Macroeconomic Update - FY 2017

A summarized version of the FY 2017 growth and inflation outlook adapted from ADB Nepal's Macroeconomic Update: Nepal (March 2017)
  1. Despite suppressed services output because of the deceleration of remittance inflows, a bumper agricultural output, prospects of a pick-up in post-earthquake reconstruction in the last two quarters of FY2017 and an improving investment climate warrant an optimistic growth outlook than the previous update. The above average monsoon rains and the smooth availability of agricultural inputs, particularly chemical fertilizers, is likely to significantly boost agricultural output. Similarly, the notable improvement in power supply, the resumption of manufacturing activities following the lull after the earthquakes in 2015 and supplies disruption in 2016, and pick up in post-earthquake reconstruction works are expected to boost industrial output. The deceleration of remittance inflows and a marginal effect of the demonetization of higher denomination currency notes in India will likely suppress services activities from its potential level. However, services output is expected to be higher than in the last two years. Overall, tailwinds from the expected acceleration in post-earthquake reconstruction, a slight uptick in demand following the disbursement of housing grants and the election related expenditures may negate the headwinds from the demand dampening effect originating from deceleration of remittance inflows, demonetization shock in India and some degree of political instability in the Terai region. However, there still remains uncertainty over the intensity of these opposing forces. Hence, gross domestic product (GDP) growth (at basic prices) is forecast to grow between 5.2% and 6.2% in FY2017.
  2. Although FY2017 budget was announced one-and-a-half month before the start of the fiscal year on the expectation it will provide enough time to plan for procurement and approvals, the expenditure performance till the first half of the fiscal year is not encouraging. The monthly expenditure pattern is similar to the ones seen in the previous years. Actual spending was just 26.2% of the planned spending by the first half of FY2017, the same as in the first half of FY2015 but lower than 30.2% in the same period in FY2014. Actual recurrent spending was 35.4% of planned recurrent budget, higher than 30.9% in the first half of FY2015. However, capital spending was just 11.3% of the planned capital budget, lower than 12.6% and 13.5% in FY2015 and FY2014, respectively. It is very likely that actual capital spending will heavily bunch in the last quarter of FY2017, indicating a persistently weak budget execution capacity of the government. The Ministry of Finance has outlined a series of measures to expedite capital spending.
  3. The mid-year revenue mobilization stood at NRs277.6 billion, which is 49% of the total revenue (tax and non-tax) target for FY2017. It is about 69% higher than the revenue mobilized in the first half of FY2016. As a share of total targets, customs, value added tax (VAT), excise and income tax mobilization up to mid-year stood at 60.4%, 45.4%, 54.2% and 50.1%, respectively. Import-based revenues accounted for about 62% of total revenue in the review period. Overall, tax and non-tax revenue target for FY2017 looks achievable primarily because of the surge in imports following the supplies disruption last year. However, a downside risk to achieving the target is the slowdown in import of vehicles because of liquidity crunch in the last few months.
  4. Inflation averaged 5.8% in the first half of FY2017, sharply down from 9.4% in the corresponding period in FY2016 and 9.9% in FY2016. The downward correction of prices following the highs during and after the crippling supplies disruption was expected as supplies gradually normalized (narrowing down the gap between demand for and supply of goods and services) along with the favorable monsoon (which boosted agricultural output), improved power supply (which is exerting downward pressure on cost of production) and substantial cooling off of prices in India. Food and non-food inflation averaged 4.2% and 7.1% in the first half of FY2017. Considering the normalization of supplies, rosier prospect for agricultural output, continued low fuel and commodity prices, subdued inflation in India, and lower than expected pace of post-earthquake reconstruction efforts so far, inflation in FY2017 is expected to undershoot the government’s target and hover between 6.0% and 6.5%. A deterioration of political situation is a major downside risk to the forecast.
  5. Despite a significant increase in net domestic assets, a slowdown in net foreign assets of the banking sector led to a marginally lower growth of money supply (M2). M2 increased by NRs180.9 billion by mid-January 2017 (against the level in mid-July 2016), up from NRs169.8 billion compared to the corresponding period in FY2016. Net foreign assets grew by 4.7% (NRs45 billion), down sharply from a 18.7% growth rate (NRs139.7 billion) in mid-January 2016. The deceleration of remittance inflows contributed to the slowdown in building up of net foreign assets. The increase in M2 was reflected in the 5.1% growth of narrow money (M1) and 15.9% growth of time deposits.
  6. The banks and financial institutions (BFIs) mobilized NRs144.4 billion (reaching a total of NRs2,161.2 billion) in deposits in the first six months of FY2017, higher than NRs100.9 billion mobilized in the corresponding period in FY2016. This translates into a growth of 7.2%, up from 6.0% in the first half of FY2016. Meanwhile, total credit (loans and advances) of BFIs increased by 11.0% (NRs208.5 billion) in the first half of FY2017, up from 4.3% growth in the corresponding period in FY2016 (NRs65.9 billion). The short-term interest rates remained higher than in the corresponding periods in FY2016, reflecting the liquidity crunch in the financial sector. The weighted average deposit rate of commercial banks was as low as 3.29% in mid-August 2016 and rose to 3.98% by mid-January 2017. Meanwhile, the weighted average lending rate was 8.88% in mid-August 2016 and rose to 9.31% by mid-January 2017.
  7. The country’s external situation weakened as import growth outstripped export growth and remittance inflows decelerated. In the first half of FY2017, balance of payments surplus drastically decreased and current account balance was negative. The balance of payments surplus decreased to $419.6 million from $1.3 billion in the corresponding period in FY2016. The merchandise trade deficit widened to $3.9 billion, much larger than in the previous corresponding periods. This and deceleration of remittance inflows contributed to the current account deficit of $10.1 million, down from a surplus of $1.5 billion in the corresponding period in FY2016. The capital and financial accounts saw increases in net surpluses. Gross foreign exchange reserves increased from $9.7 billion in mid-July 2016 to $10.0 billion by mid-January 2017, sufficient to cover about 12.4 months of import of goods and non-factor services.
Chandan Sapkota
Senior Fellow, Nepal Economic Forum and Former Economics Officer at Asian Development Bank, Nepal Resident Mission
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