Bank Lending Down by Half in 2016-2017


On April 6, 2017, the Reserve Bank of India(RBI) published the latest Monetary Policy Report. Buried on page 40 of the report is a very interesting data point which rather surprisingly hasn’t been splashed on the front pages of the pink papers as yet.

In 2016-2017, Indian banks gave out total non-food credit worth Rs 3,65,500 crore. Banks give working-capital loans to the Food Corporation of India(FCI) to carry out its procurement actions. FCI primarily buys rice and wheat directly from Indian farmers using the loans it takes from banks. When these loans are subtracted from overall loans given out by banks, we arrive at non-food credit.

In 2015-2016, the total non-food credit of banks had amounted to Rs 7,02,400 crore. What this means that non-food credit came crashing down by close to 48 per cent during the course of 2016-2017, the last financial year. To put it simply, this basically means that in 2016-2017, banks lent around half of what they had lent out in 2015-2016.

The important question is why has this happened? A major reason for this is that the total outstanding loans to industry has actually shrunk in 2016-2017(between April 2016 and February 2017, which is the latest data available) by Rs 60,064 crore. This basically means that Indian banks on the whole, did not give a single new rupee to industry as a loan during the course of 2016-2017.

And the reason for that is very straightforward. Over the years many corporates have defaulted on the loans they had taken on from banks, in particular public sector banks. And this explains why banks are not in the mood to lend to corporates anymore. As they say, one bitten twice shy.

In fact, as on December 31, 2016, the gross non-performing assets or bad loans of public sector banks had stood at Rs 6,46,199 crore, having jumped by 137 per cent over a period of two years. Bad loans are essentially loans in which the repayment from a borrower has been due for 90 days or more. The bad loans of private banks as on December 31, 2016, stood at Rs 86,124 crore.

A major chunk of these defaults has come from corporates. As of March 31, 2016, the total corporate bad loans of public sector banks had stood at Rs 3,36,124 crore or 11.95 per cent of the total loans given out to corporates. It formed a little more than 62 per cent of the total bad loans. This is the latest number I could find in this context. There is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that the situation has worsened since then.

Given this, as I said earlier, banks are not in the mood to lend to corporates. Hence, their overall lending for 2016-2017 has shrunk by half in comparison to 2015-2016.

The interesting thing is that while Indian banks may not be lending as much, the other sources of funding haven’t really dried up. Private placements of debt jumped up majorly in 2016-2017 in comparison to 2015-2016 and so did issuance of commercial paper by non-financial entities. Over and above this, the foreign direct investment into the country continued to remain strong. During 2016-2017, FDI worth Rs 2,53,500 crore came into the country. This was more or less similar to the amount that came in 2015-2016.

In total, the flow of financial resources to the commercial sector stood at Rs 1,262,000 crore, the RBI estimate suggests. This is around 12.1 per cent lower than the last year. Hence, the overall availability of money has shrunk but the situation is not as bad as bank lending data makes it out to be.

Basically, while banks may not want to lend to corporates, there are other sources of funding that do remain strong. Having said that, a fall of more than 12 per cent in total flow of financial resources to the commercial sector, is not a good sign on the economic front. This can only be corrected only after banks come back into the mood to lend to corporates. And that will only happen when banks get into a position where they are able to recover back from corporates a significant chunk of their bad loans. As of now no such signs are visible.


The column originally appeared in the Daily News and Analysis on April 25, 2017

The Great Indian FDI conundrum

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Our politicians think our problems come from being connected with the world, but the reality is we are too little connected to the world, says Pankaj Ghemawat.

Vivek Kaul

The United Progressive Alliance government is fond of telling us that India’s weakening macroeconomic indicators – a falling rupee, a declining stock market, rising bond yields – are the result of being tied to a weak global economy and factors external to India. But if you were to ask Pankaj Ghemawat, Anselmo Rubiralta Professor of Global Strategy at IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, India is not exactly as globally connected as we think it is.
Ghemawat has constructed a broad index of international integration, the DHL Global Connectedness Index, which was first released in November 2011. The 2012 version of this index was released last year and it shows India closer to the bottom. “This index extends beyond trade to incorporate capital, information and people flows as well, and covers 140 countries that account for 95% of the world’s population and 99% of its GDP,” says Ghemawat.
India ranks 119 out of 140 countries on the depth of its global connectedness. “When it comes to trade intensity, India still ranks in the bottom 25% in the sample. As far as capital connectedness is concerned, it is closer to the median,” says Ghemawat.
Capital connectedness is calculated from measures of foreign direct investment (FDI) and foreign portfolio equity investment into the stock market of the concerned country. India’s decent performance on capital connectedness is primarily on account of the huge money that has come into the Indian stock market from abroad in the last decade and big outward FDI flows in the form of overseas acquisitions by Indian corporates.
If one looks at just inward FDI, the performance is dismal. As Ghemawat puts it, “In terms of inward FDI stock (i.e. foreign companies having built or bought businesses in India) expressed as a percentage of GDP, India comes in the bottom 10%.”
FDI flows into India have also fallen in three out of the last four years. For 2012-13, FDI fell by 21% to $36.9 billion, government data show. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in a recent release, said that FDI inflows to India declined by 29% to $26 billion in 2012.
The government has, faced with an unsustainable current account deficit (CAD), has been trying to encourage FDI into the country to firm up the rupee against the dollar. Last year in September, the government opened up FDI in multi-brand retailing with the rider that each state can decide whether it wants companies like Wal-Mart to set up shop within its borders.
But since then not a single dollar has come into the sector. “One reason for foreign money not coming in is that investors are not sure whether the policy will continue as and when a new government comes in. Also, letting states set their own rules on such an international economic policy matter is basically unheard of elsewhere,” said Ghemawat. Towards the middle of July 2013, the government relaxed FDI norms in 12 sectors, including telecom, insurance, asset reconstruction, petroleum refining, stock exchanges and so on. 
Ghemawat feels that there is a lot that India can learn from China on this front. China started opening up its retail sector to FDI in 1992, initially with various restrictions, but ultimately allowing 100% FDI in 2004. This benefited them with foreign players bringing in new management practices along with supporting technology and investment capital. And we shouldn’t forget the complementarity for foreign retailers between sourcing from China (contributing to China’s export boom) and selling there.
Ghemawat argues that much of the fear about FDI in retail is exaggerated, because even with full liberalisation, foreign retailers would hardly come to dominate the Indian market. “Retail is a very local business, where an intimate understanding of customers, real estate markets, and so on, is essential to success.” He cites a recent estimate that 40 foreign players account for only about 20% of organised retail in China, to suggest that foreign and domestic retail could thrive side-by-side in India.
“Foreign retailers don’t always win out against domestic rivals,” he adds. “Electronics retailers Best Buy from the US and Media Markt from Germany both shut down their stores in China in the last few years. They just couldn’t compete with local rivals Gome and Suning, which had greater domestic scale and business models more attuned to the Chinese market. Home Depot also exited China in 2012. But Chinese consumers gained anyway – competition against foreign retailers spurred locals to improve customer service, one of their weak points.”
Coming back to data from the Indian market, Ghemawat notes an interesting factoid from the 2013 Economist Corporate Network Asia. The nominal GDP of India grew by 12.6% in 2012. In comparison, the sales of MNCs (mainly Western) in India grew by only 6.3%, only half as fast as the GDP. “While this could be viewed as positive regarding Indian firms, a difference of such a big magnitude is probably reflective of a lack of openness,” said Ghemawat.
There are multiple reasons for India’s poor showing on these indicators India regularly figures in the bottom tier of countries in terms of the extent to which its policies promote trade. In the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Enabling Trade Index, India figures in the bottom tier. On the market access parameters, in particular, it figures third from last in a list of 132 countries. Ghemawat also cites the OECD’s FDI restrictiveness index which he has inverted into the FDI Friendliness Index. “India again figures in the bottom 10% of 50 countries in terms of the extent to which it encourages FDI.” No amount of ministerial cajoling of potential foreign investors is likely to outweigh the impact of such protectionist policies.
These indicators, of course, translate into low productivity and lack of infrastructure required to carry out a profitable business. “The Global Competitiveness Report tells us all we need to know about India’s poor infrastructure and low productivity,” says Ghemawat. “India currently ranks 59th on the list (out of 144 countries). It has fallen 10 places since peaking at the 49th spot in 2009. Once ahead of Brazil and South Korea it is now 10 places behind them. China is 30 places ahead of India,” he adds.
When it comes to the supply of transport, energy and ICT (information, communications technology) infrastructure, India is 84th on the list. This lack of infrastructure is the single biggest hindrance to doing business in India, feels Ghemawat. And this has kept foreign investors away from the country. Also given India’s weak health and basic education infrastructure (where it is 101st on the list), India remains low on productivity, which is an important factor for any foreign investor looking to make an investment. And as if all this was not enough it is worth remembering that it is not easy to start any business in India. Every year the World Bank puts out a ranking which measures the Ease of Doing Business across countries. In the 2013 ranking, India came in at rank 132 on the list – the same as in 2012. When it comes to starting a new business In
dia is 173rd on the list. Hence, foreign investors have an option of starting their business in a much easier way in many other countries. Given this, why should they be hurrying to India?
The spate of recent scams also has not helped the way India is viewed abroad. There is significant evidence to show that corruption hampers trade. Says Ghemawat: “According to one study, an increase in corruption levels from that of Singapore to that of Mexico has the same negative effect on inward foreign investment as raising the tax rate by over 50 percentage points.” India stood at 94th position in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception Index. “Given this, tackling corruption has to be a priority,” adds Ghemawat.
The moral of the story is that although India is much more open than it used to be 20 years ago, there is a lot that still needs to be done. And this is important because there is a clear connect between the global connectedness of a country and measures of prosperity. As Ghemawat puts it, “There is a strong positive correlation across countries between the depth of a country’s global connectedness and measures of its prosperity, such as its GDP per capita and its ranking on the UN’s Human Development Index. To be sure, correlation is not the same as causation, but statistical analysis indicates that after controlling for initial income levels, countries with deeper global connectedness have tended to grow faster than less-connected countries.”
The point is further buttressed by one look at the list of countries that are on the top of 2012 DHL Global Connectedness Index created by Ghemawat. These countries are the Netherlands, Singapore, Luxembourg, Ireland, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany. In the recent past some of these countries have been caught up in the aftermath of the financial crisis, but it’s important not to let recent growth rates overshadow measures of current prosperity, on which all of these countries far surpass India.
Ghemawat gives the example of the Indian information technology sector. “Ask this simple question to yourself: Would Indian IT companies have been as globally competitive if we had protected them from international competition?” The answer of course is no. But that is the case with the business services sector. There is a huge protective moat around it. This, despite the fact that the sector has a huge potential to create jobs.”
And he backs his argument with numbers. “Although some services (like haircuts) will always be delivered locally, liberalizing trade in services alone could boost global GDP by at least 1.5%.” In India’s case, opening up business services is even more important given that we don’t trade much with our neighbours due to various reasons. “For example, Indian trade with Pakistan, according to one study, is only 2 to 4% of what it might be under friendlier circumstances. The rest of India’s neighbours are relatively small and poor, presenting limited opportunities compared with, for example, the benefits China realised by tying into Japanese and Korean production networks. It is neither exaggerated nor xenophobic to say that one of India’s key structural problems is that it is located in a difficult neighbourhood,” says Ghemawat.
Countries tend to trade the most with their neighbours.  Ghemawat explains, “all else being equal, if you cut the distance between a pair of countries in half, their trade volume will go up almost 200%.  Add a common border, and trade rises another 60%.  That’s why more trade happens within world regions than across them, and the US’s top export destinations are Canada and Mexico.”
In India’s case, at least over the short-to-medium term, trading primarily with neighbours won’t be workable (though Ghemawat does urge India to take the lead on regional integration in South Asia). Hence, he feels that some business services can be outsourced over greater distances than many categories of merchandise are traded, since physical shipment of products is not required. 
One exception he notes is how, recently, China became India’s biggest trading partner, overtaking the United States. But Ghemawat feels that caution is in order. “India runs a huge trade deficit with China and exports mainly primary products there: Cotton, copper and iron ore account for nearly one-half of the total. Given the limited progress the US has made in rebalancing its trade with China, it’s hard to see what India might accomplish within any reasonable timeframe,” he says. Trade deficit is the difference between imports and exports.
Ghemawat also feels that India has a lot to gain by encouraging trade within states. “I have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get hold of data on trade between Indian states,” he says. “India has a lot to gain by encouraging and increasing trade between states. As the former Chairman of Suzuki once put it to me, what India needs is not external trade liberalisation but internal trade liberalisation. And I heard Ratan Tata say something similar about the need for more integration and fewer barriers within India. For a large country, the potential gains from internal trade are typically much larger than those from international trade,” Ghemawat concludes. 

The interview originally appeared in the Forbes India magazine in the edition dated Sep 20, 2013


Why Congress' new found love for FDI wont help rupee much

Vivek Kaul 
Foreign direct investment(FDI) seems to be new buzzword of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Earlier this week the government relaxed foreign direct investment norms in twelve sectors including telecom, insurance, asset reconstruction, petroleum refining, stock exchanges and so on.
This sudden love of the government for FDI after nearly nine years of sitting on their bums, can be attributed to the rupee losing value rapidly against the dollar and creating huge economic problems. The hope is that with FDI reform foreign investors will bring in dollars into India to set up new businesses, increase their investment in existing businesses or buy up businesses.
When these dollars come into the country they will have to be converted into rupees. This will increase the demand for rupees and ensure that the rupee will gain value against the dollar. That is how things are supposed to work, at least in theory.
But this is easier said than done. A foreign investor looking to get money into India through the FDI route is committing to stay invested for the long term. In comparison, a foreign investor investing money in the stock market or the bond market, can sell the stocks or bonds, take his money and leave, the moment he sees things going wrong.
An investor who has got in money through the FDI route cannot exit like an investor who has invested money in stocks or bonds. Selling a business or a factory is not as easy as selling stocks or bonds for that matter. And more than that setting up a profitable business to justify the investment being made in a foreign country is not so easy. I
t is worth remembering that the Western world in general and the United States in particular is currently dealing with the aftermath of the financial crisis. There is great pressure on companies to set up new businesses or expand current ones in their home countries. In this scenario if they do decide to go abroad and set up new businesses, it needs to be a very good proposition for them.
Given this, any investor getting in money through the FDI route is likely to look at many factors than get in money simply because FDI is the flavour of the week with the government.
Take the case of the South Korean steel company POSCO which has pulled out of setting up a steel plant in Karnataka. The company had signed 
an agreement to set up a steel plant with a capacity of 6 million tonnes in the state in June 2010. The project would have got in $6 billion worth of FDI in the state. Along similar lines ArcelorMittal, the global steel giant, has decided to opt out of a $12 billion steel plant in Odisha. So the country lost out on FDI worth $18 billion within two days of the Congress led UPA government discovering FDI.
The reasons for pulling out cited by both the companies were similar. They couldn’t get the land required to set up the steel plant and at the same time iron ore linkages weren’t in place. Iron ore is used to produced steel.
What this tells us is that it is not very easy for a foreign investor to set up shop in India. The process of acquisition of land for the Posco plant in Karnatka had been on for around two and a half years. 
ArcelorMittal also had been trying to acquire land for its plant in Odisha for more than three years now.
Every year the World Bank puts out a ranking which measures the Ease of Doing Business across countries. In the 2013 ranking, India came in 132nd on the list. India’s ranking was the same in 2012 as well. When it comes to enforcing a contract, India came in 184th on the list. When it comes to starting a business India is 173rd on the list. What this means is that foreign investors have an option of starting their business in a much easier way in 172 countries other than India. Given this, why should they be hurrying to India?
In fact ArcelorMittal had announced last year that India was no longer a priority for them when it came to making major investments. Of course these withdrawals would have had much more impact on prospective investors than the announcements made by the government welcoming FDI.
Then there is issue of corruption. Over the last few years a spate of scams from coalgate to the telecom scam have come to light. This also has an impact on the foreign investor looking to get in money into India through the FDI route.
As Ali Al-Sadig writes 
in a research paper titled The Effects of Corruption on FDI inflows written for the CATO insitute “From a theoretical viewpoint, corruption—that is, paying bribes to corrupt government bureaucrats to get “favours” such as permits, investment licenses, tax assessments, and police protection—is generally viewed as an additional cost of doing business or a tax on profits. As a result, corruption can be expected to decrease the expected profitability of investment projects. Investors will therefore take the level of corruption in a host country into account in making decisions to invest abroad.”
And empirical research shows that there is a negative relationship between corruption and FDI inflows. As Al-Sadig writes “That is, ceteris paribus, a one-point increase in the corruption index causes a reduction in per capita FDI inflows by 11 percent.”
In another research paper titled 
Foreign direct investment, corruption and democracy Aparna Mathura and Kartikeya Singh reported a similar result. As they write “We find quite convincingly that corruption perception does play a big role in investors’ decision of where to invest. The more corrupt a country is perceived to be, the less the flows of FDI to that country.”
So corruption is another factor which will continue to have an impact on FDI into India in the days to come, given that its not going to go away any time soon.
Then there is the perpetual problem of India’s infrastructure. Businesses need roads, ports, power, rails etc to function. There is a clear lack of supply on this front. And this also has an impact on the amount of money coming in through the FDI route. As Rajesh Chakrabarti, Krishnamurthy Subramanian, Sesha Meka and Kuntluru Sudershan write in a research paper titled 
Infrastructure and FDI: Evidence from district-level data in India published in March 2012 “We find that while there is indeed a positive relationship between physical infrastructure and FDI inflows, the relationship is essentially non-linear with a “threshold level” of infrastructure after which the positive effect becomes significant.”
What this means is that districts in India which have a better physical infrastructure attract more FDI. What it also means is that significant FDI inflows happen once physical infrastructure is of a certain ‘threshold’ level. So there is a clear link between physical infrastructure and the total amount of FDI that comes in. And India loses out on this front.
All these factors have led to a situation where 
FDI into India has fallen in the last three out of the four years. For 2012-2013(i.e. the period between April 1, 2012 and March 31,2013), FDI fell by 21% to $36.9 billion, as per government data. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in a recent release said that FDI inflows to India declined by 29 per cent to $26 billion in 2012.
To conclude, while the Congress led UPA government might have fallen in love with FDI, it is unlikely to lead to a flood of dollars in the months to come. For that to happen the country first needs better governance which will lead to better infrastructure, lower corruption and a greater ease of doing business. But governance is something that has gone missing from this country. And given this, the rupee will continue to have a tough time. It is currently quoting 40 paisa lower at Rs 59.74 to a dollar against yesterday’s close of Rs 59.35 to a dollar.
The article originally appeared on on July 20, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)