Bull Crossing

Knowledge is Bliss

WEF – India Summit

Posted by g.e. on November 26, 2006

Record expectations this time, reports WEF – Asia blog.

BusinessWeek:
The three-day India Economic Summit organized by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum comes at a time when the Indian economy is growing by 8 percent a year, driven by an unprecedented boom in consumerism and a surge in new investments.

A key issue at the summit is whether India can sustain, or even accelerate, its economic growth, said Lee Howell, the Forum’s Asia head.

And some reality check from The Economist:
China’s double-digit growth may look like a danger sign but there are few of the usual troubles. Inflation is only 1.4% and China has a widening current-account surplus, which implies excess supply rather than excess demand. Nor do asset price gains look particularly excessive. Average house prices have risen by less than 6% in the past 12 months. And share prices have gained only 42% in the past four years. Even the expansion of bank credit has slowed to an annual pace of 15%, not much faster than nominal GDP growth.

In contrast, India’s economy displays an alarming number of signs that things have gone too far. Consumer-price inflation has risen to almost 7% (see chart), well above Asia’s average rate of 2.5%. A recent report by Robert Prior-Wandesforde at HSBC finds many other signs of excess. For example, in a survey of 600 firms by the National Council of Applied Economics Research, an astonishing 96% of firms reported that they were operating close to or above their optimal levels of capacity utilisation—the highest number ever recorded. Firms are also experiencing a serious shortage of skilled labour and wages are rocketing. Companies’ total wage costs in the six months to September were 22% higher than a year earlier, compared with an average increase of around 12% in the previous four years.

India’s current account has shifted to a forecast deficit of 3% of GDP this year from a surplus of 1.5% in 2003—a classic sign of excess demand. Total bank lending has expanded by 30% over the past year, close to the fastest growth on record.

India’s share and housing markets also look bubbly. Draft proposals by the central bank on November 17th to cap banks’ exposure to stockmarkets and curb reckless lending only mildly dampened the optimism. Share prices are almost four times their level in early 2003. India’s price/earnings ratio of 20 is well above the average of 14 for all Asian emerging markets. House prices have also gone through the roof: Chetan Ahya of Morgan Stanley reckons that prices in big cities have more than doubled in the past two years. Housing loans jumped by 54% in the year to June (the latest figures available) and loans for commercial property were up by 102%.

India’s trend growth rate has almost certainly increased but it is still nowhere near as high as China’s. Mr Prior-Wandesforde estimates that it is now around 6.5%, up from 5% in the late 1980s. But India’s recent acceleration largely reflects a cyclical boom, thanks to loose monetary and fiscal policy. The Reserve Bank of India has raised one of its key interest rates by one and a half percentage points to 6% over the past two years, but inflation has risen by more, so real interest rates have fallen and are historically low. This makes the economy more vulnerable to a hard landing.

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