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Modi's Budget 2018 dilemma: Win rural voters or stick to deficit plan

Bond investors have already concluded that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will deviate from those plans when he delivers his budget on Thursday

Anirban Nag Iain Marlow | Bloomberg 

Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Indian Prime Minister has a tough balancing act in this week’s budget: maintaining fiscal prudence or handing out cash to placate ahead of next year’s election.

After scoring a rare sovereign upgrade late last year, Modi wants to keep global investors and credit-rating companies on his side. Key to that will be sticking his goal to narrow one of Asia’s largest deficits.

Bond investors have already concluded that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will deviate from those plans when he delivers his on Thursday, with yields climbing 96 basis points in the past six months, the most in Asia. In the last full before the elections, Jaitley needs a growth boost for an that’s slowing down to a four-year low, while appeasing angry young voters, who contributed to the ruling party’s worst performance in Modi’s home state in more than two decades in December.

“The fiscal math is likely to get tougher, as ongoing rural distress and a lack of investment growth may need an immediate ‘fiscal’ helping hand,” said Aayushi Chaudhary, an economist at HSBC Holdings Plc. in Mumbai.

What to Watch For:

Deficit

Target is 3.2% of GDP in FY2018; 3% in FY2019

Median est. in Bloomberg survey is 3.5% in FY2018 and 3.2% in FY2019

Revenue

Target is 21t rupees in FY2018

Monthly GST collections have declined to 867b rupees in December vs 940b in July, when it was introduced

Spending

Possible boost in capital expenditure from 3.1t rupees in FY2018

More on rural sector, such as jobs program, road, irrigation projects

Taxes

Possible removal of tax break on capital gains from stock investments

Lowering corporate tax rate from 30% unlikely

Borrowing

Gross borrowing may rise to 6.5t rupees in FY2019 vs 6.05t expected in current year.

HSBC expects India to miss its fiscal deficit target of 3.2 percent of gross domestic product for the year to March 2018, with the shortfall probably coming in at 3.4 percent amid slower growth, the chaotic implementation of the consumption tax that hit revenues, and a lower dividend from the central bank.

ICRA Ltd., the local arm of Moody Investors Service, estimates that a 10 basis-point expansion in the fiscal deficit-to-GDP ratio allows for extra spending of 185 billion rupees ($2.9 billion).

“Deviation from fiscal discipline may introduce further volatility into yields,” ICRA analysts Anjan Ghosh and Aditi Nayar wrote in a note. “The recent rise in bond yields represents the real cost of fiscal slippage.”

There are already hints that the deficit targets may be missed. Jaitley’s chief economic adviser, Arvind Subramanian, said on Monday that a pause in the fiscal consolidation plan can’t be ruled out and warned the government against setting overly ambitious targets.

What Our Economists Say...

The government is set to overshoot its deficit target in the current year through March. The proposed for fiscal 2019 though, will look better -- for deficit reduction and investment plans.

First Published: Wed, January 31 2018. 07:45 IST
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