Union Budget expected to woo foreign investors

P Chidambaram

Whether the government will reduce borrowing in the next fiscal year is too close to call, but economists say its resolve to cut spending and giveaways in next week's budget will reignite investor confidence.

Finance Minister P Chidambaram will deliver the annual budget on February 28, his last full Budget before the country goes to the polls early next year.

Increased spending on social welfare and other benefits has been commonplace in Indian Budgets for many years. But analysts say the tone of this Budget will be different, steering clear of populist measures – even this close to an election.

"In view of this particular election, oddly enough, there may be political ground to be made on stressing that the government is keeping with its fiscal consolidation goal," said Vishnu Varathan, economist at Mizuho Corporate Bank.

Indeed, officials involved in Budget preparations said the Finance Ministry plans to slash the public spending target by up to 10 per cent in the new fiscal year, which would make it the most austere budget in recent times.

Chidambaram has already slashed public expenditure in the current fiscal year to March by some 9 per cent from the original target.

In a Reuters poll, conducted between February14-21, 19 of 23 economists expected the Budget to help bring in foreign investment.

Almost as many, 18, predicted the focus of Chidambaram's Budget speech will be on slashing subsidies and government handouts.

Eighteen said they expect spending cuts to mainly focus on fuel subsidies and defence. India's fuel subsidy bill swelled by almost 73 per cent in 2011-2012, compared to the previous year, while defence allocation rose 18 per cent in the last budget.

The poll also predicted the Finance Ministry will axe spending on rural development and food subsidies.

"This will not be a common man's budget simply because there is very little room for that," said Jyotinder Kaur, economist at HDFC Bank.

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