₹ 50,000 crores, to begin with, in tranches of appropriate sizes.

Oh and as we are looking at India by ECB I am referring to the central bank and not cricket.

If we switch to the money supply data we see that in the fortnight to April 10th the heat was on as M3 grew by 1.2% raising the annual rate of growth to 10.8%. But there was a counterpoint to this as there were heavy withdrawals of demand deposits with fell by 7.8% in a fortnight. We have looked before at the problems of the Indian banking sector and maybe minds were focused on this as the pandemic hit.

Gold

I am switching to this due to its importance in India and gold bugs there may be having a party as they read the Business Standard.

The sharp rise in the prices of gold —which almost doubled over the past one year —has been the only good for investors at a time when both equities and debt returns have been under pressure.

That price may be a driving factor in this.

India’s demand declined by a staggering 36 per cent during the January-March quarter, to hit the lowest quarterly figure in 11 years due to nationwide that has forced the closure of wholesale and retail showrooms.

Comment

The situation is made worse by the fact that India starts this phase as a poor country. Things are difficult to organise in such a large country as the opening of the Liquor Shops today has shown.

Long queues witnessed outside #LiquorShops in several parts of Chhattisgarh, people defy social distancing norms at many places: Officials ( Press Trust of India)

Also a problem was around before we reached the pandemic phase.

Armies of locusts swarming across continents pose a “severe risk” to India’s agriculture this year, the UN has warned, prompting the authorities to step up vigil, deploy drones to detect their movement and hold talks with Pakistan, the most likely gateway for an invasion by the insects, on ways to minimise the damage. ( Hindustan Times from March)

Now let me give you another Indian spin. The gold issue has several other impacts. No doubt the RBI is calculating the wealth effects from the price gain. However I think of it is another form of money supply as to some extent it has that function there. Also part of the gain is due to another decline in the Rupee which is at 75.6 to the US Dollar. Regular readers will recall it was a symbolic issue when it went through 70. This creates a backwash as it will make people turn to gold even more.

Let me finish with some good news which is that the much lower oil price will be welcome in energy dependent India.

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