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|EFFECT OF RECESSION ON INDIAN ECONOMY
|04.06.09 (3:22 am) 
Though no one likes or wants a recession, almost everyone appears (looking at WEF, Davos) reconciled to one in the United States. Meanwhile, politicians continue to downplay any fears of global repercussions, citing decoupling of the United States and other economies as a buffering factor. But what is the reality for countries like India?
It would be naïve to imagine that a recession in the United States would have no impact on India. The United States accounts for one-fourth of the world GDP and any significant slowdown is bound to have reverberations elsewhere. On the other hand, interdependencies between the US economy and emerging economies like India and China has reduced considerably over the last two decades. Thus, the effect may not be as drastic as would have been the case in the 1980s.
Even so, fears of a US recession led to panic in the Indian stock market. January 21 and 22 saw a meltdown with a mind-boggling US$450 billion in market capitalization being vaporized. An unprecedented interest cut by the Fed led to a bounce-back on January 23 and at the time of this writing, the benchmark index (BSE) has gained 2.5%, almost in line with Hang-Seng, Nikkei, and Kospi.
History might hold a clue here. The last time the bubble burst (2001-2002), the DJIA went down by 23%, while the Indian Index fell by 15%.
Much has happened between then and now. The Indian economy has shown a robust and consistent growth trajectory and the projection for 2008 is 9%. Indian exports to the United States account for just over 3% of GDP. India has a healthy trade surplus with the United States.
In other words, the effects of this recession on India may be quite distinct from those of the past. Here are some areas worth following:
1. A credit crisis in the United States might lead to a restructuring of asset allocation at pension funds. It has been suggested that CalPERS is likely to shift an additional US$24 billion to its international portfolio. A large portion of this is likely to flow into India and China. If other funds follow suit, a cascading effect can be expected. Along with the already significant dollar funds available, the additional funds could be deployed to create infrastructure--roads, airports, and seaports--and be ready for a rapid takeoff when normalcy is restored.
2. In terms of specific sectors, the IT Enabled Services sector may be hit since a majority of Indian IT firms derive 75% or more of their revenues from the United States--a classic case of having put all eggs in one basket. If Fortune 500 companies slash their IT budgets, Indian firms could be adversely affected. Instead of looking at the scenario as a threat, the sector would do well to focus on product innovation (as opposed to merely providing services). If this is done, India can emerge as a major player in the IT products category as well.
3. The manufacturing sector has to ramp up scale economies, and improve productivity and operational efficiency, thus lowering prices, if it wishes to offset the loss of revenue from a possible US recession. The demand for appliances, consumer electronics, apparel, and a host of products is huge and can be exploited to advantage by adopting appropriate pricing strategies. Although unlikely, a prolonged recession might see the emergence of new regional groupings--India, China, and Korea?
4. The tourism sector could be affected. Now is the time to aggressively promote health tourism. Given the availability of talented professionals, and with a distinct cost advantage, India can be the destination of choice for health tourism.
5. A recession in the United States may see the loss of some jobs in India. The concept of Social Security, that has been absent until now, may gain momentum.
6. The Indian Rupee has appreciated in relation to the US dollar. Exporters are pushing for government intervention and rate cuts. What is conveniently forgotten in this debate is that a stronger Rupee would reduce the import bill, and narrow the overall trade deficit. The Indian central bank (Reserve Bank of India) can intervene anytime and cut interest rates, increasing liquidity in the economy, and catalyzing domestic demand. A strong domestic demand would also help in competing globally when the recession is over.
In summary, at the macro-level, a recession in the US may bring down GDP growth, but not by much. At the micro-level, specific sectors could be affected. Innovation now may prove to be the engine for growth when the next boom occurs.
For US firms, who have long looked at China as a better investment destination, this may be a good time to look at India as well. After all, 350 million people with purchasing power cannot be ignored.