WASHINGTON – India recently decided to change its methodology for calculating GDP and the rate of growth. And, presto, GDP now is a lot bigger, and growing much faster. Except that most analysts do not believe the numbers. No, the 7.5% rate of growth is more likely 5%.
Cooking the numbers
This is no mere detail. It is hard to take seriously a country that cooks up its numbers to make them look better. India’s government better fix this, and fast. A major developing economy, a country of more than 1.3 billion, cannot risk becoming a laughing stock by producing data that most of the world believes is fake.
Fake statistics in Argentina
Indeed, Mauricio Macri, recently elected President of Argentina, immediately replaced all the top management at INDEC, the national statistics agency. The simple reason is that the agency had lost all credibility. Under the previous populist government, it published what the political leadership wanted. In order to re-establish credibility, accountability and transparency, as a minimum Argentina needs a truly professional, non-political statistics agency that will publish real data.
And so does India.
In India there are also other problems. There are just too many bad loans on the books of state controlled banks. More credit is extended to borrowers already in default. As a result, the percentage of Non Performing Loans, NPLs, jumped from 6% in 2011 to 14% in September 2015. According to the FT, this is “the worst level in Asia”.
As the NPLs issue is out in the open, the markets are punishing banks stocks. But the government is reacting too slowly. Various analysts openly argue that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley should act swiftly. This situation damages India’s financial sector, and more broadly it shows its corrupt politics.
It is obvious that all these NPLs are mostly about crony capitalism. Well connected Indian tycoons do not go bankrupt. No, first they get all the loans they want. And when their businesses go south, their bad debts are rolled over, and in fact augmented with the justification that a more robust capitalization of failed enterprises will finally heal them. But this never works.
NPLs in China
Look, this is happening everywhere in Asia. In China, virtually defunct State Owned Enterprises, SOEs, now explicitly called “Zombies”, keep getting fresh capital from friendly state owned banks. How big is China’s financial hole caused by NPLs? We do not know. But probably bigger than we think.
Thank God, in India there is a bit more transparency. Investors know more or less the extent of the NPLs problem. All the more reason to attend to it. State banks should not be in the business of funding well connected people who are lousy business leaders.
Difficult to get foreign investors to take the country seriously, if the Indian economy is perceived to be an insiders’ game designed to fit the needs of corrupt elites.