Demonetization and Its Impact on the Indian Economy

The Indian Economy which was billed as the “fastest growing major economy” in the world and the “only bright spot” among Emerging Markets seems to have slowed down even before the latest “shock therapy” of “demonetization”. Indeed, the recently released growth figures from the CSO or the Central Statistical Office considered to be the official department that releases projected, and actual growth figures (apart from the RBI or the Reserve Bank of India and the Finance Ministry) hints at a slowdown in the Indian economy even during the quarter before demonetization happened.

While this is indeed cause for concern with projected growth figures revised downwards from 7.6 % to 7.1% for the financial year ending March 2017, what is cause for greater worry and even alarm is the view among some economists including the former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh (who is a reputed economist in his own right) that the current and ongoing attempt to flush out black money would shave a good 2% of the GDP or the Gross Domestic Product.

Indeed, some think tanks and research institutes such as Ambit Research have given even more dire assessments with their projections of growth figures tending to be in the less than 3% range. Of course, the consensus view among many economists is that while there would be indeed a noticeable slowdown in the economy for a “quarter or two”, most of them seem to agree that growth would indeed bounce back and the Indian economy would regain its momentum as well as turnaround with a renewed sense of vigour due to higher tax revenues.

Having said that, one must keep in mind the fact that as per the recent estimates by some economists, nearly 90% of the total cash in circulation has come back into the banking system and hence, the stated purpose of the Demonetization exercise which was to “extinguish” black money and enable the RBI to lower its liabilities thereby providing the government with a huge dividend seems to have been belied. Of course, there are some who now argue that the Indian Banking System is now “flush with cash” and this has enabled the government to “nudge” the RBI to cut rates as well as to allow banks to pass on the benefit of ample liquidity to consumers by lowering lending rates.

However, the flip side of this has been that banks have cut their deposit rates as well which is natural considering that any cuts to lending rates have to be accompanied by cuts to deposit rates. This has resulted in a situation where banks with enough deposits seem to be encouraging spending more than saving and this can indeed create demand in the system since more money with consumers means more spending thereby leading to an uptick in sales of goods and services and which has the “multiplier effect” of resulting in more growth.

On the other hand, with more taxes being collected due to higher deposits in banks that can be taxable as well as increased compliance due to greater scrutiny and oversight by the IT (Income Tax) Department, the government too might be tempted to announce lower rates for taxes and other aspects of what are known as fiscal measures. In this context, it is worth remembering that fiscal stimulus which is by lowering taxes and providing more incentives to consumers as well as producers by boosting supply can be complemented and supplemented by the monetary stimulus which is by boosting demand for goods and services by lowering lending rates thereby putting more money in the hands of consumers.

As economic theory states, both fiscal and monetary stimulus can be implemented in isolation or taken together and hence, the Demonetization or the DeMo as it is being called might indeed act as a catalyst for growth. Having said that, one must remember that India is primarily a cash transaction based economy and hence, removing 86% of the money in circulation is indeed a “brave” move since there are reports that large sections of the informal economy have come to a grinding halt.

Moreover, there are also reports of farming sector taking a hit due to lack of cash as well as sales of automobiles and other capital goods falling even though inventories are building up. Thus, it remains to be seen as to how the growth figures for the next quarter and the overall financial year turn out to be. Given that mainstream economists tend to debate and argue both sides with equal passion and vigour, it is the case that as the cliche goes, the “proof of the pudding is in the eating” and hence, the actual growth figures have to be watched.

Of course, there are other indicators to keep track of as well in the form of various Indices such as the PMI or the Purchasing Managers Index which tracks industrial activity as well as the rates of investment and the credit pickup as well as the Inflation figures. Having said that, one must also note that given the lack of communication about some of the economic indicators from the government is indeed worrying given that Demonetization has been billed as the “Biggest Monetary Experiment” in recent times in the entire world.

The point here is that any such “disruption” must be both communicated and implemented well and given some of the concerns expressed in this regard by many commentators, one must indeed look for “straws in the wind” to make sense of the economic impact of Demonetization on the country.

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