HALF of the world's population enjoys fuel subsidies. This estimate, from Morgan Stanley, implies that almost a quarter of the world's petrol is sold at less than the market price. The cheapest petrol is in Venezuela, at 5 cents per litre. That makes China's pump price of 79 cents seem expensive, but even this is a bargain compared with $1.04 in the United States and $2.35 in Germany.
India's state-owned oil companies face mounting losses, as they are forced to sell fuel at fixed prices below cost. Petrol prices are actually slightly higher in India than in the United States, because Indian motorists pay much higher fuel taxes, but diesel is about 40% cheaper than in America. The oil firms are partly compensated by bonds which the government issues to them—a trick which allows the government to keep the subsidy off its books. At today's prices, the total subsidy (including the full losses of oil companies) could be as much as 2-3% of GDP this year. Morgan Stanley estimates that the government's total budget deficit (central and state governments and all off-budget items) is running at 9% of GDP in this fiscal year. The government must hold an election by May next year, so it is reluctant to raise fuel prices by much. It is thought to be considering a modest rise combined with a cut in excise duty.