Indian People queue up at a COVID screening center at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital,(RML) after a case emerged in Delhi causing a panic situation in Delhi India, 04 March 2020.
Imtiyaz Khan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
India has rolled out a slew of measures amounting to 6.3 trillion rupees ($84.9 billion) aimed at boosting the Covid-struck economy — but economists are skeptical that it will have a major impact on short-term growth.
The impact of those policies — that amount to about 2.8% of GDP — on the country’s fiscal deficit target is expected to be comparatively small.
Economists pointed out that the bulk of the support comes in the form of loan guarantees — instead of direct stimulus such as checks that are paid directly to households. Besides, some of the measures were previously announced and have already been factored into calculations.
For the current fiscal year that ends in March 2022, India’s fiscal deficit target is around 6.8% of GDP. A fiscal deficit is the gap between a government’s income and spending, and implies that the country is spending more than its revenue.
“While the headline impact of the announcements is sizeable, for much part these were credit guarantees, making the net impact on the fiscal math smaller,” said Radhika Rao, an economist with Singapore’s DBS Group, in a note on Tuesday.
She explained that some measures — such as subsidies, free food grain and support toward pediatric health — may have a likely impact on the fiscal deficit. But, there might be “some wiggle room” from a higher nominal GDP and a likely reprioritization in existing spending to minimize the risk of exceeding the fiscal deficit target.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday announced several support measures, including the provision of loan guarantees of around $35 billion to help small businesses and sectors adversely affected by the pandemic.
Sitharaman said the government will provide additional credit of 1.1 trillion rupees ($14.8 billion) to businesses in sectors such as health care, tourism and others.
The government will also expand the emergency credit line guarantee scheme by another 1.5 trillion rupees ($20.2 billion), from an earlier limit of 3 trillion to 4.5 trillion rupees.
The scheme allows banks and non-bank lenders to give emergency loans to eligible borrowers to run their businesses and those loans are guaranteed by the government, which covers default risks for lenders.
When first introduced, the scheme was seen as a relief for India’s micro, small and medium businesses that are under pressure due to the pandemic-hit crisis.
India also announced a credit guarantee scheme for micro finance institutions that typically lend to the smallest borrowers in the country, such as small business owners. The government will spend another $12.6 billion to provide free food grain to millions of people until November.
The latest support measures were similar to how the government responded to India’s first wave of coronavirus outbreak last year, Rao told CNBC by email. Monday’s announcement was aimed at improving the flow of credit to the worst-affected sectors and vulnerable households, she said.
“The fiscal push is predominantly on the supply side rather than a direct boost to demand, containing the extent of immediate boost to growth,” she said. The ongoing reopening of the economy and improving vaccination progress will likely be “bigger catalysts of near-term recovery,” she added.
India’s economy grew 1.6% from a year ago from January to March this year.
Economists have warned that the GDP print for April to June — the first quarter for the current fiscal year — may not paint the full picture of the crisis in South Asia’s largest economy as a result of a devastating second wave of coronavirus outbreak.
Aditi Nayar, principal economist at credit ratings agency ICRA, the Indian affiliate of Moody’s, also pointed out that the success of loan guarantees will depend on how many new loans are disbursed by the lenders.
Fiscal deficit target
Economists pointed out that the loan guarantees will have limited upfront costs for the government.
Nomura’s Sonal Varma and Aurodeep Nandi said in a note that the fiscal stimulus announced during the second wave of outbreak, including Monday’s measures, amount to about 0.59% of GDP. Along with the government’s additional spending on free Covid-19 vaccines, the total fiscal impact for the current year is expected to be around 0.65% of GDP, they said.
Still, Nomura expects India to overshoot its fiscal deficit target of 6.8% on the back of additional expenditures and potentially lower disinvestment figures. The Japanese investment bank revised up its fiscal deficit estimate to 7.1% of GDP for the current year.
Some of the economic measures from Monday, worth 2.4 trillion rupees, are spread over the next two to four years, according to ICRA’s Nayar. “Some of these had already been announced at the time of the Budget, and therefore, a portion of their cost has already been factored in,” she said in a note.
Rao from DBS estimated that there is a risk that the deficit may exceed the target by 0.3% to 0.5% of GDP.