Moody's maintains India's Baa3 credit rating, cites concerns over politics, debt

The agency underscored hurdles in expanding the manufacturing sector and generating employment, including trade barriers and educational gaps

Representational image of the Moody's logo (Photo: Getty Images)
Representational image of the Moody's logo (Photo: Getty Images)

Aditya Anand

Moody's Investors Service today reaffirmed India's Baa3 rating and retained the stable outlook. However, amidst the assessment, the credit agency issued a cautionary note, flagging potential political concerns. It even pointed to the ongoing turmoil in Manipur as an illustrative example of these apprehensions. 

While retaining a cautious optimism regarding India's economic future, Moody’s swiftly underscored noteworthy areas of concern. The agency observed that despite the nation's robust economic performance, potential growth has dwindled over the past decade, presenting a possible hurdle.

Moody's highlighted India's elevated GDP growth as a catalyst for heightened income levels and overall economic durability. However, it also placed significant emphasis on the substantial challenge posed by the nation's elevated government debt. 

The credit agency acknowledged that efforts towards gradual fiscal consolidation were underway but expressed concerns regarding India's ability to effectively manage its debt amidst a sustained increase in global and domestic interest rates. Such a scenario, Moody's warned, could have exacerbated India's debt burden and weakened its debt management capacity.

A Baa3 credit rating is a designation given by credit rating agencies to signify the creditworthiness of a borrower, typically a government or a company. In the case of Moody's Investors Service, a Baa3 rating falls within the "investment grade" category, which indicates that the rated entity has moderate credit risk. Specifically, the Baa3 rating is one notch above the lowest investment-grade rating on Moody's scale. 

It suggests that the issuer's ability to meet its financial obligations is considered to be adequate, but there are certain risks and vulnerabilities that could impact its creditworthiness, particularly during economic downturns or adverse conditions. 

It's important to note that credit ratings are a reflection of an agency's assessment of an entity's financial strength, repayment capacity, and other relevant factors at a specific point in time. Different credit rating agencies, such as Moody's, Standard & Poor's, and Fitch, use their own rating scales and criteria, so the exact meaning of a Baa3 rating might vary slightly among these agencies.

On the economic front, Moody's anticipated India's outpacing of other G20 economies in terms of growth, owing to robust domestic demand. The government's concentration on infrastructure development, as evidenced by an augmented capital expenditure share within the Union budget, had contributed to tangible improvements in logistics and trade-related infrastructure.

The rollout of digital public infrastructure, aimed at enhancing public service efficiency and formalising the economy, was projected to reinforce India's long-term growth potential. 

While acknowledging enhancements in the financial health of India's banking sector, Moody's cautioned against dismissing persisting challenges. The agency underscored hurdles in expanding the manufacturing sector and generating employment, including trade barriers and educational gaps. These factors, Moody's indicated, had the potential to impede India's realisation of its complete growth potential. 

A major concern raised by Moody's centred on India's fiscal strength. Despite impressive nominal GDP growth and efforts towards fiscal consolidation, the agency noted that the government's substantial debt burden remained a crucial issue. Moody's highlighted that, despite the government's success in meeting fiscal deficit targets in recent years, India's fiscal deficit still exceeded those of comparable peers. 

However, the most pivotal concern highlighted by Moody's revolved around political dynamics. The agency drew attention to the curtailment of civil society and political dissent, along with escalating sectarian tensions, as factors that led to a reduction in the assessment of political risk and institutional quality.

Moody's cited recent instances of unrest and the no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Narendra Modi as signs of escalated political risk. While the stability of the government was unlikely to be destabilised, Moody's emphasised the potential for populist policies, driven by persistent social challenges, to surface at various governance levels. Additionally, intermittent border tensions with neighbouring countries posed a distinctive vulnerability to political risk, setting India apart from sovereigns with lower overall political risk profiles. 

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