The Reserve Bank of India released its annual report earlier this week. The report had some important data points which I shall discuss in this piece.
Take a look at the above table. The household financial savings of the country in 2015-2016 were the highest in five years. They stood at 7.7 per cent of the gross national disposable income. And what is gross national disposable income(GNDI)? Clara Capelli and Gianni Vaggi define the term in the research paper titled A better indicator for standard of living: The Gross National Disposable Income: “The GNDI…measures the income that residents can actually use for either consumption or saving, thus accounting for their purchasing power and, consequently, for their living standards.”
Let’s try and understand GNDI in a little more detail. It is essentially the sum of the gross domestic product (a measure of national income) plus remittances (money transfer carried out by migrant workers to their home country) plus money/food received as a part of an international assistance programme plus the net primary income. Net primary income is essentially the “difference between the primary income receivable from non-residents and the primary income payable to non-residents”.
As per the paper, India’s GNDI is around 1.03 times its gross domestic product.
The household financial savings comprise of currency, deposits, shares and debentures, insurance funds, pension and provident funds and something referred to as claims on government. The claims on government largely reflects of investments made in post office small savings schemes.
The household financial savings have gone up to 7.7 per cent of GNDI in 2015-2016. This is a five-year high.
Why has this happened? The simple reason for this lies in the fact that the rate of inflation has been lower in 2015-2016 than it was in the earlier years.
As the chart shows, the rate of inflation as measured by the consumer price index has shown a downward trend between December 2013 and September 2015. Since then the rate of inflation has gone up a little.
The point is that when the rate of inflation goes down (i.e. there is disinflation) people have a chance of saving a greater portion of their income and that is what seems to have happened. Lower rates of inflation have led to higher household financial savings. The inflation as measured by the consumer price index peaked at 11.5 per cent in November 2013. It collapsed to 4.3 per cent in December 2014 and it averaged under 5 per cent through 2015.
Both the Narendra Modi government and the Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan deserve credit for this. The Modi government for managing food inflation by not increasing the minimum support price on rice and wheat at the same rapid rate as it had been raised in the past (although this had started during the last year of the Manmohan Singh government) and Rajan for managing inflationary expectations (or the expectations that consumers have of what future inflation is likely to be).
In fact, things get interesting if one looks at the breakup of the household financial savings. In 2011-2012, deposits formed the bulk of the savings. They stood at 6 per cent of the GNDI. By 2015-2016, this had fallen to 4.7 per cent of the GNDI. What is happening here?
This clearly shows that most people who invest in deposits (of banks or otherwise) are victims of money illusion. In 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, the nominal interest rates on bank deposits where close to 9-10 per cent and so was the inflation as measured by the consumer price index. This clearly meant that people were losing purchasing power on the money invested in deposits.
The inflation since then has fallen to around 5-6 per cent. The interest rates on bank deposits has fallen to around 7-7.5 per cent. Nevertheless, depositors are now making a real rate of return on their deposits because the rate of interest on deposits is greater than the rate of inflation. This clearly wasn’t the case earlier, and the depositors were essentially losing purchasing power by staying invested in deposits.
As Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich write in Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes: “[Money illusion] involves a confusion between ‘”nominal” changes in money and “real” changes that reflect inflation…Accounting for inflation requires the application of a little arithmetic, which…is often an annoyance and downright impossible for many people…Most people we know routinely fail to consider the effects of inflation in their finance decision making.”
This explains why people have moved away from deposits. The falling nominal rates have led to them shifting their investment to other avenues even though the nominal return on deposits is now in positive territory. Take a look at the claims on government. This has jumped from almost nothing to 0.4 per cent of GNDI. This basically means that the smarter lot has moved their money to small saving schemes where the nominal rate of interest as of now is higher than the interest on offer on fixed deposits.
Investments in shares and debentures has also jumped up from 0.4 per cent to 0.7 per cent of GNDI. This should make the finance minister Arun Jaitley happy. He complained some time back that people invest so much money in fixed deposits while ignoring other forms of investing like shares, debentures and mutual funds.
Currency holdings have also jumped from 1.1 per cent of GNDI to 1.4 per cent of GNDI. I really do not have an explanation for this. Why would people want to hold money in a form where they don’t get paid any interest?
The other interesting thing that comes out of the chart is that the gross household financial savings have risen to 10.8 per cent of GNDI in 2015-2016, from 10 per cent in 2014-2015. This has translated into the net household financial savings going up to 7.7 per cent of GDP in 2015-2016 from 7.5 per cent in 2014-2015.
Why is there such a substantial difference between the jump in gross household financial savings and the jump in net household financial savings? The net household financial savings figure is obtained by subtracting financial liabilities from the gross household financial savings.
The financial liabilities in 2015-2016 have jumped to 3 per cent of GNDI, in comparison to 2.5 per cent in 2014-2015. This basically means that people borrowed more in 2015-2016 than was the case in the past. In fact, at 3 per cent of GNDI, the financial liabilities are not significantly different from the 3.2 per cent figure of 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.
This basically tells us that households borrowing is alive and kicking. These numbers are again an answer to those who keep demanding that the RBI cut the repo rate at a much faster rate than it has. The trouble is clearly with corporate borrowing which continues to remain in a mess, and there is not much (and it shouldn’t) that the RBI can do about ensuring that banks lend to corporates.
The column originally appeared in Vivek Kaul’s Diary on September 1, 2016