India's slowing economy will need a boost soon after the current election but budget stresses mean New Delhi probably has to rely on the Reserve Bank of India to provide it through more interest rate cuts, according to two senior finance ministry officials.
The government lacks the ability to hike already-planned spending to spur growth, they said, as revenue in the year ending March 2020 is likely to be below target while borrowing will rise, mainly for a new farm support scheme.
"Right now the government is not thinking of any stimulus. I do not think we can afford it, as any package would ultimately lead to higher borrowing," one of the ministry officials, who insisted on anonymity, told Reuters. The government has a fiscal deficit target of 3.4% of gross domestic product for 2019/20. The finance ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
While the RBI is likely to be open to more policy easing, provided inflation does not surge, their impact on economic activity may be limited, given debts burdening India's state banking sector. Two rate cuts this year have barely reduced loan and deposit rates.
The finance ministry official said the RBI needs to provide additional liquidity to ensure rate cuts pass to bank customers. The central bank has injected $13 billion into the system in the past two months through open market operations and forex swaps, but the officials expect more.
The second official said the ministry is working on a plan to infuse capital into state-run banks in exchange for equity. State-run banks have asked for a 500 billion rupees ($7.12 billion) fund infusion in 2019/20, sources said.
Economic growth, which hit a five-quarter low of 6.6% in October-December, appears to be slowing. March industrial output contracted for the first time in nearly two years, surveys show a slackening in manufacturing and services growth, while car and motorbike sales have tumbled.
The slip in growth comes at a time many economists are questioning the quality of official data and suggesting past levels have been overstated.
The trade war between the United States and China has sparked worries about a weakening in the global economy. New Delhi officials are concerned that low-cost Chinese goods which can't find a home in the United States might be dumped in India.
Economists agree that the next administration - whether again led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or by its opponents - will urgently seek to lift growth.
-Reuters, New Delhi
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