High-Frequency Indicators Begin To Rise From Record Lows
Vendors wear protective masks and face shields while working at a cafe in the Indira Gandhi International Airport during a partial lockdown implemented due to the coronavirus in New Delhi, India, on Monday, May 25, 2020. Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg

High-Frequency Indicators Begin To Rise From Record Lows

Early indicators of economic activity are showing a pick-up compared to the record lows hit in the month of April, even though they remain well below levels seen before the onslaught of the Covid-19 crisis.

The crisis, which hit Indian shores in March, led to a near complete nationwide lockdown in April. Restrictions on some activities were partially and selectively lifted in May. As a result, indicators such as power consumption, e-way bill collections and mobility have started to show some pick-up.

Activity is up sharply from the trough in mid-April, but still down substantially, said Neelkanth Mishra, India equity strategist at Credit Suisse. While the demand for power is better, overall recovery will be slow and volatile, Mishra said in a research note dated May 26, 2020. As the economy continues to open up, concurrent indicators are improving. However, like seen in other countries, resumption to 75-80% of economic activity may occur rapidly, but it could be a slow grind thereafter, and volatile, as the virus is still not in control, he said.

Electricity Generation

Average demand for electricity during evening peak hours continued a steady climb,rising by 5.6% on a weekly basis in the third week of May, up from 3.9% in the second week, according to daily reports published by the Power System Operation Corporation Ltd.

An annual comparison, which reduces the effect of seasonality shows that power demand is now down only 7% down year-on-year compared to 17% in mid-April.

E- Way Bills

Electronic way bills generated to permit inter and intra-state movement of goods, too, saw a pick in May, from historic lows in April. Inter-state movement continued to remain harder hit as compared to movement of goods within the same state.

After contracting by 78.8% month-on-month in April, the number of e-way bills generated doubled in May, until May 26, according to data from the Goods and Services Tax Network.

On an annual basis, too, the pace of contraction narrowed to 68% in May from a contraction of 83.6 percent in April.

Truck Rental Activity

Other logistics indicators such as truck rentals, remain weak.

From about 10-15% at the time of the peak lockdown, demand for trucks is just at about 30% of the total estimated fleet of 5.2 million goods carriers, said SP Singh, senior fellow and coordinator at the Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training.

While prices for the short-haul cargo have fallen, they have risen for long-haul cargo, because of continued lack of two-way load. Overall revenue has remained the same but consignor prices have gone up, he said.

Toll Collections

Anecdotally, toll collections are on the rise.

After a resumption in toll collections from April 20, starting with 32 percent of the budget being collected, every week has seen a steady increase, especially since May 4, said Shailesh Pathak, CEO of L&T Infrastructure Development Projects Ltd. All companies having a portfolio of toll roads have a monthly budget for estimated toll collections, he explained.

For L&T IDPL’s portfolio, collections for May 22 are close to 70 percent, he said, adding that the rise of commercial vehicle traffic to close to about 75 percent of the usual is encouraging.

Data for overall toll collections was not available.

Mobility

Average traffic congestion in the past seven days in Bengaluru rose to 32% in the past seven days, compared to 26.6% in the previous week, during peak traffic hour at 6 pm everyday. This was according to the Tom Tom traffic index that measures and ranks urban congestion across major cities.

A 32% congestion level in Bengaluru, for example, means that a 30-minute trip will take 32% more time than it would during the city’s baseline uncongested conditions. New Delhi, too, saw a rise in congestion but Mumbai saw a fall in traffic even compared to the previous week.

The Tom Tom Index only catalogues mobility in major cities and is not representative of the country as whole. Google’s mobility tracker, representative of the country, shows a slower pace of contraction in retail, recreation, grocery and pharmacy stores from March 15- April 26 compared to the baseline scenarios.

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