India Economy
Glimmer of hope shows up in India's overall business and industrial activity, but import lag continues to bite. (Image for illustrative purposes.) Image Credit: Shutterstock

(Bloomberg): India’s economy showed nascent signs it may be turning a corner after six straight months of anemic activity.

Two of the eight high-frequency indicators came in stronger in November based on a three-month weighted average reading, although that wasn’t enough to move the needle on a gauge measuring overall activity. The dashboard measures “animal spirits”, a term coined by British economist John Maynard Keynes to refer to investors’ confidence in taking action.

Despite the green shoots, the economy is set for another quarter of sub-par growth, and still in need of support from the government and the central bank heading into 2020. The focus will now turn to the government’s annual budget due February 1, with Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman saying she’s working toward improving consumption.

Key readings from the financial dashboard:

* Business activity

The dominant services index rebounded last month, driven by higher orders and strengthening business confidence. The IHS Markit India Services Purchasing Managers’ Index rose to a four-month high of 52.7 in November, the first time in three months that the reading has been above the 50 mark, which indicates expansion. The index is still below its long-run average of 54.2.

The manufacturing sector activity also improved in November, resulting in the composite PMI index jumping to 52.7 from 49.6. The surveys showed input cost inflation for the services sector quickened to a 13-month high, while manufacturing input prices rose marginally.

* Export slump

Exports struggled, although the 0.3 per cent contraction in November from a year ago was shallower than the 1.1 per cent drop seen in October. The decline was driven by a dip in gems and jewelry shipments.

More worryingly, non-oil, non-gold imports continued to contract, led by lower imports of transport equipment and electronic goods. Capital goods imports contracted sharply by 21.8 per cent in November compared with a 6.1 per cent fall in October - the sixth consecutive month of declines led by weakness in the capex cycle, according to economists at IDFC Ltd.

The downtrend in non-oil, non-gold imports “increases downside risks to our base case view that the economy will experience a shallow recovery,” said Abhishek Gupta, economist.

* Consumer activity

Consumer confidence dropped to its lowest level since at least 2014, affecting demand across the economy. Passenger car sales posted the 13th consecutive month of declines in November, with purchases of two-wheelers - an indicator for demand in smaller towns and rural areas - falling 14.3 per cent from a year ago.

The slump in demand is due in part to a prolonged crisis in the shadow-banking sector, which has led to tighter lending and hurt domestic consumption - the backbone of the economy.

* Industrial activity

Industrial output contracted 3.8 per cent in October, the third straight month of decline. The deterioration has been most marked for segments more dependent on funding - capital goods, consumer durables and infrastructure and construction.

The index of eight core infrastructure industries, which feeds into the index of industrial production, declined 5.8 per cent in October from a year ago - its steepest drop in at least 14 years - dragged down by a sharp contraction in electricity production. Both the core sector and industrial output numbers are reported with a one-month lag.