India Policy Forum 2009/10 – Volume 6: Editors’ Summary

2009_india_policy_forum.jpgThe sixth annual India Policy Forum conference convened in New Delhi from July 14-15. This fourth issue of the India Policy Forum, edited by Suman Bery, Barry Bosworth and Arvind Panagariya, covers the global financial crisis and the implications for India. The editors’ summary appears below, and you can download a PDF version of the volume, or access individual articles by clicking on the following links:

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The sixth annual conference of the India Policy Forum was held on July 14 and 15, 2009 in New Delhi. The meeting was dominated by considerations of the global financial crisis and its implications for India. The events of 2009 provided evidence of India’s growing integration with the global economy, an illustration of the resilience of country’s economic growth, and its emergence as a major participant in an expanded system of governance for the global economic system. This issue of the journal includes four papers and the associated discussion from the conference, and a fifth paper that was originally presented at the 2007 conference. 

Indian Equity Markets: Measures of Fundamental Value

Beginning in 2005, the Indian equity market underwent a period of explosive growth rising from a valuation equal to about 50 percent of GDP to a peak of 150 percent by early 2008. Growth of this magnitude raised concerns that the market was hugely overvalued and it was often characterized as an example of an asset market bubble. The market valuation subsequently fell back to about 70 percent of GDP during the global financial crisis. This experience stimulated interest in India in the question of what would constitute a reasonable or fair value for equities that could be use as a standard for evaluating market fluctuations. In “India Equity Markets: Measures of Fundamental Value,” Rajnish Mehra examines this question by comparing corporate valuations in India over the period of 1991–2008 relative to three key market fundamentals: the corporate capital stock, aftertax corporate cash flows, and net corporate debt.

Mehra’s model builds on the idea of a link between the market value of the capital stock and the debt and equity claims on that stock—a concept known as Tobin’s q. He extends the existing framework using some prior work by McGrattan and Prescott on US equity valuations, and he incorporates both intangible capital and key features of the tax code. It is a multi-period model in which firms maximize shareholder value subject to a production function with labor and two kinds of capital—tangible and intangible—as the inputs. Wages, intangible investment and depreciation of tangible capital are treated as tax-deductible expenses. It yields an equilibrium representation of the relationship between the market value of equity and the reproduction value of tangible and intangible capital in the corporate sector. All of the nominal values are normalized by GDP and the result is a framework that can be used to evaluate the effect on equity prices of a range of different policy actions, such as changes in the taxation of corporate dividends.

The model is calibrated to the Indian situation with respect to the capital stock, tax rates, and the characteristics of economic growth in the nonagricultural sector. Mehra also develops his own estimates of the valuation of intangible capital using three different methodologies. The first method is that used by McGrattan and Prescott and is based on the assumption that tangible and intangible capital earn the same rate of return along a balanced growth path. That assumption allows him to derive the equilibrium ratio of tangible and intangible capital. The alternative methods are based on recent work in the United States by Corrado, Hulten, and Sichel that involves cumulating investment flows to estimated stocks. Mehra uses two different methods to calibrate the Indian data with information from the United States, and he estimates the stock of intangible capital for two periods of 1991–2004 and 2005–08. The focus on two sub-periods is designed to capture a structural break in the data: Indian equity valuations as a fraction of GDP were fairly constant over the period 1991–2004, rising sharply starting in 2005. The two estimates of the stock of intangibles based on the comparison with the United States are very similar, but they are significantly lower than the estimates obtained with the McGrattan and Prescott methodology.

His analysis suggests that an optimistic estimate of the fundamental value of the current Indian equity market is about 1.2 times GDP, considerably lower than the 1.6 value observed in 2008, but close to the average over the full period. One effect on equity prices that the study does not account for is a change in investor demand from foreign institutional investors. If the effect of this is a change in the characteristics of the marginal investor, the relevant marginal rate of substitution will change, and with it market valuations. Thus, Mehra suggests that the extension of the model to include foreign investors should be a major objective for future research.

Why India Choked when Lehman Broke

Mehra’s paper generated an active discussion that centered on the difficulties of accurately measuring some of the values, such as the rate of technological change and real interest rates, required to calibrate the model to India’s situation. Several commentators also emphasized the important role of foreign investors. Others pointed to the difficulties of applying a model based on equilibrium conditions to the highly transitional nature of the Indian economy. In “Why India Choked when Lehman Broke,” Ila Patnaik and Ajay Shah analyze the rapid transmission of the impact of the Lehman bankruptcy into Indian financial markets. The authors propose an explanation that revolves around the treasury operations of Indian multinational corporations (MNCs). Such MNCs are less subject to the capital controls imposed on purely domestic Indian companies. 

The developments that emerged within Indian financial markets in September and October following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers on September 14, 2008 were quite extraordinary. First, there was a sudden change in conditions in the money market. Call money rates shot up immediately after September 15. Despite swift action by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the tightness persisted through the month of October. The operating procedures of monetary policy broke down in unprecedented fashion and interest rates were persistently above the target range of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The call rate consistently breached the 9 percent ceiling for the repo rate and attained values beyond 15 percent. There was a huge amount of borrowing from the RBI. On some days, the RBI lent an unprecedented Rs 90,000 crore through repos. These events are surprising given the extent of India’s de jure capital controls that were expected to isolate its financial markets from global developments. Greater understanding of crisis transmission, the effectiveness of capital controls, and India’s de facto openness could be achieved by carefully investigating this episode and identifying explanations.

The main hypothesis of this paper is that many Indian firms (financial and non-financial) had been using the global money market before the crisis to avoid India’s capital controls. This was done by locating global money market operations in offshore subsidiaries. When the global money market collapsed upon the demise of Lehman, these firms were suddenly short of dollar liquidity. They then borrowed in the rupee money market, converting rupees to US dollars, to meet obligations abroad.

The result was strong pressure on the currency market, and the rupee depreciated sharply. The RBI attempted to limit rupee depreciation by selling dollars. It sold $18.6 billion in the foreign exchange market in October alone. Ordinarily, one might have expected depreciation of the exchange rate in both the spot and the forward markets. However, instead of the forward premium rising in response to the pressure on the rupee to depreciate, it crashed sharply. The authors’ hypothesis is that some Indian MNCs that were taking dollars out of India planned to return the funds within a few weeks. To lock in the price at which they would bring that money back, they sold dollars forward. Thus, the one month forward premium fell sharply into negative territory.

Balance of payments data shows outbound FDI was the largest element of outflows in the “sudden stop” of capital flows to India of the last quarter of 2008. This supports the aforementioned hypothesis. During this time there was no significant merger and acquisitions activity taking place owing to the banking and money market crisis around the world. The explanation for the large FDI outflow when money market conditions in India and the world were among the worst seen in decades, could lie in the offshore money market operations of Indian MNCs. Finally, the authors analyze stock market data, finding that Indian MNCs were more exposed to conditions in international money markets as compared to non-MNCs.

This paper’s main contribution lies in showing that Indian MNCs are now an important channel through which India is financially integrated into the world economy. This raises questions about the effectiveness of India’s capital controls, which inhibit short-dated borrowing by firms. This restriction appears to have been bypassed to a substantial extent by Indian MNCs. This phenomenon contributes to a larger understanding of the gap that exists between India’s highly restrictive de jure capital controls and its de facto openness.

De jure capital controls have not made India as closed to global financial markets as expected. The expectation that a global financial market crisis would not hit India owing to these controls was proved to be incorrect when the financial crisis was transmitted to India with unprecedented speed. This evidence of India’s integration with global capital markets will influence the future discussion of its de facto capital account convertibility.

Climate Change and India: Implications and Policy Options

Climate change and the mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have moved to the forefront of international discussion and negotiations. While global warming may have adverse effects on Indian society, there are also concerns that efforts to mitigate emissions within India could seriously impair future economic growth and poverty alleviation. These concerns are the focus of the paper, “Climate Change and India: Implications and Policy Options” by Arvind Panagariya.

The basic perspective is that India’s current per capita carbon emissions are very small, only one-fourth those of China and one-twentieth those of the United States; and given the strong association between income and emissions, the capping of emissions at current levels would make it impossible for India to sustain the growth required to match Chinese income levels, much less narrow the gap with the developed economies. Panagariya argues that India should resist making binding emission commitments for several decades, or until it has made greater progress in poverty alleviation.

The paper begins with a discussion of various uncertainties relating to the response of temperatures to GHG emissions, and in turn, the impact of any temperature changes on rainfall and various forms of extreme weather. There is further uncertainty about the effects of those weather changes on productivity and GDP growth. The author discusses the changes in temperatures and rain patterns specific to India during the last century, as well as their impact if any on sea levels, glacier melting, and natural disasters such as drought and cyclones.

The paper then explores the question of optimal mitigation and instruments to achieve it. A key conclusion is that, absent any uncertainties, either a uniform worldwide carbon tax or a fully internationally system of tradable pollution permits should be employed to reach the optimal solution. A more complicated issue relates to the distribution of the costs of mitigation. Efficiency dictates that countries in which the marginal loss of output per ton of carbon mitigated is the lowest should mitigate more. But absent any international transfers, this may lead to an inequitable distribution of costs of mitigation. An additional question arises with respect to past emissions for which the responsibility largely rests with developed countries. A case can be made that if countries are asked to pay a carbon tax for future emissions, they should also pay for the past emissions. This is especially relevant since big emitters of tomorrow are likely to be different from big emitters of yesterday.

Panagariya argues that these distributional conflicts are the primary explanation of why countries have found it so difficult to arrive at a cooperative solution. Developing countries argue that since developed countries are responsible for the bulk of the past emissions and are also among the largest current emitters, they should undertake much of the mitigation. In turn, the United States has responded by raising the specter of trade sanctions against countries that do not participate in the mitigation efforts. The paper discusses whether such trade sanctions are compatible with the existing World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. It argues that the legality of the trade sanctions is far from guaranteed although the ultimate answer will only be known after the specific measures are tested in the WTO Dispute Settlement Body.

Turning to the specific situation of India, Panagariya argues that it should resist accepting specific mitigation obligations until 2030 or even 2040. The case for an exemption from mitigation for the next two or three decades is justified by the fact that India is a relatively small emitter in absolute as well as per capita terms. Based on 2006 data, it accounts for only 4.4 percent of global emissions, and in per capita terms it ranks 137th worldwide. This is in contrast to China, with which it is often paired. China currently emits the most carbon in the world in absolute terms, and as much as one-fourth of the United States in per capita terms. In addition, Panagariya argues that India needs to give priority to the reduction of poverty.

Given the situation of India and other poor countries, how can an international agreement to combat global warming be reached? Panagariya proposes first that significant progress can be made through agreements on the financing of investments devoted to the discovery of green sources of energy and new mitigation technologies. He believes that private firms will under-invest in such technologies due to the inherent uncertainties. Thus, he argues for establishing a substantial fund financed by contributions from the developed countries and using it to finance research by private firms with the proviso that the fruits of such research would be made available free of charge to all countries. Second, he argues that there is still considerable work to be done in completing an agenda of near-term actions. If developed countries are serious about the necessity of developing countries undertaking mitigation targets beginning some time in the near future, they need to lead by example and accept substantial mitigation obligations by 2020. Finally, he believes that mitigation targets for the developing countries should be stated in terms of emissions per capita or per unit of GDP.

The paper generated a lively exchange among participants on both the effects of climate change and on how India should participate in the international policy discussion. Some thought that Panagariya underestimated the costs to India of climate change, but most of the discussion centered on the development of an appropriate Indian policy response.

Beginning with the major 1991 reform, India has systematically phased out investment and import licensing. Progressive movement toward promarket policies accompanying this phasing out of controls was expected to bring about major shifts in India’s industrial structure. Partly because the opening up itself was uneven across sectors and partly because responses to liberalizing reforms were bound to differ across sectors and firms, it was expected that the changes would be highly variable.

India Transformed? Insights from the Firm Level 1988-2005

“India Transformed? Insights from the Firm Level 1988–2005” by Laura Alfaro and Anusha Chari, sets out to study the responses of firms and sectors accompanying the ongoing transformation of India’s microeconomic industrial structure. Relying on firm-level data, collected by the Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy from company balance sheets and income statements, they study the changes in firm activity from 1988 to 2005. They highlight the differing responses to reforms across sectors, private versus public sector firms, and incumbent versus new firms.
The authors define liberalization as consisting of trade and entry liberalization, regulatory reform and privatization that lead to increased domestic and foreign competition. They present a series of stylized facts relating to the evolution of firms and sectors accompanying and following liberalization. The database covers both unlisted and publicly listed firms from a wide cross-section of manufacturing, services, utilities, and financial industries. Approximately one-third of the firms in the database are publicly listed and the remaining two-thirds are unlisted. The companies covered account for more than 70 percent of industrial output, 75 percent of corporate taxes, and more than 95 percent of excise taxes collected by the Government of India.

Detailed balance sheet and ownership information permits the authors to analyze a range of variables such as sales, profitability, and assets for approximately 15,500 firms classified across 109 three digit industries encompassing agriculture, manufacturing, and services. Therefore, in contrast to most existing firm level studies that focus on manufacturers, the authors are able to study the firms in the services and agriculture sectors as well. The data also permit distinction according to ownership categories such as state-owned, business groups, private stand-alone firms, and foreign firms. The authors divide the years from 1988 to 2005 into five sub-periods: 1988–90, 1991–94, 1995–98, 1999–2002, and 2003–05. This division into sub-periods is intended to capture the effects of various reforms taking place over time.

The authors present detailed information on the average number of firms, firm size, as measured by assets and sales, and profitability as measured by operating profits and the return on assets. The information is presented by sector as well as by category of firm: state-owned enterprises, private firms incorporated before 1985 (old private firms), private firms incorporated after 1985 (new private firms), and foreign firms for the five sub-periods. Sales, entry, profitability, and overall firm activity are interpreted as disaggregated measures of economic growth and proxies for efficiency; and thus, they provide an understanding of the effectiveness of reforms. The authors also look at market dynamics with regard to promotion of competition in order to understand the efficiency of resource allocations. They also examine the evolution of industrial concentration over time.
Alfaro and Chari find some evidence of a dynamic response among foreign and private firms as reflected in the expansion of their numbers as well as growth in assets, sales, and profits. But overall, they find that the sectors and economy continue to be dominated by the incumbent state-owned firms and to a lesser extent traditional private firms that were incorporated before 1985. Sectors dominated by state-owned and traditional private firms prior to 1988–90, where dominance is defined by 50 percent or larger share in assets, sales, and profits, generally remain so in 2005. Interestingly, rates of return remain remarkably stable over time and show low dispersion across sectors and across ownership groups within sectors. Not only is concentration high, but there is persistence in terms of which firms account for the concentration.

The exception to this broad pattern is the growing importance of new and large private firms in the services industries in the last ten years. In particular, the assets and sales shares of new private firms in business and IT services, communications services and media, health, and other services have expanded at a rapid pace. These changes coincide with the reform measures that took place in the services sectors after the mid-1990s, and they are also consistent with the growth in services documented in the aggregate data.

According to Joseph Schumpeter (1942), creative destruction, defined as the replacement of old firms by new firms and of old capital by new capital, happens in waves. A system-wide reform or deregulation such as the one implemented in India may have been the shock that prompted the creative destruction wave. Creation in India seems to have been driven by new entrants in the private sector and foreign firms forcing the incumbent firms to shape up as well. Outside of the services sectors noted in the previous paragraph, and especially in many manufacturing sectors, transformation seems not to have gone through an industrial shakeout phase in which incumbent firms are replaced by new ones. In many of these sectors, stateowned enterprises and private business groups have continued to dominate despite many liberalization measures.

Different explanations may account for these findings. In part, continued dominance of public sector firms in certain sectors may reflect the high barriers to exit that not only impede destruction of marginal firms but also discourage new firms from entry. On the one hand, potential entrants know that exit of public sector firms is unlikely; on the other hand, they may fear paying high exit costs in case they fail to find a foothold. An additional explanation, perhaps not sufficiently stressed in the debate, is the possibility that entrenched public sector and business group firms subvert true liberalization in sectors in which they dominate. The authors find, for example, that both industry concentration and state ownership are inversely correlated with measures associated with liberalization.

Recent literature highlights the idea that economic growth may be impeded not simply by a lack of resources such as capital and skilled labor, but also by a misallocation of available resources. The high levels of state ownership and ownership by traditional private firms in India raise the question of whether significant gains could be made simply through the allocation of existing resources from less efficient to more efficient firms.

Land Reforms, Poverty Reduction, and Economic Growth: Evidence from India

In “Land Reforms, Poverty Reduction, and Economic Growth: Evidence from India,” Klaus Deininger and Hari K. Nagarajan consider the important but relatively neglected issues of land market policies and institutions. They focus attention on three issues: the role of rental markets in land, the contribution of land sales to the promotion of efficiency, and the potential benefits of better land ownership records and the award of land titles. The authors posit that well-functioning rental and sales markets lead to superior outcomes by raising productivity and providing improved access to land. On an average, these markets shift land toward more efficient farmers, thus contributing to poverty alleviation. The paper also brings into question the long-held view that land sales markets are dominated by distress sales whereby poor farmers facing credit constraints are forced to sell their land for below-market prices to their creditors.

In evaluating the impact of rental markets, the authors test three hypotheses: 

  1. Whether a household becomes a lessor or a lessee should be a function of the household’s agricultural ability. Efficient but land-poor households would rent additional land to cultivate while inefficient and land-abundant households should rent out their land for cultivation by other more efficient households. In this manner, well-functioning rental markets in land enhance productivity and improve factor use in the economy.
  2. The presence of high transactions costs inhibits households from participation in rental markets. These costs may force households to withdraw from rental transactions altogether and undermine productivity.
  3. Participation in rental markets is crucially impacted by wage rates offered in the market. Increases in wage rates will prompt households with low ability to manage their land to rent their land to other households. The resulting increase in the supply of land to the rental markets leads to lower rental rates.

Using survey data, the authors test these various hypotheses. They show that rental markets improve productivity of land use by transferring land to more efficient producers. The results suggest that the probability for the most productive household in the sample to rent additional land is more than double that of the average household. The paper also shows that higher land and lower labor endowments increase the propensity of households to supply land to the rental market. By transferring land to labor-rich but land-poor households, markets allow gainful employment of rural labor. The current policies have severely curtailed rental and have therefore retarded advancement of efficiency and equity in rural India.

The authors next turn to markets for land sales. They examine the impact of a well-functioning land sales market on land access. The long-held view has been that land sales are primarily motivated by adverse exogenous shocks. To the contrary, the authors find that such markets have helped more productive and more labor-abundant farmers to gain access to land. The authors also show that land sales markets exhibit greater activity in the presence of higher economic growth. This suggests that if other factor market imperfections are removed, the role of sales markets in promoting equity and efficiency will be expanded. Finally, identifying the source of shocks leading to distress sales and adopting policies that directly address these shocks can ameliorate the adverse effects of such sales in otherwise well-functioning land sales markets.

The last issue addressed in the paper concerns the importance of land administration for the promotion of efficient rental and sales markets. In India, there exist multiple institutions governing land records, registration, and transactions. This situation has led to a duplication of land records, leading to confusion and conflicts over ownership. It also creates a general sense of insecurity of tenure. The authors argue that the computerization of land records can help alleviate these problems. They cite Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh as examples of this experience. They note that the computerization of records can reduce petty corruption, ease access to land records, and possibly increase the probability of land becoming acceptable as collateral to obtain credit.