Economic Indicators and Various Reports On It- GDP, FD, EODB, WIR etc

Recovery? Different numbers tell different stories


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Indian economy's growth rate

India’s growth numbers reveal a different story when seen through the quarter-on-quarter growth lense. The article deals with this issue.

Weakness of India’s GDP statistics

  • The CSO press release for 4Q20 stated that India grew 0.4 per cent on a year-ago basis.
  • That is, relative to the level of GDP four quarters before.
  • Many heaved a sigh of relief at growth turning positive after two-quarters of negative year-ago: -24.4 per cent in 2Q20 and -7.3 per cent in 3Q20 and declared that growth would accelerate from hereon.
  • Nothing could be further from the truth.
  • To know whether the economy will accelerate or decelerate, one needs to know its current speed.
  • To do that, one needs to compute the quarter-on-quarter growth as almost all large economies do.
  • This is a central weakness of India’s GDP statistics, exemplified by last week’s 4Q20 print.

Challenges in measuring quarter-on-quarter growth

  • These computations are not easy, because each quarter has its own characteristics or, as economists call it, “seasonality”
  • Seasonality naturally increases or decreases activity in that period.
  • Think of quarters with festivals or with harvests versus those without them.
  • The modern economy is more complicated as its seasonal patterns change when its structure does.
  • To compare two quarters, these changes to seasonality need to be excluded from the data.
  • Statisticians have been working on this issue for more than a century and, over the last two decades.
  • As a result, many official statistical bodies (such as the US Census Bureau) have made deseasonalising methods freely available.

Understanding the issue through example

  • If the level of 1Q20 GDP is set at 100, then the quarterly growth rates imply that it fell to 75, rising to 91.1 in the following quarter and then to 96.3 last quarter.
  • Now assume that the level of GDP remains constant for the next five quarters, that is, there is no growth in the economy until the end of fiscal year 2021-22.
  • This would mechanically put the full-year growth in 2021-22 at 7.2 per cent simply because of the low average level of GDP in the previous year.
  • If the speed of the economy were to remain at its current pace of 5.7 per cent, then the annual growth in 2021-22 would be an astonishing 28.7 per cent.
  • Any annual growth projection for next year that is less than this necessarily implies a slowdown from the current pace.

So, what is Indian economy’s current growth rate

  • J.P. Morgan uses one of the above mentioned deseasonalising technique.
  • The derived quarterly path is the following: In 1Q20, India’s economy grew 3.7 per cent over the previous quarter, in 2Q20 the economy contracted 25 per cent and then recovered 21.5 per cent in 3Q20 and ended the last quarter at 5.7 per cent.
  • Put differently, growth slowed to 5.7 per cent last quarter — the latest reading of the economy’s “current” speed.

Putting in context the projected nominal growth

  • The budget documents suggest that the government’s projected nominal growth for 2021-22 is 14.5 per cent.
  • This implies a real growth rate of around 11 per cent assuming inflation averages 3.5 per cent.
  • The implied average quarterly pace, consistent with an 11 per cent annual growth, is just 1 per cent.
  • The year-on-year quarterly numbers will keep rising giving the false assurance of a strengthening recovery when in reality the level of income would rise only at a grinding pace.

Reasons behind the deceleration

  • India’s growth drivers had already slowed dramatically prior to the pandemic, the pandemic likely exacerbated them.
  • With listed companies posting strong profit growth in 3Q and 4Q, much of the decline in overall income has fallen on households and MSMEs.
  • This is likely to have not only worsened income inequality, but also severely impaired their balance sheets, making it that much more difficult to access credit in the coming quarters.
  • While industry has recovered to 98 per cent of its pre-pandemic level, the service sector remains substantially below.
  • Thus, much of the continued high unemployment (as reported by private surveys) is in services.
  • This is likely to have disproportionately increased women’s unemployment, thereby widening the gender gap.
  • Last quarter, central government spending rose 12 per cent, but overall public expenditure contracted 1 per cent, implying a sharp contraction at the state level.

Consider the question “Why quarter-on-quarter growth rates reveal a true picture of India’s growth rate as compared to year-on-year rates? What are the challenges in dealing with the quarter-on-quarter data?”


Neither fiscal policy nor monetary policy are designed to reverse these widening economic imbalances. This makes it hard to see India’s growth engines firing on all cylinders, despite the rollout of vaccines and the anticipated surge in US growth.

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