Demonetization is a latest key reform and perhaps a black swan event for many. On November 8th, India’s Prime Minister Mr. Modi announced that Rupees 500 (equal to $7.37) and Rupees 1000 (equal to $14.74) notes will cease to be a legal tender on 30th December. He simultaneously announced issuance of new Rupees 500 and Rupees 2000 banknotes, in exchange of the old banknotes. Official rationale was to curtail the shadow economy, and crack down on the use of illicit and counterfeit cash to fund illegal activity and terrorism. Estimated 86% of the total money supply of Rupees, holders were told to either exchange them with new notes or deposit at banks. This created a wide spread chaos in a country where 80% of villages do not have a bank. Business disruptions were reported with day-to-day transactions suffering from a dramatic currency shortage. Discretionary sectors suffered a c.40% YoY drop in sales during November-December period. On the positive side, massive amount of funds are reported to have flown to banks, significantly pushing the deposits rate higher. What remains to be seen is the progress on essential policy goals including uncovering tax evasion, cracking down on graft, fake currency notes and black money in a country where black economy represents circa 20% of the total $2.1 Trillion GDP (nominal, 2016).
A key reform expected in 2017 is the restructuring of General Sales Tax (GST), in a drive to do away with an outdated and muddled scheme of multilayered taxes across Indian states. We view this as a positive. A standardized tax regime will reduce bureaucratic tangles and improve the ‘ease of doing business’ in India. Being able to cover larger domestic activity under the tax umbrella will allow Indian Government greater fiscal capacity for development needs.
Another structural reform program in the making is a new companies bankruptcy code, that will help banks more conveniently recover bad debt from distressed companies. Ideally loan growth should be sustained with this step.