India’s Growth Recovery Runs Straight Into Emerging Market Chaos

India is rebounding from an economic slowdown, with growth seen at more than 7 percent, only to find itself ensnared by the volatility engulfing emerging markets.

Growth in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year that ended in March 2018 is set to pick up to 7.4 percent, according to a Bloomberg survey. While that makes it one of the fastest-expanding major economies, the sustainability of the recovery is now in question as the nation battles a currency slump and faster inflation brought about by surging oil prices.

Inflation Problem

Prices are creeping up

Source: Oxford Economics, Haver Analytics

Note: Core-core inflation is CPI exclusing food, fuel and motor fuels

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To add to that, India’s nearly $1.7 trillion formal banking sector is coping with $210 billion of soured or problem loans and fraud scandals have erupted at some regional banks. That’s set to curb lending and limit growth even more, and makes the central bank’s job even more complicated ahead of next week’s policy meeting.

“A sustained rise in oil prices to $100 a barrel could even lead to a re-emergence of some of the external and currency risks that existed pre-2014,” said Priyanka Kishore, head of India and South East Asia economics at Oxford Economics Ltd. “The banking sector remains in a fragile state, and such problems have the potential to derail the ongoing growth recovery.”

Click to read how scandals and bad debts at Indian banks threaten the economy

Expansion for the fiscal year 2018 is forecast at 6.7 percent, the slowest pace since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in 2014. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. cut its growth projection for the year ending March 2019 to 7.6 percent from 8 percent, amid concerns that the banking system’s woes are more widespread.

Rupee Slump

New risks have emerged just as the economic disruption caused by a cash ban late in 2016 and the chaotic roll-out of a national sales tax fade. India has been swept up in the maelstrom that’s hit emerging markets as rising U.S. interest rates and a stronger dollar prompt investors to pull money out of stocks and bonds. The rupee has been the hardest hit in Asia, dropping more than 5 percent against the dollar this year.

For oil-importing India, the combination of a weaker currency and surging oil prices is a threat not only for the current-account deficit, but also inflation. Consumer-price growth is already picking up — reaching 4.6 percent in April — and for a central bank that aims to keep inflation around the 4 percent midpoint of its target band, an interest-rate hike can’t be far away.

Viral Acharya, the deputy governor in charge of monetary policy, said last month he’ll vote for a withdrawal in monetary accommodation in June.

Click to read how the central bank is moving closer to a rate hike

What Our Economists Say …Soaring crude prices are likely to exert pressure on the government to cut excise duties on oil, which will reduce public expenditure. Higher input costs will either directly lower the gross value add by firms or will lower demand if passed on to consumers.

Higher cost of financing is also likely to slow investment and consumption spending across government, households and firms.

–Abhishek Gupta, Bloomberg Economics

There’s also limited room for a fiscal boost to support growth. India’s budget gap is one of the widest in Asia, and Modi has to walk a fine line to keep the deficit in check while trying to woo voters ahead of next year’s election.

Nevertheless, green shoots are emerging in Asia’s third-largest economy. The industrial sector is expected to pick up while services, which contributes over 50 percent to gross domestic product, is set to remain robust. Even farming, which has been a laggard, is recovering.

“Agricultural activity is likely to be supported by record food grain output, surge in sugarcane production after two years of decline and a sustained increase in pulses output,” said Teresa John, an economist at Nirmal Bang Equities Pvt. Ltd. in Mumbai.

— With assistance by Ronojoy Mazumdar, and Manish Modi

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