VUCA: the new reality for Indian business

by Deepak Sharma, Ravindra Beleyur, Vlad Flamind, Gehan Wanduragala and Guillaume Santesmases | 01 August 2016

The volatility and uncertainty Indian companies have faced in the last six years represent the ‘new normal’.

Over the last 6 years, India has become increasingly subject to the convulsions of an erratic global economy, while at the same time the domestic environment has become more challenging. The Economic Survey of India 2016 stated that “the newest normal for the world economy is one of turbulence and volatility”.

Volatility has increased

A major contributor to volatility is the dramatic fluctuations in economic growth that have become commonplace since the 2008 financial crisis. In the pre-crisis period, the quarter-to-quarter standard deviation of India's GDP growth was only 0.44%, but this shot up four-fold to 1.78% in the years after the crisis.

Indian GDP Growth, 2006 to 2016

India Inc. had come to expect GDP growth rates of 9% and above as the norm but the global financial crisis precipitated a drop in growth from close to 10% to less than 6%. However, a subsequent fiscal stimulus from the Indian government resulted in a strong rebound that saw growth exceed its pre-crisis levels. Unfortunately, this bounce was short-lived as industrial growth quickly began to weaken, and GDP growth has been unable to break much above 7% in the years since. The volatility in GDP growth has impacted aggregate demand, which in turn has created excess capacity and put downward pressure on margins in many industries.

Compounding the challenge of GDP volatility is the unprecedented volatility in commodity prices, and the consequent feed through to input prices for many Indian businesses. In a short few years, commodity prices have swung between record highs and lows, as the commodity super-cycle was quickly followed by fears of a Chinese slowdown.

Inflation has seen similarly sharp ups and downs with significant implications for consumer demand. With food staples still accounting for a large share of Indian household expenditure, any price change is greatly amplified. While inflation has moderated recently thanks to lower commodity prices, a sudden rise in fuel costs or a disappointing monsoon could easily see the figure leap again.

On top of this, exchange rate volatility is a further challenge for Indian business. The fluctuation in the Rupee’s value (signified by the standard deviation of the INR USD rate) was more than twice as extreme between 2010 and 2016 as it had been in the preceding 5 years. As a net importer in many important commodities, India Inc. is acutely vulnerable to such swings.

Economic variables in India. Commodity prices, Annual rainfall, CPI inflation, INR USD exchange rate,

The Monsoon remains a source of uncertainty

As well as a more volatile environment, Indian business has to contend with uncertainty surrounding the annual Monsoon. The majority of India's population still rely on agriculture as a source of income and the country's farms are highly reliant on a favourable Monsoon. The Monsoon’s impact on rural consumption has major consequences every year for the fortunes of India Inc. This uncertainty is further exacerbated as weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable due to global warming and other climatic forces.

Integration with the global economy has brought greater complexity and uncertainty

Today, volatility and uncertainty in the global economy have a greater influence on the Indian economy than ever before, creating a more complex environment for business to navigate. In the first decade post-liberalisation India remained relatively insulated from the global economy. But since 2002 the correlation between India’s growth rate and that of the global economy has more than doubled from 0.2 to 0.42.

India’s closer integration is reflected in increasing cross-border flows of trade and its rising share of global trade. Trends in cross-border foreign direct investment (FDI) and foreign institutional investment (FII) have also seen increases over this period.

Along with rising trade and capital flows, another consequence of greater integration is the increased spillover effects of foreign monetary policy decisions on the Indian economy. Recently the RBI Governor flagged the threat of ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ monetary policies as a key risk to both the global economy and India. Sudden changes, for example in US Federal Reserve policy, can have a dramatic effect on exchange rates and capital flows for India.

India's integration with the global economy. India's GDP growth and share of exports.

The net effect of India’s integration with the global economy is much greater complexity and uncertainty at both the macro and microeconomic level. As a result, India Inc. must continually track and contend with the impact of global economic events on their business at home and abroad. At the same time, they must manage the threat of increased competition from a wider range of international challengers who are making their presence felt in India.

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