Indian GDP growth figures at 7.5% flatter somewhat – but are not wrong

India since the start of this year has been using a new method of calculating GDP and GDP growth. Basically 3 changes have been made.

  1. the base year has been changed from 2004-05 to now be 2011-12
  2. a “cost of production” based method has been changed to be a “market value” based method, and
  3. a database of just 5,000 corporate entities has been expanded to include over 500,000 entities

It is the use of “market value” rather than cost based data which is the biggest change and actually brings India more into line with the methods used by most other countries. Cost based (bottom up) analyses are always historical in nature, somewhat out-of-date by the time the data are used, and under-estimate real value. “Market value” based data should be more current but have a subjective element and can overestimate “value” especially in times of high inflation. The subjective element can work in both directions but brings in an element of “expectation” into what should be a look backwards. For example a calculation of GDP growth for a quarter consists of “value now” minus “value 3 months ago”. A “value now” estimation in times of high growth will overestimate and in hard times will underestimate. On the other hand a cost-based, bottom-up estimation of value will always lag and underestimate real value.

There is no “correct” method. The real question is what the “value now” is to be compared with. To compare with the growth in China or some other country it is better that the methodologies used be the same. Of course, differences of value (growth) will be different using the different methodologies. The “new” method at least uses a large enough database to be more representative of the constituent parts of the Indian economy as it actually is now.

Hindustan TimesAll of this means the new method for computing GDP, which takes 2011-12 (when GDP grew 6.7%) as the base year, has bumped up India’s estimates of growth. In 2012-13, the new formula estimates growth at 5.1% (under the old one, it was 4.5%); in 2013-14, it is 6.9% (the old estimate was 4.7%); and, as we all know by the high-decibel crowing that came in its wake, in 2014-15, it was 7.3%.

There’s obviously no ‘old data’ for 2014-15 but estimates suggest that the old method may have pegged growth at 6.3-6.8%. All of this may mean something else too.

Last week, FM Arun Jaitley told US investors that India could attain double-digit growth soon. He wasn’t kidding. Because what’s 10% now could’ve been just 8% before!

For the April-June quarter Indian GDP growth is estimated to have been 7.4% compared to the 7.5% in the preceding quarter (calculated by the new method). With the old method the number would probably have been about 5.8 – 6.2 %. A growth of 7.5% is somewhat flattering of the real mood in Indian industry that I can discern.

I have a suspicion that at 7.5% the growth figures are a little too high and contain an overly optimistic “market value”. It could be that there is an in-built “optimism” of the politicians and bureaucrats, rather than of industry, which is skewing the “value now”. “Reality”, if such a thing exists, lies somewhere in-between the values calculated by the two methodologies.


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