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Chiaroscuro

Print Edition: August 21, 2011

CORPORATE
Should Hindustan Unilever be opening the bubbly? India's biggest FMCG major saw its net profit rise17.62 per cent to Rs 627.18 crore for the June quarter. HUL Chairman Harish Manwani credited "innovations, market development and a relentless focus on execution" for the achievement. In a BT cover story (June 12), Manwani had said Unilever Plc, HUL's parent, wants revenues from emerging markets, currently at 53 per cent now to rise to 70 per cent. India and Brazil are the main ones in focus. See http://bit.ly/HULisback

India is close to allowing FDI in retail. The committee of secretaries has okayed 51 per cent foreign ownership in multibrand retail. The next port of call for the regulatory change will be the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs. Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Tesco and Metro are among those waiting to enter.

Reliance Industries is hogging headlines again. After the controversy over its D-6 oil fields in the KG Basin in Andhra Pradesh, which came under the Comptroller and Auditor General's scanner, it has some news for cheer. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has agreed to the company's proposal to offload 30 per cent stake, for $7.2 billion, in its hydrocarbon blocks to British Petroleum Plc. Separately, RIL's net profit in the April-June quarter rose 16.7 per cent to Rs 5,661 crore, with refining operations offsetting a lower gas output and petrochemicals margins. It remains to be seen where and how it will deploy its huge pile of cash and securities of Rs 45,775 crore. BP, meanwhile, is getting over its hangover of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Its net income was at $5.6 billion for the June quarter, up from a record loss of $17 billion a year ago.

Make the PM, Cabinet co-accused in the 2G scam, said former Telecom Minister A. Raja, now in jail. He later retracted the demand to drag Manmohan Singh into the case but former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, and Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati were not spared. Raja wanted them, as also the entire Cabinet, made co-conspirators for approving his spectrum decisions. Former Telecom Secretary Siddharth Behura wanted D. Subba Rao, former Finance Secretary and now RBI Governor, named as co-accused.

No longer willing to live with the world's lowest charges, India's telecom firms have raised tariffs. Bharti Airtel has hiked them by 20 to 50 per cent for prepaid subscribers on some calling plans; Tata DoCoMo, Vodafone Essar and Idea Cellular have followed suit. Buying 3G licences and equipment at a time when revenues were sliding left the companies with little option.

  • US President Barack Obama
    US President Barack Obama
    US President Barack Obama is fighting the debt monster with his back to the wall. Faced with strong Republican opposition to a proposed debt ceiling, Obama appeared on television asking his countrymen to pressure Congressmen to avoid a default on international obligations. If all else fails, this will be America's firstever default, and downgrading of its AAA credit rating. This would also mean the government not having enough to pay monthly social security checks, veterans' benefits and bills relating to contracts with thousands of businesses. Interest rates would skyrocket on credit cards, mortgages and car loans - in effect, a huge tax hike.
  • This may mean the end of James Murdoch's dreams. Media reports say News Corp is sounding out its biggest shareholders on Chairman Rupert Murdoch's succession plan and his family's control. They have also been asked about the independence of News Corp's board, its dual class structure and corporate governance. Meanwhile, the FBI is probing if charges can be brought against the company over claims that it hacked into a rival's website for access to phone records of victims of the 9/11 attacks.

ECONOMY
There is no reform fatigue and Indian economy is in fine fettle, says Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Speaking to reporters, he stuck to the Economic Survey's growth projection of nine per cent (plus or minus 0.25 per cent). Bills on land acquisition, mining and mineral development, food security and the Lokpal are slated for the Parliament monsoon session that began August 1.

With 70 per cent of the global population expected to live in urban areas by 2050, sharing of water resources will be the next big geopolitical flashpoint. Not just Africa, even large parts of Asia have high levels of water withdrawal relative to available resources.

Air India is really in a squeeze. The national carrier has not paid salaries for two months, and is unlikely to do so for July, say media reports. There are lossmaking PSUs and then there are some gems.

7.33% Food Inflation for the week ended July 16, its lowest level since February 2009, as pulses became cheaper. It stood at 7.58 per cent the week before. Still onions are at least 20 per cent more costly than they were a year ago; overall vegetable prices stay about 8 per cent higher than they were a year back.

Rs 190 Cr Amount collected by SEBI through consent orders, a move for speedy disposal of cases, till March 31.

$2.09 bn Morgan Stanley's second quarter revenue from fixed income trading, pipping Goldman

Sach's $1.6 billion for the first time. In investment banking, too, the former generated $1.47 billion, compared to $1.45 billion by the latter.

MARKETS
Brace for expensive personal and corporate loans. The Reserve Bank of India has hiked the repo rate, at which it lends to banks, to eight per cent and the short-term borrowing (reverse repo) rate to seven per cent. This is the 11th time since March, 2010, that RBI has raised the interest rate to check inflation, now ruling at over nine per cent. Signalling that the worst is not over, RBI revised its inflation projection for March 2012 to 7 per cent from the earlier six per cent.

Industry groups are worried that RBI move will hurt growth. The Securities and Exchange Board of India has proposed new takeover norms. For acquirers, it has raised the mandatory public offer threshold trigger to 25 per cent from the earlier 15 per cent. The buyer will have to make a public offer for another 26 per cent, if the proposed norms become law. In doing so, SEBI rejected a proposal from its panel that would have required acquirers to buy all the shares of the target.

COMING UP
More professions in the services sector are likely to fall in the tax net, according to V.K. Garg, Joint Secretary, ministry of finance. A negative list of taxation, listing items that will not attr-act tax, is also on the anvil. Meantime, the appointment of Bihar's Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Sushil Modi as the head of panel is expected to speed up the rollout of Goods & Services Tax.

An independent National Environment Appraisal and Monitoring Authority will completely change the process of granting environmental clearances to industrial projects. The regulator will help protect ecology without the hated licence permit raj of the pre-1991 period, said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

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