Every Monday, Mint’s Plain Facts section features key data releases you need to keep an eye on during the week. Two big announcements are due this week: India’s gross domestic product (GDP) data, and the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI’s) bimonthly monetary policy. Both will provide clues about the state of the economy, and the way ahead. In the corporate world, ITC is set to announce its earnings. Here are the five big numbers to track:
1. India GDP
The ministry of statistics and programme implementation will release GDP estimates for the March quarter on Monday. It will also revise its GDP estimate for the full year 2020-21, which it had pegged at (-)8% in February.
Output had recorded a marginal bounceback (0.4%) in October-December after two quarters of contraction in the first covid wave. Analysts expect it to stay on that course despite the second covid-19 wave, which picked up pace since late February. State Bank of India’s nowcasting model predicts a 1.3% year-on-year growth.
Most high-frequency indicators show the economy was largely on track during the quarter, with the early second wave limited to a few states. Corporate earnings, too, remained largely resilient during the period, the financial results released so far show. The area of concern is the growth since March, as the second wave turned ferocious. However, estimates for the current quarter are still three months away.
2. ITC earnings
ITC, a key constituent of the benchmark Sensex index, will announce its March quarter results on Tuesday. The trend of sequential recovery in revenues since last year’s lockdown is likely to continue. The fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) segment, which accounts for two-thirds of ITC’s business, had been benefiting from pent-up demand for discretionary products until the second wave struck. Analysts say cigarette sales volumes will post a strong bounceback, partly because of the base effect.
The hotels segment, a small contributor, is likely to remain depressed, given that the second wave was already hitting travel plans by end-February. The low base is expected to lift overall sales growth, but a rise in raw material costs could hit margins, analysts said. Markets will await the company’s outlook for the June quarter, which has seen widespread lockdowns. The stock has fallen 3% since mid-February, more than the Sensex (2.8% decline) and even peers in the FMCG index (4.5% rise).
3. RBI’s monetary policy
The monetary policy committee (MPC) of the RBI will meet this week to review the benchmark interest rates. A decision is due on Friday. The repo rate is the key policy tool at the MPC’s disposal to pump in money in times of crisis. It was reduced from 5.15% before the pandemic to 4% in May 2020 and has been there since then. The second wave has lowered the odds of a roll-back, lending greater importance to other projections the RBI will make on Friday, such as the GDP and inflation outlook. The policy statement will be important to reassure markets and anchor inflationary expectations at a time that inflationary pressures are building up despite a still-weak economy. Headline retail inflation has been benign over the past few months, but core CPI inflation remains high. Also, the rise in wholesale prices could spill over to retail prices.
4. India’s PMI
The monthly purchasing managers’ index (PMI) data, a major indicator of economic activity in India, will be released this week, both for the manufacturing sector, on Tuesday, and for services, on Thursday. In April, the manufacturing PMI was nearly flat and the services PMI fell to a three-month low, but both showed healthy expansion. Business grew despite the second wave, partly because of robust export orders for manufacturers, even as high input costs were a drag in both sectors. The PMI data is based on surveys of business leaders on five indicators: new orders, output, employment, suppliers’ delivery times and stocks of purchases. The upcoming numbers will be an early indicator of the business activity in May, when most states were under lockdowns. But, the impact will hardly be a fraction of that seen during the lockdown in 2020, when the composite PMI had slipped to 7.2. This is because of better adaptability of businesses and fewer curbs on industries.
5. Eurozone inflation
Europe has faced repeated covid-19 waves but is now gradually coming out of a deep recession. The easy money treatment from the central bank has played its part in the revival and inflation is inching up as a side-effect. In April, retail prices rose 1.6% in the 19-nation Euro area, the quickest in two years. Early estimates for May are due on Tuesday.
Apart from the economic revival and rising input prices, supply shortages have also contributed to the inflationary surge. With no tightening on the cards from the central bank yet, inflation is only expected to keep rising towards the 2% target.
The European Central Bank, like most others, is being cautious about withdrawing stimulus measures too early and insists the surge is temporary. The May inflation data may not influence interest rates yet, but will influence decisions involving other aspects of the monetary toolkit such as asset purchases.
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