Friday, July 27, 2012

Bad monsoon- How it will hit key sectors of the economy

Published in the business section of on 26th July, 2012

Agriculture in India is majorly rain fed. Hence, monsoons and the rain god attain significance beyond proportions for the Indian farmers. From offering prayers in order to please the rain god to silly things like watching the tail of the cows (they say if the cow lifts its tail upwards, it signals bumper rains), they do it all! And why not? 55% of the Indian population is dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Not just agriculture, monsoons are important for the hydro-electric power generation too, which in turn reduces the consumption of diesel and other forms of fuel. In addition, it also impacts industries like fertilizers, Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), Electronics etc.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) downgraded its monsoon forecast from 99% of the long period average (LPA) in April to 92%, this week. While this is clearly not in the normal range, the IMD is still cautious about not using the word 'drought'. But clubbed with the disclaimer of errors that come with such forecasts using statistical modeling, gives enough reasons to be worried.

Given that India is currently struggling with below par GDP growth rate, low industrial production, high inflation, high fiscal deficit and weak rupee, the role of monsoons has never been as crucial as in this year. What will be the impact on each of these factors, if the monsoon is any less than normal?

GDP Growth rate: Agriculture contributes to about 15% and the rural economy contributes to about 40% of the GDP in India. Failed crops or lower yields will bring down the GDP further. When the country is still shaken with the fourth quarter GDP growth rate for the year 2011-2012, of 5.3%, a weak monsoon can push it below five. An analysis of the last seventeen years rainfall and GDP data, shows that the effect of rainfall on GDP is generally seen with a lag. For example, in the year 2000-2001, when the rainfall was 12% below normal, the GDP growth rate went down from 5.22% in 2000-2001 to 3.77% in 2001-2002. While there may be other factors as well for the decline in GDP, on an average, a below normal monsoon has resulted in a decline in the GDP in the next year.

Industrial production: Lower crop yield results in lower income for the farmers. This directly translates into low disposable income and hence lower rural demand for FMCG products and white goods.

Inflation: India has been grappling with high inflation since the last two years. Food and fuel comprise of 22% of the Wholesale Price Index. Pulses and Oil seeds are mostly rain fed and will become more expensive, adding to the inflation woes. In general, the price of all food grains, vegetables and fruits would go up too, as the yield would be lower.

Fiscal Deficit: For the financial year 2011-2012, the fiscal deficit of the government of India stood at 5.9% of GDP. Out of which, 2.34% (that is 40% of the total deficit) is accounted for by food, fertilizers and fuel subsidies. The fuel subsidy may go up as the generation of hydro electric power will go down. Also, more diesel will be used for irrigation using ground water.

The food and the fertilizer subsidy may not go up. The food subsidy in India comprises of the Government of India buying excess yield from the farmers at a Minimum Support Price (MSP), providing food at highly reduced prices to people below the poverty line and providing subsidy to the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to cover its costs.

The cost of food distributed at subsidized prices will not go up as the government will use food stored in their warehouses. However, more number of people may avail of this facility and distribution cost may go up marginally. Similarly, the costs of FCI may not go up due to a poor monsoon. But, if the yield is low, there may not be too much excess crop for the Government to buy. This will result in significant decline in the fiscal deficit.

In the case of fertilizers, after the de-control of fertilizers in the year 2010 (except Urea), the demand for fertilizers has been coming down due to 30 to 50% hike in prices of fertilizers. If the monsoons are bad, farmers will become more risk averse to deploying more capital into the farms and will avoid expensive fertilizers. This would hit the fertilizer industry. But the government may not get hit with more farmers seeking subsidies on Urea

Rupee: India is a large importer of pulses and edible oil seeds. A weak monsoon will add further pressure on the Rupee as import of edible oil and pulses will increase to meet the domestic demand for them.

A large scale farmer on the outskirts of Hyderabad quips "If IMD has predicted that the monsoon is going to be weak, then I am not worried! Then it will definitely rain. IMD has a dubious reputation for forecasting!"

IMD uses a statistical model, which takes in account the historical rainfall patterns along with factors like the surface temperatures, warm water volume and sea level pressures, etc. This year, IMD has also experimented with a dynamic model, which are recognized as better weather forecasting tool across the world now. In the dynamic model only the current environmental factors are considered for prediction.

Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope for a good monsoon, for a growing, prosperous India!

Friday, July 20, 2012

It need not be Taxing

This article was originally published in Postnoon on June 20th, 2012

It is that time of the year again when we scramble to put together our salary slips, investments, collect form 16 and 16A's, run after Chartered Accountants, all in order to meet the deadline for filing our Income Tax returns. Most of us handle pretty complicated decision making scenarios with ease, in our respective work domains. However, this entire process of filing the tax returns seems unfathomable to most of us. The tax rate slabs, the deductions, the exemptions and the sections! This article lays down the basics of Income Tax returns filing for the Assessment Year 2012-13 (that is, financial year 2011-12).

Tax Slabs and Standard Deduction

The tax calculations for an individual depend upon the gender and the age of the person, apart from the income levels. There is a minimum standard deduction of Rs1,80,000 for a male individual below the age of 60. If we are doing the calculation for a woman, the standard deduction will increase by Rs10,000 to Rs1,90,000. Similarly, if the individual is a senior citizen above the age of 60 but below 80 years of age, the standard deduction is Rs2,50,000. For people above 80 years of age, the standard deduction is Rs5,00,000/-.

The Tax rates are 0, 10, 20 and 30%, depending on the level of the income. An illustration of how the tax rates are applicable depending on the income, is presented in Table 1.

For the current Assessment year, the tax slabs and calculations for a male individual or an HUF will be as follows:


Various sub-sections of Section 80 specify deductions which can be deducted from the Income, to reduce your tax liability and to encourage people to save in the specified instruments. Once again, this is not an exhaustive list, but covers most of the popular deductions:

The section 80c, 80ccc and 80ccd cover premium paid for Life Insurance policies for self, spouse or child(ren); contributions to Employee or Recognized Provident Funds; Post Office Savings Schemes; Subscriptions to Unit Link Plans of LIC, Annuity Plans or Mutual Fund Plans; Admission Fees for upto two children (this is not an exhaustive list). The upper limit for deductions available under section 80c, 80ccc and 80ccd together is Rs1,00,000/-.

Section 80ccf allows for a deduction of up to Rs20,000 invested in long term infrastructure bonds issued by approved institutions. The investment has to be for a minimum period of 10 years, with a lock in of 5 years. Section 80d is the deduction for premium paid for mediclaim or medical insurance. It is Rs20,000 for senior citizens and Rs15,000 for everyone else. One may also claim for premiums paid for parents who are senior citizens, over and above their own premiums.

Section 80E allows for deduction of interest on loan taken for Higher education, while section 80G allows for deduction of donations paid to approved trusts and NGOs. Section 80 GG allows for deduction of house rent paid (HRA). The amount to be deducted for HRA is the lowest of the:

 the HRA received, or

 50% of salary for people residing in the four Metro cities and 40 % of salary for any other city, or

 rent paid in excess of 10 % of salary

Online Tax Filing

Taxes can be filed through a Chartered Accountant or a Taxation lawyer or one can do it online. If your income is below Rs5,00,000 lakhs, you are not required to file your tax returns if you are a salaried person and receive a Form 16 from your company. On the other hand, according to a notification by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), if an individual or a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) earns more than Rs10 lakhs, it is now mandatory to file the returns online.

You may directly file your returns through the official website of the Income Tax Department: or you may file your returns through other sites which may charge you a nominal fees of around Rs200.

It is a good practice to recheck your tax return with the Form 26AS. Form 26AS is a statement of all taxes deducted or collected at source and paid to the Income Tax Department on your behalf, against your PAN number.

Insure Yourself to Skip Worries

This article was originally published in Postnoon on July 13th, 2012

Having realized the importance of Insurance, Mr. Mukherjee had bought a Life Insurance policy last month. However, he was still a worried man. He caught up with Prof. Nicky near the joggers park in their gated community.

Prof. Nicky: Hello Mr. Mukherjee. Good to see you. What brings you here? I thought you were not the jogging types.

Mukherjee: You are right. I never jog. I came looking for you. I bought a Life Insurance policy last month which will protect my family in the event of my untimely death. But what if something bad happens when I am still alive? What if there is a theft or a fire in my house? What if I meet with an accident and need a lot of money for the hospital? How will my family and me handle such an eventuality financially?

Prof. Nicky: What you need is insurance against these eventualities, for peace of mind.

Mukherjee: Exactly.

Prof. Nicky: There are insurance policies for fire, theft, accident, health, etc. These are together known as General Insurance and are sold by 'Non-Life' Insurance companies. In fact some of these policies are now a day's made mandatory by the Government. For example, the third party liability insurance if you own a vehicle. Many companies provide medical insurance to their employees as part of the compensation. Banks insist on an insurance on property if you are taking a loan against property.

Mukherjee: But what about me? I am a businessman. And I have not taken a loan against my property. Its ancestral!

Prof. Nicky: Then you buy it on your own. You must insure your property against loss or damages. Most of the General Insurance companies determine the premium based on the value of the property and the sum assured. When determining the sum for which you want assurance, you should keep in mind things like anticipated damage in the event of a fire or explosion. How much will it cost to renovate? What all do you want covered-Only the property or the fittings and fixtures as well?

Mukherjee: So you mean that the Insurance company pays for the furniture and fittings as well?

Prof. Nicky: Absolutely. Just your premium will go up. Not only this, they will cover injuries to you as well if you want, under a 'house holders policy'.

Mukherjee: Amazing. How about accident and medical plans?

Prof. Nicky: There are many different types of Medical and Health Insurance Policies. Depending on the terms of the policy, they can cover you expenses from hospitalization to diagnostic tests, to medicines, ambulance and other related expenses. Under accident covers, you may buy policies that cover you and your family for permanent or temporary, total or partial, disability. You may also seek cover for funeral expenses if you wish!

Mukherjee (gets angry): Professor, please don't joke.

Prof. Nicky: Mr. Mukherjee, I am not joking. It's true. I am just trying to tell you that you can buy a policy for anything now a days. It's you who has to decide what is important for you to secure and insure. For example, film stars ensure their body parts, because their fame and success depends on those attributes.

Mukherjee: You finance people are genius! You make a product out of everything!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Rain, Rain Pour Again

This article was originally published in Postnoon on July 6th, 2012

Professor Nicky left for her native village in the Karimnagar district last week. She needed a break from Srikanth and his questions on Derivatives. Nicky loved the smell of the countryside and secretly harbored the desire to retire and live on the farms one day. It is the rainy season and the best time of the year to visit her ancestral farms. The soil is moist and the seeds are sown, the saplings are just sprouting from the soil at this time.

Nicky had heard that the Indian Meteorological Depart¬ment (IMD) had predicted average monsoons this year, though slightly lower than their earlier prediction. For the sake of the country, she was praying for normal monsoons. The economy is as it is showing signs of a slowdown. A weak monsoon will push it further into lower growth path.

The Indian farmers are majorly dependent on the rainfall. They go to any extent to please Indra, the Rain God. In a village, they tie two frogs to a pole and get them married. They say that it brings good rainfall! On her farm, Nicky got into a conversation with Bhasker, the supervisor. Bhasker is more knowledgeable and well read than one would expect a rural farmer to be. Whenever professor visits the farm, he does not miss the opportunity to have a dialogue with her on the economy.

Bhasker: Professor, we farmers are worried about the monsoon. That is understandable. Why is everybody else worried about it? People come on the television and say that if it doesn’t rain, it’s going to be very bad for the economy. Why and how is that?

Nicky: Bhasker, the contribution of agriculture constitutes about 15 per cent of our GDP. In the last quarter of the year 2011-12, our GDP growth rate was only 5.3 per cent. If the monsoons are weak, the contribution of agriculture to GDP will go down further. And other industries like electronics and fast moving consumer goods will also experience a slow down since the rural demand for their products will go down if the farmers don’t make money.

Bhasker: Oh… so the impact is much deeper than what I though.
Nicky: That’s not just it. It’s in fact much more than that. Food inflation would also go up if the monsoon is weak. Lower yield will result in lower supply and hence higher prices. A few necessary food articles might need to be imported as well, driving up the demand for dollars, causing the rupee to weaken further. As it is in the last year, rupee has depreciated close to 25 per cent.
Bhasker: Hmmm…no wonder everyone in India so eagerly tracks the monsoon!
Nicky: Yes. It has a huge impact on the key economic figures like fiscal deficit, growth rate and inflation.
Bhasker: You just explained about growth rate and inflation to me. But what about fiscal deficit?

Nicky: The government has budg¬e¬ted Rs 43,580 crore as fuel subsidy for the year 2012-13. In the event of monsoon being weak, the gene¬ration of hydro-electric power will go down and the use of diesel to pu¬mp water into the fields will increase. Both of these will result in an increase in the import of fuel, causing the fuel subsidies to go up. This in turn will increase the fiscal deficit.

Bhasker: Professor I must run and tell my grandmother to tie two more frogs to the pole and get them married!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Understanding Options

This article was originally published in Postnoon on June 29th, 2012

Srikanth: Hi Professor! Hope you have some time because I have a ton of questions!

Srikanth: How would buying an option differ from buying a stock?

Prof Nikki: when you buy a call option, you own the right to buy the stock. But you do not own the stock and therefore have no right over dividends. Also, the extent to which the price movement of the option imitates the price movement of the stock depends on the strike price and the stock price.

Also, you own a stock till you sell it, but an option expires. It is an instrument with limited life.

Srikanth: What do you mean by the strike price?

Prof Nikki: Strike price is the price at which you will buy or sell the underlying asset. The current market price, on the other hand, is known as the spot price.

Srikanth: So when would you suggest I buy options?

Prof Nikki: There are several scenarios when buying options would be a good idea. The first case I can think of is when the prices of a stock you own are falling rapidly.

This is a situation that no one likes. And to protect yourself from potentially large losses, you can buy a put option to sell the stock at a certain acceptable price.

Srikanth: A quick question here Prof, can I buy options in such a way that I can make a profit by exercising it right away?

Prof Nikki: Hypothetically, by buying an in the money call, that is, a call with strike price less than market price, you should be able to make instant profit. But in reality, the options are priced to take into account the time value of money. Which means, factors like interest rates, time to expiration, volatility of the stock etc. are taken into account by the market, making it very difficult to make money by exercising the option right away.

Srikanth: Hmmm… so what are the other situation where buying an option would be good for me?

Prof Nikki: Like I said earlier, there are several situations. Before I tell you more, I really need you to understand that options are instruments that offer immense leverage because you are paying only a fraction of the money in the form of the premium. You actually pay for the stock or the commodity when you exercise the option. While this seems like a good strategy, you should always be careful and manage risk.

Srikanth: I understand Professor… Do you think it would be a good idea to buy call options on a stock that I am optimistic about?

Prof Nikki: You are learning fast indeed! It is a good idea. But please remember that if you plan to actually exercise the option, you will need to have enough capital to buy it at the strike price.

As a matter of fact Srikanth, there are several strategies that one can use with different combinations of options. But the more complex strategies need to be managed regularly. It is advisable to take help of a portfolio manager if you are serious about investing in futures and options.