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6% growth rate looks like optimism

By T N Ninan
October 30, 2019 10:47 IST

'Growth would have to be 7% in the October-March period, if the year as a whole is to clock 6%.'
'Who would bet on that when, in the world of real numbers, both exports and imports have continued to fall, car sales have continued to slump, and the industrial production index shows yet again a drop in output?', asks T N Ninan.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and World Bank President David Malpass at the NITI lecture series in New Delhi, October 28, 2019. Photograph: ANI Photo
 

The corrections to growth forecasts have come thick and fast, from the Reserve Bank of India, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, rating agencies, investment banks, and sundry others.

Almost all of them now place GDP growth for India this fiscal year at 6%, give or take a decimal point or two.

These are seen by most observers as downbeat numbers, given that previous forecasts not long ago were close to or at 7% -- in the Economic Survey, RBI reports, and elsewhere.

Certainly 6% is a big climbdown from last year's already sub-optimal 6.8%. We are experiencing the slowest economic growth since 2012-2013.

Yet the forecast of even a modest 6% growth rate for the year looks just now like an essay in optimism, considering that the first quarter has clocked just 5%, and the second quarter brought little by way of good news.

Growth would have to be 7% in the October-March period, if the year as a whole is to clock 6%.

Who would bet on that when, in the world of real numbers, both exports and imports have continued to fall, car sales have continued to slump, and the industrial production index shows yet again a drop in output?

For good measure, tax revenue (especially from the tale-telling goods and services tax) lags Budget numbers, corporate results sans the tax break are disappointing, credit flow is poor, fuel consumption trends show a loss of momentum, residential real estate sales continue to plumb the depths, orders for capital goods remain scarce, and the sales of items of everyday consumption have slowed.

Even sectors growing rapidly till recently, like aviation and cement, now report little or no growth. It is hard to square all this with the uptick that the forecasters see as being already under way

But the economic soothsayers who have been polled by the RBI may well be right when they predict a pick-up to 5.8% growth for the July-September quarter, and still better numbers for the current quarter (6.4%) and the next one (7.2%).

The secret to their optimistic jump from 5% to 7.2% in three short quarters lies in that familiar statistical quirk: A low base from which growth is measured.

For the same reason, reversion to annual growth of 7% or more in 2020-2021 should not be seen as unhinged from reality.

These numbers are best understood by starting with the post-demonetisation slump in growth, in April-June 2017, to 5.7%.

That low base helped the same quarter a year later, in 2018, to report 8.25 growth.

This then became the high base that pushed down the April-June number this year, 2019, to 5%.

If one irons out these statistical swings, and averages out growth for the same quarter over three years, the figure is 6.3% -- unimpressive, but not a number that should provoke so much breast-beating in a slowing world economy!

Do the same exercise for the last three second quarters (July-September, 2017-2018-2019, including the forecast of 5.8% for this year) and the average works out to 6.4% -- signalling no real change.

The forecasts for the third and fourth quarters, in comparison, point to a mild uptick, the three-year average quarterly numbers going up to 6.7% and 6.9% in successive quarters.

In other words, what the forecasters expect is only a slow revival in the second half of the financial year.

Is even this modest optimism justified?

On the strength of the worsening numbers being reported from different segments of the system, perhaps not yet.

Nor will a recovery be helped by the fact that the global economy is going through what the IMF calls a synchronised slowdown.

But all downturns must end, and a recovery will eventually materialise.

So wait for the first half of the next financial year, when this year's really low statistical base will yield some magical growth numbers.

That's when the government's PR machine will go into overdrive!

T N Ninan
Source: source
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