India’s economy picks up in September

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A tractor travels along a road in Amnour, India, on Oct. 22, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Prashanth Vishwanathan

India’s economy picked up speed in September as a revival in demand and business activity helped drive the South Asian nation toward recovery from the pandemic-induced slump.

Five of the eight high-frequency indicators, including exports, tracked by Bloomberg News improved last month, while three were steady. That helped move the needle on a dial measuring the so-called ‘Animal Spirits’ to 5 from 4 in August — a level arrived at by using the three-month weighted average to smooth out volatility in the single-month readings.

Economists, including those at the Reserve Bank of India, attributed the recovery to pent-up demand after a strict lockdown imposed in March to contain the coronavirus outbreak hit the consumption of goods and services. While inventory re-stocking will underpin business activity in the coming months, the improvement might still not be enough to prevent Asia’s third-largest economy from contracting in the financial year to March 2021.

Gross domestic product is estimated to shrink by “close to 10%” in the quarter ended September, the RBI said in a report published Tuesday.

Activity in India’s dominant services sector continued to recover, with the main index rising to 49.8 in September from 41.8 in August. While that’s a marked improvement from April’s record low of 5.4, a number below 50 suggests it’s still in contraction territory and will probably be a drag on overall growth in the July-September quarter.

Manufacturing activity was a bright spot, with the purchasing managers index rising to 56.8 — the highest reading since January 2012 — on the back of a sharp expansion in new work orders, according to IHS Markit. This helped the composite index back into expansion territory — at 54.6 — after five months of contraction.

Exports returned to positive territory with shipments rising 6% in September from a year earlier. Farm exports and shipments of drugs and pharmaceuticals helped the recovery, with engineering goods and chemicals also adding to the rise. A contraction in imports moderated, resulting in a narrowing of the trade deficit.

Passenger vehicle sales, a key indicator of demand, rose 26.5% in September from a year ago. Retail sales too showed signs of stabilizing, even though it was nearly 70% below the year-ago level, according to ShopperTrak. That was mainly because consumer confidence remained in the dumps, an RBI survey showed, with respondents worried about jobs, loss of income and stubbornly high inflation.

Demand for loans also remained sluggish. Central bank data showed credit grew 5.2% in September from a year earlier, slightly lower than 5.5% in the previous month, and nearly half of the growth rates seen a year ago. Tighter liquidity conditions prevailed in September, although there were signs of slight easing toward the end of the month.

Industrial production fell 8% in August from a year earlier, shallower than July’s revised 10.8% contraction. Capital goods output — another key indicator of demand in the economy — dropped 15.8% from a year earlier, although that’s milder than the 22.8% drop seen a month earlier.

Output at infrastructure industries shrank 8.5% in August from a year ago and was slightly worse than the revised 8% decline in July. The sector, which makes up 40% of the industrial production index, had contracted by a record 37.9% in April. Both data are published with a one-month lag.

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