November 8, 2016, was the historic day when the Prime Minister of India – Mr Narendra Modi announced a 50-day drive towards demonetization of the already printed old Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 currency notes effectively from midnight of that date. The demonetization drive was basically put in action to end the fake currency circulation of the high denomination notes in the Indian economy and as a strict measure against the parallel or black economy. Since the announcement of the demonetization, people holding a huge chunk of black money have been finding innovative ways to safeguard their wealth. Some seem to have found out ways to safeguard a substantial part, while others chose to declare their wealth and bear the fines.
On December 31, 2016, the Indian Prime Minister had addressed the nation as the 50-day Demonetization drive initiated by the government was completed. Mr Modi laid out several major incentives mainly for the poor, the farmers, women, pensioners and small scale business people.
Soon after the PM announced bank related incentives for these segments, several banks had cut their Marginal Cost of Funds Lending Rate (MCLR) with SBI leading the pack by cutting MCLR by 0.9% Other PSUs like Punjab National bank and Union Bank of India have announced a cut in the lending rates. India’s largest private bank ICICI too cut its lending rates by 70 bps or 0.7%.
Narendra Modi had earlier indicated that the budget shall be presented 1 month in advance. On January 4, 2017, the government declared that the Union Budget 2017-18 will be presented on February 1, 2017.
So now the question troubling investors and traders is, with these developments in place, will the stock market see a huge bullish run before the budget is presented by the Finance Minister? Traders would be hungry for an opportunity to book quick profits, while investors may be seeking that golden moment to enter the market for long term.
Writer’s Analysis on this Scenario
Expectations in the Indian economy
- More than 85% of the market participants including the majority of the economists were expecting a cut in the repo rate of 25 bps. during the Reserve Bank of India’s bi-monthly policy meet on December 7, 2016. About 23% of those participants showed over-optimism and even expected a cut of 50 bps. because the CPI numbers that were released few days before the policy meet were well within the central bank’s target. The main reason for the CPI figure remaining in limit was that food inflation was low and within the expected range as a result of a good normal monsoon. The OPEC members had still (i.e. before the December policy meet) not reached a consensus to put a cap on the oil output sighting uncertainty from Iran’s and Russia’s stance. This kept oil prices well below $50 per barrel, which was in turn good for the Indian economy as low import prices mean lower import bill for the Indian government (oil prices make up about 80% of the government’s import bill). Thus, two main components – food and fuel, which have more than 50% weight in the CPI basket of goods seemed well under control. Also in its policy meet in October 2016, RBI governor Dr Urjit Patel had stated that the neutral real interest rate in India is now 1.5 – 2.0%. This may also have raised expectations of the market for a probable rate cut during the December policy meet. However, RBI did not cut the rates and that had probably led to a dissatisfaction amongst the market players.
- Soon as the demonetization drive was initiated by the government, the economy was seeing a tough situation with liquid cash getting dried up in the country as the currency notes of 500 and 1000 denominations, which made up 86% of the total cash notes circulated in the economy were no longer valid. The industries directly and indirectly related to the consumer markets – mainly the FMCG industry, were facing a tough time as potential consumers queued up in front of ATMs and banks to either exchange or deposit their old notes. Consumer goods market saw a substantial hit because of the demonetization drive – So much that analysts and domestic as well as international investment firms now revised India’s expected FY 2017 GDP growth down to 7.0 – 7.2% from the previously expected 7.6%. This was the second reason for the market players to expect that RBI may go for a rate cut so as to stimulate the state of the economy and to support growth at pre-determined levels.
What may have kept RBI from cutting the interest rates on December 7, 2016
- There were mixed expectations of people from the Demonetization drive. Many saw it as a bold and a good decision by the Indian government against the parallel economy (black economy), while many claimed it to be a step only to get an advantage in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh state elections (Uttar Pradesh state elections are considered to be very important for the government in power at the center i.e. the BJP government, as a majority win in the same can get them a good number of seats in the Upper House of the Parliament, where currently they have very few seats as opposed to the Lower House of the Parliament where they have more than two-thirds of the majority). The government had however claimed it as a step towards eradicating the parallel economy. The results of the same could be analysed only after the entire drive got completed and the government could actually measure the success of their initiative only after that. The RBI had raised the CRR from 4% to 100% after the demonetization drive was initiated (This was however rolled back during the December 7 policy meet).
- As of December 7, 2016, it was only a month since Donald Trump was elected as the President of The United States of America and the world was still confused on how the global economy would move ahead with this development. This was because there was Hilary Clinton’s win was what majority of the global market players were expecting but it turned out to be the other way round. However, in spite of Trump’s win, the US markets went on to post one of the best performances since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Thus, there was still confusion prevailing in the markets. Over and above that, world’s highest growing emerging economy – India, was facing a tough time because of a tentatively slowing growth as cash started getting dried up in the economy following the demonetization drive.
- Russia, being one of the largest non-OPEC oil producers, had shown a positive indication to put a cap on oil output – much what the OPEC member countries were looking for to take a decision on controlling the oil output so as to support prices. This had given a positive indication for the upward movement in the oil prices, which had remained at sub $50 per barrel levels for quite a long time. This move, which was a cheer for oil producing countries, was seen as a potential point of worry for the oil importing countries like India. Movement of oil prices from those levels to about $55 a barrel (which the OPEC member countries were expecting) could add up substantially to India’s import bill, which would pass on and add up to the domestic oil prices, which would in turn start reflecting in the prices of goods produced in the country as they move up. This again would create a rebalance in the import-export scenario in the Indian economy and would also lead to a potential inflation upwards.
- The artificial disinflation (which was assumed to potentially occur because of the already evident low spending and low economic activity) in India following the demonetization drive would start recovering once the new currency notes would fully replace the old notes and as India would come out of the temporary liquidity crisis. Thus, once a sudden jump in inflation would raise questions and create panic in the fastest growing emerging economy in case RBI would cut the rates on December 7 policy meet. The U.S. Fed had not increased their interest rates as was being promised before the presidential elections happened.
- With all these factors in place, it would be a very hazy environment for the RBI to put one more rate cut in place. Also, now as the decisions for a rate cut and other monetary policy forming decisions are jointly being taken by 3 members from the RBI team and 3 government appointed representatives after the formation of Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), the political and economic environments simultaneously brainstorm in the process. Thus, in such an environment, it was quite evident that RBI would not be cutting interest rates in the December 7 policy meet as such decisions should maintain consistency in the performance of the economy. It was quite surprising that about 85% of the market players were expecting a rate cut during that meet.
Taking into consideration all the factors, it seems that in this less-than-one-month period before the Budget, economic activity will start getting back to normal with the new currency notes accelerating back into the economy as they replace the old notes.
As per the recent developments, the U.S. shale production will be increasing in the coming months though the OPEC members have agreed to put a cap. This may pose a threat to the commitment of OPEC and there is a possibility that the leading oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Iran will refrain from limiting their oil output in order to retain their market share, which will lead to Russia becoming active in the oil market again to retain its own market share. This may drive the oil prices back to sub $50 a barrel levels which are a possible big cheer for an oil-importing country like India.
On December 31, 2016, when Mr Narendra Modi addressed the nation to thank the citizens of India, he especially thanked the bankers for taking due pain during that period and also announced several bank related incentives as stated earlier. With this, he gave several indications towards the possible incentives in the 2017-18 Union Budget that is scheduled to be presented on February 1, 2017.
The leading public and private banks in India had recently passed on the rate cuts to common people by slashing their MCLR substantially.
But in the next RBI policy meet scheduled on February 8, 2017, I expect the RBI shall maintain the policy rates at the current levels, reason being that RBI may monitor the activity in the economy after demonetization for quite some time and until the results of demonetization are measured, it would be difficult to take major decisions. Also, the recent benefits of rate cuts that have been passed by the banks shall be monitored for some time. In case RBI cuts rate in the February meet, there shall be an oversupply of stimulus in the economy because of back to back events happening, which can be a potential driver of inflation, which is again bad for the economy in a long run. We should never forget the case of the U.S. Housing Bubble that happened as the U.S. Fed provided an oversupply of monetary stimuli by aggressively reducing the rates following the Dot-com bubble and the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks, which ultimately led to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.
In this scenario, I expect the market to remain range-bound at the current levels with a few upward and downward fluctuations or move slightly upwards by about 2% from the current levels till February 1, 2017.
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