WHICH Indian state sounds more likely to repay a loan: Bihar, the country’s poorest, with a budget deficit of nearly 6% of its state GDP last year and a hole in its finances after it banned alcohol sales; or Gujarat, a relatively prosperous coastal region with a deficit nearer to 2%? According to bond markets at least, both are equally good credits, and so pay the same interest rate. As welcome as such mispricing might be to the Bihari authorities, it is brewing trouble for the rest of the Indian economy.
The borrowing habits of Bihar, Gujarat, and India’s 27 other states used to be below the radar of all but the pointiest financial eggheads. The indebtedness of India, and its annual budget deficits—both high by emerging-market standards—could largely be blamed on the profligacy of the central government in Delhi. But an explosion in the net amounts borrowed by states over the past decade (see chart), from 154bn rupees in 2006 ($3.5bn then) to an estimated 3.9trn in the fiscal year…Continue reading