India's former central bank chief Rajan: 'Don't know' if the full impact of demonetization has been measured

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi's demonetization program has "undoubtedly" hurt growth, but its full impact might have not been measured, India's former central bank chief Raghuram Rajan said
  • ANZ Research said in a Friday note that the impact of demonetization on growth has lasted longer than expected

India's controversial demonetization move undoubtedly hurt growth, but its full impact on the economy hasn't been felt yet, the country's former central bank chief said.

"I don't know if we've measured it entirely. We may have to wait for revisions to GDP to get the full sense of how much [may] have happened in the measurable portion," Raghuram Rajan, ex-governor of the Reserve Bank of India, told CNBC TV18 in an interview.

"I think undoubtedly it has had some effect because we were growing between 7.5 and 8 percent in the first quarter of 2016, and then we've slowed considerably since then. And we've slowed when the world economy had taken off," he added.

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetization program in November of last year, India's growth slowed to 6.1 percent in the first quarter of 2017 and moderated further to 5.7 percent in the subsequent three months.

Other than stalling growth, the move also failed in its aim to root out illicit cash, which had been believed to largely be parked in the now-banned 500- and 1,000-rupee bills.

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The central bank said in its annual report last week that 99 percent of those notes were deposited or exchanged for new currency, suggesting that most people, including those who hoarded illicit wealth in cash, have managed to preserve their fortunes.

Rajan had previously said he was against demonetization and preferred other ways to tackle India's "black money" problem, such as offering tax incentives.

But he also acknowledged that it is difficult to single out the program's impact on the economy, as there are two other major dampeners on India's growth: A high level of debt and short-term uncertainty caused by the implementation of the goods and services tax.

"Disentangling these three and talking precisely is difficult especially because, as a number of observers have pointed out, some of the effects (of demonetization) have not been measured," Rajan said.

In a note on Friday, ANZ Research said the near-term outlook for India's economy was pessimistic, with the impact of demonetization aggravating other negative developments, such as a subdued business cycle.

"The impact of demonetization has turned out to be more durable than initially anticipated. We agree with this contention – the impact of demonetization has been substantial in the unorganized sectors of the economy," the ANZ analysts wrote.

"The share of employment and output of the unorganized sector, which has traditionally relied on cash transactions, is large in several areas of the economy. In such a situation, the impact in terms of business closures and job losses is likely to have been significant."