Moody’s ups India’s rating to highest since 1991 economic reforms
Global ratings agency Moody’s revised the country’s sovereign ranking to Baa2 from Baa3 – its first upgrade in almost 14 years — citing implementation of a string of economic reforms, including demonetisation and rollout of the goods and services tax. The new rating, India’s highest since the 1991 reforms, comes as a huge boost for the government.
The markets cheered, with the rupee, bonds and equities all reacting positively. Although the rupee and the sensex gained over 1% intraday, both retracted some of their gains toward the close. The move comes close on the heels of the sharp improvement in India’s ranking in the World Bank’s ease of doing business survey.
Moody’s gives govt ammo to battle oppn
The ratings upgrade by Moody’s could position India as an attractive investment destination, apart from making it easier for companies to raise resources abroad. The ratings agency highlighted reforms such as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetisation, which it said would lead to greater formalisation of the economy. Besides upgrading India’s ratings, Moody’s also revised the outlook from positive to stable, indicating that the next upgrade might take a while coming.
“The government is midway through a wide-ranging programme of economic and institutional reforms. While a number of important reforms remain at the design phase, Moody’s believes that those implemented to date will advance the government’s objective of improving the business climate, enhancing productivity, stimulating foreign and domestic investment, and ultimately fostering strong and sustainable growth,” the agency said.
The ratings action comes days ahead of the crucial Gujarat assembly elections where the opposition Congress has sought to portray GST and demonetisation as triggers for the slowdown. The Moody’s upgrade is expected to provide ammunition to the government to blunt criticisim about its handling of the economy after growth slowed to a three-year low of 5.7% in the June quarter and rollout issues linked to GST triggered a political backlash.
Industry, stock brokers and bankers said the revised rating would accelerate fund flow to the country. “This move will now give India access to cheaper capital funds for investment, helping accelerate growth,” said Shikha Sharma, MD & CEO, Axis Bank. So far India’s cohorts in the rating table were countries like South Africa and Indonesia. With this upgrade, India has moved into the same league as Italy, Spain, Oman and the Philippines.
Moody’s Upgrade Lifts Mood On D-St & Main St
Sensex Rallies Over 400 Pts Intra-Day
The sensex started the session almost at the day’s high, rallied over 400 points (1.2%) to an intraday high at 33,521. But, due to weekend profit-taking, it closed 236 points higher at 33,343. Market players interpreted Moody’s decision as an approval by the ratings major’s for the Narendra Modiled government’s reforms-oriented initiatives, which would put the country back on a strong economic growth path. The day’s rally added about Rs 1.7 lakh crore to investors’ wealth with the BSE’s market capitalisation now just a tad above the Rs 150-lakh-crore mark.
A section of the market believes that the Moody’s action has helped changed the mood on Dalal Street, but its impact would not last long. Jimeet Modi, founder & CEO, Samco Securities said that although Moody’s upgrade has helped a pull-back in the benchmark indices, this would prove to be short-lived as economic fundamentals have not changed. “China’s substantial reduction of rating from Aa3 to A1 did not lead to a fall in the markets. On the contrary, the stock market rose 20% since the downgrade. Therefore, the current upgrade should not be read into too much, it is merely a short-term sentiment booster,” Modi said.
Riding on reforms, govt cracked the code
‘Action Should Have Come A Year Earlier’
Several key serving and former policymakers said the upgrade should have been announced one year ago given the spate of reforms. “They always said they would like the reforms to take deep roots and the reforms are sustainable. From the department of economic affairs (DEA) we had written a letter pointing out what we considered as deficiencies in their rating methodology. They had of course replied,” former economic affairs secretary Shaktikanta Das who had spearheaded the effort told TOI.
“But the fact that reforms are deep rooted and sustainable are also a matter of subjective assessment. Now, subjective assessments can vary but at the same time our point was that subjective assessments are based on objective facts. Therefore, we felt India deserved a credit rating upgrade much earlier. It has to be recognised that without this rating upgrade India was attracting a lot of investments. Now with this upgrade, together with improved ease of doing business, India emerges as a very attractive destination,” said Das.
The 2016-17 economic survey had also questioned the rating methodology of the agencies and used the rating of China and India to point out the flaws. While it was pointing out the gaps, North Block mandarins, such as Das and CEA Arvind Subramanian realized that trying too hard with the agencies may not work and instead it is better to focus on the job at hand. “We do what we do,” Subramanian was overheard telling his colleagues in the finance ministry in the afternoon, in what was probably a take on Raghuram Rajan’s latest book ‘I do what I do’.
Former NITI Aayog vice chairman Arvind Panagariya pointed to flawed methodology that rating agencies pursue. “Of course, our ratings continue to be well below what they ought to be. We have no record of ever defaulting and we are among the fastest growing large economies. But the ratings agencies seem to attach a huge negative weight to our low level of percapital income,” he said.
“Nevertheless, while we must rejoice the rare event, we must also reaffirm our resolve to continue moving ahead with reforms to create the New India that the PM envisages by 2022,” Panagariya said. Economic affairs secretary Subhas Chandra Garg said the upgrade is a credible stamp of approval of deep and comprehensive structural reforms undertaken by the government to put India on a sustainable high growth and institutional development path.
N K Singh, a former civil servant and a member of the now-wound up Planning Commission, echoed the sentiment. “It is a very strong vindication going beyond recognition of the government’s overall economic strategy. This is not the result of a single measure but a constellation of measures which includes continued fiscal consolidation, convergence of fiscal and monetary policies, and continuous fine tuning of GST.”
‘Upgrade shows reforms may boost growth’
Moody’s Investors Service vice-president (sovereign risk group) William Foster explains to TOI the rationale behind the ratings upgrade. Foster also sounds upbeat about India’s prospects, although he says the fiscal deficit could be wider than expected this year. Excerpts:
VP (SOVEREIGN RISK GROUP), MOODY’S
What prompted the ratings upgrade?
How do you expect growth to pan out?
Longer term, India’s growth potential is significantly higher than most other Baa-rated sovereigns. The reforms — aimed at improving the business environment, increasing formalisation of the economy or anchoring stable inflation — contribute to further enhancing the economy’s capacity to absorb shocks. We have revised our GDP growth forecast down to take into account the immediate impact of demonetisation and disruptions related to GST. We forecast real GDP growth to moderate to 6.7% in the year ending in March 2018. However, as disruption fades, we expect to see a rebound growth to 7.5% in the next fiscal year.
Will the reforms undertaken by the government be enough to tackle the problem in the banking sector and revive growth?
The recapitalisation of public sector banks announced last month should enable them to move forward with the resolution of NPLs (non-performing loans) through comprehensive write-downs of impaired loans and increase lending gradually. This represents a step forward in addressing a key weakness in India’s credit profile. Over the medium term, if met by rising demand for investment and loans, the measures will help foster more robust growth, in turn supporting fiscal consolidation.
When do you expect private sector investments to pick up?
Private sector investment has been weak, likely hampered by high corporate debt in investment-intensive sectors and ongoing challenges in the business environment and infrastructure gaps. Over time, measures implemented and planned such as GST removing barriers to trade within India, steps aimed at enhancing the business environment, encouraging foreign direct investment, providing greater visibility about future inflation will contribute to higher investment. Most of these measures will take time.
The FM has said that the fiscal glide path may be affected due to the structural changes India has undertaken. Do you think the fiscal deficit target for this year will be missed?
We forecast the general government budget deficit (state and Centre) at 6.5% of GDP this fiscal year, similar to the last two fiscal years. Lower government revenues than planned in the Budget and somewhat higher government spending could lead to a deficit somewhat wider than targeted. However, we think that the government’s commitment to fiscal consolidation remains. Over time, measures aimed at broadening the tax base and improving the efficiency of government spending will contribute to a gradual narrowing of the deficit. Together with robust and sustained nominal GDP growth, this would be conducive to a gradual decline in the government debt burden.
-Mumbai, 18 November, 2017