One of the most reputed brokerage firms has reported that cement production has dropped by 13.3 per cent in January 2017, and that financial year FY17 may actually see a small degrowth of cement consumption, the first time this would happen in the last 15 years or more! They also add that Apr-Jan 2017 has seen cement growing by a poor 1 per cent.
But the Central Statistics Office (CSO) of the government has come up with shining GDP growth numbers @ 7 per cent, for the 3rd quarter of FY17, and who doesn't know that the CSO is a very, very honourable and credible organisation. It has also come to light, that while reporting these advance numbers for Q3, the CSO first restated the GDP numbers for Q3 FY16 severely downwards, which of course helped the current numbers look so respectful. It is also reported that apparently the GDP growth numbers for the last quarter would be a disappointing 6.2 per cent, but for this providential need to rewrite downwards the last year's numbers.
However, we all know that the government numbers are highly dignified and honourable. It has been opined by experts that the informal sector data is not captured in CSO mechanisms, it has been seen that most consumer goods companies reported drop in sales, but the government numbers show a beautiful and unbelievable 10 per cent growth in private consumption expenditure.
But perish the thought of not accepting these statistics even for a moment, simply because everyone knows that the government reports are absolutely correct and honourable. Overall, it does look as if the demonetisation has hardly had any debilitating impact on our economy, the drop in cement output notwithstanding.
Under such circumstances, how does the industry deal with the aftermath of demonetisation, and embrace digitalisation? About 65-70 per cent of all the cement in our country is sold in retail through the retail outlets to small-time masons and contractors and home builder citizens, who have been traditionally buying cement in cash. In my travels through the markets, I have rarely seen any PoS machine in the counters of cement retailers. While the aggregated transactions between the cement dealers/distributors on the one hand, and the cement manufacturers on the other, have always been in cheque, and now more and more through bank transfers, the 'last mile'transaction with the end-consumer is mostly in cash. The challenge is how to convert these dealings into cashless, and it is therefore interesting to look at how some cement players are working on promoting this conversion.
However, as I said earlier, if moving towards a 'less' cash economy was one of the 'later' articulated objectives of demonetisation, the disappointment is that there have been hardly any meaningful follow-up measures or policies from the government to incentivise non-cash transactions. In a shocking display of utter lack of coordination, different arms of the government and the semi-government bodies including oil PSUs and banks, are moving in opposite directions by initiating confused Brownian actions, someone trying to hike transaction charges in card transactions, while some others are imposing new charges on cash transactions! The result is there for everyone to see ù just as non-cash transactions through cards and e-wallets shot up in the immediate aftermath, data now shows an equally fast decline of cashless transaction volumes and values in February 2017. Culture change doesn't happen in one fell sweep by a disruptive move, it happens over time through patient and consistent coordination between policy making and public communications, over time.