There is great uncertainty in the minds of investors as to what to do. No other country in recent history has ever attempted to demonetise 86 % of its currency ($215 billion) with cash (14 % of gross domestic product, or GDP) in the economy being two to three times the global norm and critical for daily functioning. How do you predict the impact of an event with no precedent, but with such sharp economic effects both long-term and today? What is clear is as follows:
Awash in liquidity: Banks will benefit, as much of this 15 lakh crore in currency will get deposited. Even if only 10 % remains with the banks it means an incremental 1.5 lakh crore of current and savings account ratio (CASA). Interest rates are headed lower system-wide as banks’ cost of funds decline, they lower rates and park these flows into government paper. Already we have seen Indian 10-year yields fall by 40 basis points in the last week, despite yields rising globally. Also remember this money left with the banks will have a multiplier compared to it sitting in cash. The system should be awash in liquidity.
Inflation coming down: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will cut rates sharply and quickly. This reduction in currency will be a deflationary shock, with certain asset markets declining sharply and economic activity weak for the next two quarters at least. Inflation will decline giving the RBI the space to cut.
Cost of capital will reset downwards: Financialisation of savings will accelerate as both property and gold will now be challenged as alternate stores of value. The cost of capital will reset downwards for the country.
Shock to high end-discretionary consumption: There will be a significant negative wealth effect. Some percentage of this 15 lakh crore will get wiped out. Black money that is either simply burned, or loses 30-40 % as the cost of conversion to legitimate money. Wealth destruction is also inevitable in property, as prices fall and markets freeze.
Behavioral change: There is likely to be some behavioral change as those parts of the economy relying on cash need to adjust. Individuals and business that were using large chunks of cash on a daily basis will take months to rebuild these cash levels given the limits on daily withdrawals. In the interim, they will have to adopt e-payments or cheques to stay in business. As their business moves into the formal economy, it will be difficult to reverse and the tax buoyancy of economic growth will improve for the government.
Positive for the “aam admi”: For the vast majority of Indians, those having less than 2.5 lakh in cash or agriculturalists, things will normalise in a few weeks. They will simply need to wait till they can get the new notes. For these people, it is largely a logistical issue of note replacement.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be in trouble: Many are doing business entirely in cash. Demonetisation, combined with goods and services tax (GST), will kill their business model, which was dependent on tax and labour arbitrage. Many sectors will see large market share gain for the organised players. Lenders to the unorganized sector will need to stress test their exposures; there may be far greater credit issues here than investors are modeling
Expect more measures to tackle the flow (fresh creation) of black money: Demonetisation handles the stock problem. Once the short-term logistics around cash replacement are fixed, expect new restrictions on use of cash and continued curbs on cash withdrawals. These steps will continue to force behavioral change.
I am frankly quite amazed as to the extent of cash in the system and its all pervasiveness. It seems that there is no supply chain untouched, and even large organised players need to deal with cash. There are many segments of the economy which operate only on cash. Whether demonetisation works or not, we have to attack this cash and the mindset. That much is certain.