We had a burst of reforms in September. The media gushed ecstatic about it and was quick to pronounce it a success.Why? Because, it is said, foreign inflows shot up and the rupee appreciated after its steep fall, as foreign investors responded positively to reforms.
So, here we have a fairy-tale story. There is a loss of confidence in the economy and the rupee plummets. Finance minister P Chidambaram comes galloping in. Bang! There is burst of reforms. Whoosh! Foreign capital comes flooding in. All ye, dance in joy!
Sorry to be a party-pooper but the story just doesn't wash when you take a close look at the numbers. Foreign inflows were not much larger in January and February this year, long before reforms in sight. And neither the sharp depreciation in the rupee this year nor the more recent appreciation means much because, in real terms, the rupee has largely stayed within the 5% band for the real effective exchange rate.
Once you see this, you realise that the focus on FDI in the current bout of reforms is misplaced. FDI flows have never been a cause of concern in recent years. The problem is with domestic investment. With the infrastructure sectors ridden with regulatory and policy uncertainties, private investment is unlikely to pick, so public investment must step in. This must be the focus of reforms, not FDI.
More in my last ET column, Reform focus is misplaced. I should have linked it long back but have not be able to post for a long while thanks to several pre-occupations.