Budget 2020

What to watch out for in Budget 2019?

Bloomberg New Delhi | Updated on July 04, 2019 Published on July 04, 2019

PM Modi will look to spur the waning economy with this budget.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has his first chance since a decisive election win to spur an economy that is quickly lost its status as the world’s fastest-growing major one.

Newly appointed Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is expected to boost spending and provide tax relief to consumers in her maiden budget on Friday. That will probably widen the budget gap to 3.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product in the year started April 1 from 3.4 per cent targeted in February’s interim spending plan, according to a Bloomberg News survey.

Growth slowed to a five-year low of 5.8 per cent in the first three months of 2019 — well below China’s 6.4 per cent expansion — putting pressure on Modi to deliver on a stimulus plan to kickstart consumption, a bedrock of the economy.

With the global outlook turning gloomy amid heightened trade tensions, and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has already cut interest rates three times this year, the focus is now on the government to play its part.

A separate report released by the Finance Ministry a day before the budget pegged the Gross Domestic Product growth for the current fiscal year at 7 per cent. Political stability will be key to reviving demand and investments in the economy, according to the Economic Survey report.

Click here to read the highlights of Economic Survey

“For the next budget exercise, the development goal might supersede the rigid objective of fiscal austerity,” said Soumya Kanti Ghosh, Group Chief Economic Adviser at State Bank of India in Mumbai. “Sticking to a particular fiscal number is not that important in the current scenario.”

Nirmala Sitharaman will need to balance allowing the budget deficit to widen, without risking a credit-rating downgrade and rattling bond markets. Key to that will be finding additional revenue to finance higher spending and keeping borrowing under control.

Here are other key things to watch for in the budget:

Taxes

The revenue from consumption taxes and customs levies undershot targets last year, and Sitharaman will need to find additional resources to fund welfare programmes without increasing the tax burden on individuals. She is expected to give consumers relief by increasing the personal income tax threshold for some individuals in the budget, according to people familiar with the matter.

Analysts at Kotak Mahindra Bank led by Suvodeep Rakshit estimate that that tax revenue will probably be $20 billion lower than was forecast in the interim budget. This will be the most significant threat to the fiscal math, the analysts said in a note.

Asset sales

The government may sell stakes in state-run companies to help boost revenue.

Last year it raised Rs 85,000 crores from selling assets such as Coal India Ltd and Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. “Expect the disinvestment target to be pegged at Rs 1 lakh crore, higher than the Rs 90,000 crore pencilled-in in the interim budget,” according to Yes Bank analysts led by Shubhada Rao.

Shadow banks

The market will look for any mention of measures by Sitharaman to tide over a crisis in the financial sector, especially shadow lenders.

A liquidity crunch faced by non-banking finance companies was a major drag on growth, as it curbed their ability to lend, which in turned crimped consumption.

“As India’s shadow banks have the biggest exposure to the real estate sector, any measure to lower tax rate on property transactions could benefit the sector,” said Ghosh.

Excess reserves

The government is seeking to extract higher dividends from the RBI to help boost its revenue and finance the deficit, and the budget may give a provisional figure on how much will be transferred for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The central bank gives dividends to the state every year and made an interim payout of Rs 28,000 crores in February.

The government has been pushing for the RBI to boost its contribution, with Finance Ministry officials estimating the central bank has surplus capital of Rs 3,60,000 crores. A panel led by former Governor Bimal Jalan was set up to study the RBI’s capital framework, and is yet to finalise its report.

Expenditure

One of the key election pledges of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was to spend $1.44 trillion to build roads, railways and other infrastructure in the next five years.

Sitharaman is expected to outline details of this plan as well as investment in agriculture and other sectors that can be drivers of growth. Markets will also be looking for how much capital the government will inject into state-owned banks after a massive 1.06 trillion rupees plan last year.

“Now that elections are over and the country has given an unambiguous verdict, this budget should take some hard decisions towards initiating a host of structural reforms that would trigger off corporate investment,” said Partha Ray, a professor of economics at the Indian Institute of Management in Kolkata.

Published on July 04, 2019
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