Monday, February 24, 2020

Rethinking advise to emerging markets

In an opinion piece for the Financial Times, IMF's managing director Kristalina Georgieva highlights the Fund's new approach to advising emerging markets given their unique context and diversity of policies pursued by them. Initially, the integrated policy framework will focus on monetary policy, macroprudential policy, exchange rate interventions and capital flow measures. It will be expanded to include fiscal policy. Excerpts from the FT piece.

Our goal is to provide country-specific advice on the appropriate mix of policies needed to preserve growth and financial stability.
Our new “integrated policy framework” will reassess the costs and benefits of four tools — monetary policy, macroprudential policy, exchange rate interventions and capital flow measures — to help stabilise economies exposed to domestic and external shocks. Importantly, the “integrated” aspect of the new framework will capture how these tools interact with each other and with country circumstances.
The IMF’s current framework, grounded in more conventional economic thinking, broadly steers members towards using the exchange rate as a shock absorber. This approach provides a good approximation of how advanced economies adjust to external shocks and exchange rate movements. But it can miss important characteristics of emerging markets that alter their economies’ response to external shocks and may call for a different policy prescription.
New research indicates that while emerging markets are deeply integrated in global trade, their trade is disproportionately invoiced in dollars and consequently flexible exchange rates provide limited insulation. Similarly, while emerging markets are substantially integrated in global capital markets, their foreign debt is denominated extensively in dollars. That can cause exchange rates to become shock amplifiers as they can suddenly increase debt service costs and liabilities.
In fact, the striking diversity of policies pursued among economies could reflect their differing exposure to external shocks. Emerging markets also differ widely in the liquidity of their foreign exchange markets, which could affect the range of tools available to them for stabilisation.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

PPP in infrastructure: How and when to use?

In a recent NBER working paper, Engel, Fischer and Galetovic outline when and how to use public private partnerships (PPPs) in infrastructure. Broadly, they argue that PPPs can be used to increase spending and efficiency gains— better maintenance, reduced bureaucratic costs, and filtering white elephants among others. However, governance of PPPs is important, especially appropriate risk allocation and avoiding opportunistic renegotiations.  

PPPs allow governments to increase spending in infrastructure because: (i) investment via PPPs does not contribute to fiscal deficit and add to public debt in the short run, and (ii) such investment is not subject to regulatory oversight and budgetary controls. 

There are tradeoffs too as government has to forgo future stream of tax/toll revenue from projects that are financed via PPPs, which do not require large upfront investment by the government. PPPs are also used to promote private investment in infrastructure to replace an incompetent public sector. Large infrastructure projects require stronger capabilities to mange contracts and execute projects. 

According to the authors of the working paper, the main reasons for opting for PPPs over public provision are:
  • Narrow focus and dedicated management (contract with employees governed by private law, incentives to manage infrastructure per contract with public authority, SPV to build and manage projects)
  • Bundling (quality of service is contractible and life-cycle approach toward maintenance reduces maintenance and operations costs
  • Fewer construction delays (because of the opportunity to charge user feeds or receive government transfers once project is operations)   
  • Filtering white elephants (private players will not opt for projects where user fees cannot pay for capital and operational expenditures)
  • Avoiding bureaucratic costs (related to rigidities in public spending and corruption)
  • Advantages of private financing (mitigate moral hazard by tightly controlling changes in the project’s design and disbursing funds by banks according to project construction timeline/stages)
  • Better and less expensive maintenance (continuous maintenance is efficient as intermittent maintenance incurs 1.5 to 3 times the cost of continuous maintenance)
For PPPs to succeed, government should have higher capabilities as financing is more complex and there is scope for opportunistic behavior (long-term contract and dealing with government entities). 

Sometimes government has to bail out PPP projects, thus absorbing all the downside risks. There are also cases of contract renegotiation, which opens up avenue for corrupt practices. This can be avoided by using contracts with better risk allocation (concessionaire bears all the exogenous demand risks but renegotiation is allowed in the case of low realization of demand). For instance, Present-Value-of-Revenue (PVR) contracts have built-in renegotiation condition if demand realization is low, in which case contract term is extended but contract itself is not modified. They authors suggest that careful planning, project design, and project management are vital for successful PPPs. 

On the fiscal implications of PPP projects, they argue that PPPs have been used as a means of evading fiscal spending constraints. The use of off-balance sheet expenditure is often termed as “fiscal illusion”. The debt is recorded as financial liability but does not become a part of budget itself over short to medium term. The authors argue that the advantage of PPPs should lie in efficiency gains, not only fiscal accounting gimmickry to increase spending.

Monday, February 17, 2020

India’s GVC integration

Despite having immense possibilities in manufacturing sector (large and relatively cost competitive workforce, domestic market, etc), India is still lagging behind and is not well integrated into global value chains. Manufacturing sector accounts for about 18% of GDP. 

A recent ICRIER working paper asserts that the low integration into GVCs is due to the focus on domestic market, and the limited role played by lead firms. On a flipside, since India is less integrated in GVCs, it is also relatively less affected by the GVC disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. However, second round investment effects may still affect the Indian economy. 

GVC forms the bedrock of trade in intermediate goods and services and fragmentation of production across factories and countries. Trade in intermediate goods account for about two-third of international trade. However, only a limited number of emerging economies take a lead in supplying intermediate inputs. Size of a country and natural resources endowment, skills and competitiveness, industrialization level and structure, exports composition, standards, policy and institutional environment (including trade and infrastructure) and the positioning in value chain determines how well a country is integrated in GVC. 

The authors use findings from primary survey of 98 firms across six states conducted between August 2014 and February 2015 in India to argue that the reasons for low participation in GVC are policy focus on the domestic market and the weak lead firms, which essentially define the entire value chain (backward or forward linkages) and sales of final goods and services. Government policy also does not actively promote lead firms. They argue that in 2011 India’s domestic value added in exports was 20% (forward linkages) and foreign value added in gross exports was 25% (backward linkages). Participation index (a combination of the two indicators) was 40%. Unlike its competitors India is not heavily involved in international supply chains of countries such as Japan and the US.  

Integration into and upgrading of GVC is industry-specific. For instance, in chemical industry transfer of production processes and knowledge of technical know-how is proprietary and upgrading requires direct investment in research and development. But in garment industry production processes are standardized and upgrading is enabled by the use of new inputs/raw materials. That said, also note that labor cost arbitrage accounts for only 18% of global goods trade, implying that knowledge-based trade of goods and services is crucial to stay competitive.

The chart below depicts integration and upgrading across sectors and the role of lead firms.

Lead firms speed up lead time (time between placing of order and delivery), standardize production process, and secure preferential transportation and logistics by forging long-term relationship.  They form a network of forward and backward linkages with micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Think of this one as MNCs such as Ford in automobile and Levi’s in garment. These lead firms nurture backward linked firms by helping them enhance production that meets global standards and is competitive. They do this by supplying product, market and technical information along with skills, specialization and innovation. Better integration into GVCs triggers structural transformation, whereby developing countries move from low value-added to high value-added production (both in terms of output and employment). 

Based on the survey, the authors list some of the barriers to integrating into GVC. These include:
  • Regulatory processes: Unfavorable business environment, long delays at ports
  • Lack of incentives: Logistics inefficiency, inverted duty structure, access to finance, lack of stable and regular power supply
  • Approvals regime: Environment approvals, standards regime
  • Others: Labor laws, high taxes, skills shortage
Here is an earlier blog post on services-driven global value chains.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

India and “secular dynamism”

Delivering the 8th C.D. Deshmukh Memorial Lecture, IMF first DMD David Lipton argues that the world economy is changing and is continuously facing new threats—2008 global economic upheavals, US-China trade conflict, hard Brexit, secular stagnation in advanced economies but with spillovers in other economies to, aging societies in some economies, etc. Reinvigorating global growth would require structural reforms to boost confidence and investment— from infrastructure investment to tax incentives for innovation, education and health spending, and product and labor market reforms. 

India affects global growth and is affected by global growth too. For instance, India’s sharp slowdown during the first half of FY2020 meant that global growth was also affected. India’s slowdown has most to do with weak domestic demand, falling credit and problems in the financial system. He argues that with right policies and supportive global growth, India could be a source of “secular dynamism”.

Secular stagnation in the advanced economies is caused by “lagging productivity and flagging investment opportunities”. Secular stagnation refers to long-term slowdown or no economic growth in a market-based economy. He argues that we will soon see the next phase of the IT revolution— the impact of big data, artificial intelligence and other innovations on productivity. 

Lipton states that developing countries need to attract capital and technology, but for that they need to be truly "investable". Obstacles for this include opaque and inadequate legal frameworks, corruption and governance shortcomings, and onerous regulations including import restriction. 

In India’s case, services (particularly ITC) have been the driver of productivity growth, and that the economy has the potential to exploit the demographic dividend. 

Currently, Indian economy is constrained by credit availability, financial sector bottlenecks, impaired balance sheets of corporate and finance sectors, slow export growth, and lagging agricultural sector. Unemployment has risen and labor force participation has fallen. 

India take advantage of its comparative advantage in manufacturing by deeper linkages to global value chains. 
  • Promote use of foreign intermediate goods in producing exports (lower tariffs on intermediate goods).
  • Opportunity to emerge as manufacturing hub as companies assess their production base in China. But, India is lagging ASEAN. 
    • A combination of infrastructure investments, a reduction of tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and reforms to encourage the emergence of larger and more productive manufacturers are helpful. 
  • Global trade tensions have not affected much but the potential for reverberations through the investment channel is significant over the medium term

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Quick overview of India's FY2021 budget

FM Nirmala Sitharaman presented INR 30.4 trillion expenditure plan for FY2021 (starts April 1, 2020). It is 12.7% increase over the revised expenditure estimate for FY2020. Revenue growth is expected to be 9.2% (16.3% if we consider revenue plus recovery of loans & divestment receipts).

FY2021 budget focuses on three prominent themes: (i) aspirational India (better standard of living and access to health, education and jobs), (ii) economic development (reforms and private sector development to enhance productivity and efficiency), and (iii) caring society (humane and compassionate development). 

Expenditure: Revised total expenditure for FY2020 is estimated to be 96.8% of budgetary estimate in FY2020. For FY2021, out of INR 30.4 trillion, about 86.5% of total expenditure outlay consists of revenue expenditure (recurrent expenditure) and the rest 13.5% is capital budget. About 31% of the revenue budget consists of interest payments and another 9% grant for capital assets for states and union territories. 

The budgeted expenditure for FY2021 is equivalent to about 13.5% of GDP. Revenue expenditure is estimated to be 11.7% of GDP and capital expenditure 1.8% of GDP— not much difference compared to FY2020, but if nominal GDP growth is below 10%, then it will increase.  Subsidies amount to about 1.2% of GDP, of which 44% is food subsidy and 27% fertilizer subsidy.

North Eastern areas have been earmarked INR 601 billion, up from INR 533 billion in FY2020. 

The government is expecting addition INR 6.7 trillion from resources of public enterprises. So, the expenditure envelope is about INR 37.1 trillion

Revenue: As per the revised estimates for FY2020, the government expects to mobilize 96.8% of estimated revenue. The biggest hit is coming form tax revenue (net to center), which is expected to be just 91% of budgetary estimate. 

In FY2021, the government is expecting to mobilize INR 20.2 trillion revenue, of which 80.9% is tax revenue and the rest 19.1% is non-tax revenue. As a share of revenue mobilization, compared to FY2020 revised estimate, the government is marginally lowering tax revenue mobilization but increasing non-tax revenue mobilization targets. The government wants to mobilize INR 2.2 trillion in the form of non-debt creating capital receipts. A substantial part of it consists of divestment receipts (INR 2.1 trillion), which look a bit ambitious considering over 200% growth over FY2020 revised estimate. In fact, the government could not meet the divestment target in FY2020 (INR 0.65 trillion vs INR 1.05 trillion targeted). 

The projected revenue is estimated to be 10% of GDP (7.3% tax revenue, 1.7% non-tax revenue and 1% non-debt creating capital receipts), which is marginally lower than 9.4% revised revenue estimate in FY2020. Note that non-debt creating receipt is estimated to be about 1% of GDP, much higher than 0.4% of GDP last year. This is primarily due to a large divestment target (about 0.9% of GDP, up from 0.3% of GDP in FY2020).

Of the total revenue to be mobilized by the center (including transfer to NCCF/NDRF and state’s share), GST and corporation taxes each account for about 22%. 

Fiscal deficit: The projected expenditure and revenue including recovery of loans and divestment receipts leaves a budget gap of about INR79.6 trillion for FY2021 (3.5% of GDP). The government wants to finance this fiscal deficit by borrowing and other resources (including drawdown of cash balance). Specifically, it is planning to borrow almost all of it from the internal market. Specifically, about 68% of it will be in the form of market borrowing (dated government securities) and the rest from securities against small savings, state provident funds and other receipts including 364-day treasury bills and net impact of switching off of securities. External borrowing is estimated to be about INR46.2 billion (0.021% of GDP).

For FY2021, the projected revenue deficit is 2.7% of GDP, fiscal deficit 3.5% of GDP, and primary deficit 0.4% of GDP. In FY2020, the estimated revenue deficit is 2.4% of GDP, fiscal deficit 3.8% of GDP and primary deficit 0.7% of GDP.

The reduction in deficit targets primary hinges on the ability of the government to accomplish its divestment target. Divestment of government-held assets is kind of one-off revenue bonanza. Relying on divestment alone to lower fiscal deficit is not going to be sustainable. However, if GDP growth accelerates (more infrastructure investment funding by divesting government-owned assets), then revenue mobilization will also pick up and fiscal deficit could be contained.  Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act sets fiscal deficit target at 3% of GDP by FY2021 and central government debt at 40% of GDP by FY2025. 

So, how is this going to affect GDP growth, which is estimated to drop to 5% in FY2020. Economy Survey 2019/20 projected economic growth to rebound to 6%-6.5% for FY2021. Both public, corporate and financial sectors are stretched right now. India needs stable, long-term foreign capital in infrastructure projects (highways, solar energy, etc). The overstretched fiscal position (fiscal deficit of 3.8% of GDP in FY2020) might have restrained the government from bringing a fiscal stimulus. The government is hoping that reforms and efficiency gains will help boost economic activities and achieve the growth target. 

An average monsoon rain and an effective farm and fertilizer subsidy scheme that will boost rural output, timely implementation of reforms already enacted and rolling out of new ones to ease doing business and to boost investor’s confidence might likely be the main drivers of growth in FY2021. Specifically, accelerated implementation of National Infrastructure Pipeline projects has the potential to boost industrial output. Furthermore, the slashing of personal income tax rates might increase private consumption of the section of the population that typically has high marginal propensity to consume. Government capital expenditure might also pick up. Against this backdrop, GDP (at market prices) could grow at around 6% (GVA growth of about 5.8%).

Things to look out for in the next few months:
  • Efficiency of budget execution and implementation of reforms including the ease of doing business for MSMEs. National Infrastructure Pipeline— which includes projects related to  housing, safe drinking water, access to clean and affordable energy, healthcare for all, world-class educational institutes, modern railway stations, airports, bus terminals, metro and railway transportation, logistics and warehousing, irrigation projects worth INR 103 trillion over five years— would be crucial here. The government is setting up project preparation facility to speed up implementation.  
  • Monetary policy that is both accommodative (inflationary pressure as economic activities pick up) and growth-enhancing (need to watch out for growth of credit to private sector)
  • Possible fiscal stress if revenue mobilization falls short of expectation (emanating from lower economic activities, especially nominal GDP growth, and missed divestment target. The fiscal liability emanating from off-budget spending needs to be scrutinized.
  • Pick up in private consumption due to cut in tax rates and efforts to boost rural economy
  • Steps taken to tackle the stress faced by the NBFC or shadow banks
  • The impact of higher fiscal deficit on India’s sovereign rating