Indias Cantilever Economy

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Date Submitted: 08/26/2010 06:57 AM

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Taking a high road

A strong, well-balanced recovery

Jun 1st 2010

ATHLETES competing in this year’s Commonwealth Games held in Delhi will travel to the stadium along the Barapullah Elevated Road, one of many transport projects sprouting up in India’s capital city. Half-built sections of the road loom dramatically over the streets below, as if straining to reach the concrete supports on the other side.

India’s economy has taken a similarly elevated route through the global financial turmoil. Its growth never fell below 5.8% (see chart), thanks to a timely fiscal splurge. But just as a cantilever cannot extend too far before it buckles, so an economy cannot place too much weight on a single source of support. India’s merits special caution, its budget deficit topping 10% of GDP in the fiscal year that ended on March 31st.

The growth figures released on May 31st were therefore doubly welcome. They showed that India’s GDP expanded by 8.6% in the year to the first quarter. And as heartening as the rate of growth was its source: investment in fixed assets (such as elevated roads) accounted for more than half of it; government consumption contributed hardly at all.

By “stepping up” its investments, “industry has shown its confidence in the economic recovery," said Chandrajit Banerjee of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). The biggest bets are being placed by India’s mobile-telephone operators, who bid no less than 677.2 billion rupees ($14.6 billion) between them in the government’s recent auction of the airwaves for speedy third-generation (3G) networks. A second auction now under way may raise another 300 billion rupees from firms seeking to offer broadband internet over wireless networks.

This windfall, far exceeding the government’s target of a total 350 billion rupees, will help it narrow its budget gap this year. But the government’s gain was the telecoms industry’s loss. To compete in the auction, mobile operators have borrowed heavily, some...