Monday, January 12, 2009

IIP numbers, a mirage?

Oil price is down, inflation is down, Rupee is down, Exports don’t look up. Still Banks don’t cut lending rates enough in proportion to cut in repo and CRR nor do they start some serious lending. This has created a sort of optical illusion in our IIP numbers that got released yesterday. The index showed an increase of 2.4 per cent over November 2007, which is not a great performance but apparently different from the 1.4 per cent decline in the previous month. However, the base effect seems to be largely responsible for both numbers. The October base was relatively high, with the index having grown by about 12 per cent in October 2007, while the November base was just the opposite, with the index having increased by a mere 4.9 per cent over the previous year. Stripped of the base effect, the optical improvement disappears and there is little question that the industrial sector is in a virtually no-growth period. On the face of it, this is likely to persist for some time. Even if the successive interest rate cuts and the various other measures that have been taken by the Reserve Bank of India and the government are enough to reverse the slowdown, the effects are unlikely to be visible until later in the year.

If the slowdown in manufacturing, gems & jewellery and other sectors is largely attributable to high interest rates, then the recent rate cuts must favor a turnaround in these sectors, though the cuts have not gone far enough. The missing link, of course, is the apparent reluctance of banks to lend money to people who might want to buy houses, cars or appliances. Until this flow of credit begins, a turnaround is not in prospect. However, the conditions, in terms of liquidity, are hopefully being put into place.

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