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Moneycontrol Pro Weekender | Socrates, Ulysses And The Monetary Policy

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Dear Reader,

Did Socrates really say, 'In the face of adversity, we have a choice. We can be bitter, or we can be better'? In his statement on the monetary policy, RBI governor Shaktikanta Das claimed the quote was attributed to Socrates. A quick Google search finds the quote, but no mention of the Greek philosopher ever having said that. But then, who knows, although it’s a bit tricky for an RBI governor to quote a guy whose most famous saying is, ‘All I know is that I know nothing’ or words to that effect.

Das also says, ‘it is never too late to seek a newer world’ and ‘to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield’, borrowing the words, of course, from Tennyson’s Ulysses.

Perhaps taking inspiration from these upbeat words in the governor's statement, the RBI’s Monetary Policy Committee decided to keep its policy rates and liquidity stance unchanged, in spite of revising its inflation projections higher. What’s more, it says, ‘inflation is likely to remain elevated, barring transient relief in the winter months from prices of perishables’. It also improved its growth projections from its earlier estimates. The PMI data for November show precisely this combination -- continuing expansion in both manufacturing and services, but higher inflation.

Other indicators too reflect the improving economy. Our recovery tracker shows a very healthy trend this week, with falling unemployment, higher retail car sales and increased power consumption. Bank lending has picked up sharply. The auto industry is cruising along comfortably, although there could be speed bumps along the way. Lumax Industries will capitalise on that recovery. Indeed, there are signs of a rebound in capital goods companies too, although government support is essential. Good luck with that.

Given the growth revival, we took a look at which mid-cap cement companies could benefit from the increase in infrastructure and housing activity. Railway engineering companies are seeing a sharp rise in business. Engineers India’s fundamentals are improving, as are those of JSW Energy. Laurus Labs’ new lever of growth looks so promising that it merited two stories, here and here. The supply situation has normalised for Sharda Cropchem. Business momentum in Transport Corporation of India looks good, while AU Small Finance Bank’s collection efficiency is now near normal. The icing on the cake is that, contrary to expectations, the smaller FMCG companies have done far better than the bigger ones.

What the RBI is essentially saying is that it will keep monetary policy accommodative as long as necessary – at least during the current financial year and into the next financial year---in spite of higher inflation and the economic recovery.

That is wonderful news for the markets. The party in equities is getting wilder and is fast developing into a first-class binge, aided and abetted by central banks across the world, including the RBI. After all, real bond yields in India are not only negative, but the lowest among major economies. Globally, the prospect of vaccines in a few months has led to, as this FT piece tells us, an ‘everything rally’.

The JP Morgan Global Composite PMI for November indicates that the recovery continues and the latest OECD growth projections show some light in the covid-19 gloom. At 57.5 in November, China’s Composite PMI signalled the steepest increase in total Chinese output since March 2010 -- small wonder that China’s voracious appetite for steel is benefiting India’s steel producers. All these optimistic signals have led Mark Matthews, Research Head (Asia) at Bank Julius Baer & Co Ltd, to predict earnings growth in India to be over 25 percent in the next two years.

Of course, everything is far from being back to normal, which is why the RBI is so keen to push growth, never mind its inflation target. The RBI’s consumer confidence survey in November showed that only 52 percent of respondents believed their employment prospects would improve over the next one year—a third said they expect their job prospects to get worse. Only 51 percent said they expect their income to increase in the next one year. And as for the consumption recovery that everybody is eagerly looking forward to, only 28.7 percent of those surveyed said they would increase discretionary spending in the next one year, while 34 percent said they would curb non-essential spending.

That is why we underlined two reasons why the banking sector is not yet out of trouble. Muthoot Finance’s MD says they will grow more than 15 percent this year, but what do all the gold loans tell us about financial conditions among the masses? And don’t forget that globally, food inflation has reared its ugly head. Add to that the possibility that the farmers’ agitation may stymie a bold attempt at reforms.

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