Jan 31, 2017
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India says cash ban hits growth

Jan 31, 2017

India's government acknowledged Tuesday that its decision to pull high-value bank notes from circulation has caused pain in large parts of the economy as it lowered its growth forecast on the eve of the budget.

Its annual economic survey concluded that the so-called demonetisation scheme had hit a host of sectors including real estate and farming but also said tax revenues could be boosted in the long-run.

Reserve Bank of India

"The adverse impact of demonetisation on GDP (gross domestic product) growth will be transitional," said the survey compiled by the government's chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian.

In the survey, the government lowered its growth forecast for the 2016-17 fiscal year ending in March to 7.1 percent, down from 7.6 percent in the previous year.

But the survey said the estimate was based mainly on data for the first seven to eight months of the financial year, before the shock move in November to pull all 500 and 1,000 rupee notes from circulation.

That decision effectively removed around 86 percent of the cash in circulation at one stroke, triggering massive queues outside banks as the authorities struggled to print enough new notes.

The survey said cash-intensive sectors such as agriculture, real estate and jewellery were the worst affected and that there had been job losses and a decline in farm incomes in the broader economy.

"Growth slowed as demonetisation reduced demand... and increased uncertainty," said the survey.

- 'Hardship and inconvenience' -

Speaking at a press conference in Delhi, Subramanian said that "there have been short-term costs which are real and significant".

"I think there has been hardship and inconvenience especially for those in the informal sector but there is also potential for long-term benefits," he added.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in the survey he expected cash supplies would be fully "replenished" by the end of March and the economy should then "revert to normal", projecting growth in 2017-18 in the range of 6.75 to 7.5 percent.

The cash crunch has already prompted the International Monetary Fund to knock a percentage point off its forecast for India's economy in the current fiscal year to 6.6 percent, bringing it below China's projected rate of 6.7 percent.

Sunil Sinha, principal economist at India Ratings & Research, said it was unusual for the government to give such "a huge range" in its growth projection.

"The very fact that it has used such a huge range of 75 basis points means that there are a lot of gaps in terms of estimating the effects of demonetisation and it is quite obvious that the spillover effect will be felt in the next fiscal year as well," he told AFP.

"As a thumb rule, if such a wide corridor is given, one can expect growth to settle somewhere in the middle at best, assuming some of the positives play out."

However Sujan Hajra, chief economist at Anand Rathi Securities, said that the economic survey was "considerably conservative" and the final growth figure could be higher than 7.1 percent.

"If you look at the corporate results for the third quarter, they were ahead of market expectations despite demonetisation," said Hajra.

"The longer-term impact of demonetisation and introduction of GST should play out in the next year and help the GDP," Hajra added in reference to a long-delayed goods and services tax which should be rolled out later this year.

By painting demonetisation as a blitz on corruption and cash-hoarding that will ultimately boost tax revenues, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has so far escaped a major backlash.

While there were massive queues outside banks in the weeks afterwards, they have now subsided while limits on withdrawals have eased.

India's central bank announced late Monday that it would loosen some of the restrictions on cash withdrawals although most savers are still only allowed to withdraw a maximum of 24,000 rupees in cash each week.

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