Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Highlights of RBI’s Third Bi-monthly Monetary Policy Statement, 2017-18:


Policy Measures
  • The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) decided to reduce the policy repo rate under the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) from 6.25% to 6.00% with immediate effect.
  • Consequently, the reverse repo rate under the LAF stands adjusted to 5.75%, and the marginal standing facility (MSF) rate and the Bank Rate to 6.25%.
  • Inflation excluding food and fuel, which has hitherto been sticky, has fallen significantly over past three months. These factors along with the normal and well distributed rainfall and the smooth rollout of the GST opened up some space for Monetary Policy accommodation. Accordingly, the MPC decided by a vote of 4 to 2 to reduce the policy rate by 25 basis points.
  • The decision of the MPC is consistent with a neutral stance of monetary policy in consonance with the objective of achieving the medium-term target for consumer price index (CPI) inflation of 4% within a band of +/- 2%, while supporting growth. 
 Assessment
Impulses of growth have spread across the global economy albeit still lacking the strength of a self-sustaining recovery. Among the AEs, the US has expanded at a faster pace in Q2 after a weak Q1, supported mostly by steadily improving labour market conditions. In the Euro area, the recovery has broadened across constituent economies on the back of falling unemployment and a pickup in private consumption.  In Japan, a modest but steady expansion has been taking hold, underpinned mostly by strengthening exports. Among EMEs, growth has regained some lost ground in China in Q2.  The Russian economy has emerged out of two years of recession. In Brazil, a fragile recovery remains vulnerable to political uncertainty and a still depressed labour market. South Africa is in a technical recession as economic activity in continues to be beset by structural and institutional bottlenecks. The modest firming up of global demand and stable commodity prices have supported global trade volumes, reflected in rising exports and imports in key economies. In the second half of July, crude prices have risen modestly out of bearish territory on account of inventory drawdown in the US, but the supply overhang persists. Chinese demand has fuelled a recent rally in metal prices. However, inflation is well below target in most AEs and is subdued across most EMEs.
International financial markets have been resilient to political uncertainties and volatility has declined. Equity markets in most AEs have registered gains, with indices crossing previous highs in the US. In EMEs, equities have gained on surging global risk appetite.  Bond yields in major AEs have hardened on expectations of monetary policy normalization, while in EMEs fixed-income markets have been generally insulated from the bond sell-off in AEs. In the currency markets, the US dollar weakened further and fell to a multi-month low in July. The euro, which has remained bullish, rallied further on upbeat economic data.  EME currencies largely remained stable and have traded with an appreciating bias.
In India a normal and well-distributed south-west monsoon for the second consecutive year has brightened the prospects of agricultural and allied activities and rural demand. Meanwhile, procurement operations in respect of rice and wheat during the rabi marketing season have been stepped up to record levels.
Industrial performance has weakened in April-May 2017, mainly reflecting a broad-based loss of momentum in manufacturing. The output of consumer non-durables accelerated and underlined the resilience of rural demand. It was overwhelmed, however, by contraction in consumer durables – indicative of still sluggish urban demand – and in capital goods, which points to continuing retrenchment of capital formation in the economy. The weakness in the capex cycle was also evident in the number of new investment announcements falling to a 12-year low in Q1, the lack of traction in the implementation of stalled projects, deceleration in the output of infrastructure goods, and the ongoing deleveraging in the corporate sector. The output of core industries was also dragged down by contraction in electricity, coal and fertiliser production in June, owing to excess inventory and tepid demand. The 78th round of the Reserve Bank’s industrial outlook survey revealed a waning of optimism in Q2 about demand conditions across parameters, and especially on capacity utilisation, profit margins and employment. The manufacturing PMI moderated sequentially to a four-month low in June and in July, the PMI declined into the contraction zone with a decrease in new orders and a deterioration in business conditions, reflecting inter alia the roll out of the GST.
In June, retail inflation measured by year-on-year changes in the CPI plunged to its lowest reading in the series based to 2011-12. This was mainly the outcome of large favourable base effects which are slated to dissipate and reverse from August. Prices of food and beverages, which went into deflation in May 2017 for the first time in the new CPI series, sank further in June as prices of pulses, vegetables, spices and eggs recorded year-on-year declines and inflation moderated across most other sub-groups. . Fuel inflation declined for the second month in succession as international prices of LPG fell and price increases moderated in other categories. Excluding food and fuel, CPI inflation moderated for the third month in succession in June, falling to 4%.
Surplus liquidity conditions persisted in the system, exacerbated by front-loading of budgetary spending by the Government. Surplus liquidity of Rs. 1 trillion was absorbed through issuance of treasury bills (TBs) under the MSS and Rs. 1.3 trillion through CMBs on a cumulative basis so far this financial year. Enduring surplus conditions warranted outright open market sales of Rs.100 billion each on two occasions in June and July. Apart from these operations, net average absorption of liquidity under the LAF was at Rs. 3.1 trillion in June and Rs. 3.0 trillion in July. Reflecting this active liquidity management, the weighted average CMR firmed up and traded about 17 bps below the repo rate on average during June and July.
Merchandise export growth weakened in May and June from the April peak as the value of shipments across commodity groups either slowed or declined. By contrast, import growth remained in double digits, primarily due to a surge in oil imports and stockpiling of gold imports ahead of the implementation of the GST. As import growth continued to outpace export growth, the trade deficit at US$40.1 billion in Q1 was more than double its level a year ago.
Net FDI doubled in April-May 2017 over its level a year ago, flowing mainly into manufacturing, retail and wholesale trade and business services. FPIs made net purchases of US$15.2 billion in domestic debt and equity markets so far (up to July 31), remaining bullish on the outlook for the Indian economy. The level of foreign exchange reserves was US$392.9 billion as on July 28, 2017.
Outlook
The projection of real GVA growth for 2017-18 has been retained at the June 2017 projection of 7.3 per cent, with risks evenly balanced. Business sentiment in the manufacturing sector reflects expectations of moderation of activity in Q2 of 2017-18 from the preceding quarter. Moreover, high levels of stress in twin balance sheets – banks and corporations – are likely to deter new investment. With the real estate sector coming under the regulatory umbrella, new project launches may involve extended gestations and, along with the anticipated consolidation in the sector, may restrain growth, with spillovers to construction and ancillary activities. Also, given the limits on raising market borrowings and taxes by States, farm loan waivers are likely to compel a cutback on capital expenditure, with adverse implications for the already damped capex cycle. At the same time, upsides to the baseline projections emanate from the rising probability of another good kharif harvest, the boost to rural demand from the higher budgetary allocation to housing in rural areas, the significant step-up in the budgetary allocation for roads and bridges, and the growth-enhancing effects of the GST, viz., the shifting of trade from unorganised to organised segments; the reduction of tax cascades; cost, efficiency and competitiveness gains; and synergies in domestic supply chains. External demand conditions are gradually improving and should support the domestic economy.
The second bi-monthly statement projected quarterly average headline inflation in the range of 2.0-3.5 per cent in the first half of the year and 3.5-4.5 per cent in the second half. The actual outcome for Q1 has tracked projections. Looking ahead, as base effects fade, the evolving momentum of inflation would be determined by (a) the impact on the CPI of the implementation of house rent allowances (HRA) under the 7th central pay commission (CPC); (b) the impact of the price revisions withheld ahead of the GST; and (c) the disentangling of the structural and transitory factors shaping food inflation. The inflation trajectory has been updated taking into account all these factors and incorporates the first round impact of the implementation of the HRA award by the Centre. Excluding the HRA impact, which will affect the CPI cumulatively, headline inflation would be a little above 4% by Q4, as against 4.5% inclusive of the HRA in the June statement. However, there are several factors contributing to uncertainty on both sides around this baseline inflation trajectory.
Developmental and Regulatory Policies
The RBI also set out measures to improve policy transmission and financial intermediation in the economy:
The experience with the MCLR system introduced in April 2016 for improving monetary policy transmission has not been entirely satisfactory, even though it has been an advance over the Base Rate system. Given a large part of the floating rate loan portfolio of banks is still anchored on the Base Rate, the RBI will be exploring various options in the near future to make the Base Rate more responsive to changes in cost of funds of banks.
Final guidelines set out for Tri-party Repo aimed to pave the way for a vibrant corporate bond borrowing and lending market, providing better liquidity and price discovery, reducing market cost of capital and allowing access to non-bank finance for a greater number of borrowers in the economy.
Task force to evaluate the existing public and private infrastructure for credit information, assess any data gaps, study the best international practices and provide a road map for the development of a comprehensive near real-time public credit registry for India.
Guidelines on Liquidity Coverage Ratio (LCR) have been revised such that reserves held by banks incorporated in India with a foreign central bank, in excess of the reserve requirement in the host country, should be treated as High Quality Liquid Assets (HQLAs), subject to certain conditions.
The circular to operationalize the scheme of simplified hedging facility has been finalized. The scheme aims to simplify the process for hedging exchange rate risk by reducing documentation requirements and avoiding prescriptive stipulations regarding products, purpose and hedging flexibility.
Separate limit of Interest Rate Futures (IRFs) for FPIs to be introduced to ensure FPIs’ access to futures remains uninterrupted during the phase when FPI limits on Government securities are under auction. It is proposed to allocate FPIs a separate limit of Rs. 5,000 crore for long position in IRFs. The limits prescribed for investment by FPIs in Government securities will then be exclusively available for acquiring such securities.  

Monday, May 15, 2017

Some Pointers to India’s Revised IIP and WPI 


In recent times, IIP, the high-frequency indicator of factory output, has been showing far more muted and volatile growth than the manufacturing component of GDP. The WPI (wholesale price index) measure of inflation has also shown unusual divergence from the CPI (consumer price index), differing not only in magnitude but also in direction. The composition of the basket of goods is decided, in the case of the IIP, which tracks production, based on traded volumes of goods in the base year. In the case of WPI, it is based on the volume of goods consumed in the base year. Weights are also assigned to individual items as well as the groups, based on the net traded value (the total transactions in a product) in the base year.  The government has released the new series of WPI and IIP under which the base year for calculating the macroeconomic indicators has been revised to 2011-12, from the 2004-05 earlier. The new series is expected to capture the deep structural change in the Indian economy and better reflect contemporary market realities. The revisions are based on the recommendations of a working group headed by Saumitra Chaudhuri (then Member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council constituted by Manmohan Singh as well as Member, Planning Commission).  
The new IIP now measures output for the basket of goods produced in base year 2011-12 instead of 2004-05. It has been updated by introducing 149 new items into manufacturing, while removing 124 obsolete ones. The number of items in the basket of goods is now 809 (in 407 item groups) against 620 items (in 399 item groups) in the old series. The index is now more broad-based, includes renewable energy, and introduces a new sub-group — infrastructure and construction, reflecting the growing importance of the infrastructure and construction sector in the economy. This will significantly trim the weight of consumer products in the IIP and add to the weight of industrial goods. The capital goods, data will capture ‘work in progress’, on the recommendation of the Chaudhuri working group, which had noted that in the case of heavy machinery and other capital goods, the production may take several months and is reported only in the month when it is completed, causing high volatility in reported data. The decision to count work in progress is expected to smooth out the wild swings in this sub-index. The switch to a new base year and basket of goods are expected to reduce the dissonance with GDP data; however, divergences will remain as IIP by definition measures production in the organised sector, while GDP tracks value added and also covers the unorganised sector.
The revised WPI basket has 697 items against 676 earlier. The updating of base year to 2011-12 from 2004-05 has led to 199 new items being added to and 146 deleted from the basket. So far, the WPI was calculated as producer price plus indirect taxes minus trade discount. A major alteration is the exclusion of indirect taxes while compiling WPI. This exclusion removes the impact of fiscal policy on prices and brings it closer to a producer price index (PPI) in line with global best practices. This would also ensure that no further changes are required during the soon-to-be introduced GST regime. The dissemination of a new food index should be of considerable utility to households, agriculturists and policymakers. Both the IIP and WPI items will now be reviewed on an annual basis by a technical review committee.
Though the new series of GDP, IIP, WPI and CPI are expected to better reflect the true trends in the economy academicians have expressed severe doubts on the quality of data given the nature of ground staff employed in gathering data and the approximations made from small samples lacking use of modern sources in the era of big data.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Budget 2017-18 highlights

Following are the Highlights of the Union Budget for 2017-18
Introductory Remarks
Budget 2017-18 contains 3 major reforms: advancement of date of presentation, merger of railway budget with general budget, abolition of Plan and non-Plan expenditure.
Pace of remonetization will soon reach comfortable levels; effect of demonetization not expected to spill over into next year. Surplus liquidity in banking system will raise access to credit, leading to multiplier effect on economic activity.
Agenda for 2017-18 is “Transform, Energise and Clean India” through 10 themes:
Farmers : committed to double the income in 5 years;  Rural Population : providing employment & basic infrastructure;  Youth : energising them through education, skills and jobs;  The Poor and the Underprivileged : strengthening the systems of social security, health care and affordable housing;  Infrastructure: for efficiency, productivity and quality of life;  Financial Sector : growth & stability by stronger institutions;  Digital Economy: for speed, accountability and transparency;  Public Service : effective governance and efficient service delivery through people’s participation;  Prudent Fiscal Management: to ensure optimal deployment of resources and preserve fiscal stability;  Tax Administration: honouring the honest.


Fiscal situation
*       Total expenditure is Rs. 21, 46,735 crore.
*       Plan, non-plan expenditure to be abolished; focus will be on capital expenditure, which will be 25.4 %.
*       Rs. 3,000 crore under the Department  of Economic Affairs for implementing the Budget announcements.
*       The defence sector gets an allocation of Rs. 2.74,114 crore.
*       Expenditure for science and technology is Rs. 37,435 crore.
*       Total resources transferred to States and Union Territories is Rs 4.11 lakh crore.
*       Revenue deficit is 1.9 %
*       Fiscal deficit of 2017-18 pegged at 3.2% of the GDP. Will remain committed to achieving 3% in the next year.
*       Net market borrowing of Government restricted to Rs. 3.48 lakh crores after buyback in 2017-18, compared with Rs. 4.25 lakh crores of the previous year.
*       Food subsidy estimated at 1.45 lakh crore rupees in 2017-18 versus 1.35 lakh crore rupees revised estimate for 2016-17.
*       Fuel subsidy seen at 25,000 crore rupees in 2017-18 versus 27,500crore rupees revised estimate for 2016-17.
*        Fertiliser subsidy seen unchanged in 2017-18 at 70,000 crore rupees.
*        Federal government's pension liabilities seen at 1.31 lakh crore rupees in 2017-18 versus 1.28 lakh crore rupees revised estimate for 2016-17.
*        Budget allocation to health seen at 48,900 crore rupees in 2017-18 versus revised estimate of 39,900 crore rupees in 2016-17.
*       Interest payments at Rs. 523078 crore in 2017-18 against Rs. 483069 crore in 2016-17.


Tax proposals
*       India’s tax to GDP ratio is not favourable and there are several anomalies: Out of 13.14 lakh registered companies, only 5.97 lakh firms have filed returns for 2016-17; individuals numbering 1.95 crore showed an income between Rs. 2.5 lakh to Rs. 5 lakh; out of 76 lakh individual assessees declaring income more than Rs. 5 lakh, 56 lakh are salaried; only 1.72 lakh people showed income of more than Rs. 50 lakh a year; between November 8 to December 30, deposits ranging from Rs. 2 lakh and Rs. 80 lakh were made in 1.09 crore accounts.
*       Proportion of direct tax to indirect tax is not optimal.
*       Under the corporate tax, in order to make MSME companies more viable, there is a proposal to reduce tax for small companies with a turnover of up to Rs 50 crore to 25%. About 67 lakh companies fall in this category. 96% of companies to get this benefit.
*       The government proposes to reduce basic customs duty for LNG to 2.5% from 5%.
*      Proposal to have a carry-forward of MAT for 15 years.
*      Holding period for long-term capital gains tax on immovable property reduced from 3 to 2 years; base year indexation shifted from 1.4.1981 to 1.4.2001.
*       Capital gains tax to be exempted for persons holding land from which land was pooled for creation of the state capital of Andhra Pradesh.
*       The limit of cash donation by charitable trusts is reduced to Rs 2,000 from Rs 10,000.
*       Actual revenue loss on tax proposals Rs 22,700 crore; gain from additional resource mobilisation is Rs 2,700 crore 
*       Net revenue loss in direct tax could be Rs. 20,000 crore.

Personal income tax
*       Existing rate of tax for individuals between Rs.  2.5- Rs 5 lakh is reduced to 5% from 10%.
*       All other categories of tax payers in subsequent brackets will get a benefit of Rs 12,500.
*       10 % surcharge on individual income above Rs. 50 lakh and up to Rs 1 crore to make up for Rs 15,000 crore loss due to cut in personal I-T rate.
*       15 surcharge on individual income above Rs. 1 crore to remain.
*       Rate of growth of advance tax in Personal I-T is 34.8% in the last three quarters of this financial year.
*       The Income Tax Act to be amended to ensure that no transaction above Rs 3 lakh is permitted in cash.



Infrastructure and Railways   
Ø  A total allocation of Rs. 39,61,354 crore has been made for infrastructure.
Ø  For transportation sector as a whole, including rail, roads, shipping, provision of Rs. 2,41,387 crore has been made in 2017-18.
Ø  Total allocation for Railways is Rs. 1,31,000 crore.
Ø  No service charge on tickets booked online through IRCTC.
Ø  Corpus of Rs. 1 lakh crore for five years for passenger safety.
Ø  Railways to partner with logistics players for front-end and back-end solutions for select commodities.
Ø  Railways will offer competitive ticket booking facility.
Ø  New Metro rail policy will be announced with new modes of financing.
Ø  Rs. 64,900 crore allocated for highways.
Ø  A DigiGaon initiative will be launched to provide tele-medicine, education and skills through digital technology.
Ø  Trade Infrastructure for Export Scheme (TIES) will be launched in 2017-18.
Ø  A strategic policy for crude reserves will be set up.

Agriculture, Poverty and Health
*       A sum of Rs. 10 lakh crore is allocated as agricultural credit. Farmers to also benefit from 60 days interest waiver announced on 31 Dec 2016. Agriculture sector is expected to grow at 4.6%.
*       Long Term Irrigation Fund already set up in NABARD to be augmented by 100% taking the total corpus to Rs. 40,000 crores. A dedicated micro irrigation fund will be set up for NABARD with Rs 5,000 crore initial corpus.
*       National Agricultural Market (e-NAM) to be expanded from 250 markets to 585 APMCs. Assistance up to Rs. 75 lakhs will be provided to every e-NAM.
*       Dairy processing infrastructure fund wlll be initially created with a corpus of Rs. 2000 crore.
*       Over Rs 3 lakh crore will be spent for rural India. MGNREGA to double farmers' income.
*       MGNREGA allocation to at Rs. 48,000 crores in 2017-18.
*       Technology will be used in a big way to ensure MGNREGA works.
*       During 2017-18, five lakh farm ponds will be be taken up under the MGNREGA.
*       The government targets to bring 1 crore households out of poverty by 2019.
*       The government proposes to complete 1 crore houses for those without homes.
*       Affordable housing will be given infrastructure status.
*       Will allocate Rs. 19,000 crore for Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana in 2017-18.
*       The country well on way to achieve 100% rural electrification by March 2018.
*       Swachh Bharat mission has made tremendous progress; sanitation coverage has gone up from 42% in Oct 13 to 60% now.
*       Allocation of  Rs. 4000 crores  for Skill Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion programme (SANKALP) to provide market relevant training to 3.5 crore youth.
*       Allocation of Rs. 500 crores to provide support services for empowering rural women with opportunities for skill development, employment, digital literacy, health and nutrition.
*       Total allocation for Rural, Agriculture and Allied sectors is Rs. 187223 crores.

Financial sector
Ø  FDI policy reforms - more than 90% of FDI inflows are now automated.
Ø  Foreign Investment Promotion Board will be abolished.
Ø  An expert committee for creation of an operational and legal framework to integrate spot market and derivatives market in the agricultural sector, for commodities trading. e- NAM to be an integral part of the framework.
Ø  A new ETF with diversified CPSE stocks and other Government holdings will be launched in 2017-18.
Ø  Shares of Railway PSE like IRCTC will be listed on stock exchanges.
Ø  Bill on resolution of financial firms will be introduced in this session of Parliament.
Ø  Revised mechanism to ensure time-bound listing of CPSEs.
Ø  Computer emergency response team for financial sector will be formed.
Ø  Rs 10,000 crore for recapitalisation of banks will be providedin 2017-18.
Ø  Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana lending target fixed at Rs 2.44 lakh crore for 2017-18.
Ø  Digital India The government will introduce two schemes to promote BHIM App - referral bonus for the users and cash back for the traders.
Ø  Negotiable Instruments Act might be amended.
Ø  For big-time offences - including economic offenders fleeing India, the government will introduce legislative change or introduce law to confiscate the assets of these people within the country.
Ø  No transaction above Rs. 3 lakh would be permitted in cash subject to certain exceptions.
Ø  A Mission will be set up with a target of 2,500 crore digital transactions for 2017-18 through UPI, USSD, Aadhar Pay, IMPS and debit cards.
Ø  The maximum amount of cash donation for a political party will be Rs. 2,000 from any one source. Political parties will be entitled to receive donations by cheque or digital mode from donors. An amendment is being proposed to the RBI Act to enable issuance of electoral bonds .A donor can purchase these bonds from banks or post offices through cheque or digital transactions. They can be redeemed only by registered political parties.



Thursday, April 27, 2017

Highlights of RBI’s First Bi-monthly Monetary Policy Statement, 2017-18



Policy Measures
  • The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) decided to keep the policy repo rate under the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) unchanged at 6.25%.
  • With a view to ensuring finer alignment of the weighted average call rate (WACR), the operating target of monetary policy, with the repo rate it has been decided to further narrow the policy rate corridor around the policy repo rate to +/-25bps from +/- 50bps with immediate effect. Consequently, the reverse repo rate under the LAF is at 6.0%, and the marginal standing facility (MSF) rate and the Bank Rate are at 6.50%.
  • The decision of the MPC is consistent with a neutral stance of monetary policy in consonance with the objective of achieving the medium-term target for consumer price index (CPI) inflation of 4% within a band of +/- 2%, while supporting growth. 
 Assessment
Indicators of global growth suggest signs of stronger activity in most AEs and easing of recessionary conditions in commodity exporting large emerging market economies (EMEs). For EMEs, the outlook is gradually improving, with indications that the slowdown characterising 2016 could be bottoming out. Inflation is edging up in AEs to or above target levels on the back of slowly diminishing slack, tighter labour markets and rising commodity prices. Among EMEs, there is a generalised softening of inflation pressures. 
International financial markets have been impacted by policy announcements in major AEs, geo-political events and country-specific factors. Equity markets in AEs were driven up by reflation trade, stronger incoming data and currency movements. Equity markets in EMEs had a mixed performance, reflecting domestic factors amidst a cautious return of investor appetite and capital flows.
The CSO released its second advance estimates for 2016-17 on February 28, placing India’s real GVA growth at 6.7% for the year, down from 7% in the first advance estimates released on January 6. Agriculture expanded robustly; in the industrial sector, there was a significant loss of momentum across all categories, barring electricity generation; and the services sector also slowed, pulled down by most categories of services.
Several indicators are pointing to a modest improvement in the macroeconomic outlook. Foodgrains production has touched an all-time high. Industrial output, measured by the index of industrial production (IIP), recovered in January from a contraction in the previous month, helped by a broad-based turnaround in manufacturing as well as mining and quarrying. The manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) remained in expansion mode in February and rose to a five month high in March on the back of growth of new orders and output. The 77th round of the Reserve Bank’s industrial outlook survey indicates that overall business sentiment is expected to improve in Q1 of 2017-18 on the back of a sharp pick up in both domestic and external demand. Coincident indicators such as exports and non-oil non-gold imports are indicative of a brighter outlook for industry, although the sizable under-utilisation of capacity in several industries could operate as a drag on investment.
 After moderating continuously over the last six months to a historic low, retail inflation measured by year-on-year changes in the CPI turned up in February to 3.7%. While food prices bottomed out at the preceding month’s level, base effects pushed up inflation in this category. Fuel inflation increased as the continuous hardening of international prices lifted domestic prices of petroleum. Kerosene prices have also been increasing since July with the programmed reduction of the subsidy. Both three months ahead and a year ahead households’ inflation expectations, reversed in the latest round of the Reserve Bank’s survey. The 77th round of the Reserve Bank’s industrial outlook survey indicates that pricing power is returning to corporates as profit margins get squeezed by input costs. Excluding food and fuel, inflation moderated in February by 20 basis points to 4.8%, essentially on transient and specific factors in items like clothing and gold.
With progressive remonetisation, the surplus liquidity in the banking system declined from a peak of Rs.7,956 billion on January 4, 2017 to an average of Rs. 6,014 billion in February and further down to Rs. 4,806 billion in March. Currency in circulation expanded during this period. Its impact on the liquidity overhang was, however, partly offset by a significant decline in cash balances of the Government up to mid-March which released liquidity into the system. Thereafter, the build-up of Government cash balances on account of advance tax payments and balance sheet adjustment by banks reduced surplus liquidity to Rs. 3,141 billion by end-March. Issuances of cash management bills (CMBs) under the MSS ceased in mid-January and existing issues matured, with the consequent release of liquidity being absorbed primarily through variable rate reverse repo auctions of varying tenors. Accordingly, the average net absorption by the Reserve Bank increased from Rs. 2,002 billion in January to Rs. 4,483 billion in March. The weighted average call money rate (WACR) remained within the LAF corridor. The maturing of CMBs and reduced issuance of Treasury bills leading up to end-March has also contributed to Treasury bill rates being substantially below the policy rate.
Merchandise exports rose strongly in February 2017 from a subdued profile in the preceding months. Growth impulses were broad-based.  The surge in imports in January and February 2017 largely reflected the effect of the hardening of commodity prices such as crude oil and coal. With imports outpacing exports, the trade deficit widened in January and February from its level a year ago, though it was lower on a cumulative basis for the period April-February 2016-17. Balance of payments data for Q3 indicate that the current account deficit for the first three quarters of the financial year narrowed to 0.7% of GDP, half of its level a year ago. For the year as a whole, the current account deficit is likely to remain muted at less than 1% of GDP.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) has dominated net capital inflows during April-December, with manufacturing, communication and financial services being the preferred sectors. FPI flows turned positive in February and welled up into a surge in March, especially in debt markets. This reversal appears to have been driven by stable domestic inflation, better than expected domestic growth, encouraging corporate earnings, clarity on FPI taxation, pro-reform budget proposals and state election results. The level of foreign exchange reserves was US$369.9 billion on March 31, 2017.
Outlook
GVA growth is projected to strengthen to 7.4% in 2017-18 from 6.7% in 2016-17, with risks evenly balanced. The pace of remonetisation will continue to trigger a rebound in discretionary consumer spending. Significant improvement in transmission of past policy rate reductions into banks’ lending rates post demonetisation should help encourage both consumption and investment demand of healthy corporations. Various proposals in the Union Budget should stimulate capital expenditure, rural demand, and social and physical infrastructure all of which would invigorate economic activity. The imminent materialisation of structural reforms in the form of the roll-out of the GST, the institution of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, and the abolition of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board will boost investor confidence and bring in efficiency gains. The upsurge in IPOs in the primary capital market augurs well for investment and growth. External demand should support domestic growth. Downside risks to the projected growth path stem from the outturn of the south west monsoon; ebbing consumer optimism on the outlook for income, the general economic situation and employment as polled in the March 2017 round of the Reserve Bank’s consumer confidence survey; and, commodity prices, other than crude, hardening further.
Headline CPI inflation is set to undershoot the target of 5.0% for Q4 of 2016-17 in view of the sub-4% readings for January and February. For 2017-18, inflation is projected to average 4.5% in the first half of the year and 5% in the second half. Aggregate demand pressures could build up, with implications for the inflation trajectory.
Developmental and Regulatory Policies
The RBI also sets out new measures for further refining the liquidity management framework (Management of Surplus Liquidity, Narrowing of the Monetary Policy Rate Corridor, Substitution of Collateral under the LAF Term Repos); strengthening the banking regulation and supervision (Revised Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) Framework for Banks, Raising the Minimum Level of Net Owned Funds for ARCs, Partial Credit Enhancement, Banking Outlets in underserved areas, banks’ participation in Real Estate Investment Trust (REITS) and Infrastructure Investment Trusts, Countercyclical Capital Buffer); broadening and deepening financial markets (Draft Guidelines on Simplified Hedging Facility for Forex Exposure, Introduction of Tri-party Repo, Introduction of Additional Settlement Batches for NEFT, Merchant Discount Rate rationalization, Issuance and Operation of Pre-paid Payment Instruments); and extending the reach of financial services by enhancing the efficacy of the payment and settlement systems (Pilot Project on Financial Literacy).