Economy
With economic jitters, gold imports surge 85 percent
India’s gold imports surged 85 percent in January 2016, indicating how, as stock markets decline and some economic indicators worsen in the run up to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s third budget, Indians are falling back on a traditional mode of holding wealth.
 
It is reasonably clear that Indians, who hold around 20,000 tonnes of gold — about a tenth of all the world’s gold and a fourth of current global gold demand — are reluctant to convert the gold they store into money or other forms that could benefit the economy.
 
In 2015, the government started a Gold Monetisation Scheme — a revamped version of an older Gold Deposit Scheme — to make idle gold productive, by getting consumers to either sell their gold or store it with banks, so it could emerge into the formal economy and reduce the country’s gold imports.
 
But, only 900 kg of 20,000 tonnes, or 0.0045 percent of India’s idle gold, emerged; one percent of gold so “monetised” could release Rs.54,000 crore (almost $8 billion) and strengthen the Indian banking system.
 
The 20,000 tonnes of gold, held privately by individuals and temples, is valued at Rs. 54 lakh crore (at the current price of Rs.2,690 per gram), three times the revenue expenditure of Rs.17.77 lakh crore in union budget for 2015-16.
 
Gold imports rose to $2.91 billion from $1.57 billion in January 2016 over previous year, according to the ministry of commerce.
 
Indians like gold’s stability in an increasingly unstable world
 
“The rise in imports of gold signifies a shift in focus of investment from the volatile financial markets to comparatively stable bullion markets,” U R. Bhanumurthy, a professor at Delhi’s National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), a think-tank, told IndiaSpend.
 
Gold imports have fluctuated though, increasing 2.4 percent in the first three quarters of 2015-16 (over first three quarters of 2014-15), then soaring 85 percent in January 2016, over January 2015.
 
The demand for gold has coincided with some weakening economic indicators.
 
For instance, exports declined 17.7 percent from April 2015 to January 2016, the weakest export performance since 2000; the previous low was a 3.5 percent decline in 2009-10.
 
The year (April 2015 to January 2016) also saw imports decline 15.5 percent, the greatest fall in 15 years. The previous largest decline was 8.3 perccent in 2013-14.
 
While import costs of crude petroleum and petroleum products — accounting for 31 percent of imports in 2014-15 — almost halved, the quantity of petroleum (crude plus products) imported increased, indicating growing fuel demand in India.
 
Oil import costs dropped 41 percent while non-oil imports costs fell only three percent over April to December 2015, as compared to the same period the previous year.
 
India is buying more petroleum at lower prices, levying excise and selling it at higher prices, as IndiaSpend reported earlier.
 
Agriculture imports increased 21 percent over first three quarters of 2015-16, as India struggled with two successive years of drought, the first time in 30 years.
 
Global slump cuts investments in India
 
Subdued global demand over the past three years — ”reverse globalisation” as NIPFP’s Bhanumurthy put it — has resulted in currency devaluation of emerging economies. Combined with falling oil prices, world trade has slackened.
 
Although India anticipates an economic growth rate between 7 percent and 7.5 percent – higher than China’s – market volatility has also increased, jeopardising future growth.
 
Investors are shying away from equity markets. Stock markets across the world plunged in early 2016. Foreign investments in India, both direct and portfolio, are declining.
 
Portfolio investment (foreign investments in Indian stock or bond markets) was hit, as foreign investors withdrew Rs.11,000 crore ($ 1.6 billion) in January 2016 from Indian markets.
 
In the same month, Indians bought gold worth Rs.20,000 crore ($2.91 billion) from the international market.
 
Gold imports make Indians feel safe, stable, but the economy is destabilised
 
So, Indian investors are turning to safe, stable gold — but by doing so, destabilising India’s economy.
 
“Large gold imports are adversely impacting the current account deficit (imports of goods, services and investments minus exports; a trade deficit),” said a draft report of a Reserve Bank of India working group to study issues related to gold and gold loans by non-banking finance companies. “There is a need to moderate the demand for gold imports, as ensuring the external sector’s stability is critical.”
 
Domestic demand and imports are “price inelastic”, which means Indians buy gold for household use irrespective of the prices in Indian and international markets, the report said.
 
India’s gold exports halved over four years from 2011 till 2015, a sign of declining demand from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), home to two million Indian expatriates. More than 99 percent of India’s gold exports go to the UAE, according to commerce ministry data.
 
An import duty of 10 percent, imposed in 2012, raised the cost of gold 10 percent over the year, but failed to moderate demand for gold, said an RBI report, which recommended “innovative financial instruments” to draw gold out of private holdings.
 
Sovereign gold bonds, which are government bonds acting as substitute for physical gold, were first sold in November 2015, receiving a subscription of Rs.246 crore. The second round, in February 2016, tripled the first round by attracting Rs.726 crore.
 
The overall economic uncertainty is also reflecting in gold imports.
 
The January jump in gold imports has now transformed into a February slump, with trade associations, such as the All India Gems and Jewellery Trade Federation and the India Bullion and Jewellers Association, recommending that the finance ministry reduce the import duty on gold from 10 percent to two percent.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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Haryana calm, people count losses
Chandigarh : Haryana remained calm on Wednesday, with people pouring out of their homes in violence-hit districts and supplies of essential commodities restored.
 
Shops and business establishments, which survived the wrath of the Jat community rioters in the last few days, opened in Rohtak, Bhiwani, Jind, Jhajjar, Sonipat, Hisar, Panipat and other districts.
 
Traders, businessmen, companies and government officials started assessing the damage to immovable and movable property during the peak of the violence in the state.
 
Several government buildings, private shops, malls, educational institutions, hospitals and showrooms were set on fire by the hooligans. Hundreds of shops were looted and set on fire.
 
Experts have pegged the losses in Haryana due to the agitation at around Rs.20,000 crore.
 
Soldiers and paramilitary forces continued to be deployed in the worst affected areas. Traffic was restored on all highways and roads and railway tracks were being repaired to restore railway traffic.
 
The Jat community is demanding reservation in government jobs and educational institutions.
 
Political developments in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shifted to Delhi where all its Haryana MPs were called to meet Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu. 
 
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and some other ministers and legislators are also camping in Delhi.
 
Non-Jat leaders within the BJP are upset with the party leadership for bowing before the demands of the Jat community which brazenly resorted to violence.
 
The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) said on Wednesday that the BJP government in the state and Congress leaders were responsible for the mindless violence during the Jat agitation.
 
"A case should be registered against Bhupinder Singh Hooda as his close aide Varinder Singh was caught on audio tape trying to instigate violence," a party leader said.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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Expectations high as Prabhu presents his second rail budget
New Delhi : Will Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu increase passenger fares and freight tariff in his budget on Thursday? That's the question that pops up as he presents his ministry's annual budget for the next fiscal amid shrinking margins, that is leaving little room for modernisation, upgrade and safety.
 
In the previous budget, the minister spared passengers from a fare hike, but freight rates were increased by 2.1 percent to 10 percent, even on commodities such as grain, pulses, urea and coal. And in July 2014, the hikes amounted to 15 percent in passenger fares and 6.5 percent in freight.
 
Industry chambers have advocated a hike in passenger fares this time.
 
"There is lack of political will to raise passenger fares, though the reluctance is not shared by passengers who will be willing to pay more if it is accompanied by better services like timely arrival of trains, cleanliness at stations, safety and improvement in food," Assocham said. 
 
Introduction of new trains without much capacity addition in terms of new lines has become a norm. The issue that Prabhu will have to tackle is to improve the operating ratio that spells out how much of the revenue generated is spent on day-to-day operations.
 
In the last budget, the minister had targeted to bring the operating ratio down to 88.5 percent, or the lowest in nine years, from an unsustainable level of 93.6 percent in 2013-14 and 91.8 percent for 2014-15. But globally, a 75-80 percent or lower is seen as a healthy benchmark.
 
The network length of Indian Railways has also not expanded in the requisite manner. It has increased just 0.06 times since 1989-90, but passenger and freight traffic has increased 3.3 times and 2.2 times, respectively. The average train speed of 25 km per hour for freight and 70 km per hour for passengers is also among the lowest globally.
 
The railways will also have to contend with a 40 percent (Rs.320 billion) jump in wages. Experts have, accordingly, called for some newer approaches to enable the Indian Railways to raise money and fund its development.
 
"The sheer number of land parcels held by Indian Railways across the country makes this entity an important stakeholder in transit-oriented development," said Anuj Puri, chairman of JLL India, referring to mixed-use residential and commercial area with access to public transport. 
 
"This budget we expect the railway minister to look at monetising railways' land parcels in urban areas through transit-oriented development -- in order to boost cities' liveability quotient and modernisation of their skylines," Puri said.
 
Some of the other issues that stakeholders expect Prabhu to address include introduction of more wagons, development of physical infrastructure, fine-tuning the public-private partnership model, improvement of passenger amenities and making rail transportation competitive.
 
India boasts one of the oldest and the largest railroad networks in the world, ferrying some 23 million people, or a population the size of Australia, as also 2.65 million tonnes of goods on its coaches, each day.
 
It serves from 7,172 stations via 12,617 passenger and 7,421 freight trains on a track network spanning Baramulla in the Himalayan foothills of Kashmir to the southern tip of Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, and from Naharlagun in Arunachal Pradesh to the port town of Okha in Gujarat.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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