Emerging Markets Need to Prepare in Advance to Deal with Uncertainty

Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde speaks as Governor of Reserve Bank of India Raghuram Rajan looks on during an event at the RBI headquarters in Mumbai March 17 2015.Unconventional monetary policies, which include large purchases of government debt, has been used to provide policy accommodation in advanced economies since the 2007 global financial crisis.  However, these policies have had both positive and negative spillovers.

During a recent visit to India, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Chief Christine Lagarde, cautioned that “the unconventional monetary policies have had strong positive spillovers for the global economy, and by implication for India and other emerging markets.”  However, “it is also true that these policies led to a build-up of risks.” 

Between 2009 and the end of 2012, emerging markets received about US$ 4½ trillion of gross capital inflows, representing roughly one half of global capital flows.  Such inflows were concentrated in a group of large countries, including India, which received about US$ 470 billion (IMF, 2015).  As a consequence, bond and equity prices rallied, currencies strengthened, and spillovers to asset prices and capital flows were even greater than from earlier conventional policies (IMF, 2015).  “The danger is that vulnerabilities that build up during a period of very accommodative monetary policy can unwind suddenly when such policy is reversed, creating substantial market volatility,” she told Raghuram Rajan, Governor of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and audience at the headquarters in Mumbai, March 17.

I agree the next move for emerging markets is to prepare in advance to deal with this uncertainty.  The reality is that as economic conditions improve in at least some advanced economies, portfolio rebalancing out of emerging market economies can be expected, and some volatility cannot be ruled out.  Remember the surprise indiscriminate capital outflows from India mid-2013?  With all eyes on US Federal Reserve change in posture, the timing of interest rate lift-off and the pace of subsequent rate increases can still surprise markets.

Photo source: voanews.com

The Superior Financial Powers of Modi’s Fiscal Roadmap

One of the key features of the Modi administration’s fiscal roadmap is the move to increase disinvestments to include both disinvestments in loss making units, and some broader strategic disinvestments.  The government plans to raise 695 billion rupees ($11.2 billion) in the year starting April 1, an amount crucial to its efforts to narrow the budget deficit.

The sale target includes stakes in central public sector enterprises, holdings in non-government companies, strategic disinvestment and Specified Undertaking of the Unit Trust of India (SUUTI).  In an interview with Bloomberg News (March 3), Disinvestment Secretary Aradhana Johri  reported India’s divestment receipts in the current year ending March 2015 was at 254 billion rupees.  The government is looking to raise 285 billion rupees through sale of its holdings in SUUTI, Bharat Aluminium Co and Hindustan Zinc Ltd.

The scaling up of disinvestments is ambitious, and highlights an important characteristic of Indian federalism: Central government possesses superior financial powers.

Part of the revenue levied at the Central government is of course redistributed among states, on the basis of advice of the organizationally independent Finance Commission or through the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), and constitutes a significant source of income for them.  However, the impression that is thus created is one of profligate states, and a more careful and sophisticated Central financial management (Mitra/Pehl, 2012).

Since the liberalization of economic policies and the decentralization of policymaking to states from the early 1990s onwards (and even before then), states have been able to exercise some autonomy in regulating their own development trajectory (Mitra/Pehl, 2012).  However, the picture today is one of differentiation among India’s states in terms of their fiscal capabilities as well as their developmental potential, and a need for reform of inter-state mechanisms of coordination and equalization (an issue NITI Aayog promises to address).

The government is firm on achieving a fiscal deficit target of 3% in 3 years.  The fiscal deficit targets are 3.9%, 3.5%  and 3.0% in FY 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-2018  respectively.  But that journey has to take account of the need to increase public investment.

Budget Proposes Game-Changing and Revenue Significant Reforms

There are several specific proposals in the Budget 2015-16 to recalibrate India’s tax effort so that fiscal consolidation may be achieved in the short and medium term.  The game-changing and revenue significant proposals include:  Goods and Service Tax (GST) and Jan Dhan, Aadhar and Mobile (JAM) – to implement direct benefit transfer.   “GST will put in place a state-of-the-art indirect tax system by April 1, 2016.  The JAM Trinity will allow us to transfer benefits in a leakage-proof, well-targeted and cashless manner,” said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during the budget speech on February 28.

In preparation for the introduction of the GST, the Government has been taking consistent policy steps to expand the scope and reach of service tax.  The shift is monumental in terms of changes in the mode of implementation and will undoubtedly require a transition phase.