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India has less fiscal room to support economy; rise in debt-GDP ratio to weaken credit profile: Fitch

Rookmaaker said economic activity in India has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, as in many other countries, especially those that have imposed lockdowns.

April 15, 2020 / 07:59 PM IST

The Indian government has less fiscal room to support the economy compared to many of its peers and the country's credit profile would weaken if a wider fiscal deficit increases the debt-GDP ratio, Fitch Ratings said on Wednesday. In an e-mail interview to PTI, Fitch Ratings Director (Sovereign Ratings) Thomas Rookmaaker said India's debt-to-GDP ratio is likely to rise to 76 per cent from 70 per cent currently due to wider fiscal deficit and low economic growth.

He said economic activity in India has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, as in many other countries, especially those that have imposed lockdowns.

"Our FY21 growth projection for India of 2 per cent is subject to a high degree of uncertainty, stemming from the length of the lockdown period, the government's and RBI's policy response, and the evolution of the global pandemic itself," he said.

Fitch had earlier this month projected India's FY21 GDP growth at 2 per cent -- the slowest since the economy was liberalised 30 years back, joining a chorus of international agencies that have made similar cuts in growth estimates amid the coronavirus crisis.

Rookmaaker said extraordinary measures have been taken in many countries, including strong fiscal responses to provide relief to those most affected by the pandemic.


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"The Indian government has less fiscal room to support the economy than many of its peers, however, given its high government debt of around 70 per cent of GDP.

"Lower projected GDP growth and a wider fiscal deficit will lead to an increase in the government debt/GDP ratio to around 76 per cent in FY21, according to our latest calculations," he said.

Rookmaaker further said the government's restraint so far in providing fiscal stimulus has helped avoid a further rise in the government debt ratio. However, increase in the debt ratio may be inevitable if the economic situation continues to deteriorate.

"In our evaluation of India's rating, we will assess the impact of future fiscal measures on GDP growth and public debt. A material increase in the fiscal deficit that would cause the government debt/GDP ratio to be placed on a sustained upward trajectory, would weaken India's credit profile," he noted.

Rookmaaker also said the government has so far not announced its intentions to tighten fiscal policy again once the pandemic is under control.

"India's track record of the past decade with respect to meeting fiscal targets and implementing fiscal rules has been relatively weak, however," he added.

Fitch had in December 2019 reaffirmed India's 'BBB-' rating with a stable outlook.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has slashed India's GDP growth projection to 1.9 per cent in 2020 from 5.8 per cent estimated in January, as the global economy hits the worst recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s due to the raging coronavirus pandemic.

Similarly, the World Bank has estimated that India's economy will grow between 1.5 to 2.8 per cent in 2020-21 -- the worst growth performance since the 1991 liberalisation.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) sees India's economic growth slipping to 4 per cent in current fiscal (April 2020 to March 2021), while S&P Global Ratings has lowered its GDP growth forecast for the country to 3.5 per cent. Moody's Investors Service has also slashed its estimate of India's GDP growth during the 2020 calendar year to 2.5 per cent.

These figures compare to an estimated 5 per cent growth rate in 2019-20 fiscal that ended on March 31. The Indian economy also grew by 5 per cent in 2019 calendar year.

India has already announced a Rs 1.7 lakh crore relief package, Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Yojana, for poor, urban and rural workers, and those in need of immediate attention to tackle the economic crisis arising due to COVID-19.

Industry, especially the MSME sector, has been demanding a package to tide over the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
first published: Apr 15, 2020 07:50 pm

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