Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Pranab Mukherjee's budget

The market tanked yesterday. I wasn't surprised at all and had forecast a correction in my ET column a fortnight ago, Market rally may prove deceptive.

I based my assessment on two things. One, the $ 5 bn plus FII inflows in the present financial year represented something of a correction to the huge outflow of $11 bn last year. We could not expect this sort of inflow to continue. Secondly, I, for one, have never bought the notion that the Congress or the present UPA is hugely reformist is orientation and that all that it needed to get into reform mode was shake off the Left. Sonia Gandhi retains the leftward leanings of the family and this is duly reflected in the Congress today.

So, I had a few quiet laughs when I saw the commentators and businessmen on TV shake their heads in sadness at the many missing items- fiscal consolidation or even a medium term plan for one, disinvestment, petroleum deregulation, impetus to FDI, labour market reforms, financial sector reform (the Raghuram Rajan report was not even mentioned in passing).

I must mention one distinguished exception to the nay-sayers: Surjit Bhalla, whom one would regard as ultra-reformist. I did a double take reading his piece in BS today. He hails this as the second most reformist budget ever presented after Yashwant Sinha's 1999 budget. I read his piece again thinking this was being said tongue- in- cheek. No, Bhalla is serious. Well, leaving aside the critics on TV, I doubt that that is a claim that even the FM or the Congress would make!

What do I make of the budget? Well, I am yet to put the numbers on a spread sheet and pore over them (which is what I do once the media frenzy dies down). I have just a couple of thoughts for now. One, the budget is true to the Congress manifesto and the broad indications given in the President's speech.

Two, the focus is on providing the maximum fiscal stimulus. This probably reflects the government's view that the 'green shoots' hypothesis is premature, that the global economy will take its own time recovering and that, therefore, the Indian economy's growth momentum is best sustained through as big a stimulus as possible. People fear that this will push up interest rates and crowd out private investment. But private demand for credit is weak, which is why there is huge liquidity out there in the markets, so this fear may prove misplaced.

Three, my guess is that the FM has left the possibility for greater disinvestment proceeds than budgeted and spectrum auction for later in the year. To do this now would detract from the stimulus. So, give the maximum stimulus now and once there are signs that growth is of the order of 7%, push ahead with disinvestment. If this hypothesis turns out to be right, the FM may well surprise us with the fiscal deficit number in his next budget- it could prove lower than 6.8%.

Now, this is not how economists and market analysts view matters. They would have liked some fiscal consolidation here and now and they probably reckon that economic recovery is happening anyway. Unlike most of the intelligentsia (which is not necessarily very intelligent), I have great respect for the instincts of politicians, so I would go along with the FM. If the FM's calculations prove right, it would be quite an achievement.


zuko said...

Dear Sir,

Are we looking at an era where the state is finally rising for the welfare role?

Secondly, is being conservative, in terms of market policies, a pragmatic decision at this juncture?

thirdly, although it's early to say this, but for how long our we going to ignore reforms in educational sector, especially in terms of skill development?

shewolftracker said...

Dear Sir,

Your forecast for the market was very true. The market has obviously been affected by some elusive threats. Such as these - http://tinyurl.com/lawak4. Having a laugh is not the solution maybe.

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