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Friday, June 13, 2008

June 13 - Inflation soars to 8.75% on rising prices

Surging food and fuel prices further pushed up inflation to 8.75 per cent for the week ended May 31 from 8.24 per cent in the previous week, its highest in 7 years. Inflation may go beyond a 13-year high of 9 per cent as a result of the steepest-ever hike in petroleum prices, analysts said. "It (inflation) could cross 9 per cent in the near term owing to the hike in petrol and diesel prices," HDFC Bank chief economist Abheek Barua told reporters recently.

In a bid to curb inflation, the Reserve Bank India on Wednesday hiked the repo rate — the rate at which banks borrow from RBI — by a quarter point, from 7.75 per cent to 8 per cent, giving a clear signal that for it inflation is a bigger priority than growth. It may not tame inflation in a hurry, but will discourage spending over a period of time, as banks pass on their higher cost of funds to borrowers. But all is not over yet.

For, a slim majority of economists now expect the RBI to raise its key lending rate once more in 2008 after this week’ssurprise 25 basis point increase to contain inflation expectations, a media poll has showed. Many also expect the RBI to raise its cash reserve ratio (CRR), the main policy instrument used over the past 18 months, by 25 to 100 basis points in coming months to clamp down on inflation-stoking surplus cash.

The government, under pressure to contain prices ahead of state polls this year and national elections due by next year, has also cut import duties on edible oil, curbed rice exports and forced steel and cement companies to cut prices.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

US has vital stake in India's rise as a global power

Condoleezza Rice
Describing India as an emerging "global power" and an "ally," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Washington has a "vital" stake in New Delhi's rise.

"India stands on the front lines of globalisation. This democratic nation promises to become a global power and an ally in shaping an international order rooted in freedom and the rule of law," Rice says after noting that Indo-US relations have experienced a "dramatic breakthrough" during the eight years of Bush Administration.

"...the United States has a vital stake in India's rise to global power and prosperity, and relations between the two countries have never been stronger or broader," Rice says in an article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine published by Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington think-tank.

"It will take continued work, but this is a dramatic breakthrough for both our strategic interests and our values," she says.

Penning her thoughts on foreign policy pursued by the George W Bush administration during the last eight years, Rice says Washington has placed importance to building strong relations with existing global players as well as emerging.

With those, particularly India and Brazil, the United States has built deeper and broader ties, she says.

On Brazil, she says the country's success at using democracy and markets to address centuries of pernicious social inequality has global resonance.

"Today, India and Brazil look outward as never before, secure in their ability to compete and succeed in the global economy.

"In both countries, national interests are being redefined as Indians and Brazilians realise their direct stake in a democratic, secure, and open international order -- and their commensurate responsibilities for strengthening it and defending it against the major transnational challenges of our era," Rice says.

The terror attacks on the US on September 11, 2001 was similar to the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, which fundamentally changed the world, she says.

"We were called to lead with a new urgency and with a new perspective on what constituted threats and what might emerge as opportunities. And as with previous strategic shocks, one can cite elements of both continuity and change in our foreign policy since the attacks of September 11."

"What has not changed is that our relations with traditional and emerging great powers still matter to the successful conduct of policy. Thus, my admonition in 2000 that we should seek to get right the "relationships with the big powers" -- Russia, China, and emerging powers such as India and Brazil -- has consistently guided us," Rice says.

Washington's alliances in the Americas, Europe, and Asia remain the pillars of the international order, she says, adding that the Bush administration was now transforming them to meet the challenges of a new era.

"In this strategic environment, it is vital to our national security that states be willing and able to meet the full range of their sovereign responsibilities, both beyond their borders and within them. This new reality has led us to some significant changes in our policy.

"We recognise that democratic state building is now an urgent component of our national interest," she said adding that in the broader Middle East, the US recognises that freedom and democracy are the only ideas that can, over time, lead to just and lasting stability, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

India's Fiscal Deficit Higest in World - still increasing

Fiscal Deficit 2008

India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The foreign exchange reserves reach a new high every week (($314 billion), inflation has not been controlled due to hike in the price of crude oil (nearly $135) and interest rates continue to be low. Indian fiscal deficit is the highest in percentage among the other countries of the world.

What is fiscal deficit?

Fiscal deficit is essentially the difference between what the government spends and what it earns. It is expressed as a percentage of GDP.

India's fiscal deficit was brought down to 3.17% (Rs 1,43,653 crore) of the gross domestic product in 2007-08 from 3.8% in 2006-07. The government has promised to cut the deficit further to 2.5% of GDP (Rs 1,33,287 crore) by the end of 2008-09, but looking at the way things are going, economists say, it is unlikely the government will meet its target

India's fiscal deficit continues to be among the highest in the world and underlying pressures are not entirely showing up in headline fiscal numbers, Reserve Bank of India Governor Y. V. Reddy said.

Earlier in the Budget 2008 - 09 document, the government's revenue expectations are realistic, but expenditure appears to be underestimated. This may be because expenditure to the tune of 2.0-2.5 per cent of GDP remains off budget. There is no provision in the budget for the loan waiver of $16.8 billion to the farmers (earlier Rs.60,000 crores and now it is increased to Rs.71,680 crores) and huge amount of $6.36 billion arrears to the Central Government employees (Rs.27145 crores for the Central sixth pay commission recommendations), which is expected to 1.85 per cent of the official GDP for 2008-09. The loan waiver scheme will benefit 3.69 crore small and marginal farmers and 59.75 lakh other farmers. This is the vote bank for the next 2009 general elections to the Congress Party.

The budget 2008 - 09 document also says that the Plan expenditure is going to rise by around Rs 38,000 crores or around 19 per cent. Non-plan expenditure will rise by a much smaller amount, by Rs 64,806 crore or 17 per cent. The actual figure may be much higher.

The fiscal deficit for 2008-09 is forecast at 2.5 per cent of GDP, lower than the deficit for 2007-08 of 3.1 per cent of GDP for 2007-08, and also lower than the 3 per cent of GDP mandated by the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act. It is highly unlikely that the government will achieve its forecast.

While net borrowings for 2008-09 have been budgeted at Rs 1 trillion and the gross borrowing estimate is at Rs 1.45 trillion. Critically, it does not include oil bond redemptions of Rs 13000 crores. It remains to be seen how the government finances maturing oil bonds. Therefore there appears to be a considerable upside risk to market borrowings for 2008-09. Though aimed populist in nature, many of the announcements made could fuel inflation and put pressure on the fiscal deficit in 2008-09.

Economists point out that all oil bonds and a part of fertiliser bonds are not accounted for in the Budget. This means that the government does not have to include these expenses while calculating the surplus or deficit for the year.

Subir Gokarn, Asia Pacific economist at rating agency Standard & Poor's, says that oil bonds are just liabilities and not real expenditure for the government and hence, technically, they cannot be added to the fiscal deficit.

Tax collections were at a record Rs 5,88,000 core in 2007-08 helped by robust economic growth and corporate profitability. However, with growth likely to slow down in 2008-09, it remains to be seen whether the same buoyancy will be maintained.

Also, not every expert believes fiscal deficit is worrisome. Dr Ashima Goyal, professor at Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, believes a high fiscal deficit is an indication that the government is spending more on "productive expenditures."

"We are seeing the centre's fiscal situation is improving but I think there are several underlying fiscal pressures not entirely evident in the numbers," Reddy told a conference in New Delhi on 26 May 2008.

India aims to bring down its fiscal deficit to 2.5 percent of GDP for the 2008-09 financial year, compared to 3.1 percent in 2007-08, but financial analysts fear a $17 billion scheme to write off the debts of millions of small farmers and tax cuts could trip up efforts. According to the Fiscal Responsibility and the Budget Management Act operationalised in 2004-05, the government must reduce its fiscal deficit to 3 pct of GDP and wipe out its revenue deficit by 2008-09.

But it has already missed its revenue deficit target and expects it to be 1 percent of GDP in the year to end March 2009. Reddy said the fiscal deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product continues to be among the highest in the world.

Market borrowings finance more than half of the gross fiscal deficit and the rest of the gap is filled by small savings, provident funds, reserve funds and deposits and advances.

The gross fiscal deficit covering both state and central government is estimated at 5.5 percent in 2007-08, according to official estimates, down from 9.5 percent in 2002-03.

Fiscal deficit will be more in the coming months due to oil prices. Crude oil price of $35 per barrel in BJP government has been increased to $135 in Congress government which is nearly $100 difference per barrel. Congress Government is searching many options to recover the loss of PSUs and trying to reduce other taxes and duties. Increase of each one dollar hike in crude oil will give huge loss of Rs.3000 crore to Public Sector Undertakings. Central Government has no option except to increase the prices of petrol, diesel and gas for recovering some extent of losses

Monday, June 9, 2008

Single FII can invest up to $200 mn in Indian debt Securities

Foreign institutional investors (FIIs) will now have an individual ceiling of $200 million for investment in Indian debt securities. The move is perceived, by many, to be an attempt to avoid concentration of risk in the debt market. Further, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) ruled on Friday that the enhanced limits will be allocated to FIIs on a ‘first-come-first-serve basis’.

FIIs wishing to take advantage of the enhanced limit will have to make their applications to Sebi by June 16, 2008, and the first few entities to apply before the total cap of $8 billion is reached will be allocated the debt. There are doubts over the exact impact of the move, especially since the existing limit also has not been utilised. Sebi’s move has come at a time when interest in government securities has waned resulting in the yield on 10-year bonds inching up to 8.25%.

Bonds have come under pressure, following fuel price hike and the government’s decision to issue more oil bonds this year. But while the new limit may not have a short-term impact, market participants feel that it is a positive signal being sent out by the government and regulators.

Last week, the government had reviewed its external commercial borrowing policy and increased the FII limit in debt securities to a total of $8 billion, of which $5 billion would be for government securities and $3 billion for investment in corporate debt. The earlier limit for FIIs in debt stood at $4.7 billion, of which $3.2 billion was allocated for government securities and $1.5 billion for investment in corporate debt. Standard Chartered Bank managing director and regional head for global markets and South Asia Sundeep Bhandari said, "The ceiling Sebi has imposed on companies is probably an attempt to avoid concentration of risk, and broadbase the market.

It is a good move by the regulator, as it will negate the volatility that could have been caused by a lesser number of investors pumping in large amounts." The decision to increase foreign investment in debt securities comes at a time when the market is not doing too well. According Mr Bhandari, the timing could not be better, as it will attract investors with a long term view. "If this move had come when the market was booming, it would have fuelled a number of speculative investors," he added. A senior official at a bond house said, "The appetite for Indian debt securities from FIIs has not been high so far.

Though the signals sent out by Sebi are clear, it remains to be seen how much of an impact it will have." Incidentally, the corporate debt market has not performed too well over the past few months. There was only two new issues in the past month. The other two issues currently open, of Gammon India and Punjab State Electricity Board, have been kept open for a period of over two months due to a lack of investors.
- Economic times

Sunday, June 8, 2008

India, China growth cannot offset global slowdown

Emerging economies such as China and India are growing faster than the rest of the world but still lack the firepower to offset weaker growth in the US and European Union, Fitch Ratings said Monday.

The main emerging markets commonly known as BRIC -- Brazil, Russia, India, and China -- remain very dependent on exports to the industrialised economies with a combined trade surplus of 500 billion US dollars, said James McCormack, head of sovereign ratings in Asia for Fitch.

"The trade flows do not support the emerging markets contributing to offset a recession in the US and weakness elsewhere," McCormack said at a Fitch conference in Singapore.

Many economists say the United States, the world's largest economy, is effectively in recession.

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Some analystts have seen the rapid economic expansion in India and China as reasons for optimism even if the US and other advanced economies weaken.

But Fitch Ratings argues otherwise. "They (BRIC economies) are running very large combined trade surpluses in the order of 500 billion dollars... so if there's weakness in the advanced economies, you are going to see weakness in the emerging markets," McCormack said.

"The trade flows are going the other way, so the conclusion that we reached is that strong growth in the emerging markets is not really going to help offset weakness in the advanced economies."

Both India and China still account for a relatively small portion of global imports which means their economies' influence on international growth is limited, the US ratings agency said.

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India only accounts for two percent of the world's gross domestic product, said McCormack.

"So in some sense, it doesn't matter how fast India grows and it's not a very open economy," he added.

"It's not really going to contribute to stronger growth in other markets. It doesn't import that much. It's just too small." - Fitch Ratings.

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