India unveiled new taxes on the rich and large companies in its Budget 2013 on Thursday to fund higher-than-expected spending for the next fiscal year, that aimed to revive growth amid the country's worst slowdown in a decade ahead of a 2014 election.
Stocks, bond prices and the rupee all fell despite Finance Minister P. Chidambaram's vow to cut next year's fiscal deficit to 4.8 percent of GDP, which some watchers said counted on ambitious revenue assumptions given hefty spending targets.
There had been widespread expectation, fuelled in part by comments by finance ministry officials, that Chidambaram would present an austere budget in line with the spending cuts he forced on government ministries in recent months.
But the spending plan appeared to have been drawn up with a looming general election in mind, some economists said.
"With a general election not much than a year away, political pressure from within the Congress Party may well have had an influence on the make-up of the Finance Minister's budget," Credit Suisse said.
Chidambaram, a three-time finance minister seen as a candidate for prime minister in 2014, has staked his reputation on cutting swollen fiscal and current account deficits that have alarmed credit rating agencies and triggered warnings that India's sovereign bonds could be downgraded to 'junk' status. There was no immediate comment from the agencies.
"Fiscal consolidation cannot be effective only by cutting expenditure," Chidambaram said in his speech, seen as a balancing act to stave off a credit rating downgrade while meeting demands for populist spending heading into an election year.
HEFTY REVENUE GROWTH ASSUMPTIONS
Total budget expenditure will rise by an unexpectedly high 16 percent in the 2013/14 fiscal year that begins on April 1 to 16.65 trillion rupees ($309 billion).
Next year's fiscal deficit target is in line with expectations but assumes hefty revenue growth, including 558 billion rupees from the sale of government stakes in companies, or more than double the 240 billion rupee target for the current year, which falls short of the initial target.
"From a macro perspective, the budget is disappointing in our opinion as it lacks any expenditure control," Nomura analysts wrote.
The budget also assumes revenue of 408.5 billion rupees from telecoms sector fees, more than double what it will generate this year, with its next auction of mobile airwaves poised to flop after attracting just one bidder.
"The government may fall short of its tax and disinvestment targets and end up cutting spending closer