Declining Consumer Demand and Reluctant Investors
09, Nov 2022
Prelims level : Economy Mains level : GS-III Indian Economy, Investment Models
Why in News?
- In September, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was anguished that industry was holding back from investing in manufacturing despite a significant cut in corporate tax rates in 2019.
Analyzing the corporate Investment since the pandemic:
- Less investment is not the result of losses: The slowdown in corporate investment did not happen because companies were making losses.
- More profit but less investments by corporates: In fact, private companies, boosted by considerable tax cuts, made windfall profits. A State Bank of India analysis shows that tax cuts contributed 19% to the top line of companies during the pandemic. But this did not result in increased investments.
- Dividends to shareholders: Before the pandemic, instead of investing in themselves, companies chose to reward shareholders with higher dividends.
- Investment in equity and debt instead of Infrastructure: During the pandemic, they did not use the profits for paying out dividends; they retained a big chunk of the profits. However, instead of investing in buildings, plants and machinery, they invested in equity shares and debt instruments.
- Corporate cited the slowdown in demand as reason for less investment: So, both before and after the outbreak, they shied away from capital investments. The hesitancy to invest can be explained by a slowdown in the demand side of the economy.
- Corporates didn’t invest in long term returns sectors: Consumer demand started to decline the year before the pandemic and worsened after the COVID19 outbreak. This forced companies to use the increased profits to decrease their debts, pay dividends and invest in financial instruments instead of increasing productivity by making capital investments.
What is the current consumer’s demand situation?
- Average Consumer sentiment index: Private companies invest when they are able to estimate profits, and that comes from demand. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) consumer sentiment index is still below pre-pandemic levels but is far higher than what was seen 12-18 months ago.
- Buoyant Aggregate demand: RBI’s Monetary policy report dated September 30 says, Data for Q2 (ended Sept) indicate that aggregate demand remained buoyant, supported by the ongoing recovery in private consumption and investment demand. It shows that seasonally adjusted capacity utilization rose to 74.3% in Q1 the highest in the last three years.
- High household savings: Along with household savings intentions remaining high, might hold the key to the investment cycle kicking in.
Statistic on demand and investment:
- New investment projects: The new investment projects announced as a % of GDP, since FY18, the share has remained below the 5% mark, compared to over 9% between FY05 and FY22.
- Collection of corporate tax decreased: Corporate tax and income tax collected in India as a % of GDP after the cut in 2019, the share of corporate tax declined dramatically, while the share of income tax gradually increased.
- Double burden on tax payers: The shift in tax burden from the corporates to the people came at a time of job losses and reduced income levels. This pushed more people into poverty.
- Corporate profit increased after tax cut: Profit after tax earned by non-financial private companies in ₹ trillion after the tax cut, the profits of these companies rose to ₹4-5 trillion in the last two financial years from ₹1-2 trillion in many of the previous periods.
- Increase and decrease in dividend to shareholders: Dividends paid by non-financial private companies as a share of profits earned after tax, Payouts to shareholders surged in FY20, the year before the pandemic, but reduced in the following years.
- Profit retention increased: Retained profits as a % of profit after tax surged to 63% in FY22 the highest in a decade (limited companies were analyzed in FY22, so data are provisional).
- Profits are invested in equities: In FY21, the debt-to-equity ratio came down to 0.86 the lowest in at least three decades. In FY22 (provisional data), it came down further to 0.71.
- Year on year decline in capital investment: Year on year change in the investments of non-financial private companies in fixed assets such as buildings, plants, machinery, transport and infrastructure have declined in recent years. But the year on year change in investments in financial instruments such as equity, debt and mutual funds have surged.
- Corporates are holding their pockets in hope of demand rise in future. However, this affects the post-pandemic recovery of economy. IMF and RBI was right to revise their growth forecast this year. Unequal recovery of economy have certainly affected the income levels of middle class. Government has taken a lot of step on supply side (corporate side and banking reform) but no intervention in revival of demand.