The pot-holed road

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Archive for July 2010

For a friendly EMI

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One of the reasons why ordinary people who survive on salaries have ended up borrowing so much from banks and financial institutions is the simplicity of the repayment mechanism that goes by the name “EMI”, i.e., Equated Monthly Instalment.

The EMI is a fixed payment amount made by a borrower to a lender at a specified date each month. It is used to repay both the interest and the principal each month so that over a given time period, the loan is fully repaid. In practice, the early instalments repay more of the interest component with the later instalments taking care of the principal amount. The advantage with the EMI is that the borrower knows exactly how much is to be paid towards the loan each month and this makes the personal budget easier to manage. When you get your monthly pay-cheque, you also pay out the EMIs on all the loans you would typically have taken, from the now mandatory home and vehicle loans to the sundry personal loans.

However, as much as the EMI has simplified the business of borrowing and repaying, it also wields an unwelcome and unyielding hold over your finances. The cheques have to be paid on the dot, month after month, no matter what contingencies stare you in the face. If the cheques bounce, you pay more by way of charges and penalties. Salary earners get paid roughly the same amount each month. But, anyone who runs a household would know that expenses are just not the same over the months. It could be the start of a school year when so much extra fee is to be paid out, or a festival like Deepavali when money goes up in smoke, as it were. In the West, this could be the extravagance of the Christmas shopping season or the annual vacation.

Flexi-EMI

Here, then, is a suggestion. Instead of insisting that EMIs be paid religiously every month, the banks can offer a “flexi-EMI” plan, where the borrower is allowed the right to default in one month of his choice every year. In return, the EMI amount will be proportionately increased so that the remaining 11 months will together amount to the annual repayment obligation. For instance, if your current EMI is Rs.1,100 a month, under the revised plan you will be required to pay Rs.1,200 a month for 11 months. The annual repayment in either case amounts to Rs.13,200, but the borrower will now be free not to pay anything during the one month — when you expect your finances to be under strain.

This is the basic plan, and from this starting point, variants can be devised. Thus, if for any reason someone wants a two-month default or “vacuum” option, it can also be worked out. Another version would be to offer the product in two options, one allowing a fixed month vacuum where the month in which the EMI is skipped is pre-defined and the other being a variable month vacuum option, where the borrower is free to choose when to skip repayment. Obviously, the second option will be priced a little higher because a beginning-of-the-period default has a higher interest burden.

Simplicity has a lot to do with why the EMI has become so popular. In that sense, the advantage with the changes I have suggested here is that even as the simplicity is retained, the customer is offered an additional convenience at no extra cost.

(ranjan.sreedharan@gmail.com)

(This article was published in the open page of the Hindu on Nov.22, 2009. It is available at the link:

http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/article53118.ece?css=print )

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Written by Ranjan Sreedharan

July 10, 2010 at 12:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

India’s inflation problem and the elephant in the room

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There’s a lot of talk in the Indian media about why inflation should be so high and the general consensus seems to be that last year’s poor monsoon is the culprit.

Is there an elephant in the room here that we all refuse to see? I mean, isn’t there a link between the high inflation that we are seeing now (particularly food inflation) and the recent vastly increased outlays on social “welfare” schemes? Is it not best understood as the reverberations from that chest-thumping moment in parliament when finance minister Pranab Mukherjee got up to declare so grandiloquently that for the first time, India’s budgeted expenditure would cross Rs.100,000 crores.

Take the example of all that money going down the NREGA drain. This has the immediate effect of injecting a lot of extra purchasing power into the economy without doing much on the output side (neither the short nor the long term). Naturally, inflation follows and this should be a no-brainer. And if you look at the kind of activities financed by the NREGA, they are actually not very far from simply digging trenches only to have it filled up the next day (all in the name of “employment generation”).

A while back I read a news story purportedly about the “success” being achieved by the NREGA. It mentioned that farmers in Punjab were facing a shortage of labour to harvest their crops because of a slow-down in the hordes of seasonal migrants from U.P. and Bihar that earlier used to turn up for this kind of work. And this was because the NREGA, by providing them work near their villages, had made the trip to Punjab less worthwhile. Yes, this is heart-warming stuff.

Unfortunately, economics has very little time for warm hearts. What is actually happening is this. Instead of doing economically productive work (harvesting crops), labour is being diverted into unproductive work (digging trenches), and getting paid in the bargain. It pushes up the costs for Punjab farmers, which invariably finds its way to the government in the form of higher minimum support prices, and it does nothing to increase output in the economy which might otherwise have absorbed the extra purchasing power created. Costs have gone up, output is stagnant, and at the same time, people have more money in their hands.

And this is just so much about what has happened. What is in store for us is perhaps even worse. Wait till the Food Security Bill and its promise of food grains at Rs.2 (or Rs.3) a kilo becomes law. The government will then necessarily have to acquire a lot more rice and wheat from the market for supply to the “poor”. A lot of it will get pilfered or wasted in the logistics and in the hands of the end-user (knowing what happens to things given away for free), and importantly, it will also cut down on the supply available in the open market for purchase by our “aam aadmi”. At this point, it is simple demand and supply.

Anyone who has a doubt about what I have just said should feel free to look up the inflation rate in Venezuela where our Comrade Chavez has lately been into a lot of social “welfare”.

Written by Ranjan Sreedharan

July 9, 2010 at 12:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized