India has become the world’s sixth-biggest economy, pushing France into seventh place, according to updated World Bank figures for 2017. India’s gross domestic product (GDP) amounted to $2.597 trillion at the end of last year, against $2.582 trillion for France. India’s economy rebounded strongly from July 2017, after several quarters of slowdown blamed on economic policies pursued by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
India, with around 1.34 billion inhabitants, is poised to become the world’s most populous nation, whereas the French population stands at 67 million. This means that India’s per capita GDP continues to amount to just a fraction of that of France which is still roughly 20 times higher, according to World Bank figures.
Manufacturing and consumer spending were the main drivers of the Indian economy last year, after a slowdown blamed on the demonetisation of large banknotes that Modi imposed at the end of 2016, as well as a chaotic implementation of a new harmonised goods and service tax regime.
India has doubled its GDP within a decade and is expected to power ahead as a key economic engine in Asia, even as China slows down.
According to the International Monetary Fund, India is projected to generate growth of 7.4% this year and 7.8% in 2019, boosted by household spending and a tax reform. This compares to the world’s expected average growth of 3.9%.
The London-based Centre for Economics and Business Research, a consultancy, said at the end of last year that India would overtake both Britain and France this year in terms of GDP, and had a good chance to become the world’s third-biggest economy by 2032.
At the end of 2017, Britain was still the world’s fifth-biggest economy with a GDP of $2.622 trillion. The US is the world’s top economy, followed by China, Japan and Germany.
Qatar’s economy has proven its resilience and continues to perform well amid the blockade, improving local liquidity and gaining the confidence of international investors, said Doha Bank CEO Dr R Seetharaman.
“The blockade (on Qatar by a quartet of nations) came as a rude shock to us. But Qatar has withstood… it has proven to be a resilient model. Qatar’s economy was performing around 2.5% last year.
This year we are not expecting less than 3.1% growth,” Seetharaman told Gulf Times in an interview.
He said Qatar improved local liquidity by disinvestment last year.
“If you look at Qatar economy, liquidity was under stress to start with. The government improved local liquidity. Now international investors have reposed confidence in Qatar. The banking system as a whole is improving.
“The loan to deposit ratio in the Qatari banking system has significantly improved and now stands at 112%. This is an improvement of the level, immediately post blockade, which was at 116%.”
Qatar’s banking sector had witnessed credit expansion of around 9%, the deposit book has grown of more than 10.4%, he noted.
He said in the days that followed the blockade, there were challenges in terms of international investors slowing down on Qatar.
“They were concerned about the Qatar economic momentum. Even the rating agencies looked sceptical, which explains the negative outlook on the sovereign.”
But, Seetharaman said, Qatar’s ‘AA’ rating, which is still very high, has not been challenged although the international rating agencies have changed the sovereign outlook to negative. The high rating (A) of Qatar’s banks is also not challenged.
Currently, Qatar holds Aa- by Fitch, AA- by S&P and Aa3 by Moody’s.
“With strong exports, positive economic outlook, and natural gas markets unaffected by the economic blockade, the overall growth for Qatar remains sustainable,” Seetharaman noted.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its latest World Economic Outlook revised up its forecast for world economic growth in 2018 and 2019, saying sweeping US tax cuts were likely to boost investment in the world’s largest economy and help its main trading partners.
Seetharaman also said new global forecast has a 3.9% growth this year and next. The advanced economies are expected to grow by 2.3% in 2018 and 2.2% in 2019.
The emerging and developing economies are expected to grow by 4.9% in 2018 and 5% in 2019.
India is projected to grow at 7.4% of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018 making it the fastest growing economy among emerging economies following last year’s slowdown due to demonetisation and the implementation of goods and services tax.
China, which is spearheading the ‘Belt and Road’ concept is expected to grow up to 6.6% this year, he added.
Automotive major Mahindra & Mahindra broke fresh ground as an Indian multinational when it inaugurated its factory in the original Land of Automobile Manufacture, Detroit.
As Executive Chairman, Anand Mahindra, and the Lt. Governor of Michigan, Brian Calley, cut the ribbon to declare open the plant of Mahindra Automotive North America (MANA), they heralded the first investment in 25 years in a new OEM operation in Detroit.
That this is a major breakthrough for the city, which was badly hit by the financial and housing crisis, was evident from the official turnout at the inauguration. Two members of Congress, the Michigan Lt. Governor and a State Department official were all not only in attendance but also spoke evocatively about the investment.
M&M has invested $230 million and created 250 jobs in the plant, which will have a capacity to produce 10,000 units of Roxor, an off-highway vehicle.
MANA will invest another $600 million in the facility by 2020, adding a further 400 jobs.
The Roxor, designed and developed by MANA, was not unveiled but Richard P Haas, President and CEO, MANA, said that it would be launched in the market early 2018.
Speaking at the inauguration, Anand Mahindra struck a personal note on how he first came to the US in 1973 as a freshman student and how this was his way of giving back to the country for all that he had learnt as a student, which he said he had applied in his business.
Answering a question at a media interaction on whether the next step is to enter the US utility vehicles market Mahindra said that it is “not imminent, though it remains an aspiration”.
“Americans are familiar with Korean brands and the logical step is for Korean group company Ssangyong to come in with its models. But it is for the Ssangyong board to take the call,” he said.
Richard Haas added: “We’re watching how people react to the brand and are preparing for different scenarios. Over the next year or two we’ll learn, understand and move forward.”
Mahindra emphasised that MANA was not playing the volumes game saying that sometimes scarcity works better and that the days of requiring enormous scale to succeed are over.
He explained the rationale for the business as bringing together the engineering expertise of Detroit and a start-up culture.
“We’ve created an incubator here — Richard (Haas) has come with rich start-up experience from Tesla and the operation is based in Detroit to leverage conventional manufacturing skills. MANA will be an asset-light operation with a start-up mentality.”
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Tuesday pared its growth forecast for the Indian economy by half a percentage point to 6.7% for 2017, blaming the lingering disruptions caused by demonetisation of high value currencies last year and the roll out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
However, IMF said the structural reforms undertaken by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government would trigger a recovery—above 8% in the medium term.
In its latest World Economic Outlook, IMF said the global economy is going through a cyclical upswing that began midway through 2016. It raised the global growth estimate marginally for 2017 to 3.6% while flagging downside risks. The upward revisions in its growth forecasts including for the euro area, Japan, China, emerging Europe, and Russia more than offset downward revisions for the United States, the United Kingdom, and India.
“In India, growth momentum slowed, reflecting the lingering impact of the authorities’ currency exchange initiative as well as uncertainty related to the midyear introduction of the countrywide Goods and Services Tax,” it said in the WEO.
However, IMF expects the Indian economy to recover sharply in 2018 to grow at 7.4%, though 30 basis points lower than its earlier estimate in April.
One basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.
In its South Asia Economic Focus (Fall 2017) released on Monday, the World Bank reduced India’s GDP growth forecast to 7% for 2017-18 from 7.2% estimated earlier, blaming disruptions caused by demonetisation and GST implementation, while maintaining at the same time that the Indian economy would claw back to grow at 7.4% by 2019-20.
Both the Asian Development Bank as well as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have also cut their growth projections for India to 7% and 6.7%, respectively, for fiscal 2017-18.
IMF said a gradual recovery in India’s growth trajectory is a result of implementation of important structural reforms. GST, “which promises the unification of India’s vast domestic market, is among several key structural reforms under implementation that are expected to help push growth above 8% in the medium term,” it added.
The multilateral lending agency said India needs to focus on simplifying and easing labour market regulations and land acquisition procedures which are long-standing requirements for improving the business climate. It also called for briding the gender gap in accessing social services, finance and education to accelerate growth in developing countries like India.
IMF said given faster-than-expected declines in inflation rates in many larger economies, including India, “the projected level of monetary policy interest rates for the group is somewhat lower than in the April 2017 WEO.”
In its monetary policy review last week, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) kept its policy rates unchanged and marginally raised its inflation forecast for rest of the year.
Highlighting the growing income inequality within and among emerging market economies, IMF said a country’s growth rate does not always foretell matching gains in income for the majority of the population. “In China and India, for example, where real per capita GDP grew by 9.6% and 4.9% a year, respectively, in 1993–2007, the median household income is estimated to have grown less—by 7.3% a year in China and only 1.5% a year in India,” it said.
India has been ranked as the 40th most competitive economy — slipping one place from last year’s ranking — on the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness index, which is topped by Switzerland.
On the list of 137 economies, Switzerland is followed by the US and Singapore in second and third places, respectively.
In the latest Global Competitiveness Report released today, India has slipped from the 39th position to 40th while neighbouring China is ranked at 27th.
“India stabilises this year after its big leap forward of the previous two years,” the report said, adding that the score has improved across most pillars of competitiveness. These include infrastructure (66th rank), higher education and training (75) and technological readiness (107), reflecting recent public investments in these areas, it added.
According to the report, India’s performance also improved in ICT (information and communications technologies) indicators, particularly Internet bandwidth per user, mobile phone and broadband subscriptions, and Internet access in schools.
However, the WEF said the private sector still considers corruption to be the most problematic factor for doing business in India.
“A big concern for India is the disconnect between its innovative strength (29) and its technological readiness (up 3 to 107): as long as this gap remains large, India will not be able to fully leverage its technological strengths across the wider economy,” it noted.
Among the BRICS, China and Russia (38) are placed above India.South Africa and Brazil are placed at 61st and 80th spots, respectively.
In South Asia, India has garnered the highest ranking, followed by Bhutan (85th rank), Sri Lanka (85), Nepal (88), Bangladesh (99) and Pakistan (115).
“Improving ICT infrastructure and use remain among the biggest challenges for the region: in the past decade, technological readiness stagnated the most in South Asia,” WEF said.
Other countries in the top 10 are the Netherlands (4th rank), Germany (5), Hong Kong SAR (6), Sweden (7), United Kingdom (8), Japan (9) and Finland (10).
The Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) is prepared on the basis of country-level data covering 12 categories or pillars of competitiveness.
Institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomic environment, health and primary education, higher education and training, goods market efficiency, labour market efficiency, financial market development, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication and innovation are the 12 pillars.
According to WEF’s Executive Opinion Survey 2017, corruption is the most problematic factor for doing business in India.
The second biggest bottleneck is ‘access to financing’, followed by ‘tax rates’, ‘inadequate supply of infrastructure’, ‘poor work ethics in national labour force’ and ‘inadequately educated work force’, among others.
The survey findings are mentioned in the report.
“Countries preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and simultaneously strengthening their political, economic and social systems will be the winners in the competitive race of the future,” WEF founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab said.
Foreign precision engineering firms are investing more in Singapore, drawn by strong semiconductor demand and government incentives aimed at re-tooling an economy short of skilled labor.
The city-state is running programs worth billions of dollars to support productivity, automation and research, attracting global chipmakers including U.S.-based Micron Technology Inc and Germany’s Infineon Technologies.
This investment rush into electronics helped the technology sector log 57 percent output growth on average in October-February from a year ago, and kept Singapore from recession late last year.
“I’ve lived in Europe, I’ve lived in Japan, I’ve spent a lot of time in Taiwan and other countries. From a proactive standpoint, Singapore is about as good as it gets,” said Wayne Allan, vice president of global manufacturing at Micron, adding the Singapore government’s long-term vision was key to Micron expanding its investment.
Taking advantage of government grants, Micron is investing $4 billion to make more flash-memory chips in Singapore. It increased output by a third in the second half of last year and expects similar growth in the first half of this year.
Linear Technology Corp, a maker of analog integrated circuits, has opened a third chip testing facility in Singapore, and will produce 90 percent of its global test equipment in the city-state.
All this has created something of a virtuous circle in the semiconductor supply chain, with chip testing equipment supplier Applied Materials reporting record shipments to Singapore last year, said its regional chief, Russell Tham.
It’s unclear how much of this revival in Singapore’s $40 billion chip industry is due to a so-called ultra-super-cycle in the global memory chip sector, and Singapore remains a smaller player than South Korea and Taiwan.
“It is vulnerable to a pull-back,” said Nomura economist Brian Tan. “If there’s a turnaround in the semiconductor industry … it becomes a lot more apparent that the underlying growth momentum is not great.”
However, there are real signs that the targeted government incentives are helping firms move up the value chain.
One of the larger programs is the Productivity and Innovation Credit, where Singapore has budgeted S$3.6 billion ($2.6 billion) for 2016-18. Another S$400 million automation support package is aimed at small firms, and a S$500 million Future of Manufacturing plan encourages testing new technologies.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry says it encourages manufacturers to “embrace disruptive technologies” such as robotics. “These measures will help ensure the manufacturing sector in Singapore remains globally competitive,” it said, attributing the strong semiconductors performance partly to demand from China’s smartphone market and improved global semiconductor demand.
For Feinmetall Singapore, whose products are used for testing semiconductor wafers, grants covered about two thirds of the $100,000 cost of a needle-bending machine it needed to help overcome an island-wide labor shortage.
“If we use the same methods as before … I don’t think we can expect any growth,” said Sam Chee Wah, the company’s general manager, noting Feinmetall Singapore struggled to retain some workers for much longer than a year, even after nine months of training.
GlobalFoundries Singapore, a wafer maker, has spent $50 million on 77 robots, each able to perform the tasks of 3-4 workers. This has helped the company move up the value chain into parts for self-driving cars and security-related chips for credit cards and mobile payments, says general manager KC Ang.
Singapore now has about 400 robots per 10,000 workers, the world’s second-highest density after South Korea. Most robots are used in electronics, according to the International Federation of Robots.
And further developments are in the pipeline.
At its Singapore manufacturing hub, Infineon is developing productivity tools such as robotics and automated guided vehicles which it hopes to deploy to other production sites. Dutch chipmaker NXP Semiconductors is also developing vehicle-to-everything technology, enabling vehicles to communicate with each other and roadside infrastructure.
Instead of trying to compete with high-volume producers such as China or Malaysia, Singapore has shifted to higher-end products, said Jagadish C.V., head of Systems on Silicon Manufacturing, another firm making semiconductor wafers.
“So you do the products which others can’t do so easily,” he said, adding his firm had shifted most of its output to specialized products, such as chips used in smartphones.
CK Tan, President of the Singapore Semiconductor Industry Association, noted the global chip industry is automating faster than other sectors because of cost pressure, a need to eliminate or reduce error, and have a consistent process control.
“In Singapore, it’s even more important for us to … look at how to speed up or increase the level of automation because of the lack of skilled resources,” he said. “The industry has recognized it has to move upscale. The government incentives play a part to allow the manufacturing side to be relevant, to be at least cost competitive.”
The Ministry of Trade and Industry said first-quarter growth in manufacturing – up 6.6 percent year-on-year, while overall GDP was up 2.5 percent – was due mainly to output expansion in electronics and precision engineering.
Integrated circuits were Singapore’s biggest export product among non-oil domestic exports in January-March, topping S$6 billion ($4.29 billion), according to trade agency IE Singapore.
India’s internet economy is slated to double to $250 billion and the number of 4G-enabled devices is envisaged to jump six times to 550 million by calender 2020, says a joint study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE).
Total number of mobile internet users, the study says, is likely to nearly double to 650 million by 2020, and per user data consumption levels are estimated to grow 10-to-14 times to as much as 7-to-10 GBs a month from a current level of 700 MB per month per user.
The BCG-TiE study expects the growth of the country’s internet economy to be propelled by e-commerce and financial services, with the share of digital transactions likely to more than double to nearly 30-40% by 2020.
But the study cautions that the number of high-speed internet users in India continues to remain “limited to only 56%” of the total number of mobile internet users. This is since a sizeable chunk of such users continue to use feature phones, and are accordingly, constrained by device capability and internet speed.
As a result, “average data consumption per user (in India) continues to be low at less than 1 GB data/month, vis-à-vis developing economies like Indonesia and Brazil (at 2-to-3 GB/month) and developed economies like Japan and US (at 9-to-11 GB/month)”.
According to the BCG-TiE study, a combination of low fixed-line broadband coverage, a high proportion of feature phones among mobile handsets in use and high data prices have been key contributing factors behind low internet consumption in the county so far.
Nevertheless, the study expects high-speed mobile internet adoption levels to surge in the country from current the 56% to 85% of total the mobile internet base by 2020 as Indians are increasingly doing more than just calling on their handsets. “One in every four, accesses internet on their mobile phones, summing to 391 million internet users, which for perspective is bigger the population of US,” said BCG and TiE in their joint study.
Furthermore, the country’s devices ecosystem, it said, is leapfrogging by 2-3 years, and the emergence of 4G enabled feature phones is expected to give a fillip to high-speed internet access, going forward.
So much so, the study suggests that 3G smartphones are likely to get phased out by 2018, and be entirely replaced by 4G smartphones inundating the market.