Short and medium-term impact demonetisation shock is expected to have on Indian economy

demotizeExcerpts from a new paper, “Demonetisation: Impact on the Economy Tax”, prepared by a research team* of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi,  which is supported by the Ministry of Finance, Government of India:

The argument posited in favour of demonetisation is that the cash that would be extinguished would be “black money” and hence, should be rightfully extinguished to set right the perverse incentive structure in the economy. While the facts are not available to anybody, it would be foolhardy to argue that this is the only possibility. Therefore, it is imperative to evaluate the short run and medium-term impacts that such a shock is expected to have on the economy. Further, the impact of such a move would vary depending on the extent to which the government decides to remonetise.

There are potentially two ways in which the pre-demonetisation money supply will stand altered in the new regime: one, there would be agents in the economy who are holding cash which they cannot explain and hence they cannot deposit in the banking system. This part of the currency will be extinguished since it would not be replaced in any manner. Second, the government might choose to replace only a part of the currency which was in circulation as cash. In the other words, the rest would be available only as electronic money. This could be a mechanism used to force a transition to cashless medium of exchange. The empirical extent of these two components will be unravelled only over the next six months.

It is being assumed that all currency which will potentially be extinguished would be currency being used as a store of value. If this assumption is correct, then the impact of extinguishing this currency would be limited. On the other hand, if the currency is used for any of the other transactions in the economy, either as a store of value or more importantly, as a medium of exchange, then the impact on the economy and the agents in the economy could be substantial.

If, for instance, the extinguished cash was used as a medium of exchange in financing unaccounted income generation or income in the informal sector, demonetisation would result in these activities closing down and a corresponding reduction in the incomes and employment associated with these activities. The spillover effect would be felt by the organised sector as well since the consumption from the incomes generated would extend to the formal sector as well.

If only a part of the currency deposited in the banks is returned to circulation as cash, it would dramatically change the economic environment in the country by forcing agents to move from using cash as a medium of exchange to using cash substitutes. This appears to be a real possibility given that the Finance Minister as well as the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India have repeatedly emphasised that agents should be moving to the use of cashless medium where there are no problems in comparison to the cash based medium.

Very short-term impact

The demonetisation, by removing 86 per cent of the currency in circulation, has resulted in a very severe contraction in money supply in the economy. This contraction, by wiping out cash balances in the economy, will eliminate a number of transactions for a while, since there is no or not enough of a medium of exchange available. Since income and consumption are intrinsically related to transactions in the economy, the above would mean a severe contraction in income and consumption in the economy. This effect would be more severe on individuals who earn incomes in cash and spend it in cash.

In terms of the sectors in the economy, the sectors to be adversely affected are all those sectors where demand is usually backed by cash, especially those not within the organised retailing. For instance, transport services, kirana, fruits and vegetables and all other perishables, would face compression in demand which is backed by purchasing power. This in turn can have two effects: while it is expected that supply exceeds demand, there would be a fall in prices, however, if supply too gets curtailed for want of a medium of exchange, prices might, in fact, rise. Thus, while generally people seem to expect prices to fall, it is quite possible that prices would instead rise.

Alternatively, to keep the flows going, people might take recourse to credit – both the retailers and other agents in the economy might make supplies on credit in the hope that when the liquidity status is corrected, the payments can be realised. In these cases, the price of commodities might rise instead of falling. In other words, the impact of an incremental reduction in money supply where the demand and the supply chain remain unaffected would be different from a case where there is a drastic reduction in money supply and outputs might adjust rather than the adjustment being in prices. In other words, the expectation that inflation would decline might be belied.

A further impact would be a compression of the demand for non-essentials by all the agents in the economy in the face of uncertainty in the availability of cash. The demand from segments which have access to digital medium of exchange would remain unaffected, but that from the rest of the economy would get compressed. This would transmit the effect to the rest of the sectors in the economy as well.

Another sector where one expects to see effects in the very short run is the real estate space. With contraction in demand from one set of agents – say agents who have earned unaccounted incomes and placed them within the real estate space – either prices within this segment would fall or transactions would cease to happen. While of itself, this would be considered a positive development and evidence of a correction in the unaccounted incomes, it could lead to a compression in investments in the construction sector which can have adverse income and employment consequences for the economy.

There are likely to be two spin-offs from this change – one, there would be some increase in tax collections in the short term, and second; various IOUs could emerge as currency substitutes.

Short-term effect with complete replacement

The short-term effect on the economy would depend on the speed with which and the extent to which the cash is replaced by the authorities. If the entire cash is replaced within a short duration of time, the effects beyond the very short term of 1-2 months might be little. But a few sectors are likely to be seriously affected. To give an example from two sectors which are supposed to have large employment effect on the economy, we can talk about agriculture, automobiles and construction.

This is the sowing season for the Rabi crop in some parts of the country and the harvesting season for the Kharif crop. Most of the purchases and sales in this segment of the economy are carried out through cash. With the elimination of cash from the economy, sale of kharif crop would be difficult unless the crop is sold on the promise of payment in future. Given the limited bargaining power of the farmer, the price they can realise for the crop can be adversely affected. On the other hand, in the sowing activity, people would not get access to the inputs required since most of the inputs are now purchased from the market unless they seek access to credit from the supplier.

In other words, with demonetisation, there would be a significant strengthening of the informal sector credit market in the rural economy. Further, if there are agents who do not get access to credit from the informal sector agents, their sowing activity and hence their incomes in the next season would be adversely affected. Thus, in spite of a good monsoon in large parts of the country, the farmer might not get the benefits.

The second sector which could be adversely affected would be the construction sector. The sector, it is often argued, works with a significant amount of cash. Payments to workers as well as a variety of purchases might be carried out in cash. So, on the supply side, this sector can be adversely affected. On the other hand, on the demand side, the demand for houses and buildings would appear as a demand for non-essentials and might be pushed on to the back burner until the economic situation normalises. Thus, to the extent there are agents in the economy whose demand was backed by savings from unaccounted incomes held in the form of cash which got extinguished on demonetisation, there would be a compression of demand.

Short-term effect with incomplete replacement

If, on the other hand, the authorities choose to replace only a fraction of the total cash that was surrendered by the people to the banking sector, then one would witness some other changes/effects in the economy. For transactions to be restored to the pre-change level, a number of agents who are using cash as a medium of exchange have to move to using digital versions of money as the medium of exchange. While this change is gradually happening in the economy, if it is forced by making cash inaccessible, the compression in demand as well as in income generation in the economy would continue for a longer period until people get familiar with the functioning and use of these media.

Medium-term effects

In the medium term, the effects would be related to the extent to which the currency is not replaced within the economy. If the entire currency is replaced, there would not be any major effects on the economy. However, it is to be expected that the entire currency would not be replaced – to the extent currency is extinguished and to the extent some of the currency remains as bank deposits, there would be some impact on the economy. The effect would be a compression of the economy to the extent the extinguished currency was working as a medium of exchange.

The currency that is placed in the banks but not withdrawn, it is argued, would generate an expansion in deposits in the economy. In the discussions on demonetisation, there is a consistent reference to the resultant increase in credit creation in the economy. In India, the cash reserve ratio is 4 per cent while there is a statutory liquidity ratio of 22 per cent. In determining the credit creation, it is important to take into account only the CRR and the additional credit creation can be 25 times the amount of money deposited in the banks as a result of the proposed demonetisation. This amount however, will be generated only if there exists an equivalent demand for credit in the economy.

Impact on Macro Variables

In judging the impact on the economy, it is important to differentiate between the two changes that the demonetisation can bring about in money supply. The first change, i.e., cash being extinguished, to the extent it was being used as medium of exchange, would result in a compression in incomes, employment and consumption in the economy. On the other hand, the effect of the second change, i.e., cash being only partially replaced in the system would have the opposite effects of expansion in potential credit creation.

MSME is one segment of the economy which is credit constrained. Expansion in the potential credit in the economy could expand the credit available to this segment of the economy which is more employment intensive than the organised manufacturing. In other words, if the access to credit for this segment can be improved, it can generate many positive spin-offs. One reason why this segment might get better access to formal sector credit would be if all their transactions move to the digital format, thereby making available to the lending institutions evidence of credit worthiness.

However, for this the transactions need to move digital before they can get access to credit. In other words, unless the banking sector is exploring more risky asset categories, they would not be the beneficiaries of the expansion in potential credit.

It is, however, not correct to assume that expansion in credit will definitely materialise. In the last two years, the demand for credit in the economy has been sluggish at best. In comparison to a credit deposit ratio of 1.53 in 2011-12, the figures for 2014-15 were as low as 0.54. While there might be many factors that contributed to this outcome, what is of consequence is that the demonetisation has been introduced in this environment where demand for credit is rather low. A compression in demand in the economy would further depress the sentiment driving investments. In other words, demand for credit would continue to be low and the potential credit will not be realised immediately.

The compression in demand would mean a decline in imports while exports might not be adversely affected. This change in the balance of trade would induce an appreciation of the currency. Along with lower interest rates, this could result in inflow of investment by FIIs as well.

Two more extreme possibilities that might follow are: a loss in the confidence of the people in the official currency leading to bank run kind of situations if the current description of waiting for long hours for withdrawing money persists and the caps on withdrawal are not relaxed. Alternatively, they could shift to alternatives to currency. Second, there could be social unrest if the compression in incomes and consumption are severe and persistent.

* Dr. Kavita Rao, Dr. Sacchidananda Mukherjee, Dr. Sudhanshu Kumar, Mr. D.P. Sengupta, Suranjali Tandon and Sri Hari Nayudu. Click HERE to download full paper

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