Economic slow down is often cyclic and a fact of life. Slowing down or crash landing of the Indian Economy is an increasing chatter on the internet. However, a closer look will reveal that the recessionary phenomenon encompasses most major economies including the US, China, Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Russia, South East Asia (the so-called ‘Tiger Economies’ of the 2000s), Brazil, Turkey, and oil-rich Gulf Nations. Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina are acutely going through this recessionary distress with revolts and change of ruling Governments. Venezuela is undergoing severe inflation called stagflation that is spreading the contagion across the borders. Poland and Canada are amongst the only few countries that are showing flying colors despite the adverse global economic headwind.
Nations such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and many African countries, especially those who have subscribed to the String of Pearls (SOP), Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI), Regional Comprehensive Economic Partner (RCEP) and the 54 nations of the Africa Continent Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will face a massive financial challenge while servicing the burgeoning Chinese loans. Countries such as Pakistan, are on the precipice of falling into bankruptcy. No wonder India quit the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) regional trade consortium.
The economic woes are all-pervasive and the root cause commonly follows select patterns. Individual countries have different problems. However, there is a common shared thread and select individual factors. Identifying the patterns for a specific country will help in putting up a strategy for revival. I have focused on articulating the need for a solution within broad problem areas. This blog is not exhaustive and does not go into a detailed root cause analysis or detailed solution building exercise.
Ignored Global Comparison:
In India, private debt in 2017 was 54.5 percent of the GDP and the general government debt was 70.4 percent of the GDP, total debt of about 125 of the GDP, according to the latest IMF figures. In comparison, the debt of China was 247 percent of the GDP. As of October 2018, it stands at approximately CN¥ 36 trillion (US$ 5.2 trillion), equivalent to about 47.6% of GDP. A key gauge of China’s debt has topped 300% of gross domestic product, according to the Institute of International Finance (IIF), as Beijing steps up support for the cooling economy while trying to contain financial risks. China’s total corporate, household and government debt rose to 303% of GDP in the first quarter of 2019, from 297% in the same period a year earlier, the IIF said in a report this week which highlighted rising debt levels worldwide.
In the United States, total non-financial private debt is $27 trillion and public debt is $19 trillion. More telling, since 1950, U.S. private debt has almost tripled from 55 percent of GDP to 150 percent of GDP, and most other major economies have shown a similar trend. Cumulative debt stands at 40 trillion dollars. Comparative figures from the US reveal that India is not badly hit, considering the numbers released by the Indian Government are trustworthy and credible.
Let us review select Key Performance Indices (KPI’s) of India’s financial health. Here are a few interesting figures from the State Of Indian Economy –
- GDP growth is at a 15-year low
- Unemployment is at a 45-year high
- Household consumption is at a four-decade low
- Bad loans in banks are at an all-time high
- Growth in electricity generation is at a 15-year low
The list of highs and lows is long and distressing. But the state of the economy is worrying not because of these disturbing statistics. These are mere manifestations of a deeper underlying malaise that plagues the nation’s economy today. These figures were published in the Hindu, a very reputed and respected daily. When I share independent data from foreign outlets, those are immediately ridiculed as being ‘biased to damage the growing stature of India’.
I was talking with a building contractor friend of mine who has a meaningful business. When prodded on his state of business, he said, everything is so dry and no new constructions are taking place. This is not my isolated discussion. Every now and then, I do probe these questions to people across the globe and India happens to be on the top. Below is a list of industry verticals that are not just sluggish but in recession (more than 2 quarters of slow down beyond certain percent points).
- Service industry
If you factor in the total percent affected, you will notice a major chunk of the population that forms the base of the pyramid, is affected because of the slowdown.
What happens now?
Well, families and business entities are at least losing 34-57% of their revenue. That’s a significant number. Spending goes down and tax collection goes down, tax at the POS (point of sales), tax from earning and tax from the business.
- Quantitative Easing
- Bad Loans or Risk prone leveraged industry
- Global slowdown
- China – A special mention
- Quantitative Easing:
Well, let us borrow now at a cheaper rate from the Govt, or blow up what is saved in RBI (exit RBI Governors), a loan or from outside or print currency.
- Bad Loans or Risk prone leveraged industry:
We can’t let this to catapult to a state of anarchy. We have to loan where the potential for defaults are high. Banking, Airlines, Telecom ate common examples. These were bankrupt overnight? The most common folks (shareholders) lost the most. Millions of crores of national treasure disappeared in just a fraction of time.
I disagree with “the Hindu” here. Let us understand, corruption was not just prevalent but endemic and all-pervasive. Nothing wrong, if Modi tightened the levers. At least he had guts to do that. No one including the system had shown responsible behavior and if Modi has tightened the noose, nothing wrong about it.
I will elaborate on the reasons where we are going wrong, needless and pointless to blame Modi for all the ills. Devaluation and GST came at a wrong time that confluence along with a Global slowdown, on which Modi had little control.
- Global slowdown:
India is not alone. China, UK, Germany, Japan, the US, France, Gulf, Russia, Brazil, and many Tiger economies (remember the term for ASEAN economies used in 2000) are significantly slowed down.
- China deserves a special mention:
China is the worst affected with 100s of ‘Ghost Cities’, flailing international trade pacts (CPEC, ASEAN and The revival of the Silk Road) and the flight of money compounded by the increasing cost of labor. It is gaining a notorious reputation of creating and exploiting poor nation’s solvency, squashing neighbors and selling obsolescence across the globe (recollect how your electrical and other goods specifically made is China have become durable and short-lasting).
What should be done?
First and foremost, Modi has to move beyond strongman to strategist. A nation survives on vision and not just statesmanship. I have identified a few areas that will help boost productivity at the individual level, jump start the GDP and improve the health of the economy.
- Foundational Infrastructure
- Roads and Railways
- Satellite Cities and Telecom
- Innovation in Farming
- Revamp Agricultural Supply Chain
- Environment and Pollution
- Sewage and Containment
- Social Re-Engineering