How is the demonetisation of India going?

A feature of these times is what I have labelled as the war on cash . In essence this war involves the establishment blaming it for financial crime and tax evasion. The High Priest of such thoughts Kenneth Rogoff is giving a talk this evening on this very subject at the London School of Economics.

Tomorrow at LSE: Leading economist on why we should get rid of most paper money

I did reply to enquire if they meant leading as in leading everyone off a cliff? Unfortunately I cannot be there as I will be on Share Radio but I do hope that someone will ask why if all the interest-rate cuts have not worked going further into negative territory will?

India and Demonetisation

This is an area where it is hard not to think of our Ken and his pet theories. Back on the 11th of this month I explained what had taken place.

Government of India vide their Notification no. 2652 dated November 8, 2016 have withdrawn the Legal Tender status of ` 500 and ` 1,000 denominations of banknotes of the Mahatma Gandhi Series issued by the Reserve Bank of India till November 8, 2016.

They were taking advantage of a public holiday to facilitate the move.

All ATMs and other cash machines will remain shut on November 9, 2016 to facilitate recalibration

After that there were going to be limits on what cash could be withdrawn.

cash withdrawal from a bank account over the counter shall be restricted to ₹ 10,000/- per day subject to an overall limit of ₹ 20,000/- a week from the date of the notification until the end of business hours on 24th November, 2016, after which these limits shall be reviewed.

So we are pretty much there especially if we allow for the time difference so how has it gone? The Hindustan Times gives us some insights.

“Consumers have not had the cash to complete purchases, and there have been reports of supply chains being disrupted…The time spent queuing in banks is also likely to have affected general productivity… ,” said Fitch, one of the world’s three big rating agencies alongside Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.

It gave specific examples of industries which have been affected.

The automobile industry, which accounts for 7.1% of the GDP, is witnessing a fall in stock prices of up to 12% since the demonetisation. Himanshu Sharma, auto analyst at Centrum Broking, said two-wheeler sales can get affected by 40- 45%. The impact on cars is less, since most of them are bought on loan, but it could still be 10-12%……..Things aren’t any better with pharmaceutical companies, as sales of medicines have plunged almost 15%.

Why has the pharmaceutical industry been affected? Well something of a shambles seems to have been at play here.

Even though chemists are allowed to take old currency notes, distributors are not.

It goes onto point out that in the words of Taylor Swift there was always going to be “trouble,trouble,trouble” if you withdrew 86% by value of bank notes in the country described below.

This was only to be expected in a country which has 20% of its $1.8 trillion GDP and 80% of employment in the unorganised sector. Nearly half the population still does not have a bank account. Less than 300 million use the internet, and therefore the overwhelming majority cannot make electronic payments.

Ch-ch-changes

The initial statement implied that ATMs would be up and rolling after the bank holiday yet if we look at the Reserve Bank of India today we are told this.

17. Can I withdraw from ATM?

The ATMs are progressively getting recalibrated. As and when they are recalibrated, the cash limit of such ATMs will stand enhanced to ₹ 2500/- per withdrawal.

There has been a specific change today which tries to cover the Indian habit of paying for weddings in cash.

With a view to enable members of the public to perform and celebrate weddings of their wards it has been decided to allow a cash withdrawal of maximum ₹ 250000/- from their bank deposit accounts till December 30, 2016 to meet wedding related expenses.

A fundamental point through all this is the assumption implied below.

7. ₹2000 cash is insufficient for my need. What to do?

You can use balances in bank accounts to pay for other requirements by cheque or through electronic means of payments such as Internet banking, mobile wallets, IMPS, credit/debit cards etc.

This is all very well for those applying the move who no doubt have these but India’s many poor? They do not.

What about the economic effect?

Back on the 11th I reported on the official view.

I hope that they have success in that and also that the official claims of a 1.5% increase in GDP as a result turn out to be true.

How is that going? From Bloomberg.

The most pessimistic of these estimates comes from Ambit Capital which says GDP (gross domestic product) growth could crash to 3.5 percent. Others like HDFC Bank and HSBC are paring down GDP growth estimates by 0.5 – 1 percentage point.

Down seems to be the new up yet again. There are also concerns about rising prices due to shortages as industries wonder why weddings get relief but they do not?

What does Kenneth Rogoff think?

You might think he would be cheering and high-kicking but no.

The short run costs are unfolding, but the long-run effects on India may well prove more than worth them, but it is very hard to know for sure at this stage.

Indeed for a man whose plans for ever more negative interest-rates require an elimination of cash this is not far-off breathtaking.

First, I argue for a very gradual phase-out, in which citizens would have up to seven years to exchange their currency, but with the exchange made less convenient over time.

Mind you what is “less convenient”?! Our Ken is trying to have his cake and eat it here. Also I have a few £10 notes and a £20 note in my jacket pocket and will give them a serious telling off later.

the vast bulk of physical currency is held in the underground economy, fueling tax evasion and crime of all sorts.

Sweden

This comes to mind as it is a type of polar opposite to India in that so much of its money is already electronic. So I noted this from Cecilia Skingsley of the Riksbank on the 16th.

Will we have e-krona in an e-wallet in the future, as naturally as we now have a wallet with cash in it? The less those of us living in Sweden use banknotes and coins, the clearer it becomes that the Riksbank needs to investigate whether we should issue electronic money as a complement to the money we have today.

Is complement the new euphemism for replace? Convenient should you ever find yourself looking to take the official interest-rate lower than -0.5%. Indeed one of the accompanying slides poses this question.

Should we accept that the use of cash comes to an end?

Comment

This was always going to be a very difficult thing to do in India. The stated reasons are on their own good ones as India plainly has severe problems with corruption and the underground economy. The issue can be expressed Bob the Builder style ” Can you fix it?” I note some pointing out that in India corruption is regularly to be found at the top of the system. Also according to Live Mint Credit Suisse has reported this.

In the last two years, the share of the top 1% has increased at a cracking pace, from 49% in 2014 to 58.4% in 2016.

if you were looking for corruption where would you start after seeing that? it makes our 1% in the UK seem lightweights doesn’t it? It reminds us also of the point that a lot of crime takes place in electronic finance as the recent issues at Tesco bank illustrated in the UK. The ordinary Indian can still be affected by this although of course it is indirect for many. Maybe someone tonight will ask our Ken about online financial crime?

There are differences to the western war in cash in that India for example has interest-rates of around 6% as opposed to the -0.5% of Sweden. But there are also similarities.

As to language let me translate a speech given today by Kristin Forbes of the Bank of England. Here is the entry in my financial lexicon for these times.

Uncertainty: This means we were wrong, “This is well above the consensus expectation by economic forecasters, as well as the MPC forecast. ” But as we are so intelligent and nobody else we meet at dinner parties thought anything else that’s fine…

Sad really as she is perhaps the brightest member of the Bank of England

Share Radio

I will be on the Simon Rose show after the 7 pm news tonight and already there is much to discuss.