Oct 08, 2019, 03.51 PM
The all-India general Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation was steady at 3.21% in August 2019, compared to 3.15% in July 2019. Core CPI inflation eased to 4.20 per cent in August 2019 compared with 4.25 per cent in July 2019.
Also, cumulative CPI inflation declined to 3.11 per cent in April-August of 2019-20 compared with 4.44 per cent in April-August 2018-19.
The war on inflation has been won decisively by the Narendra Modi led government, thanks to proactive management of the current account balance. The current account deficit (CAD) for 2018-19 stood at 2.1 per cent of GDP, just a tad higher than the 1.8 per cent for 2017-18.
India’s trade deficit increased to $180.3 billion in 2018-19 from $160 billion in 2017-18, largely due to higher oil import bill. Needless to add, global crude and local fuel prices will, therefore, be the fulcrum around which both CAD and domestic inflation will revolve.
The recent drone attacks on Saudi Arabia for instance, led to a 19.5% spike in global crude prices in barely 24 hours, shaving off 5 per cent from global supplies, showcasing how volatile global oil prices can be. Every dollar increase in the price of oil raises India’s import bill by about Rs. 10,700 crore on an annualised basis. India spent $111.9 billion on oil imports in 2018-19.
Also, a 10 per cent spike in crude prices can result in roughly a 0.2-0.40 per cent widening of the CAD, other things remaining constant. This, in turn, can play out into a 2-4 per cent depreciation in the rupee and also push up inflation by 0.1-0.2 per cent.
India’s crude imports averaged 4.5 million barrels per day over the first seven months of this year, of which close to 20 per cent was from Saudi Arabia. While prima facie India may therefore seem vulnerable, the truth is we have enough strategic petroleum reserves (SPRs) and commercial crude stocks as cushion.
Again, India has oil reserves equivalent to at least 75 days of net imports. This will increase further to 87 days once the second phase of Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves (ISPRs), which aims to add 12 days’ of crude storage, is fully operational. This includes the refineries’ inbuilt capacity of 65 days.
Concerns have been voiced about India stopping oil imports from Iran since May 2019. Iran used to meet a tenth of our crude demand, making India the third largest customer for the Persian country. The challenge to find alternate suppliers who will be able to deliver at competitive prices is, however, not a problem in the new oil polity that has taken shape in the past few years.
During the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, India suffered. In the case of the Gulf War, there was added impact of Indian workers returning home, straining India’s balance of payments. However India in 2019, under the powerful leadership of Narendra Modi, commands and negotiates from a position of strength.
For instance, the CAD for the June 2019 quarter contracted on a Y-o-y basis on account of higher invisible receipts at $ 31.9 billion as compared with $ 29.9 billion a year ago.
Net services receipts increased by 7.3 per cent on a Y-o-y basis, mainly on the back of a rise in net earnings from travel, financial services and telecommunications, computer and information services. Private transfer receipts, mainly representing remittances by Indians employed overseas, rose to $ 19.9 billion, increasing by 6.2 per cent from their level a year ago in the same quarter.
Lower oil prices in the past few years have significantly improved India’s terms of trade, giving it ample leeway. The cost of the Indian basket of crude, which averaged $47.56 and $56.43 a barrel in 2016-17 and 2017-18, was $59.35 in August 2019, according to data from the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell.
The average price inched up marginally to $59.35 a barrel on September 13, 2019, and this despite heightened global tensions between US and China, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Yemen and Houthi rebels and of course the standoff between UK and Iran, amidst the festering Brexit crisis. It is worth noting that the Indian basket of crude represents the average of Oman, Dubai and Brent Crude.
Despite Russia, China and Turkey continuing their oil-related engagements with Iran, much to the consternation of the US, India engineered a diplomatic coup of sorts by stopping imports from Iran and earning a strong ally in the Trump administration.
By the end of 2019, the United States will become a net energy exporter, shipping out 1.1 million barrels more than it imports. US had been a net energy importer since 1953. But oil production there will now rise until 2027 when it levels off at around 30 million barrels per day. With the US pumping crude at record levels, any deficit by Iran will be filled in suitably.
The oil industry has changed fundamentally as sell. Global oil demand only increased by 1.6% in 2017 and 1.3% in 2018, according to the International Energy Administration.
Most of the increase came from China, which now consumes 13% of global oil production but that number is slated to fall sharply due to the country’s slowing growth. Again, to the Modi government’s credit, it executed a $75 billion bilateral currency swap agreement with Japan in October 2018, for payments to be settled in Yen and Rupees, eliminating the need to use Dollars as a medium of exchange, with another one executed with UAE, to trade in Rupees and Dirham.
These measures to maintain a comfortable forex kitty hit a high of $434.6 billion in October 2019 and will ensure India is no longer subjected to the whims and fancies of a rapidly changing global dynamic that is no longer greased by the oil wells in Ghawar, but by the bountiful wells in the Gulf of Mexico