Sunday, December 18, 2016

India outlook dims after cash ban; Instagram has 600m active users; Savers choking world economy

1 India outlook dims after cash ban (Straits Times) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had touted the surprise move to scrap high-value bills as India's biggest step against unaccounted cash, which the government estimated at 5 trillion rupees. The bulk of this money has already been deposited with two more weeks to go before the deadline lapses, meaning the shock to the system may have been in vain.

The decision sucked out 86 per cent of currency in circulation, akin to withdrawing all US dollar bills except for about half of the $1 notes. Only 50 per cent of this is projected to be replaced by the year-end, leaving the authorities scrambling to push digital payments as public anger rises.

"India's 'own goal' currency swap initiative has put a crimp on the cash-dependent economy," said Singapore-based Paul Gruenwald, chief economist for Asia-Pacific at S&P Global. The government's "well-intentioned but poorly thought through demonetisation programme" is driving down the pace of economic activity, he said.

As investors try to assess the impact of Mr Modi's move, all eyes will be on the government's forecast for the year through March - due on Jan 7. The central bank and private economists have lowered their projections for the economy where 98 per cent of consumer payments are made in cash.

Commercial credit sank to a 19-year low as backlogs piled up at factories and banks stayed busy with the task of exchanging currency notes. Meanwhile deposits surged, pushing the credit-deposit ratio to a six-year low. The trade deficit widened to a 16-month high as export growth slowed in November and imports surged.

Most worryingly, gold shipments jumped 26 per cent in November, triggering speculation that consumers were converting their cash into non-productive holdings of the precious metal. Mr Rafeeque Ahmed, chairman of the council for leather exports, said Mr Modi's move has slashed about 75,000-100,000 jobs from his industry.

2 Instagram has 600m active users (Emily Price in San Francisco Chronicle) Instagram has announced that it has doubled its number of monthly active users over the past two years. The company reported that it has 600 million monthly daily active users now, 100 million of those added over the past six months.

It’s been a big year for Instagram. The company has evolved from its early days, adding a number of new features to keep it relevant. While once just a photo sharing site, Instagram has since added the ability to share videos on the service, and this summer launched Instagram Stories, a Snapchat-esque way to share moments from your day on the service through posts that can only be viewed for a limited period of time.

This month, Instagram added an easier follower removal process for private account-holders, the ability to filter out language posted by others that one may consider abusive, and the option to use a new live video feature that allows Instagram users to broadcast live. However, unlike other services, those live videos must be viewed while an event is happening, as they can’t be replayed later.

3 Savers choking world economy (Phillip Inman in The Guardian) Saving is always said to be a good thing. But that is about households and their spare cash. And cash accounts for only a small proportion of the savings held by most people. These days our accumulated wealth is our savings – and far from being a way to protect us from financial shocks, they are toxic and slowly killing the world’s economies.

Firstly there is the sheer scale of savings held by individuals, companies and governments. Earlier this year the International Monetary Fund felt the need to add it all up and declared it a savings glut. It says institutional investors such as pension funds, insurance companies and mutual funds, along with the sovereign wealth funds of oil-rich nations and central banks, hold around $100 trillion in assets under management.

This huge sum compares to US GDP of around $18 trillion and the total market value of US-listed companies in 2015 of $19 trillion (which today is more like $25 trillion). Mostly it is invested in stock markets and property or lent to companies and governments in the form of bonds. The remainder is invested in commodities such as oil, or financial derivatives of various assets and insurance products that hedge any potential losses on those assets.

The IMF says governments should work harder to attract investor funds to build vital infrastructure and close their budget deficits. But when investment banks demand between 10% and 15% returns and pension funds think we should be grateful they only want 6% to 9%, the IMF is supporting a rip-off perpetrated by today’s savers on tomorrow’s taxpayers.

Instead it should use its intellectual muscle to shift the debate and support higher taxes on wealth.

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