By Gyanendra Kumar Keshri
The $1.8-trillion Indian economy suffered its worst slowdown in over a decade with growth below 5 percent for four straight quarters, amid threats of a ratings downgrade, even as policymakers and analysts now feel the worst may be over and the country will steadily move towards a higher rate of expansion.
In the first three quarters of the year for which official data is available, India’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew at below 5 percent — by 4.8 percent, 4.4 percent and 4.8 percent respectively in the first three quarters of the calendar year.
“For the Indian economy, 2013 again has been a very turbulent year. It was because of domestic as well as external factors,” said Girish Vanvari, partner and co-head of Tax at KPMG in India.
He said persistent inflation and low investments due to policy inaction, coupled with external factors like the speculation of quantitative easing, or roll back of stimulus, by the US Federal Reserve dampened growth and created macro-economic upheavals.
“Last year people were hopeful. There were positive expectations on inflation and policy front. Unfortunately, nothing happened. Inflation continues to be high. Despite some odd policy announcements, hardly anything happened on the ground,” Vanvari told IANS.
The average growth for this year, thus far, is also sharply lower than the comparative figure of 5.36 percent in the corresponding three quarters of 2012 and almost half of the average annual growth of 8.2 percent recorded in the preceding eight years.
For the current fiscal year that ends March 2014, international agencies and most of the private estimates say the growth will be below 5 percent. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has pegged the growth at 3.75 percent, while the World Bank expects the Indian economy to expand by 4.7 percent.
The government has also substantially lowered its growth projection considering the dismal numbers in the recent quarters.
Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram recently said the GDP is expected to expand by 5 percent in the current fiscal. Chidambaram’s latest projection is substantially lower than the 6.5 percent growth number he announced in the union budget presented in February.
“We are going through a period of stress but there is a ground for optimism. We hope things will become better in the second half of the current fiscal,” Chidambaram said.
A senior economist at Dun and Bradstreet India, Arun Singh, said growth was likely to improve marginally in the second half of the current financial year, but unlikely to touch 5 percent for the whole fiscal.
“The maximum growth we are expecting is 4.8-4.9 percent for the whole fiscal 2013-14. Next financial year it should improve,” said Singh adding the growth in the 2014-15 financial year would depend on the outcome of the general elections.
“Sentiment plays a major role in the economy and it will depend a lot on the election results,” Singh said.
An economist at Angel Broking Bhupali Gursale said GDP growth is likely to remain in the range of 4.5 to 5 percent in the current fiscal.
“We believe that growth will remain in the range of 4.5-5 percent this fiscal owing to near-term challenges in the macro environment mainly from subdued domestic demand, fiscal constraints and the muted investment outlook,” Gursale said.
According to latest data released by Central Statistical Organisation (CSO), the Indian economy expanded by 4.8 percent in July-September quarter. Although the performance was better than 4.4 percent for the previous quarter, it was the 4th consecutive quarterly growth of below 5 percent.
Ratings agency Standard and Poor’s (S&P) said recently that India’s sovereign rating could be downgraded to junk status next year if the government, in the run-up to the general election due by May 2014, does not take measures to revive reforms.
The rating agency maintains its BBB(-) rating with a negative outlook on India, its lowest investment grade. Other agencies have also kept India’s sovereign ratings on negative watch.
Highlights of 2013:
-Economy grew by 4.8 percent, 4.4 percent and 4.8 percent respectively in the first three quarters of the calendar year
-Average growth for first three quarters of 2013 stands at 4.6 percent, slowest in over a decade
-Economy had expanded 4.7 percent in October-December quarter of 2012
-Government has lowered growth target to 5 percent for 2013-14 from earlier projection of 6.5 percent
-Private estimates put growth below 5 percent
-The IMF has cut India’s growth projection for 2013-14 to 3.75 percent
-World Bank pegs growth at 4.7 percent
-Farm sector shows good improvement, while industry disappoints
-Manufacturing posted dismal 1 percent growth in July-September quarter
-Manufacturing had logged a growth of (-)1.2 percent, 0.1 percent and (-)1 percent in previous three quarters.