Weekly Wrap – India’s farmer protests continues; Brexit sealed; slow economic recovery, fraught with risks

Britain clinched a narrow Brexit trade deal with the European Union on Thursday, just seven days before it exits one of the world’s biggest trading blocs in its most significant global shift since the loss of empire.

The deal means it has swerved away from a chaotic finale to a tortuous divorce that has shaken the 70-year project to forge European unity from the ruins of World War Two.

UK and EU have struck a zero-tariff and zero-quota deal which will help to smooth trade in goods that makes up half their $900 billion in annual commerce.

In India, meanwhile, economic revival is slowing, key indicators show.

Data issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) showed that the number of real-time online payments through the unified payments interface (UPI) fell 5.3% to 1.51 billion transactions between 1 and 21 December, compared to the same period in November.

The reason for tepid growth in online transactions is primarily due to a post-festive season lull. After the high online sales growth in October and November, it seems people are again spending cautiously due to the uncertainty associated with covid.

Agriculture

The stalemate between the Indian government and the farmers continues. Government officials met with representatives of farmer union groups in a fresh attempt to resolve their objections on three key farm laws.

Divergent voices have emerged over the issues with one section leaning towards a speedy resolution of the dispute while another maintaining their demand for a complete repeal of the laws. 

Farmers find it baffling that the government has not shown any willingness to provide legal guarantees for Minimum Support Prices (MSP) offered on about two dozen crops in the absence of which farmers were suffering terribly.

Even though India has one of the highest arable areas under agriculture, its farm productivity has been among the lowest for most crops. The government, on the other hand, says the farm sector reforms have been introduced amid one of the biggest disruptions that we ever experienced.

The farm reforms are progressive and part of a comprehensive package to bring the nation’s economy and growth back on track. 

Metals

During the first eight months of the current fiscal, steel consumption in the country has reached 53.4 million tonnes which is 21% lower compared to last year. In November 2020 the country consumed 8.62 million tonnes of steel which exceeds Nov 2019 level by 11%.

The increasing consumption growth has been visible for the last 3 months. This only proves that the country’s appetite for steel which is one of the major indicators of economic growth in a developing economy, is rising and at a level surpassing the estimates of the forecasting agencies.

The fortunes of Indian steel manufacturers such as JSW Steel, Tata Steel, etc, are likely to rise in the coming months as one prime the raw material — coking coal — is set to remain cheaper.

The prices of coking coal are expected to dip as China has put a ban on Australian coking coal. Softer coking coal prices shall directly support the earnings for steel producing companies which use the blast furnace process.

It is also likely that the Chinese ban on Australian coking coal has the ability to affect the global metrics of steel.  

Gold

Gold closed the week at Rs 53,180 per 10 gram, while silver price was trending at Rs 66,900 per kg, Gold imports, which have a bearing on the current account deficit, fell 40 per cent to $ 12.3 billion during April-November due to fall in demand in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the commerce ministry.

Imports of the yellow metal stood at $ 20.6 billion in the corresponding period of 2019-20. The imports, however, recorded a year-on-year growth of 2.65 per cent in November to $ 3 billion. Silver imports during April-November 2020 too dipped 65.7 per cent to about $ 752 million.

The decline in gold and silver imports has helped in narrowing the country’s trade deficit, difference between imports and exports, to $ 42 billion during April-November 2020-21 as against $ 113.42 billion in the year-ago period.

Energy

Fuel sale in the country is coming back to normal indicating a perking up of the economy. In Maharashtra, the sale is yet to reach the pre-COVID situation and the deficit in diesel sale is still around 12 per cent.

Retail fuel industry in India saw a growth in petrol sale in October by 2 per cent, but it dipped down in November. However, it is expected to reach back to pre-COVID levels in December. The throughput of most refineries in the country is almost 100 per cent today.

Crude oil prices are generally wilting amid fears that the new strain of Covid virus found in UK and South Africa will derail the fuel demand recovery. Brent crude was trading at $50.81 a barrel, with West Texas Intermediate at $47.81 a barrel.

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