Global Significance of Chinese Investments. My Deliberations in Mumbai (04/03/2018)

Legends:

What are fitted values in statistics?

The values for an output variable that have been predicted by a model fitted to a set of data. a statistical is generally an equation, the graph of which includes or approximates a majority of data points in a given data set. Fitted values are generated by extending the model of past known data points in order to predict unknown values. These are also called predicted values.

What are outliers in statistics?

These are observation points that are distant from other observations and may arise due to variability in the measurement  or it may indicate experimental errors. These may also arise due to heavy tailed distribution.

What is LBS (Locational Banking statistics)?

The locational banking statistics gather quarterly data on international financial claims and liabilities of bank offices in the reporting countries. Total positions are broken down by currency, by sector (bank and non-bank), by country of residence of the counterparty, and by nationality of reporting banks. Both domestically-owned and foreign-owned banking offices in the reporting countries record their positions on a gross (unconsolidated) basis, including those vis-à-vis own affiliates in other countries. This is consistent with the residency principle of national accounts, balance of payments and external debt statistics.

What is CEIC?

Census and Economic Information Centre

What are spillover effects?

These refer to the impact that seemingly unrelated events in one nation can have on the economies of other nations. since 2009, China has emerged a major source of spillover effects. This is because Chinese manufacturers have driven much of the global commodity demand growth since 2000. With China now being the second largest economy in the world, the number of countries that experience spillover effects from a Chinese slowdown is significant. China slowing down has a palpable impact on worldwide trade in metals, energy, grains and other commodities.

How does China deal with its Non-Performing Assets?

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China adopted a four-point strategy to address the problems. The first was to reduce risks by strengthening banks and spearheading reforms of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) by reducing their level of debt. The Chinese ensured that the nationalized banks were strengthened by raising disclosure standards across the board.

The second important measure was enacting laws that allowed the creation of asset management companies, equity participation and most importantly, asset-based securitization. The “securitization” approach is being taken by the Chinese to handle even their current NPA issue and is reportedly being piloted by a handful of large banks with specific emphasis on domestic investors. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), this is a prudent and preferred strategy since it gets assets off the balance sheets quickly and allows banks to receive cash which could be used for lending.

The third key measure that the Chinese took was to ensure that the government had the financial loss of debt “discounted” and debt equity swaps were allowed in case a growth opportunity existed. The term “debt-equity swap” (or “debt-equity conversion”) means the conversion of a heavily indebted or financially distressed company’s debt into equity or the acquisition by a company’s creditors of shares in that company paid for by the value of their loans to the company. Or, to put it more simply, debt-equity swaps transfer bank loans from the liabilities section of company balance sheets to common stock or additional paid-in capital in the shareholders’ equity section.

Let us imagine a company, as on the left-hand side of the below figure, with assets of 500, bank loans of 300, miscellaneous debt of 200, common stock of 50 and a carry-forward loss of 50. By converting 100 of its debt into equity (transferring 50 to common stock and 50 to additional paid-in capital), thereby improving the balance sheet position and depleting additional paid-in capital (or using the net income from the following year), as on the right-hand side of the figure, the company escapes insolvency. The former creditors become shareholders, suddenly acquiring 50% of the voting shares and control of the company.

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The first benefit that results from this is the improvement in the company’s finances produced by the reduction in debt. The second benefit (from the change in control) is that the creditors become committed to reorganizing the company, and the scope for moral hazard by the management is limited. Another benefit is one peculiar to equity: a return (i.e., repayment) in the form of an increase in enterprise value in the future. In other words, the fact that the creditors stand to make a return on their original investment if the reorganization is successful and the value of the business rises means that, like the debtor company, they have more to gain from this than from simply writing off their loans. If the reorganization is not successful, the equity may, of course, prove worthless.

The fourth measure they took was producing incentives like tax breaks, exemption from administrative fees and transparent evaluations norms. These strategic measures ensured the Chinese were on top of the NPA issue in the early 2000s, when it was far larger than it is today. The noteworthy thing is that they were indeed successful in reducing NPAs. How is this relevant to India and how can we address the NPA issue more effectively?

For now, capital controls and the paying down of foreign currency loans imply that there are few channels through which a foreign-induced debt sell-off could trigger a collapse in asset prices. Despite concerns in 2016 over capital outflow, China’s foreign exchange reserves have stabilised.

But there is a long-term cost. China is now more vulnerable to capital outflow. Errors and omissions on its national accounts remain large, suggesting persistent unrecorded capital outflows. This loss of capital should act as a salutary reminder to those who believe that China can take the lead on globalisation or provide the investment or currency business to fuel things like a post-Brexit economy.

The Chinese government’s focus on debt management will mean tighter controls on speculative international investments. It will also provide a stern test of China’s centrally planned financial system for the foreseeable future.

Global Significance of Chinese investments

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Financial Fragility in the Margins. Thought of the Day 114.0

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If micro-economic crisis is caused by the draining of liquidity from an individual company (or household), macro-economic crisis or instability, in the sense of a reduction in the level of activity in the economy as a whole, is usually associated with an involuntary outflow of funds from companies (or households) as a whole. Macro-economic instability is a ‘real’ economic phenomenon, rather than a monetary contrivance, the sense in which it is used, for example, by the International Monetary Fund to mean price inflation in the non-financial economy. Neo-classical economics has a methodological predilection for attributing all changes in economic activity to relative price changes, specifically the price changes that undoubtedly accompany economic fluctuations. But there is sufficient evidence to indicate that falls in economic activity follow outflows of liquidity from the industrial and commercial company sector. Such outflows then lead to the deflation of economic activity that is the signal feature of economic recession and depression.

Let us start with a consideration of how vulnerable financial futures market themselves are to illiquidity, since this would indicate whether the firms operating in the market are ever likely to need to realize claims elsewhere in order to meet their liabilities to the market. Paradoxically, the very high level of intra-broker trading is a safety mechanism for the market, since it raises the velocity of circulation of whatever liquidity there is in the market: traders with liabilities outside the market are much more likely to have claims against other traders to set against those claims. This may be illustrated by considering the most extreme case of a futures market dominated by intra-broker trading, namely a market in which there are only two dealers who buy and sell financial futures contracts only between each other as rentiers, in other words for a profit which may include their premium or commission. On the expiry date of the contracts, conventionally set at three-monthly intervals in actual financial futures markets, some of these contracts will be profitable, some will be loss-making. Margin trading, however, requires all the profitable contracts to be fully paid up in order for their profit to be realized. The trader whose contracts are on balance profitable therefore cannot realize his profits until he has paid up his contracts with the other broker. The other broker will return the money in paying up his contracts, leaving only his losses to be raised by an inflow of money. Thus the only net inflow of money that is required is the amount of profit (or loss) made by the traders. However, an accommodating gross inflow is needed in the first instance in order to make the initial margin payments and settle contracts so that the net profit or loss may be realized.

The existence of more traders, and the system for avoiding counterparty risk commonly found in most futures market, whereby contracts are made with a central clearing house, introduce sequencing complications which may cause problems: having a central clearing house avoids the possibility that one trader’s default will cause other traders to default on their obligations. But it also denies traders the facility of giving each other credit, and thereby reduces the velocity of circulation of whatever liquidity is in the market. Having to pay all obligations in full to the central clearing house increases the money (or gross inflow) that broking firms and investors have to put into the market as margin payments or on settlement days. This increases the risk that a firm with large net liabilities in the financial futures market will be obliged to realize assets in other markets to meet those liabilities. In this way, the integrity of the market is protected by increasing the effective obligations of all traders, at the expense of potentially unsettling claims on other markets.

This risk is enhanced by the trading of rentiers, or banks and entrepreneurs operating as rentiers, hedging their futures contracts in other financial markets. However, while such incidents generate considerable excitement around the markets at the time of their occurrence, there is little evidence that they could cause involuntary outflows from the corporate sector on such a scale as to produce recession in the real economy. This is because financial futures are still used by few industrial and commercial companies, and their demand for financial derivatives instruments is limited by the relative expense of these instruments and their own exposure to changes in financial parameters (which may more easily be accommodated by holding appropriate stocks of liquid assets, i.e., liquidity preference). Therefore, the future of financial futures depends largely on the interest in them of the contemporary rentiers in pension, insurance and various other forms of investment funds. Their interest, in turn, depends on how those funds approach their ‘maturity’.

However, the decline of pension fund surpluses poses important problems for the main securities markets of the world where insurance and pension funds are now the dominant investors, as well as for more peripheral markets like emerging markets, venture capital and financial futures. A contraction in the net cash inflow of investment funds will be reflected in a reduction in the funds that they are investing, and a greater need to realize assets when a change in investment strategy is undertaken. In the main securities markets of the world, a reduction in the ‘new money’ that pension and insurance funds are putting into those securities markets will slow down the rate of growth of the prices in those markets. How such a fall in the institutions’ net cash inflow will affect the more marginal markets, such as emerging markets, venture capital and financial futures, depends on how institutional portfolios are managed in the period of declining net contributions inflows.

In general, investment managers in their own firms, or as employees of merchant or investment banks, compete to manage institutions’ funds. Such competition is likely to increase as investment funds approach ‘maturity’, i.e., as their cash outflows to investors, pensioners or insurance policyholders, rises faster than their cash inflow from contributions and premiums, so that there are less additional funds to be managed. In principle, this should not affect financial futures markets, in the first instance, since, as argued above, the short-term nature of their instruments and the large proportion in their business of intra-market trade makes them much less dependent on institutional cash inflows. However, this does not mean that they would be unaffected by changes in the portfolio preferences of investment funds in response to lower returns from the main securities markets. Such lower returns make financial investments like financial futures, venture capital and emerging markets, which are more marginal because they are so hazardous, more attractive to normally conservative fund managers. Investment funds typically put out sections of portfolios to specialist fund managers who are awarded contracts to manage a section according to the soundness of their reputation and the returns that they have made hitherto in portfolios under their management. A specialist fund manager reporting high, but not abnormal, profits in a fund devoted to financial futures, is likely to attract correspondingly more funds to manage when returns are lower in the main markets’ securities, even if other investors in financial futures experienced large losses. In this way, the maturing of investment funds could cause an increased inflow of rentier funds into financial futures markets.

An inflow of funds into a financial market entails an increase in liabilities to the rentiers outside the market supplying those funds. Even if profits made in the market as a whole also increase, so too will losses. While brokers commonly seek to hedge their positions within the futures market, rentiers have much greater possibilities of hedging their contracts in another market, where they have assets. An inflow into futures markets means that on any settlement day there will therefore be larger net outstanding claims against individual banks or investment funds in respect of their financial derivatives contracts. With margin trading, much larger gross financial inflows into financial futures markets will be required to settle maturing contracts. Some proportion of this will require the sale of securities in other markets. But if liquidity in integrated cash markets for securities is reduced by declining net inflows into pension funds, a failure to meet settlement obligations in futures markets is the alternative to forced liquidation of other assets. In this way futures markets will become more fragile.

Moreover, because of the hazardous nature of financial futures, high returns for an individual firm are difficult to sustain. Disappointment is more likely to be followed by the transfer of funds to management in some other peripheral market that shows a temporary high profit. While this should not affect capacity utilization in the futures market, because of intra-market trade, it is likely to cause much more volatile trading, and an increase in the pace at which new instruments are introduced (to attract investors) and fall into disuse. Pension funds whose returns fall below those required to meet future liabilities because of such instability would normally be required to obtain additional contributions from employers and employees. The resulting drain on the liquidity of the companies affected would cause a reduction in their fixed capital investment. This would be a plausible mechanism for transmitting fragility in the financial system into full-scale decline in the real economy.

The proliferation of financial futures markets has only had been marginally successful in substituting futures contracts for Keynesian liquidity preference as a means of accommodating uncertainty. A closer look at the agents in those markets and their market mechanisms indicates that the price system in them is flawed and trading hazardous risks in them adds to uncertainty rather than reducing it. The hedging of financial futures contracts in other financial markets means that the resulting forced liquidations elsewhere in the financial system are a real source of financial instability that is likely to worsen as slower growth in stock markets makes speculative financial investments appear more attractive. Capital-adequacy regulations are unlikely to reduce such instability, and may even increase it by increasing the capital committed to trading in financial futures. Such regulations can also create an atmosphere of financial security around these markets that may increase unstable speculative flows of liquidity into the markets. For the economy as a whole, the real problems are posed by the involvement of non-financial companies in financial futures markets. With the exception of a few spectacular scandals, non-financial companies have been wary of using financial futures, and it is important that they should continue to limit their interest in financial futures markets. Industrial and commercial companies, which generate their own liquidity through trade and production and hence have more limited financial assets to realize in order to meet financial futures liabilities in times of distress, are more vulnerable to unexpected outflows of liquidity in proportion to their increased exposure to financial markets. The liquidity which they need to set aside to meet such unexpected liabilities inevitably means a reduced commitment to investment in fixed capital and new technology.

Bank Recapitalization. Some Scattered Thoughts on Efficacies.

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If we are still thinking of Demonetization and GST as speed breakers to economy, which entirely isn’t false, the what could one say of Bank Recapitalization? Is this a master stroke of sorts to salvaging sensibility before the present ruling dispensation of BJP is red-faced before 2019 GE? Or, is Bank Recapitalization is all about safeguarding the dismal dip in the growth and especially so when the world economy is on an ascent, despite warnings of a Minsky Moment? What are the challenges to Bank Recapitalization and how would these face up to the challenges of the NPAs and PSB consolidation? These are pressing questions that simply cannot be answered by a political will getting catalyzed, but requires a deeper economic drift and traction.
So, if Bank Recapitalization to the tune of Rs. 2.1 lakh crore infusion into the public sector banks were to come through, and which it would, the budgetary allocations are a mere chunk, while raising money from the market too isn’t that major a factor. The roost is to be ruled by recapitalization bonds, or recap bonds, in short. What then are the challenges of this methodology?
Technically, in the current context, there is really not much of a risk in issuing recapitalization bonds. The outside risk of recapitalization bonds is that this move may tighten liquidity in the system if all the surplus liquidity in the banking system goes into its capital. However, since recapitalization bonds are callable in nature, this risk should not be too great. Also, the debt markets are now sufficiently deep and broad and can support the funding needs of the India corporates and hence that is unlikely to be a major issue. The only concern is that rating agencies globally will look at recapitalization as a form of off-balance sheet financing, which does not give them too much comfort. Many rating agencies look at such bonds as a means of raising debt that is not visible in the fiscal deficit. This lack of visibility is what might be the hurdles race for the government. But, then is there a way out?
Alternatively, what if the government were not to recapitalize? Then, it can look to postponing its adherence to Basel III from 2019. But that will be seen by global markets as an admission by the Government of India that it does not have the liquidity to capitalize its banks. That may not go down well with foreign investors. Under these circumstances, infusing capital into the banks through the issue of recapitalization bonds may be the best option available!
What are the main economic ramifications as a result of these? The government’s plan at recapitalization would have little impact on its target to shrink the shortfall to 3.2 percent of the GDP because the IMF rules classify such debt as “below the line” financing. Only interest expenses would be added to the fiscal deficit, and this is estimated at about Rs. 90 billion or 0.4 percent of the total budgeted spending. Technically, however, India’s accounting rules require the bonds to be included in the budget deficit, so the government would reclassify them later as off-balance sheet items. The government is yet to disclose the details on the structure and pricing of the bonds, as well as how it would raise the rest of the cash. These will determine if there is a liquidity squeeze. If the measures do revive credit growth, inflation may accelerate as well, limiting scope to lower the policy rate. When it comes to the question of who would buy these bonds, the answer is probably banks themselves, who are flush with deposits following the note ban. Banks can then cleverly invest these funds in the recap bonds which will then be ultimately routed back as equity in the system. This would ensure that the bond market would not be impacted by such a large issuance for the private sector issuers.
Now, these are serious questions questioning some of the advocacy groups have to come to terms with. For one thing, in my opinion, mergers and acquisitions to consolidate PSBs are to be put back on the back foot, for recapitalization has at least punctuated to for the time being. Second is credit growth, or more precisely credit demand, which would be induced with an energy following this exercise. Third, and most importantly, the lending might gain velocity, but only after April 2018, since banks would require a correctional facility on their balance sheets. This lending would somehow be channeled towards infrastructure giants like Sagarmala and Bharatmala with a key difference being that the Government might prioritize Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) over Hybrid Annuity Model like the PPP for the obvious risks associated with the latter subsequently feeding into the NPAs and/or stressed assets. 

Indecent Bazaars. Thought of the Day 113.0

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Peripheral markets may be defined as markets which generate only a small proportion of their financial inflows from local business and investors, but which attract the interest of ‘global’ investors. Emerging markets and markets for financial exotica such as financial derivatives are examples of such peripheral markets. Because emerging markets are largely dependent upon attracting international funds in order to generate increases in securities prices and capital gains which will attract further funds, they are particularly good examples of the principles of Ponzi finance at work in securities markets.

A common characteristic feature of peripheral markets is that they have no history of returns to financial investment on the scale on which finance is drawn to those markets in a time of capital market inflation. Such returns in the future have to be inferred on the basis of conjecture and fragmentary information. Investment decisions are therefore more dependent on sentiment, rather than reason. Any optimism is quickly justified by the rapid increase in asset prices in response to even a modest excess net inflow of money into such a market.

Emerging markets illustrate this very clearly. Such markets exist in developing and semi-industrialized countries with relatively undeveloped pensions and insurance institutions, principally because only a small proportion of households earn enough to be able to put aside long-term savings. The first fund manager comes upon such a market in the conviction that a change of government or government policy, or some temporary change in commodity prices, has opened a cornucopia of profitable opportunities and therefore warrants the dismissal of a history of economic, financial and political instability. If he or she is able with buying and enthusiasm to attract other speculators and fund managers to enter the market, they may drive up asset prices and make the largest capital gains. The second and third fund managers to buy into that market also make capital gains. The emulatory competition of trading on reputation while competing for returns makes international investment managers especially prone to this kind of ‘herd’ investment.

For a while such capital inflows into the market make everyone happy: international fund managers are able to show good returns from the funds in their care; finance theorists can reassure themselves that greater financial risks are compensated by higher returns; the government of the country in which the emerging market is located can sell its bonds and public sector enterprises to willing foreign investors and use the proceeds to balance its budget and repay its debts; the watchdogs of financial prudence in the International Monetary Fund can hail the revival of finance, the government’s commitment to private enterprise and apparent fiscal responsibility; state enterprises, hitherto stagnating because of under-investment by over-indebted governments, suddenly find themselves in the private sector commanding seemingly limitless opportunities for raising finance; the country’s currency after years of depreciation acquires a gilt-edged stability as dollars (the principal currency of international investment) flow in to be exchanged for local currency with which to buy local securities; the central bank accumulates dollars in exchange for the local currency that it issues to enable foreign investors to invest in the local markets and, with larger reserves, secures a new ease in managing its foreign liabilities; the indigenous middle and professional classes who buy financial and property (real estate) assets in time for the boom are enriched and for once cease their perennial grumbling at the sordid reality of life in a poor country. In this conjuncture the most banal shibboleths of enterprise and economic progress under capitalism appear like the very essence of worldly wisdom.

Only in such a situation of capital market inflation are the supposed benefits of foreign direct investment realized. Such investment by multinational companies is widely held to improve the ‘quality’ or productivity of local labour, management and technical know-how in less developed countries, whose technology and organization of labour lags behind that of the more industrialized countries. But only the most doltish and ignorant peasant would not have his or her productivity increased by being set to work with a machine of relatively recent vintage under the guidance of a manager familiar with that machine and the kind of work organization that it requires. It is more doubtful whether the initial increase in productivity can be realized without a corresponding increase in the export market (developing countries have relatively small home markets). It is even more doubtful if the productivity increase can be repeated without the replacement of the machinery by even newer machinery.

The favourable conjuncture in the capital markets of developing countries can be even more temporary. There are limits on the extent to which even private sector companies may take on financial liabilities and privatization is merely a system for transferring such liabilities from the government to the private sector without increasing the financial resources of the companies privatized. But to sustain capital gains in the emerging stock market, additional funds have to continue to flow in buying new liabilities of the government or the private sector, or buying out local investors. When new securities cease to attract international fund managers, the inflow stops. Sometimes this happens when the government privatization drive pauses, because the government runs out of attractive state enterprises or there are political and procedural difficulties in selling them. A fall in the proceeds from privatization may reveal the government’s underlying fiscal deficit, causing the pundits of international finance to sense the odour of financial unsoundness. More commonly rising imports and general price inflation, due to the economic boom set off by the inflow of foreign funds, arouse just such an odour in the noses of those pundits. Such financial soundness is a subjective view. Even if nothing is wrong in the country concerned, the prospective capital gain and yield in some other market need only rise above the expected inflation and yield of the country, to cause a capital outflow which will usually be justified in retrospect by an appeal to perceived, if not actual, financial disequilibrium.

Ponzi financial structures are characterized by ephemeral liquidity. At the time when money is coming into the markets they appear to be just the neo-classical ideal of market perfection, with lots of buyers and sellers scrambling for bargains and arbitrage profits. At the moment when disinvestment takes hold the true nature of peripheral markets and their ephemeral liquidity is revealed as trades which previously sped through in the frantic paper chase for profits are now frustrated. This too is particularly apparent in emerging markets. In order to sell, a buyer is necessary. If the majority of investors in a market also wish to sell, then sales cannot be executed for want of a buyer and the apparently perfect market liquidity dries up. The crash of the emerging stock market is followed by the fall in the exchange value of the local currency. Those international investors that succeeded in selling now have local currency which has to be converted into dollars if the proceeds of the sale are to be repatriated, or invested elsewhere. Exchange through the local banking system may now be frustrated if it has inadequate dollar reserves: a strong possibility if the central bank has been using dollars to service foreign debts. In spite of all the reassurance that this time it will be different because capital inflows are secured on financial instruments issued by the private sector, international investors are at this point as much at the mercy of the central bank and the government of an emerging market as international banks were at the height of the sovereign debt crisis. Moreover, the greater the success of the peripheral market in attracting funds, and hence the greater the boom in prices in that market, the greater is the desired outflow when it comes. With the fall in liquidity of financial markets in developing countries comes a fall in the liquidity of foreign direct investment, making it difficult to secure appropriate local financial support or repatriate profits.

Another factor which contributes to the fragility of peripheral markets is the opaqueness of financial accounting in them, in the sense that however precise and discriminating may be the financial accounting conventions, rules and reporting, they do not provide accurate indicators of the financial prospects of particular investments. In emerging markets this is commonly supposed to be because they lack the accounting regulations and expertise which supports the sophisticated integrated financial markets of the industrialized countries. In those industrialized countries, where accounting procedures are supposed to be much more transparent, peripheral markets such as venture capital and financial futures still suffer from accounting inadequacies because financial innovation introduces liabilities that have no history and which are not included in conventional accounts (notably the so-called ‘off-balance sheet’ liabilities). More important than these gaps in financial reporting is the volatility of profits from financial investment in such peripheral markets, and the absence of any stable relationship between profits from trading in their instruments and the previous history of those instruments or the financial performance of the company issuing them. Thus, even where financial records are comprehensive, accurate and revealed, they are a poor indicator of prospective returns from investments in the securities of peripheral markets.

With more than usually unreliable financial data, trading in those markets is much more based on reputation than on any systematic financial analysis: the second and third investor in such a market is attracted by the reputation of the first and subsequently the second investor. Because of the direct connection between financial inflows and values in securities markets, the more trading takes place on the basis of reputation the less of a guide to prospective returns is afforded by financial analysis. Peripheral markets are therefore much more prone to ‘ramping’ than other markets.

Why would such a crisis of withdrawal not occur, at least not on such a scale, in the more locally integrated capital markets of the advanced industrialised countries? First of all, integrated capital markets such as those of the UK, and the US are the domestic base for international investors. In periods of financial turbulence, they are more likely to have funds repatriated to them than to have funds taken out of them. Second, institutional investors tend to be more responsive to pressure to be ‘responsible investors’ in their home countries. In large measure this is because home securities make up the vast majority of investment fund portfolios. Ultimately, investment institutions will use their liquidity to protect the markets in which most of their portfolio is based. Finally, the locally integrated markets of the advanced industrialized countries have investing institutions with far greater wealth than the developing or semi-industrialized countries. Those markets are home for the pension funds which dominate the world markets. Among their wealth are deposits and other liquid assets which may be easily converted to support a stock market by buying securities. The poorer countries of the world have even poorer pension funds, which could not support their markets against an outflow due to portfolio switches by international investors.

Thus integrated markets are more ‘secure’ in that they are less prone to collapse than emerging or, more generally, peripheral markets. But precisely because of the large amount of trade already concentrated in the integrated markets, prices in them are much less likely to respond to investment fund inflows from abroad. Pension and insurance fund practice is to extrapolate those capital gains into the future for the purposes of determining the solvency of those funds. However, those gains were obtained because of a combination of inflation, the increased scope of funded pensions and the flight of funds from peripheral markets.

BRICS Bloc, New Development Bank and Where the Heck is it

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Some of this post is a bit dated, as this was meant to be written as an editorial for a BRICS Journal way back towards the fag end of 2015, and a lot of water has flown under the bridge ever since, with India holding the BRICS Summit in October last year in Goa, which also saw parallel sessions being organized by Peoples’ BRICS Forum, a conglomerate of civil society organizations from BRICS member countries raising concerns over the possible funding patterns the Bloc would be undertaking at the expense of environmental degradations and human rights violations. So, let us get on with it:

The BRICS bloc, a conglomerate of five of the biggest emerging economies is home to 43% of the world’s population with a share of 22% of the global GDP. These staggering statistics make Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa truly a force to reckon with. The bloc’s initiative to erect a development finance institution in the form of New Development Bank (NDB), is often attributed in the West as a reaction to the institutional sclerosis of Washington-DC-dominated World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whereas it is a catalyst complementing rather than challenging the Bretton Woods institutions or the Asian Development Bank in fighting poverty in the emerging economies. Whatever be the attributions, the logic of fighting global poverty is itself steeped in controversies ranging from applying mathematical and statistical juggleries to determine the number of poor according to standards that are a far cut from realities on ground, to economic measures built upon the plinth of models that on many occasions forgo the human capital in a relentless pursuit of development agenda, which is meaningless if only persevered in concentrating on the extreme poverty and purblind to the gap yielding inequalities.

The world is watching with keenness on the mushrooming of New Development Bank, which was officially launched in Shanghai in July, 2016. What would be the underlying rationale of this model? How and where would the finances flow? If the investments were complemented to fill a vast infrastructural gap, how would the safeguards be architected to prevent socio-economic and environmental violations on ecologies? What of the democratic set-up that underlies the formation of this bloc and subsequently of NDB getting hijacked by the political and economic clout and prowess of China? These have been some of the pressing and contentious questions that could either derail the rationale behind this initiative or leave no stone unturned in replicating the western-dominated financial institutions that find themselves increasingly in the eye of the storm for fostering irreversible violations and damages. Aside from that, China’s growing eminence in G20 is a step to rival G8’s macroeconomy, international trade and energy capitalisation lending it legitimacy for a foreign policy geared towards a north-south dialogue in addition to the south-south dialogue efficacious through BRICS and G20. Moreover, China views G20 as an economic platform with other emerging countries on board for a resolve on international affairs. G20 along with BRICS Bank is a contrivance for a financial architecture that focuses on development issues on the one hand, and internationalising its currency on the other. Clearly, it is not a case of what Deng Xiaoping called for “China keeping a low profile”. So, is it merely a speculative materialism that is the engine behind China’s true intentions?

The Asian Development Bank has calculated an infrastructural gap worth $8 trillion in the Asia Pacific needing to be filled by 2020. This is where NDB would cash-in most, and likely create a polarity between infrastructural funding and other developmental concerns. But, what is infrastructure is as hazy as the fuzzy logic of the calculated gap. It is a prerogative to continuously industrialise the BRICS, of building and upgrading ports, gateways, intelligent transportation and communication, power generational and distributional capabilities to augment developmental agenda, which incidentally sets parameters for economic prosperity, the fruits of which permeate to the hitherto-considered peripheries in a fight against poverty. However, the Articles, according to NDB President KV Kamath have a purpose sketched out for the Institution, “To mobilise resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies, complementing the existing efforts of multilateral and regional development banks.” This is imperative of sustainability, pragmatism, innovation and speed of execution, of which the last could accelerate in a more experimental manner. The speed could pierce through bureaucratic red tapes, blunt operating procedures, and intensify delivery of massive infrastructural projects. Dang Xiaoping, in a rather philosophically pensive manner referred to reform as a process of feeling stones while crossing the river. Although, this should be the dictum NDB needs to seriously gravitate to, dangers of transgressions are lurking heavily.

The BRICS economies are undergoing economic upheavals, and China, the second largest economic power in the world with a nominal GDP more than the rest of bloc’s combined GDP is seeing NDB along with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as cardinal tools of its foreign policy initiatives. All of the three have a vision to revive China’s economic might through One Belt One Road (OBOR) and Silk Route through regional collaboration on the one hand and transcending state boundaries for facilitating trade links on the other. How would this augur for India is as important a question as how would the Government in India prioritize its policies for the NDB to plug in? The Government has sockets in place to provide the necessary plug ins, be they in the form of new tax allocations providing more funding for the states in order to empower growth, set budgetary allocations in order to expedite transport, communication and power capacities, proposal to create National Investment in Infrastructure Fund with a base capital of $3.25 billion, to planning and implementing regulatory reforms keeping a steady eye on growing influx of private capital and associated technologies to finally expunge bottlenecks to growth-led development model as a result. This is crucial, not just for India but for the entire bloc as a whole, since NDB’s priorities will be in line with the national development banks of member countries in effectuating the removal institutional roadblocks to growth. With a stated lending of up to $34 billion every year to begin with for filling up the huge infrastructural gap, NDB will act as an additional source of funding for India where the estimated gap in infrastructure is up north of $500 billion till 2020.

For the vast number of Indians, reality is far from development modelled on growth as envisaged by the political machinery at the centre. Growth forecasts have been revised downwards fearing a significant deceleration in exports and a capital flight from the country, courtesy unfavourable investment climes and a pitiable ease of doing business standards. While the Index of Economic Freedom ranks the country at 128 on a scale that defines the economy as situated in a mostly “unfree” zone, socio-economic concerns like malnutrition, falling public health indices, extreme poverty and growing inequality continue to plague the country. NDB’s role will be put under an intense scanner in addressing such internal contradictions of a magnitude that cannot be resolved merely by an external makeover tied to a growth that belittles its own citizenry. Unless Human Development Index, which emphasises life expectancy, education and income and GINI Coefficient Index, which measures inequality representing income distribution to country’s citizens are brought to affect the rating agencies’ take on India’s investment climate, Government’s relentless pursuit of developmental ends would never reach the multitude of people caught between the scylla and charybdis of regimental vagaries.

(DATED) With the upcoming India-Africa Summit to be hosted by New Delhi in October, there is a likelihood of trade relations between the two regions getting an uplift. Not only are India-Africa relations much softer compared to China’s scrambling for the African continent, it could also signal the way NDB gets projected by India in tune with its own foreign policy and diversify trade patterns seeking inroads into natural resources rich countries to augment a new investment destination for the increasing global profile of Indian corporate sector. As the Bank’s focus is concentrated on private investments, this gears in well with India’s investment in Africa in services and manufacturing sectors, roping in a vast population of non-resident Indians on the continent in a drive to foster economic regionalism on the one hand and throw around diplomatic weight on the other in a benign manner underlying India’s unique power equations. NDB could be a strong node bringing these realities to fruition, by promoting a reform in global economic governance with far-reaching significance and consequences. What remains to be seen is how much the NDB will abide by operation guidelines and procedures to see itself as not only different from other multilateral development institutions in terms of expediency, but also hold true to safeguards that protect vulnerabilities rather than exploiting and expropriating them. The latter is still a desiderata!!

Where is it all headed now?

The bank is planning to raise funds by issuing bonds in India, denominated in the local currency, the rupee, after to issued renminbi-denominated bonds in China in 2016. “In 2017, predominantly we’ll aim at taking up more lending tools to raise another $2.5bn for projects spreading over our member countries that are sustainable and do economic good. Virtually, we will try to double the lending of 2016 this year. What we are doing here at NDB is only a fraction of the need. Beyond lending, we would like to act as a catalyst, to get more parties involved in the lending process for projects that contribute to economic growth and sustainability,” said Kamath.

Major challenges for the bank lie in the changing global economic situation, which is seeing interest rates rise in developed countries. But, developing countries’ fast economic growth will help offset the effects, said he. Kamath also called the China-led OBOR a sound initiative that would bring benefits across several countries by investing in a significant way and creating economic momentum. “The program also brings synergy, making regions come together all along the Belt and the Road,” he said. Further he called, “We see it as something that will clearly spur economic activity in the region, and we think that the program is going to succeed.” On to renewable energy, where the focus seems to be concentrated….

In October last year, a new strategic report was produced by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), reviewing how successful the NDB has been so far. The report looked both at the increased renewable capacity of all five BRICS countries, but also the economic strain of such an ambitious project, a strain that is clear from the funding gap already present.

The NDB set targets tailored to each of the BRICS countries, taking into account their plans and their existing renewable capacity. The bank is designed to offer loans quickly and flexibly to the BRICS countries to make achieving these possible. “They had financed about $911m and that they had declared intent to finance or increase their loan by about $1.2bn every year,” says IEEFA consultant and the report’s author Jai Sharda. “So [the NDB is providing] about 11% of the public capital required.”

The report uses the concept of blended finance to work out the progress made and the progress required by the BRICS countries. “The concept of blended finance is basically built on the idea that when there is public money going into a sector it draws private money into that sector,” Sharda explains. “For every one dollar of public finance – the sort of finance being provided by the New Development Bank – it is estimated that it will make four dollars more of private money. So we built our estimations on that basis.”

Developing countries are some of the biggest consumers of energy in the world, as expanding a country’s infrastructure is energy-intensive. Economic development often requires large-scale industrialisation, such as we have seen in China, which has led to a more prosperous economy but also meant that China is the largest producer of CO2 in the world. All five of the BRICS countries rank in the top 20 polluters.

As such, the NDB has set goals to reduce the BRICS environmental impact while increasing the amount of energy they produce through renewable energy sources. Brazil is arguably in the best position to do this, as in 2015, 74% of its energy came from renewable sources. According to the IEEFA’s report, “Brazil’s 2024 Energy Plan envisages an increase in total installed renewable capacity, including large hydropower, from 106.4GW in 2014 to 173.6GW in 2024.”

India, China and South Africa have all set impressive targets, and have begun work to reach them. India intends to increase its renewable energy production by 40% by 2030, as well as reducing emissions intensity by 33%-35% over 2005 levels. China’s targets are even greater, as it plans “to reduce emission intensity by 60%-65% over 2005 levels”, the IEEFA report says. “China is estimated to increase its solar capacity to 127GW by 2020 from 43GW at the end of 2015, and wind capacity from 145GW in 2015 to 250GW by 2020.” South Africa has the furthest to go of the BRICS, as at present it gets 94% of its energy from fossil fuels but has plans to install a further 17.8GW of renewable energy capacity by 2020.

Russia is slightly different to the other BRICS countries as it has technically already met its target. Russia’s target was to reduce emissions by 25%-30% over 1990 levels, and emissions are currently around 40% lower than 1990 levels. However, the country is planning a 4.5% increase in the amount of renewable energy it produces by 2020.

All five BRICS countries have made progress, although to different extents. Brazil currently produces the most renewable energy, with 74% of its energy coming from renewable sources, the vast majority coming from large hydroelectric plants.

Sharda suggests that Brazil’s current success is, in part, due to its long-standing history of renewable projects, necessitated by a lack of coal: “I think Brazil has been better off than especially China and India in implementing more renewable energy because they lacked fossil fuel alternatives.”

Despite their fast-growing economies, India and China have historically been slower to develop their renewables sectors. “India and China have massive amounts of coal deposits, similarly Russia has large amounts of oil and gas deposits, and South Africa is one of the biggest exporters of coal,” Sharda says. “All of these countries have had a traditional, natural advantage.”

But things are beginning to change for both China and India, and they are expected to see the biggest boom in renewable energy of any of the BRICS countries in the next few years. “China led the coal and thermal power boom, they didn’t have an issue with dealing with worsening environmental conditions at a national level then,” Sharda says. “But the government and policy makers have actually become very sensitive to environmental issues which are why they are focusing a lot on renewable energy now.”

There is a massive trend moving towards renewable energy sources in China so, despite the fact that 74% of its energy came from fossil fuels in 2015, the IEEFA report estimated that China would increase its solar capacity to 127GW and increase its wind capacity to 250GW by 2020. However, in January, China increased its targets and its spending on renewable energy, and now plans to invest at least $360bn by the end of 2020, solidifying its position as a global leader on clean energy. Meanwhile, India increased its renewable capacity to 225GW by August 2016, a huge leap from 97GW in 2005. This is predominantly from using hydro.

Russia and South Africa are making slower progress. South Africa still relies on fossil fuels, increasing its renewable capacity to just 2.1GW in March 2016 from 1.8GW the previous year. Russia is making small progress predominantly due to a lack of investment from the country itself, only allocating $1bn for renewable technologies in all 17 Russian states in 2014.

Despite rapid development in the BRICS countries, for Brazil, China, India and South Africa there is a long way to go for any country to meet its targets. There is a funding gap which the NDB, among others, need to fill to help stimulate the development of the renewable energy industries in each country. The IEEFA estimates that “meeting these targets would require an annual investment of around $177bn. In comparison, the investment in the renewable sector in BRICS countries in 2015 was $126bn, leaving an average shortfall of $51bn.”

It is clear, therefore, that a vast increase in investment is needed. “Brazil’s renewable capacity expansion plans would require an investment of $86bn, or 85.2% of overall electricity generation capacity investment,” the IEEFA report states. This is despite Brazil’s impressive hydroelectric infrastructure. Meanwhile Russia would require an investment of $44bn, India will require $128bn, China $254bn and South Africa $30bn.

Whilst these figures are for varying timescales and some countries, China in particular, are likely to be able to channel enough money to meet their targets, it is clear that a much greater and more sustained investment will be needed if the BRICS countries as a whole are to achieve their goals. Furthermore, these figures do not include the knock-on infrastructure upgrade costs that renewable energy generation will create. India alone will need a further $26bn over the next ten years to update its grid.

But more is going to be done, starting with an announced increase in the loans available from the NDB. “The development bank has actually declared that they were targeting to expand and increase their support of energy development this year,” Sharda says. “Their target is actually about 35% percent of the overall public capital required.” This large increase could make all the difference.

At present, despite impressive advances in renewable capacity in the BRICS countries, some look set to miss their targets. If the NDB and other multilateral development banks and financial institutions manage to increase investment, the BRICS could have a massive effect on the environmental damage currently being created by their energy systems. Their success will be evident across the next ten years and beyond, and will be keenly anticipated around the world.

Is Indian GDP data turning a little too Chinese? Why to be Askance @ India’s Growth Figures?

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India defied expectations on Tuesday to retain the title of the world’s fastest growing major economy, despite the pain caused by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s shock crackdown on cash.

Annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth for the October-December period came in at 7.0 per cent, a tad slower than 7.4 per cent in the previous quarter but much faster than the 6.4 per cent expansion forecast by economists in a Reuters poll. Economists are scratching their heads its almost seen for the economy is untouched by demonetisation now you are one of the strongest defendant of demonetisation. Would you agree that the economy was almost left untouched by demonetisation some pain was warranted was it not?

Shaktikanta Das: As we have explained earlier, we have to go by real statistics. Now, when the Q2 figures where the second quarter figures for the current year released the advanced estimates were released that time also we had explained that we have to go by real statistics and not by anecdotal evidence.

Being the fastest-growing large economy in the world is India’s destiny, and even the most poorly conceived economic policy imaginable can’t stop destiny….To say the data is startling is an understatement. The IMF had predicted that India would grow at around 6 percent in the half-year after “demonetisation,” as it’s called. Most independent economists forecast GDP growth would come in somewhere between 6 and 7 percent. Those economists naturally assumed that withdrawing 86 percent of the country’s currency and reducing access to bank accounts would dampen private consumption.  

Yet if one believes the government’s numbers, taking away most of India’s cash overnight didn’t hurt private spending at all. In fact, private consumption rose by 10.1 percent over the quarter. That’s the highest growth in spending in over five years, and it came at a time when consumer confidence was falling sharply. 

My take on the statistics:
Well, this is a simple tweaking of the equations that differentiate the growth curve. In short, we have all been a part of exams where 9/10 is different from 99/100, even if just one number distances the actual score from the maximum one could score. On similar lines, the crimes of growth are factored in on growth year/base year. This is mathematical jugglery narrowed in on political ends. Whichever way one looks at the data, some of the indicators are still found lagging the composite growth, thereby dumbing down the economists when the growth curve mandates a pattern recognition.
GDP, when calculated at Factor Cost is related with GDP at Market Price, and written as an equation of the form,
GDP (FC) = GDP (MP) – indirect takes + subsidies
While, Gross Value Added,
GVA (basic prices) = Sum (net of production taxes & subsidies) to GDP (factor cost)
Stamp duties and property taxes make up the production taxes, whereas labour, capital and investment subsidies are the other half. Why is this done? To inflate GDP after it starts representing the GDP of a country in terms of total GVA, i.e. without discounting for depreciation. Moreover, GDP at market price adds taxes and deducts subsidies on products and services to GDP at factor cost. The sum total of the GVA in various economic activities is called the GDP at factor cost. With a change in method and a subsequent change in base year, India has increased or rather expanded its manufacturing base in the sense of capturing it.  This has also enabled the country to include informal sectors, which hitherto had not found its true manifestation. This is mere adherence to standards that become internationalized.
Now, what happens in India’s case is the part subsidies, which has been the fixed denominator for our GDP, unlike most of the developed world, or even the developing economies. So, our GDP hitherto had largely been GDP (FC). After rearranging the equation above, GDP (FC) would have subtraction of the subsidies part, and yield GDP (MP), thus changing the base completely, and giving a large share of the economy as growing, rather than the dismal one predicted in the wake of demonetization. This has been effectuated since 2012 implying that whatever happens after demonetization, the growth period would project only redundant figures. Slip that into the quarterly period, and yes, the new base would indicate a growing economy, as used by the WB/IMF to forecast India growing more than China. So, there is nothing really dastardly an act here, but more about how to integrate the parts into the composite to yell at the world, we are growing.

The Poverty of Left in Latin America as orchestrated and endorsed by Joseph Stiglitz

For a change, here is another mushroom cropping up (It actually cropped up as an idea and then materialised in 2008-09), this time, thanks to Leftist governments of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. Christened “Bank of the South“, the $7 billion fund-Development Bank is the most logical culmination (what else is there?) of these Latin Americans against the neoliberal, austerity-directed reforms of the Bretton Woods behemoths. Let them dig the grounds for fecundity, what really caught my attention here is that almost a decade back, Joseph Stiglitz endorsed Hugo Chavez’s economic policies, and in 2007 even called such a development bank calling it as reflecting the perspectives of those in the South. And that was a bad call.

I want to chip in why I think such endorsements portray the vacuity, and strangely that too coming from the likes of Joseph Stiglitz.

South-South cooperation is actually becoming the malafide of the resistance against the neoliberal (Oh! how much do I despise this word now, and all the more so when it is gaining currency amongst the alternative political viewpoints) policies, and it is easily gauged by the receding of the Pink Tide in Latin america, the so-called cradle of Left in the late 90s of the earlier century and the first decade of the new. “With global stagnation and falling export prices, the ‘pink tide’ states must choose between their social programme and their economic strategy,” Financial Times is tightening screws on the coffin of Left on the continent. With the recent killing of Bolivia’s Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes by striking miners, President Evo Morales has resorted to what the Left has always been classically resorting to: “conspiracy theory”. As Richard Seymour has quipped with a lot of prescience, Morales’ resort to conspiracy theory makes a certain sense in the context of Latin America, where a series of left-wing governments elected as part of a “pink tide” in the 2000s have gone into crisis. Argentina elected its first right-wing government in 12 years in November. Venezuela’s economic crash has led to the victory of the right-wing opposition in the senate. Notwithstanding the hyperventilating coverage of the country’s total collapse, the country is beset by real problems, a combination of opposition disruptioninternational pressure and government mistakes exacerbating the turmoil. In Brazil, impeachment proceedings against Dilma Rousseff have put the unelected opposition in power. Rousseff is impeached for manipulating the figures to make the government’s finances look better than they were, but the real problem appears to be that amid economic troubles, Rousseff was elected on a programme of investment rather than austerity. Bolivia, did set an example of an anomaly, where growth stabilised, public investment reached a high level, and minimum wages greater than the rate of inflation were introduced. So, why this turnaround? The government has built its authority on support from the police and army, and has repeatedly deployed police against social movements where they were inconvenient, such as during the protests against fuel price increases in 2010, or against a road built on indigenous land during 2011. Dissatisfaction with the left-wing and left-center governments in Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela did not arise because the right-wing is admired by the public, but rather because the improvements begun under the left have stalled. The problems are most severe in Venezuela, where the drop in world oil prices has led to extreme inflation and scarcity of supplies in many sectors of the economy. It is important to understand that, largely, the problems have not arisen in the socialist part of the economies of these countries, but in sectors that are still under the control of private enterprise. In Venezuela, more than 70 percent of economic activity is still private. Food distribution, which is central to the problems of scarcity and inflation, is virtually monopolized by a small number of private companies that have ties to the right-wing opposition, especially the Polar company that controls 40 percent of the market. Venezuela, in short is a failed state. So, obviously the tide is turning.

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From within the simmering, rises a reinvigorated bank, and its efficiency would depend on a host of issues, viz. a replication of WB/IMF’s more contributions to fund, more weightage to vote; exemption from taxes salaries and procurement of investment, which also incidentally happens to be copy of WB/IMF; undecidability on reserve funds; prioritising infrastructure over agriculture and social sectors; chalking out a plan for investment in financial intermediaries to develop national companies; procurement; and participation & transparency. Would the Bank actually be able to overcome these is in time. But, my main intention has been Joseph’s remark, or rather his subscription to such alternatives to WB/IMF. More than he actually welcoming this bank, or for that matter the NDB as rivalling the hegemonic structures of WB/IMF, it’s his stance on financialisation of capital that needs to be sent through a scanner. I have to admit honestly that I was bowled over by his discontent book, which did send me on a trip to track change via his honest and integrity-filled analysis of globalisation. Even reading Bhagwati in concomitance wasn’t a powerful let down to following JS. But, just like the Left stands precariously, JS’s conceptualisation somehow misses the beat for me these days.

He, undoubtedly was a voice to hear during and in the aftermath of global crisis. His attack was three-pronged and all of it suited the purpose for the non-esoteric to figure out the causes of 2008-09 downturn. That there are problems associated with mainstream economics with over reliance on algorithms designed by mathematical geniuses, questionable character of rationality as a result of conflict of interests impairing ratings agencies, and lack of accountability on Wall Street’s excessive risk-taking adventures isn’t really in any doubt. But, thereafter fluctuations start becoming noticeable, and as a left-inclined theorist, he blames the neoliberal policies that had its beginnings in the 70s for all the ills with current economic and financial mess the world over. Assuming it to be true, then how do we explain the fact that Western Europe’s hyper-regulated economies are presently in even worse shape than America’s? Today Greece is a nation on financial life-support. Yet it has long been one of the most regulated and interventionist economies in the entire EU. This, however, doesn’t stop Stiglitz from proposing a massive expansion of regulation. This, he says, should be shaped “by financial experts in unions, nongovernmental organisations  and universities”. More generally, there’s nothing new about what Stiglitz calls “New Capitalism.” It’s a return to old-fashioned Keynesian demand-management and the pursuit of “full employment” – that old Keynesian mantra – through the government’s direction of any number of economic sectors. Then there’s Stiglitz’s proposal for a Global Reserve System to effectively undertake demand-management for the world economy. To be fair, this is not an instance of megalomania on Stiglitz’s part. Keynes argued for something similar almost 70 years ago. But here Stiglitz wraps himself again in contradiction. Having stressed the Fed’s inability to manage America’s economy, why does Stiglitz imagine a global central bank could possibly manage monetary policy for the entire world economy? What precisely, we might ask, is the optimal interest rate for the global economy? Surely only God could know that. Until then, I’d have my reservations in taking him seriously.

India’s Cashlessness Drive or A Rudderless Cacophony

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Is there a plus out of going less-cash dependent rather than  going cashless? Yes, on the negative interest rates issue, these appear to be better than Quantitative Easing to turbocharge an economy from a recession, BUT only in cases of advanced economies and definitely not in the case of an economy that is purportedly to be the fasting growing emerging one according to the whims, fancies and vagaries of WB/IMF statistics. Why is the case?

Presently, the interest rates are zero bound (though India is largely outside the bracket meaning all the more vociferously that this sudden sweep has been misplaced at the very top trickling down to the bottom in treacherous wringing. but imagine for a moment that India too faces this movement of rates towards the ignominious ‘0’), i.e. cannot fall below zero. And then there’s the sacred rule of

Real term interest rate = Nominal Interest Rate – Rate of Inflation

In 2008, with advanced economies like US having less rate of inflation the room to cut interest rates was pretty much restricted considering the US Fed had set a target rate of inflation as 2%. With a less-cash society the Central Bankers can set interest rates to negative which basically means that you need to pay the bank to hold your deposit. Now keep in mind that the debate is still out over whether the three tranches of QE actually did good.

The author (KR) acknowledges that negative interest rates might give rise to strange situations like for example in case of a bond holder – the borrower needs to pay the lender. Legal and administrative issues can arise but they can be handled as the payments due can be deducted from the principal in this case.

There’s one interesting alternative to negative interest rates shared in the book from the academic economic circles – the two currency system.

It calls for identifying as paper currency and currency in electronic form in banking system as two different. And it calls for an exchange rate when a person goes to the bank to deposit his paper currency which will ultimately be recorded in the banking system as an electronic form. This will give rise to three monetary instruments which the Central Bankers can then play with –

  1. Interest rates on electronic currency
  2. Exchange rate b/w Electronic and Paper Currency
  3. Forward (future) exchange rate

As these days the chatter increases about digital or crypto-currencies, Rogoff is of the view that these innovations are admirable but these currencies are at a major disadvantage as the govt. has tremendous power at its disposal to impose its will over them. But eventually, the technology like public ledger will be adopted, and that would eventually be taking off from #Blockchain.

Is India following the playbook in The Curse of Cash? On motivation, yes, absolutely. A central theme of the book is that whereas advanced country citizens still use cash extensively (amounting to about 10% of the value of all transactions in the United States), the vast bulk of physical currency is held in the underground economy, fueling tax evasion and crime of all sorts. Moreover, most of this cash is held in the form of large denomination notes such as the US $100 that are increasingly unimportant in legal, tax-compliant transactions. Ninety-five percent of Americans never hold $100s, yet for every man, woman and child there are 34 of them. Paper currency is also a key driver of illegal immigration and corruption. The European Central Bank recently began phasing out the 500 euro mega-note over these concerns, partly because of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

BUT SETTING AND IMPLEMENTATION IS VASTLY DIFFERENT

On implementation, however, India’s approach is radically different, in two fundamental ways. First, I argue for a very gradual phase-out, in which citizens would have up to seven years to exchange their currency, but with the exchange made less convenient over time. This is the standard approach in currency exchanges. For example this is how the European swapped out legacy national currencies (e.g the deutschmark and the French franc) during the introduction of the physical euro fifteen years ago. India has given people 50 days, and the notes are of very limited use in the meantime. The idea of taking big notes out of circulation at short notice is hardly new, it was done in Europe after World War II for example, but as a peacetime move it is extremely radical. Back in the 1970s, James Henry suggested an idea like this for the United States. Here is what I say there about doing a fast swap for the United States instead of the very gradual one I recommend:

 “(A very fast) swap plan absolutely merits serious discussion, but there might be significant problems even if the government only handed out small bills for the old big bills. First, there are formidable logistical problems to doing anything quickly, since at least 40% of U.S. currency is held overseas. Moreover, there is a fine line between a snap currency exchange and a debt default, especially for a highly developed economy in peacetime. Foreign dollar holders especially would feel this way. Finally, any exchange at short notice would be extremely unfair to people who acquired their big bills completely legally but might not keep tabs on the news.

In general, a slow gradual currency swap would be far less disruptive in an advanced economy, and would leave room for dealing with unanticipated and unintended consequences. One idea, detailed in The Curse of Cash, is to allow people to exchange their expiring large bills relatively conveniently for the first few years (still subject to standard anti-money-laundering reporting requirements), then over time make it more inconvenient by accepting the big notes at ever fewer locations and with ever stronger reporting requirements.

Second, my approach eliminates large notes entirely. Instead of eliminating the large notes, India is exchanging them for new ones, and also introducing a larger, 2000-rupee note, which are also being given in exchange for the old notes.

MY PLAN IS EXPLICITLY TAILORED TO ADVANCED ECONOMIES

The idea in The Curse of Cash of eliminating large notes and not replacing them is not aimed at developing countries, where the share of people without effective access to banking is just too large. In the book I explain how a major part of any plan to phase out large notes must include a significant component for financial inclusion. In the United States, the poor do not really rely heavily on $100 bills (virtually no one in the legal economy does) and as long as smaller bills are around, the phase out of large notes should not be too much of a problem, However, the phaseout of large notes is golden opportunity to advance financial inclusion, in the first instance by giving low income individuals access to free basic debt accounts. The government could use these accounts to make transfers, which would in turn be a major cost saving measure. But in the US, only 8% of the population is unbanked. In Colombia, the number is closer to 50% and, by some accounts, it is near 90% in India. Indeed, the 500 rupee note in India is like the $10 or $20 bill in the US and is widely used by all classes, so India’s maneuver is radically different than my plan. (That said, I appreciate that the challenges are both different and greater, and the long-run potential upside also much higher.)

Indeed, developing countries share some of the same problems and the corruption and counterfeiting problem is often worse. Simply replacing old notes with new ones does have a lot of beneficial effects similar to eliminating large notes. Anyone turning in large amounts of cash still becomes very vulnerable to legal and tax authorities. Indeed that is Modi’s idea. And criminals have to worry that if the government has done this once, it can do it again, making large notes less desirable and less liquid. And replacing notes is also a good way to fight counterfeiting—as The Curse of Cash explains, it is a constant struggle for governments to stay ahead of counterfeiters, as for example in the case of the infamous North Korean $100 supernote.

Will Modi’s plan work? Despite apparent huge holes in the planning (for example, the new notes India is printing are a different size and do not fit the ATM machines), many economists feel it could still have large positive effects in the long-run, shaking up the corruption, tax evasion, and crime that has long crippled the country. But the long-run gains depend on implementation, and it could take years to know how history will view this unprecedented move.

THE GOAL IS A LESS-CASH SOCIETY NOT A CASHLESS ONE

In The Curse of Cash, I argue that it will likely be necessary to have a physical currency into the far distant future, but that society should try to better calibrate the use of cash. What is happening in India is an extremely ambitious step in that direction, of a staggering scale that is immediately affecting 1.2 billion people. The short run costs are unfolding, but the long-run effects on India may well prove more than worth them, but it is very hard to know for sure at this stage.

The long quote is by none other than Rogoff himself on the viability of the Indian drive.

Life Inc., Fascism, Corporatism

G7, G20, G77…Oh what scams are these? G and scams have somehow become equivalent in their usage. Funny. Probably, introduction to alphabets would in time have G for scams. Who knows?

Importantly, what has happened is the formation of transnational economies that have sprung up as a result of these coalitions. I halt, and go back a bit, and then resume saying that these mushrooms of coalitions have resulted in a Transnational Economy. So, would a Transnational State be far behind? It is anybody’s guess, that it would not. The Financial Times reported that this is precisely how close we could get to a World Government (Source: I do not exactly remember, come on, you cannot shoot the messenger in me!!). If such is the case, then the next obviously logical deduction happens to be for these transnational bodies like the IMF, WBG, WTO (The Unholiest of Trinities) to swing into action and strip power from, or make dictations to parliamentary entities, thus swaying the equations of power towards the corporations heavily favoured by these TN bodies. When all of it is logically deducible, where does the problem lie if we dare say that what is happening in the world today is nothing but a mirroring of the Fascist era? There are totalitarian thoughts into action even today, as they were across the spectrum then. Remember Mussolini’s adage, when he quipped that all that is required is fascism to be understood as corporatism, the culling together of state and corporations.

By Totalitarian thoughts in action today, I’d in mind how are we submitted to dictates, with the very following line in the piece attributed to Mussolini substantiating my view. I am on the edge of democracy with the coming together of corporatism and state becoming one. So, components in the form of corporatism and democracy becoming one is totalitarianism, which acts from without me to finally become within me, since I cannot escape. This is more in line with what Franco Berardi ‘Bifo’ has in mind when he talks of autonomy over communism, or rather with the former, I have to have the will to escape this situation, which somehow lacks due to the strong coupling of corporatism and state. Obviously, curiosity on the point “Importantly, what has happened is the formation of transnational economies that have sprung up as a result of these coalitions (Isn’t it the other way around, just curious?)” is more in line with conventions well believed to hold more water. Yes, ideally this should have been the case, but, coming together to forge alliances and then realizing them through a common platform is what stands here as transnational economies. These economies are different in context from the ones you suggest precisely in that rationale I prefer to call Transnational Economy. I move back and forth here to corroborate the idea of a World Government, to corroborate the idea of totalitarianism in action.

So, what is the way out? Maybe, it is better articulated in this book by Douglas Rushkoff Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back? Check the attachment for the book. The book at least is one more implosion on the Wall Street (2009), but philosophically spotty, and the futuristic scape on the canvass reminds more of Richard Morgan than William Gibson.

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