Timely refresh: on the growth of industrial output

The data set revision for the IIP and WPI reflects a macroeconomic resilience

The latest revisions to the base year for the Index of Industrial Production and the Wholesale Price Index reveal an overall macroeconomic picture that is at once heartening, given the underlying resilience reflected in the data. IIP data founded on the new base year of 2011-12 show that industrial output has grown annually at an average pace of 3.82% over the last five fiscal years, with a 5% rate of growth in the 12 months ended March 2017. Contrast this with the 1.42% average pace based on the previous 2004-05 base year, with 2016-17 showing a paltry 0.7% expansion. It is clear that the change in the base year with accompanying changes to weights of the component sectors, and restructuring of the individual sectoral constituents have all helped signal industrial activity as having been far more robust over the entire time period than had been previously posited. The caveats and explanations too need to be mentioned upfront. For one, the simultaneous updating of the base year for WPI to the same 2011-12 means the deflator applied to the 109 items captured in value terms in the new IIP (54 in the older series) has also changed, with a more benign wholesale inflation reading automatically lifting the value of the corresponding industrial item. Also, the Central Statistics Office makes clear that the growth rates of the two series are not strictly comparable since the indices for 2011-12 have been normalised to 100 at a monthly level. The breadth and relatively contemporary nature of the data capture — with an increase in the number of reporting factories and the exclusion of shuttered units and restructuring of the items basket — has meant that the information is now appreciably more representative.

Manufacturing sees its weight in the index raised by slightly more than 2 percentage points to 77.63%, while electricity, which now includes renewable sources, has had its weight pared to just under 8% in the new series. And most interestingly, a mechanism in the form of a Technical Review Committee has been put in place to periodically review the products featuring in the item list and to revise the series dynamically. The reviews, to be undertaken separately for both the IIP and the WPI, will help ensure that data pertaining to industrial output and wholesale price inflation will be relatively current and more accurately reflect economic trends. It would be interesting to see to what extent the recent divergence between the IIP and the GDP numbers will narrow, or even disappear, with the new series. While the significance of the IIP figures as a policy determinant cannot be overstated, especially given that the RBI considers it as a key gauge of economic health while reviewing its monetary stance, all data will finally need to stand the scrutiny of consistency and credibility against the conditions prevailing on the ground.

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