What the Media Did Not Tell You About the Black Money Scheme Part 2

rupee

Note: This piece is similar to the one I wrote yesterday. It’s just a much better way of expressing the same thing. Ideally, this is the piece I should have written yesterday. But sometimes one does end up taking a longer route to arrive at the same destination.

Human beings have a habit of looking at absolute values and ignoring the denominator. Economists refer to this tendency as the denominator neglect.

The denominator neglect has been at full show in case of the Income Declaration Scheme which came to a close on September 30, 2016. The scheme had been in operation since June 1,2016. It offered people who had black money within the country to declare it to the government, pay a tax of 45 per cent on it and become a part of the system.

Black money or unaccounted or hidden wealth, is essentially income that has been earned over the years, but on which taxes have not been paid.

The government of India got declarations of Rs 65,250 crore of black money under the scheme This money will be taxed at the rate of 45 per cent. It means collections of Rs 29,362 crore for the government.

The scheme has been declared to be a huge success by the government as well as the media. The government press release announcing the black money declarations said that there has been “a tremendous response from the general public, especially in the last two months”.

The media led by The Times of India went to town saying that the collections had been three times bigger than the collections of the Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme(VDIS) of 1997, the last black money declaration scheme that the government had launched.

The total amount of black money declared in VDIS 1997 had stood at Rs 33,000 crore. The corporates had to pay a tax of 35 per cent on the black money declared whereas others (primarily individuals) had to pay a tax of 30 per cent. This led to a collection of around Rs 10,000 crore for the government.

The collections in the Income Declaration Scheme of 2016 are expected to be Rs29,362 crore or around Rs 30,000 crore. This is three times bigger than the 1997 number or so the media seems to have concluded.

The trouble is this is wrong. What the media hasn’t taken into account is the denominator or the size of the Indian economy, which has grown significantly bigger in the last two decades. The nominal gross domestic product(GDP) at current prices, a measure of the size of the economy, in 1996-1997 (the financial year before the VDIS 1997 scheme) was Rs 13.02 lakh crore. The total tax collected by the government in VDIS 1997 amounted to around Rs 10,000 crore. This was 0.77 per cent of the GDP.

The nominal GDP at current prices in 2015-2016 (the financial year before the Income Declaration Scheme of 2016) was Rs 135.76 lakh crore. This is 10.4 times more than the GDP in 1996-1997. Hence, the size of the economy is 10.4 times bigger, though the tax collected has grown only three times.

The tax the government expects to collect from the Income Declaration Scheme of 2016, is Rs 29,362 crore. This amounts to 0.22 per cent of the 2015-2016 GDP.

This is significantly lower than the tax collected in VDIS 1997. The media obviously did not take the size of the Indian economy into account before going to town about the success of the scheme. The denominator neglect was at play.

One reason for lower collections in the 2016 scheme lies in the fact that the rate of tax to be paid is 45 per cent. In the VDIS of 1997, it was 30 per cent or 35 per cent. Of course, more people are likely to declare black money at a lower rate of tax. But even after taking this into account, the difference between 0.77 per cent of the GDP and 0.22 per cent of the GDP, is fairly significant.

In fact, if the idea was to ignore the size of the Indian economy, then the media could have come up with an even better result. Instead of taking the VDIS of 1997 and saying that the tax collected in the Income Declaration Scheme of 2016, will be three times bigger, it could have taken the Voluntary Disclosure Scheme of 1975.

The total black money disclosure in case of this scheme was Rs 738 crore and the total tax collected stood at Rs 241 crore. The total tax expected to be collected under the Income Declaration Scheme of 2016 is Rs 29,362 crore, which is 122 times bigger.

The point being that even though the government has managed to collect some reasonable amount of tax under the Income Declaration Scheme of 2016, it is nowhere as significant as it is being made out to be.

Postscript: The Business Standard reports only 15% of black money declarants came in on their own. If the remaining 85% were forced to declare black money, why is there the need for amnesty schemes like the Income Declaration Scheme?

This also tells us that the IT department knows who the black money wallahs are. Business Standard reports that the IT department sent letters to 7 lakh possible evaders asking them to avail of the Income Disclosure Scheme. Why is there a need for amnesty schemes to do something like this? Why can’t such things be done during the normal course of things?

Of course, this is the benefit of hindsight. But there are lessons to be learnt here.

The column originally appeared in Vivek Kaul’s Diary on October 4, 2016

Finally, an Economist Explains Why the Indian GDP Growth Number Is Wrong


31D3D370-5056-A85D-B9D084E15A25E7A7

 

I was just joking to a friend the other day that if economists started writing their stuff in simple English, which everybody can understand, guys like me who make a living out of translating what economists think and write, into simple English, would be driven out of the business very quickly.

The question is why do economists write the way they do? As John Lanchester writes in How to Speak Money: “As your vocabulary becomes more specific, more useful, more effective, it also becomes more exclusive. You are talking to a smaller audience…There are a lot of things like that in the world of money, where the explanation is hard to hold on to because it compresses a whole sequence of explanations into a phrase, or even just into a single word.” This is precisely what happens when economists write, or talk for that matter.

Nevertheless, given the chances of economists writing in simple English are low, I guess I am likely to continue to be in business.

Moving forward, in this piece I wanted to look at a column which was recently published in the Mint newspaper. The column is titled Real GDP is growing at 5%, not 7.1% and has been written by economist Rajeswari Sengupta.

I think the column makes a very important point. Nevertheless, my only quibble with it is that it has not been written in simple English. An idea as important as this column communicates needs to reach a wider audience and not just other economists.

So what is the core idea of the Mint column? As Sengupta writes: “Are our gross domestic product (GDP) numbers credible? Many commentators have expressed their doubts. But no one has yet identified problems with the Central Statistical Organisation’s (CSO) methodology. This is because they have been looking in the wrong place.”

Sengupta essentially goes on to explain what is wrong with the Indian GDP growth numbers.

In January 2015, the CSO moved to a new way of calculating the GDP. The GDP is a measure of all goods and services produced within a country. It is a measure of the economic size of any country. And GDP growth is essentially a measure of economic growth.

After the CSO last January unveiled the new way of calculating the GDP, the Indian GDP numbers suddenly started to look better. The GDP growth as per the old method had stood at around 5%. With the new method, the GDP growth suddenly crossed 7%.

The CSO estimates that in 2015-2016 (the current financial year) the Indian economy is likely to grow at the rate of 7.6%. It is important to understand that the GDP is a theoretical construct. There are many high frequency economic data indicators which tell us very clearly that there is no way that the country is growing at the rate at which the CSO wants us to believe it is.

Exports are down. Two wheeler sales growth has been fairly insipid. Railway freight growth has been very slow. Bad loans of banks are rising at a fairly rapid rate and their lending growth has been very slow. Corporate earnings growth has been terrible.

Given these reasons, how can the GDP possibly grow at 7.6% during this financial year, is a question worth asking.

Sengupta in her column explains what is wrong with the GDP growth number of 7.6%. As she writes: “The problem is not, as many have suspected, in the nominal numbers. It lies in the system for constructing the deflators. This methodology is flawed, yielding exaggerated estimates of the speed at which the economy is growing.

Let me explain this mumbo jumbo in simple English. The GDP growth number of 7.6% is essentially what economists call the real GDP growth. The real GDP growth is essentially GDP growth which has been adjusted for inflation. The nominal GDP is the GDP growth which hasn’t been adjusted for inflation.

Hence, real GDP growth is essentially nominal GDP growth minus the prevailing rate of inflation. So far so good.

Now Sengupta talks about something known as a deflator in her column. What is a deflator? Lanchester defines a deflator in his book as “the number you use when working out the value of money minus the effect of inflation.”

In Sengupta’s case, she is talking about what economists refer to as the GDP deflator, which is nothing but the rate of inflation used to come up with the real GDP growth number from the nominal GDP growth number.

The real GDP growth number is essentially the nominal GDP growth number minus the GDP deflator. Let’s understand this through an example. Let’s say the nominal GDP growth is 10%. The GDP deflator is at 3%. Then the real GDP growth is 7% (10% minus 3%). If the GDP deflator is 1%, then the real GDP growth is 9% (10% minus 1%). That is how it works

What is the problem with the GDP growth number? As Sengupta puts it: “The real numbers are derived by taking nominal data on the economy and deflating them by price indices. So, if inflation is understated, then real growth is going to be overstated. And this is what has been happening.”

Hence, the CSO seems to be using a lower GDP deflator to arrive at the real GDP growth number. This has led to a higher real GDP growth number, which seems unreal.

And this is precisely where the problem lies. If we look at the nominal growth number for the period October to December 2015, it stands at 7.9%. A deflator of 0.7% meant that the real growth came in at 7.1%. (The number should be 7.2% if we follow what I explained earlier, but there must be some rounding off errors here).

Sengupta’s contention is that the CSO is understating the GDP deflator at 0.7% and the number should be higher than this. As she writes: “Could India’s inflation be so low? In effect, the CSO is saying that despite India’s booming economy, producer inflation is lower than that of the recession-wracked economies of the West, or even that of Japan, which has been wrestling with deflation since the 1990s.

This underestimation is happening primarily because the calculation of the GDP deflator closely tracks the inflation as measured by the wholesale price index, which has been in negative territory for some time now (16 months to be precise).

This explains why CSO feels that the Indian economic growth in 2015-2016 will be at 7.6%, even though the high speed economic indicators indicate otherwise. Sengupta shows that by using the right GDP deflator, the real GDP growth cannot be possibly more than 5%. And that is precisely the point I have been making over the last few months.

The column originally appeared on The 5 Minute Wrapup on Equitymaster on March 18, 2016

What the GDP numbers tell us about the fiscal deficit

Fostering Public Leadership - World Economic Forum - India Economic Summit 2010
The Central Statistics Office(CSO) has published the economic growth numbers for the period October to December 2015. It has also put out the economic growth projection for the current financial year i.e. 2015-2016 (April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016).

The Indian economy grew by 7.3% during the period October to December 2015. It is projected to grow at 7.6% during 2015-2016. Economic growth is measured by the growth in the gross domestic product(GDP). But GDP is a theoretical construct. There are many high frequency economic data indicators which tell us very clearly that there is no way that the country is growing at the rate at which the government wants us to believe it is.

Much has been written about the fact that India’s economic growth numbers can’t be possibly right and given that I wanted to discuss something else, but equally important in this column.

The GDP growth is declared in several forms. When CSO talks about the Indian economy growing by 7.6%, during the course of the year, it is talking about real GDP growth. Real GDP growth is essentially adjusted for inflation. The economic growth which is not adjusted for inflation is known as the nominal GDP growth. The nominal GDP growth for the current financial year is expected to be at 8.6%. Typically, the difference between nominal and real GDP growth is greater than this.

When calculating the fiscal deficit, the government uses the nominal GDP. This is because the revenue as well as the expenditure of the government are not adjusted for the prevailing inflation. Fiscal deficit is the difference between what a government earns and what it spends during the course of the year.

When the finance minister Arun Jaitley presented the budget in last February, he had set a fiscal deficit target of 3.9% of the GDP. The GDP here is the nominal GDP. There are essentially two numbers in the fiscal deficit calculation—the absolute fiscal deficit number and the nominal GDP number.

The absolute fiscal deficit number for this year was set at Rs 5,55,649 crore. The nominal GDP number in the budget was assumed to be at Rs 14,108,945 crore. It was assumed that the nominal GDP would grow by 11.5% in comparison to the nominal GDP in 2014-2015, which was at Rs 12,653,762 crore.

The growth of 11.5% in nominal GDP has not materialised and now close to the end of this financial year, the government thinks that the nominal GDP growth will be at a much lower 8.6%. And this is precisely what has upset the fiscal deficit calculations of the government. A growth of 8.6% means that the nominal GDP for 2015-2016 will come in at Rs 13,741,986 crore.

If the government maintains an absolute fiscal deficit of Rs 5,55,649 crore, then the fiscal deficit as a proportion of the nominal GDP will come in at 4.04% of the GDP. In order to maintain the fiscal deficit at 3.9% of the GDP, the government will have to cut down the fiscal deficit by around Rs 20,000 crore, assuming all other projections remain the same.

A fiscal deficit of 4.04% of the GDP is higher than 3.90% of the GDP, but not significantly higher. But that is not what has got the government worrying. In fact, the finance minister Arun Jaitley had talked about fiscal consolidation in the two budget speeches he has made till date in July 2014 and February 2015. Fiscal consolidation is the reduction of the fiscal deficit.

In July 2014 Jaitley had said: “We need to introduce fiscal prudence that will lead to fiscal consolidation and discipline. Fiscal prudence to me is of paramount importance because of considerations of inter-generational equity. We cannot leave behind a legacy of debt for our future generations. We cannot go on spending today which would be financed by taxation at a future date.”

He had further said: One fails only when one stops trying. My Road map for fiscal consolidation is a fiscal deficit of 3.6 per cent [of the GDP] for 2015-16 and 3 per cent for 2016-17.”

In the speech he made in February 2015, he postponed this target by a year and said that the government will achieve a fiscal deficit of 3.5% of GDP in 2016-17; and 3% of GDP in 2017-18.

The point being that the government had originally envisaged achieving a fiscal deficit of 3.6% of GDP during this financial year. This target was postponed by a year and the government set itself a much easier target of 3.9% of GDP. And given this, it is very important that the government achieve this much easier target, if it wants people to take it seriously in the future on the fiscal deficit front.

Further, it is worth pointing out here that typically if the government were to follow the international norms of declaring the fiscal deficit and not include disinvestment proceeds as a revenue item but a financing item, the fiscal deficit for 2015-2016 would be at 4.4% of the GDP. Also, the 3.9% of GDP fiscal deficit target does not include subsidy payments of more than Rs 1,00,000 crore that need to be made for fertilizer and food subsidies.

The government can achieve a 3.9% of GDP fiscal deficit target, by increasing its revenue and cutting down on its expenditure. The government has been trying to increase its revenue by increasing the excise duty on petrol and diesel. Three such hikes have been made since January 2016. This has led to a situation where oil prices have fallen dramatically but petrol and diesel prices in India have actually risen over the last one year.

The petrol price in Mumbai as of now is Rs 66.05 per litre. The price as of last February was at Rs 63.9 per litre. The price of the Indian basket of crude oil during the same period has fallen by more than 44%.

While the government continues to raise the excise duty on petrol and diesel, it continues to own a 11.2% stake in cigarette maker ITC. This stake as of yesterday’s closing price was worth Rs 28,256 crore. What is so strategic about owning a stake in a cigarette company and at the same time run advertisements trying to tell the country at large that it consumption of tobacco is injurious to health? Why can’t this stake be sold and the money used for better purposes?

This is something that the government needs to explain.

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

The column originally appeared on Firstpost on February 9, 2016.

 

What the media did not tell you about the economic growth number

discount-10
In yesterday’s column I had explained why the gross domestic product (GDP) growth number of 7.4% is more of a statistical quirk. The GDP is essentially the measure of the size of an economy.

The coverage of the GDP news in the media talked about the 7.4% economic growth, without really getting into the details of how that number was arrived at. The GDP growth of 7.4% that everyone from the politicians to the media seem to be talking about is essentially the real GDP growth.

Neither the media nor the economists and the politicians talked about the nominal GDP, which came in at 6%. The nominal GDP is calculated at the current price levels. Once this is adjusted for the prevailing inflation, we arrive at the real GDP.

Hence, nominal GDP growth minus inflation equals the real GDP growth. In this case, the nominal GDP growth came in at 6% and was lower than the real GDP growth of 7.4%. This meant that the inflation was negative. The inflation in this case is referred to as GDP deflator and came in at – 1.4%.

This as I had explained yesterday is because the GDP deflator is a sort of a combination of inflation as measured by the consumer price index and inflation as measured by the wholesale price index. The wholesale price index has been in negative territory for some time now. And this has led the GDP deflator into negative territory as well. Hence, the deflator instead of deflating the nominal GDP number is inflating it.

This is a point that the experts and the media missed out on. There was another important point that the media missed out on and was brought to my notice by Anindya Banerjee, Analyst, Kotak Securities, FX and interest rate desk.

Nominal GDP Growth

Earlier this year, the ministry of statistics and programme implementation moved to a new way of measuring the gross domestic product. They also produced some backdated data for the last few years. The red curve shows the nominal GDP growth rate as per the new method of calculating the GDP. The blue curve, on the other hand, shows the GDP growth as per the old method of calculating the GDP.

What the table clearly tells us is that the nominal GDP growth has collapsed. In fact, as the table clearly shows the nominal GDP growth has never been as low as it is now, in the last ten years. I know I am committing a sin here by mixing data from two different GDP series but the trend has been clearly downward. And this is a reason to worry.

As I had mentioned in yesterday’s column, negative wholesale price inflation has had a huge role to play in inflating the economic growth number. India is seeing a negative wholesale price inflation because of several reasons. Commodity prices have crashed and that is the good bit, because we import a huge amount of important commodities like oil.

On the flip side, negative wholesale price inflation is also a reflection of weak industrial and consumer demand, low capacity utilisation by factories as well as low private investment and falling exports.

These factors are a negative for the economy. But they have ended up adding to the calculation of the GDP in a positive way. The negative wholesale price inflation has led to a negative GDP deflator which has in turn inflated the real GDP growth number. And this has meant that even though the real GDP growth number is strong, the economic growth doesn’t really seem strong.

What all this tells us is that for economic growth to really recover, the nominal GDP number needs to start to move up. Also, it is worth highlighting here that nominal growth really matters.

Corporate earnings are not adjusted for inflation through the GDP deflator. Neither are wages given by companies both private and government, as well as entrepreneurs. And this has an impact on the psychology of private consumption. The corporate earnings for the period of three months between July and September 2015 grew by less than 1%. In this scenario wage increments will be low.

Let’s say the companies are generous and give around 3% wage increments to their employees in the coming year. The employee will look at it as a 3% increment in wages, which is not huge. He will not look at it as a 7.5% ‘real’ increase in wages (3% nominal wages minus the wholesale price inflation of around – 4.5%). This tendency to look at money in nominal rather than real terms is referred to as the money illusion. Given this, higher wages will not lead to a higher consumption.

The government revenue and the fiscal deficit are not adjusted for inflation either. Also, the fiscal deficit of the government is expressed as a percentage of nominal GDP and not real GDP. Fiscal deficit is the difference between what a government earns and what it spends. Let’s take a closer look at the fiscal deficit number projected by the government for the current financial year, 2015-2016. The fiscal deficit has been projected at Rs 5,55,649 crore or 3.9% of the GDP.

The GDP has been assumed to be at Rs 14,108,945 crore for 2015-2016. The GDP under consideration is nominal GDP. The nominal GDP number for 2015-2016 was arrived at by assuming a growth of 11.5% over the nominal GDP number for 2014-2015.

The nominal GDP growth number between April and June 2015 had stood at 8.8%. Between July and September 2015 it came in at 6%. Hence, for the six months of this financial year, the nominal GDP growth has been nowhere near the assumed 11.5%.

Let’s assume that the nominal GDP growth improves during the second half of the year, and the final nominal GDP growth number comes in at 9%. What happens to the fiscal deficit? Assuming the absolute fiscal deficit stays the same, the fiscal deficit as a proportion of the GDP will cross 4%, against the targeted 3.9%. In order to ensure that this does not happen, the government will have to cut down on its expenditure. In an economy where private expenditure and investment is slow that is not the best thing that can happen.

Further, the government wants to reduce the fiscal deficit to 3% of the GDP by 2017-2018. For that to happen, the nominal GDP has to start to go up at a higher rate. It also needs to be pointed out here that the Raghuram Rajan, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, in the latest monetary policy statement said that he expects the government to continue maintaining the fiscal deficit in the years to come, despite the increased expenditure due to the implantation of the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission.

The column was originally published on December 3, 2015 on The Daily Reckoning

The economic growth of 7.4% needs to be taken with a pinch of salt

discount-10
The ministry of statistics and programme implementation published the gross domestic product (GDP) data for India for the period July and September 2015, a couple of days back. The GDP, a measure of the size of the economy, grew by 7.4% during the period in comparison to the same period in 2014.

If we just look at this number then we have to conclude that the Indian economy is doing fabulously well. But other economic data clearly suggests otherwise.

The exports have been going down for the last 11 months.

The corporate earnings for the three months ending September 2015 saw a growth of less than 1%.

The real estate sector is down in the dumps.

The loan growth of banks has been in single digits for some time now.

The bad loans of banks continue to grow.

Two wheeler and tractor sales, a reflection of rural demand, fell during the first six months of the year.

The vehicle sales, a good reflection of urban demand, grew at a very low rate during the first six months of the year.

The number of stalled industrial projects continue to grow.

The factories are running 30% below capacity.

And India has seen two deficient monsoons in a row.

So how is the economy still growing at 7.4%? The answer might very well lie in the way the GDP growth is calculated. The 7.4% economic growth that we are talking about here and which the economists, politicians and regulators also talk about, is essentially the real GDP growth. The real GDP growth is obtained by subtracting inflation from nominal GDP growth.

For example, if the nominal GDP growth is 11% and the inflation is 4%, then the real GDP growth is 7%, to put it in a very simple way. This is essentially done to ensure that the GDP numbers across different periods of time are comparable, by removing the inflation component from the growth numbers.

The inflation number used in this case is referred to as the GDP deflator and it deflates the nominal GDP growth to the real GDP growth. As the Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian said in a recent interview to a television channel: “They actually only measure the wholesale and consumer prices, the GDP deflator is just constructed.” The GDP deflator typically falls between the inflation measured by the wholesale price index and inflation as measured by the consumer price index. Also, given that it is a combination of both the consumer price index and the wholesale price index, it is the most broad based measure of inflation.

During the period July to September 2015, the nominal growth came in at 6%. The GDP deflator on the other hand was at − 1.4%. This was primarily because inflation as measured by the wholesale price index number has been in negative territory for a while now. For the months of July, August and September, it stood at −4.05%, −4.95% and −4.54%, respectively.

The consumer price inflation on the other hand stood at 3.78%, 3.66% and 4.41%, respectively. Given that, the GDP deflator falls somewhere in between the inflation as measured by the consumer price index and the inflation as measured by the wholesale price index, it was at −1.4%.

Real GDP as explained earlier is obtained by subtraction the GDP deflator from the nominal GDP. And this led to a real GDP growth of 7.4% (6% − (−1.4%). Given that the GDP deflator was in negative territory, instead of deflating the nominal GDP number, it has ended up inflating it. And this explains how an economic growth rate of 7.4% has been arrived at.

The question that crops up here is why has inflation as measured by the wholesale price index been in the negative territory? One reason for this has been a fall in commodity prices, which has benefited the Indian economy. India is a huge importer of commodities like oil. On the flip side, a fall in exports, stagnant consumer and industrial demand, low private investment, etc., are also reasons of falling inflation as measured by the wholesale price index.

Over and above this, the Reserve Bank of India governor, Raghuram Rajan recently talked about the capacity utilisation of the factories being at 70%. This has been falling from levels of over 75% in January to March 2013. This suggests a significant slack in the economy. And it means that businesses really do not have pricing power. This is reflected in the more or less flat corporate earnings.

All these reasons have led to a negative inflation number as measured by the wholesale price index. This negative number has led to a negative GDP deflator and that in turn has led to an inflated real GDP number.

In simple English many economic factors which are negative for the economy have ultimately ended up becoming positive for the real GDP number. That’s the long and short of it and perhaps explains why the economy is “supposedly” growing by 7.4%, even though all real economic indicators suggests otherwise.

Further, economists Pranjul Bhandari and Prithviraj Srinivas economists at HSBC Securities and Capital Markets India, have raised some doubt regarding the reliability of the GDP deflator. As they write in a research note: “Nominal GDP…grew at a much slower clip than real GDP…implying that deflators have fallen sharply into the negative territory. Parsing through details throws up more questions than answers. We find that growth in services deflator, which is infamous for high and sticky prices, was actually running below the industry deflator. This is odd because manufacturing and industry at large should be the prime beneficiaries of falling commodity prices and as such should run below services (which is largely non-tradable) inflation.”

What they mean here is that the inflation in services was higher than inflation in manufacturing. This seems odd given that manufacturing should have benefited more because of falling commodity prices.

Due to this anomaly the HSBC economists suggest that the “real growth is lower than the headline reading suggests.”

The column originally appeared on The Daily Reckoning on Dec 2, 2015