From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much.
Mains level : Paper 3- Significance of quarterly GDP estimates and revision.
As the third-quarter GDP was marginally higher than the second-quarter figure of 4.5% many concluded that the economic slowdown witnessed during the last six quarters has “bottomed out”. Has it?
What closer examination of data reveal?
- Estimates revised upwards: A closer reading reveals that the latest data release has revised the estimates of the first two quarters of the current year (2019-2020) upwards to 5.6% and 5.1%, from the earlier figures of 5% and 4.5%, respectively.
- What the revision mean? The upward revisions have, perhaps unwittingly, changed the interpretation of the current year’s Q3 estimate: the slowdown has continued, not bottomed out; hence, there is no economic revival in sight as of now.
Competing views of the performance
- The question therefore is why did the current year’s Q1 and Q2 GDP estimates get revised upwards?
- The answer is this was simply because the corresponding figures for the previous year (2018-2019) got revised downwards.
- The question over the revision process: Many viewed the revision of last year’s estimates as evidence of lack of credibility of the NSO’s revision process.
- Questions over the veracity of data: Such doubts are well taken, given the long-standing debate and unresolved disputes on the veracity of GDP figures put out since 2015, when the statistical office released the new series of National Accounts with 2011-2012 as base year.
Why the GDP estimates undergo revisions?
- Lags in data: As there are lags and unanticipated delays in obtaining the primary data, the GDP estimates undergo several revisions everywhere (except in China).
- GDP is a statistical construct, prepared using many bits of quantitative information on an economy’s production, consumption and incomes.
- How frequently is data revised? GDP estimates are revised five times in India over nearly three years.
- The initial two rounds, the advanced estimates, are prepared mainly using high-frequency proxy indicators followed by three rounds based on data obtained from various sectors.
Quarterly GDP estimates and issues with it
- Since 1999, quarterly GDP estimates are being prepared, as per the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s data dissemination standards.
- Subpar quality: Their quality is subpar as the primary data needed quarterly are mostly lacking.
- Why quality is subpar? Nearly one-half of India’s GDP originates in the unorganised sector (including agriculture), whose output is not easily amenable to direct estimation every quarter, given the informal nature of production and employment.
- Hence, the estimates are obtained as ratios, proportions and projections of the annual GDP estimates.
- Quarterly estimates are extrapolations: In general terms, quarterly estimates of GDP are extrapolations of annual series of GDP. The estimates of GVA by industry are compiled by extrapolating value of output or value-added with relevant indicators.
- Little ground to question the present revisions: There were considerable variations at the sectoral estimates after the revision, which probably contained more noise than information. For now, there is little ground to question the revised estimates based on the publicly available information.
- Slowdown not bottomed out: If we accept the latest data, it is clear, though in an alarming way, that there has been an undeniable decline in the GDP growth rate over seven consecutive quarters, from 7.1% in Q1 of 2018-2019 to 4.7% in Q3 of 2019-2020.
- Considering that physical indicators of production, such as the official index of infrastructure output, or monthly automotive sales, continue to show an unambiguous deceleration, the economic slowdown has apparently not bottomed-out.
- More seriously, the quarterly GDP deceleration comes over and above the annual GDP growth slowdown for four years now: from 8.3% in 2016-17 to 5% in 2019-20 (as per the second advance estimate).
- Limited primary information: India’s quarterly GDP estimates have limited primary information in them. Their revisions are largely extrapolations and projections of the annual figures. Hence, one should be cautious in reading too much into the specific numbers.