Economic growth recovered to a five-quarter high of 7.2 per cent during October-December, backed by strong manufacturing and investment activity as the disruption caused by the goods and services tax (GST) bottomed out. The robust third-quarter performance led to a marginal upward revision in the second advance estimate for 2017-18 to 6.6 per cent from 6.5 per cent in the first estimate, though it was still lower than the 6.75 per cent projected by the Economic Survey.
Gross domestic product (GDP) growth has been revised up to 6.5 per cent for the second quarter against 6.3 per cent estimated earlier. Growth stood at 6.8 per cent for the third quarter of 2016-17, which was the period of demonetisation. India overtook China’s 6.8 per cent growth in October-December after a three-quarter gap, regaining its status as the world’s fastest-growing major economy.
Bibek Debroy, chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM), said India was on the right path to surpass China’s growth rate.
Radhika Rao, India economist, DBS Bank, echoed similar views. “India’s growth outpaced its regional peers, including China, in the last quarter of 2017. The improvement was broad-based, with a pick-up in most production, investment and demand indicators.”
Investment activity, as reflected by gross fixed capital formation (GFCF), posted 12 per cent growth, its highest in several quarters, compared to 6.9 per cent in the previous quarter.
“The double-digit growth of capital goods, a sharp rise in the capital spending of the government, and a modest pick-up in the capital spending of the state governments in Q3 FY2018 are likely to have contributed to the 12 per cent expansion in the GFCF,” said Aditi Nayar, principal economist, ICRA.
However, since the value of new investment projects and completed projects contracted in the third quarter, it might be premature to conclude that a broad-based revival in investment activity had commenced, she said.
Debroy said the revival in economic growth reflected the results of economic reforms undertaken by the government. “Growth will pick up more in the upcoming quarter, driven by the government’s commitment to implement structural reforms,” he said.
Gross value added (GVA), which is a summation of agriculture, industry and services, grew 6.7 per cent in the third quarter of 2017-18 as against 6.2 per cent in the second quarter. GVA is expected to rise to 6.4 per cent for the entire fiscal year in the second advance estimates from 6.1 per cent earlier.
The difference between GVA and GDP is indirect tax collections, which are now estimated to grow 9.6 per cent for 2017-18 compared to 10.9 per cent earlier. This corresponds to declining GST collection numbers, after the first three months of the roll-out added over Rs 900 billion to the exchequer.
The manufacturing sector grew 8.1 per cent during Q3 as against 6.9 per cent in Q2, suggesting that companies had adjusted well to the GST. However, the manufacturing data for the first quarter was revised downwards by the CSO, showing a contraction of 1.8 per cent, indicating the hit to companies preparing for the GST transition.
“… manufacturing GVA growth recorded a substantial sequential improvement supported by restocking of inventories after the festive season, a catch-up effect after the muted volume growth in the first half and the healthy growth of corporate earnings in that quarter,” Nayar said.
Mining activity contracted by 0.1 per cent in Q3, in contrast to 7.1 per cent growth in the previous quarter.
The government’s final consumption expenditure grew 6.1 per cent in Q3, up from 2.9 per cent in Q2. It is expected to grow 19.6 per cent in Q4, which may aggravate the fiscal situation.
Even the government-backed public expenditure, defence and other services grew 7.2 per cent, lower than 10.6 per cent growth in the third quarter of the previous fiscal year, due to front-loading of expenditure following the early passage of the Budget for the current fiscal year.
Private final consumption expenditure growth, an indication of domestic demand, fell to 5.6 per cent in Q3 from 6.6 per cent in Q2.
The Economic Survey for 2016-17 had forecast GDP to grow 6.75- 7.5 per cent in the current financial year, but the Survey for 2017-18 revised it down to 6.75 per cent.
The services sector as a whole expanded by 7.5 per cent compared to 6.6 per cent growth in the previous quarter, on account of a sharp improvement in construction activity. Construction sector growth recovered to 6.8 per cent in Q3 as against 2.8 per cent in the previous quarter and 1.5 per cent in Q1.
Agriculture growth rose to 4.1 per cent in Q3 from 2.7 per cent each in the first and the second quarters.
“Better construction and agri sectoral performance bodes well for employment creation prospects. Higher rural incomes (on higher MSPs) and pre-election spending are likely to be supportive of FY19 numbers,” said Rao of DBS Bank.