Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The truth(?) behind the 6.8% Jan ‘12 IIP growth number

The Index of Industrial Production (IIP) published by the government each month is supposed to give an idea about what is going on in the economy. The Jan ‘12 figure of 6.8% came as a positive surprise, because the IIP number for Dec ‘11 was only 2.5%, and the consensus estimate for Jan ‘12 was about 2.1%. Naturally, the much higher figure seemed to indicate that growth was returning to the Indian economy.

The stock market should have celebrated the news – but didn’t. Were market participants ‘selling on news’, or did they ignore the news as unbelievable? Digging a little deeper into the published data raises more questions than answers.

Manufacturing growth was at a respectable 8.5%. But that growth was largely due to a whopping 92.6% growth in food products and beverages; 56.1% growth in printing, publishing and reproduction of recorded media; and 29.9% growth in medical, precision and optical instruments, watches and clocks. Minus these three items, manufacturing growth would be negative.

In plain English, the above data means that Indian citizens consumed almost twice the amount of food and drinks than what they did in Jan ‘11. Surely, population increase and rural prosperity through the NREGA scheme had roles to play. But 92.6% growth is hard to believe. So is the data that indicates a sudden rise in reading books, newspapers and listening to music and watching movies at home.

A growth in medical instruments may be explained away by the proliferation of modern hospitals and clinics. But why the propensity for buying watches and clocks? Of course, the published data has the following disclaimer: “Indices for January ‘12 are Quick Estimates.” May be the data collection was outsourced and improperly supervised.

More intriguing are the areas of de-growth. Electrical machinery and apparatus fell by –30.5%. Office, accounting and computing machinery fell by –14.1%. Radio, TV and communication equipment and apparatus fell by –13.8%. India is definitely not shining if electrical machinery, computers and communication equipment are showing de-growth.

As happens almost every month, these ‘Quick Estimates’ get revised subsequently. Which means these initial numbers don’t count for much and don’t indicate any trend. The collective wisdom of market participants in ignoring the Jan ‘12 IIP growth number proved correct in this instance.

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