Countries having more comfortable balance sheets have more space to respond to adverse developments in the economy, a top official of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Wednesday, urging nations to manage assets better. “Countries that have a more comfortable balance sheet, have a stronger net worth position, have more space to respond to adverse developments in the economy or in the financial sector. So for example, the recession’s associated with a financial crisis will be a shell lower and shorter-lived,” Vitor Gasper, IMF Director of Fiscal Affairs Department, told PTI in an interview.
As such, he called for better asset management by countries, including India, information for which he said was not complete. “When a government has a stronger asset management, it may be able to get three per cent of GDP in additional revenue and that’s about the size of the corporate income tax revenue in average in advanced economies,” Gasper said underscoring the importance of asset management.
The latest Fiscal Monitor report of the IMF says public sector assets of 31 countries, including India, are worth USD 101 trillion or 219 per cent of the GDP. At the same time, liabilities amount to 198 per cent of the GDP. These 31 countries account for 61 per cent of the world GDP. Public sector balance sheets provide the most comprehensive picture of public wealth, the report said. Calling for a better asset management, Gasper said a country could get a considerable return out of a more professional and systematic management of public sector assets. The assets of these 31 sample countries, he said, are very diverse. They include financial assets, state-owned companies like electricity and water supply. Natural resource wealth controlled by the public sector is important in several countries, especially in those that are rich in these resources. “Assets matter because of their sheer magnitude,” he said.
Noting that liabilities amount to 198 per cent of the GDP, he said slightly less than half of this value i.e., 94 per cent of GDP corresponds to the most traditional concept of gross public debt of the general government. Of the remainder, the most important item on the liability side is already accrued public sector pension liabilities at 46 per cent of GDP. And that corresponds to responsibilities that the public sector has already formed against the public sector’s own employees.
“So, assets matter because of their size and once you have a list of assets and the control of the public sector, you have a substantial improvement in transparency and accountability…” Gasper said, arguing that balance sheet information complements the analysis that one gets from other conventional ways of looking at fiscal policy. India, he said, is different from other countries in the sample in the sense that the IMF’s information on the public sector of India is not comprehensive.
“For India, we only have information on the central government and public sector corporations that depend on the central government,” he said. It’s not a comprehensive picture of the public sector of India because subnational finances in India are very important and the subnational levels are quite active in many areas which are crucial for the Indian economy and finance, he noted.
“So, if we use the information we have on the central government and the public corporations that depend on the Indian central government, and compare it with the other countries, India is almost exactly at the middle of the distribution, with a net worth which is slightly positive and a financial net worth which is negative,” Gasper said.
“Assets and liabilities of the central government in India are considerable and as we have seen for the aggregate numbers, liabilities go well beyond government debt only, and assets are quite considerable,” he added. Natural resources constitute a non-negligible part of the public wealth of India. For 2016, the public sector, mineral and energy resources are estimated at 40.5 per cent of GDP, of which 3.6 per cent is oil and gas, about 25 per cent is coal and metals, and minerals is almost 12 per cent of GDP. So this is the composition.
“If you would compare, India with natural resource-rich countries, you would see that India again would be more or less in the middle of a list of countries,” he said. The Russian Federation has a natural resource wealth which is estimated to be more than 300 per cent of GDP, Kazakhstan has more than 200 per cent, Peru at around 170 per cent and then, down from there. “But, India is in the middle of the distribution,” he added.