31.01.2010

Politics & the Nation
  • Sukna landscam update
    • Army chief General Deepak Kapoor relented and ordered the court martial of his aide and military secretary, Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash, in the Sukhna land scam.
    • The decision to initiate disciplinary action against Lt Gen Prakash follows the intervention of defence minister AK Antony, who overruled an earlier decision of Gen Kapoor to limit the penalty against the top military officer to only “administrative action” while ordering the court martial of a coaccused, Lt Gen P K Rath.
  • US issues security advisory to its citizens on visiting India
    • Even as our government is considering issuing a travel advisory to our citizens on visiting Australia, US has issued one such advisory to its citizens on account of terrorist threats and the ongoing civil unrest about formation of Telangana state.
    • The travel alert has been issued on the basis of information that “terrorist groups may be planning attacks in India” and the “possibility of violence” in Andhra Pradesh over the issue of the creation of a separate state.
  • Want an example of how small efforts can bring about big change?
    • Then take a look at this story. It's about Jyotiraditya Scindia. Look at what he has done to the Postal department. What he is trying to do in the Commerce Ministry. Take heart that perseverance pays.
Finance & Economy
  • RBI's monetary policy review
    • The RBI sent an unequvivocal message to the Government to prevent a monetary policy trap by returning to the path of fiscal consolidation, as the central bank began to hasten its exit with a 75-basis-points (bps) increase in banks’ cash reserve ratio (CRR), or the portion of deposits banks must keep with RBI.
    • It raised the GDP growth estimates from 6% to 7.5% for the current year.
  • The markets are going the 3D way
    • Samsung is reportedly coming out with its 3D TV in the second quarter of 2010 while rival Sony has also declared its intention of hitting the market this year.
    • Cinema exhibitors are ramping up their 3D capacities as well.
    • At least two computer majors have already launched 3D notebooks, Discovery has announced a 24-hr 3D channel in the US.
    • 3D compatible. What doest it mean?
      • Broadly, the technology, which is not new, involves tweaking with the screen, the projector and wearing a pair of glasses to watch the images. The polarised screen allows two layers of images, one each for the left and the right eye due to which the depth perception increases.
      • A 3D TV is expected to cost upwards of Rs 1 lakh while the laptop manufacturers are pegging an incremental pricing of around Rs 4,000 and it takes around Rs 40 lakh to make a regular movie hall screen compatible for 3D.
  • Banking frauds are reportedly on the rise
    • Take a look at this graphic which gives figures.
    • The RBI is reported to have taken a serious note of the rise in banking frauds.
  • India's animation industry's march
    • During pre-1980's India was consuming what the West produced. But now the tables have turned. As animation was expensive to produce in volumes demanded by viewers, outsourcing was the obvious answer. The easy availability of technically competent, low-cost talent in India encouraged studios in North America, western Europe and Japan to recognise their Indian counterparts as credible organisations that could deliver the goods. Estimates put the outsourced work done by Indian studios at up to $200 million a year.
    • Within the media and entertainment space, animation has outperformed its peers in recent history, growing at 20% in 2008 to become a Rs 1,560 crore industry.
International
  • Obama renews pledge to revive US economy
    • The US President's vows are compounded by the fact that the budget deficit is now hovering over $1.4 trillion and creation of jobs is not happening at the desired rate.
    • He promised to halve the deficit by the end of his term in 2013.
    • US, btw follows a financial year that starts on October 1.
Sport
  • Australian Open
    • Paes and Black win the mixed doubles title
    • Top seeds and favourites, the 36-year-old Paes and the 30-year-old Cara Black (Zimbabwe) beat 10th seeds Ekaterina Makarova of Russia and Jaroslav Levinsky of Czechoslovakia 7-5 6-3 to clinch the title.
    • The triumph gave the Indian his 11th overall and fifth mixed doubles title. With this, Paes has equalled former doubles partner Mahesh Bhupathi’s tally.
    • This is Paes and Black’s second title together, the first being the 2008 US Open.
    • Paes and Black had made back-to-back Grand Slam finals - Wimbledon and the US Open - last season but faltered at the finishing line in both the events.
  • The Proteas
    • It refers to the the South Africa national cricket team. Formerly they were known as The Springboks.
    • It is the common name of some flowering plants, which are also called sugarbushes.
  • stare decisis: Noun
    • (law) the principle of following judicial precedent
  • star-crossed
    • It is a phrase often describing a pair of lovers whose relationship is said to be doomed from the start, though also encompassing different meanings. To describe a relationship as "star-crossed" is to say that it is "thwarted by a malign star", or that the stars are working against the relationship. The phrase is best known from the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.
  • besotted: Adjective
    • Marked by foolish or unreasoning fondness; Very drunk
    • eg: The gamechanger for this “immersive viewing experience” via 3D stereoscopic content is, of course, James Cameron's ‘Avatar’, that raked in over $1.8 billion in two months from besotted audiences and prompted all stakeholders in the 3D technology to rejig their plans.

29.01.2010

Politics & the Nation
  • Grading system for Classes XI and XII?
    • As part of the education reform process, the Centre is reportedly examining the feasibility of introducing a system of continuous and comprehensive evaluation and grading at Classes XI and XII.
    • The possibility of extending the grading system was discussed at a round-table of university vice-chancellors and school principals. Some universities are reluctant to accept grades instead of marks in the Class XII board examinations.
    • A committee has been set up to study the possibility of introducing the grading system at the higher secondary level and its implication for undergraduate admission.
Finance & Economy
  • LIC's massive policy revival effort
    • The country's largest insurer has thrown a lifeline to policyholders who got caught in the global financial storm and defaulted on premium payments and saw their insurance plans sink. It has come out with a very liberal dispensation in allowing them to pay the revival premiums in instalments.
    • Normally when a policy is to be renewed -- renewal is allowed within five years of lapse -- the holder had to pay the entire pending premium at one go along with interest.
    • Over nine million policies lapsed in 2009, and almost half the conventional policies that lapsed in the industry during the period were sold by LIC, according to estimates. In absolute terms, nearly 7.3 million traditional policies sold by LIC worth Rs 52,926 crore lapsed.
  • Starbucks tries yet again for an India entry
    • It had tried to enter India by striking an alliance with Kishore Biyani’s Future Group three years ago, but these plans were rejected by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, or FIPB, due to lack of clarity on the foreign shareholding structure of the proposed Indian venture.
    • Organised coffee retailing is a niche but growing segment in India. Industry officials said the size of the segment, which is dominated by unlisted companies, is around Rs 500-600 crore.
    • India allows foreign investors to own 51% in single-brand retail.
    • Some titbits about Starbucks:
      • Apart from fresh-brewed coffee and hot and iced espresso beverages, Starbucks is known for its Vivanno smoothies and Tazo teas. It also sells merchandise, home espresso machines, coffee brewers and grinders, and accessories like coffee mugs at its stores.
      • Till September 2009, Starbucks had an overall store strength of 16,635, of which 8,832 were company-operated stores and 7,803 were licensed. The chain has operations in over 50 countries. But between mid-2008 to 2009, Starbucks closed 800 stores in the US and 100 in international locations, laid off workers, revamped its food menu and tinkered with drink prices. The company’s cost-cutting initiatives saved $580 million in 2009.
International
  • Ben Bernanke set to win a second term
    • The Chief of the Federal Reserve of US, is set to win a vote giving him a second term at the office.
    • Bernanke had been widely seen as getting the support he needs, but a recent surge of public anger at big banks and the way regulators rescued them from the financial crisis has meant the vote could be a lot closer than previously expected.
    • Praised by economists and investors for the Fed’s unprecedented response to the crisis, Bernanke has not escaped criticism for failing to see the crisis as it brewed.
Cinema
  • YouTube scores a first
    • It has reportedly tied up with Indian Films for simultaneous premier of a small-budget movie "Striker" on February 5. It will be made available to viewers in the US on February 5 and other countries, excluding India and Pakistan, the following day. In India, the film, which revolves around a carom player from Mumbai, will only be released in theatres.
    • Unlike most online content, this doesn’t come free. US viewers will need to pay $4.99 to watch the two-hour film on streaming video online. However, viewers in other countries can watch it for free. The producers have monetised the Rs 5-crore film through advertisements too.
    • Directed by Chandan Arora and starring Telugu superstar Siddharth, Striker may be the first-ever movie to release on YouTube on the same day as its theatrical release date.
Sport
  • Australian Open
    • Andy Murray makes it to the finals. He beat Marin Cilic of Croatia 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 to book his place in the finals. He will meet the winner from the Roger Federer vs. Joe Wilfred Tsonga semifinal.
    • Murray is the first British man in the post-1968 Open era to reach two Grand Slam finals.
    • In the women's section it is Serena vs. Justin Henin.
  • backstop: Noun
    • A precaution in case of an emergency
    • eg: The Federal Open Market Committee on Wednesday upgraded its economic outlook, reaffirmed it will end liquidity backstops and a $1.25 trillion programme to buy mortgage-backed securities and expressed less confidence inflation will remain “subdued”.

28.01.2010

Politics & the Nation
  • Ashok Chakra awarded
    • Major D Sreeram Kumar, late Major Mohit Sharma and Havildar Rajesh Kumar were honoured with the country's highest peace time gallantry medal - the Ashok Chakra on Republic Day.
  • Mujib's assassins hanged
    • 30 years after he was assassinated, Bangladesh hanged the assassins of the country's founder Sheikh Mujibur Rehman.
    • The five convicts who were hanged after a trial that dragged on for 13 years are sacked lieutenant colonels Syed Faruq Rahman, Sultan Shariar Rashid Khan, Mohiuddin Ahmed (artillery) and AKM Mohiuddin (lancer) and sacked major Bazlul Huda.
    • Bangabandhu (as Mujibur Rahman is popularly known as) was killed along with his wife and three sons on 15th August 1975.
    • A total of 28 people, including domestic staff, were killed when a group of junior army officers stormed Bangabandhu's private residence in a pre-dawn swoop.
Finance & Economy
  • A bit of history that you would surely enjoy about our budget
    • This February will mark 150 years since James Wilson gave what was India’s first Budget Speech, in his capacity as finance member of the India Council that advised the Viceroy of India.
    • Do you know that he was the founder of The Economist, founding director of Standard Chartered Bank, among others before becoming effectively India’s first finance minister — the original idea was to call him the Indian Chancellor of the Exchequer — a post he held from November 29, 1859, when he arrived in Calcutta, to August 11, 1860, when he died there from dysentery.
  • Low interests lead to higher NPAs.
    • A low interest rate regime driven by an easy money policy rather than macroeconomic fundamentals leads to excessive expansion of credit. It incentivises banks to take on more risk in search of higher returns and to misprice risk.
International
  • An interesting snippet from The Economist
    • Rrelative to the size of the economy banks in the UK are 10 times bigger now than they were 40 years ago.
  • Toyota recalls eight models from American market
    • Toyota halted US output and sales of eight models because of a part that spurred a 2.3 million vehicle recall.
    • Toyota’s move covers the top selling Camry and Corolla sedans, along with the Avalon and Matrix cars; RAV4, Highlander and Sequoia sport-utility vehicles; and Tundra pick-ups.
    • Toyota recalled the vehicles because of a potential flaw in parts made by CTS Corp that could, “in rare instances, mechanically stick in a depressed position or return slowly to the idle position”. In November, Toyota recalled 4.3 million vehicles to reshape accelerator pedals to prevent them from getting stuck.
  • Apple unveils iPad
    • Trying to expand beyond the Macintosh, iPod and iPhone, Apple introduced a tablet computer with a touch screen. The iPad can display full web pages and has a touch-screen keyboard that’s almost full size.
    • Analysts are predicting that Apple will be able to sell about 3 to 4 mn of these iPads if they are priced at about $750 per piece.
  • Some stats on bank bailouts
    • The Bank of England estimates governments the world over have spent or committed a staggering $14 trillion to prop up the financial system following the fall of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.
  • anon: Adverb
    • At another time; (old-fashioned or informal) in a little while
    • eg: Then he would ever and anon exclaim that the country seemed bursting, as it were, with vitality and industry.
  • schmooze
    • Noun: An informal conversation
    • Verb: Talk idly or casually and in a friendly way
    • eg: And yes, people do more than just schmooze.
  • cygnet: Noun
    • A young swan
  • elan: Noun
    • A feeling of strong eagerness (usually in favour of a person or cause); Distinctive and stylish elegance; Enthusiastic and assured vigour and liveliness
    • eg: And while the home ministry’s administrative √©lan has gone up significantly, it is far from clear that politics informs and modulates internal security operations as it should.

26.01.2010

Politics & the Nation
  • Padma awards announced
    • This year's awards comprise 6 Padma Vibhushan, 43 Padma Bhushan and 81 Padma Shri awards.
    • ‘Padma Vibhushan’ is awarded for exceptional and distinguished service; ‘Padma Bhushan’ for distinguished service of high order and ‘Padma Shri’ for distinguished service in any field.
    • The awards are conferred by the President of India at a function held at Rashtrapati Bhavan sometime around March/ April.
    • For a complete list of the awardees look at this PDF document.
  • Tagore awards presented for 8 litterateurs
    • Eight litterateurs were awarded on Monday, the first Tagore Literature Awards 2009 for their contributions to Bengali, Bodo, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Punjabi and Telugu.
    • Instituted by the Sahitya Akademi and Samsung Electronics, the winners were chosen from across different genres of essays, poetry, biography and autobiography for literary works between 2005 and 2008.
    • First Lady of the Republic of Korea Kim Yoon-ok presented the awards. The awardees are:
      • Alok Sarkar for “Apapabhumi” (Bengali),
      • Brajendra Kumar Brahma for “Raithaihala” (Bodo),
      • Bhagwandas Patel for “Mari Lokyatra” (Gujarati),
      • Rajee Seth for “Ghame-Hayat Ne Mara” (Hindi),
      • Naseem Shafai for “Na Thsay Na Akas” (Kashmiri),
      • Chandrasekhar Kambar for “Shikara Soorya” (Kannada),
      • Jaswant Singh Kanwal for “Punya Daa Chanan” (Punjabi) and
      • Kovela Suprasannacharya for “Antharangam” (Telugu).
    • Each award carries prize money of Rs. 91,000, a trophy and a citation.
  • The move by the government to act against deemed universities backfires in Supreme Court
    • Acting on the reports of a high-powered review committee and a task force, the Government decided to de-recognise 44 deemed universities across the country on the plea that they are not having the requisite infrastructure and are being run as family fiefdoms.
    • Unimpressed by the move which kept the educaitonal future of over 2 lakh students, the court asked the Centre to furnish a clear ‘roadmap of programme’ to protect the interest of students.
  • South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is Chief Guest at R-Day parade
    • Something about the laying of wreaths at the Amar Jawan Jyoti:
      • Looks like it is the privilege only of the PM, the Defence Minister and the Defence Chiefs. BTW do you know that the memorial is for World War I heroes?
      • Any idea as to why the President doesn't lay the wreath?
  • Sonia calls for de-criminalising politics
    • Speaking at a function to mark 60 years of the Election Commission of India (ECI), Congress president Sonia Gandhi reopened the debate on de-criminalising electoral politics by exhorting parties “to evolve a consensus” on barring those with criminal records from contesting polls.
    • Despite the Congress chief’s plea about de-criminalising politics, the party had no qualms about giving tickets to as many as 24 candidates with criminal backgrounds in just the first phase of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, according to figures released by an NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms. BJP came second with 23 candidates followed by BSP (17) and SP (10).
Finance & Economy
  • Why is the government's move to continue providing subsidy to consumers for cooking gas and kerosene for five more years, not good?
    • Providing subsidies is not good from the point of view of reining in the fiscal deficit. Mounting subventions for subsidies mean diversion of savings by the government from investment to consumption, raising the cost of capital in the process.
    • The government must cut expenditure on subsidies to create more fiscal space for investments in both physical and social infrastructure.
    • Subsidies as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) stood at around 1.8% of GDP in 1990-91 and fell to 1.4% of GDP in 1999-2000.
    • By 2008-09 the government had budgeted subsidies at Rs 66,537 crore, but the bill shot up nearly four-fold to touch Rs 2,19,582 crore — a whopping 4.1% of GDP.
  • How strongly linked is India's economy to global economic currents?
    • India remains substantially dependent on exports to fuel GDP, on external commercial loans to fuel investment, and on foreign institutional portfolio inflows to fuel its stock markets. So, linkage to global trends has become a new economic fundamental of India.
  • India's milk production
    • India is the world's largest milk producer. It accounts for 15% of the global production. Its production has risen to 115 mn tonnes.
Language Lessons
  • limerick: Noun
    • A humorous verse form of 5 anapestic lines with a rhyme scheme aabba. Look at the following verse, you will understand it. Notice the line endings.
    • There was a young lady from Niger/Who smiled as she rode on a tiger/They returned from the ride/With the lady inside/And the smile on the face of the tiger.
  • anapestic: Adjective
    • (of a metric foot) characterized by two short syllables followed by a long one
  • thingamajig: Noun
    • Something unspecified whose name is either forgotten or not known
    • eg: However miraculous the thingamajig turns out to be - all rumors point to some kind of tabletlike device - it can't be more remarkable than the control that Apple and Jobs have over their audience.
  • omerta: Noun
    • A code of silence practised by the Mafia; a refusal to give evidence to the police about criminal activities

23.01.2010

Politics & the Nation
  • It's Netaji's birthday today
    • The Nation is observing his 113th birthday today with various programs being organized around the country.
    • Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was born on 23rd January1897 in Cuttack, Orissa.
    • Netaji is remembered by all of us, among other things, for his slogans:
      • "Give me blood and I will give you freedom"
      • 'Jai Hind'
Finance & Economy
  • It's turf war time beween SEBI and IRDA
    • A turf war has broken out between the two over ULIPs. ULIPs are insurance plans that are similar to mutual funds and have been around for a decade now. They have emerged as one of the hottest investment products in recent years.
    • ULIP is a generic term used to describe insurance plans where the choice of asset lies with the investor. The structure is similar to that of a mutual fund. Just like in a mutual fund, ULIP money is allocated to either an equity or income or balanced fund and any gain in the value of these assets is reflected in the appreciation of the net asset value of the units. Charges towards insurance and asset management are recovered from policyholders — a practice that mutual funds also follow. More than 80% of new premium collected by insurance companies from policyholders is in ULIPs. The product is responsible for insurance firms emerging as dominant players in the stock market. Under the circumstances, a curb on ULIP may also impact the stock market.
    • SEBI has issued a notice to all insurance companies in India asking them to explain why they have not taken its permission before selling ULIPs.
    • But IRDA appears to have not taken the move by SEBI lightly. It is reported to have asked the insurers to give it a copy of the notice so that it can take up the issue with the Government.
    • Worldwide, there are not many instances of such regulatory dispute. One reason is that internationally most insurance companies, which mobilise funds under ULIPs, farm out the management of these funds into asset management companies that come under the purview of the markets regulator.
    • In India, life insurers are barred from using the services of mutual fund managers, even though almost every life insurance promoter has a mutual fund within the group.
  • Coal India reduces production target
    • The shortages of domestic coal this fiscal is put at 70 million tonnes (mt), thanks to lax output by CIL.
    • Its latest projection is that production in 2012 would be 486 mt, rather than 520 mt as targeted.
    • While it's excuse is that it has failed to get environmental and forest clearances for as many as 17 mining projects, it appears to have failed to take into account such delays in its planning.
    • For a more detailed scathing criticism of CIL in this regard read today's ET editorial.
  • Some details on how ATM transactions are handled in our country
    • All the ATMs (at least the majority) established by banks in India are connected to a National Financial Switch (NFS) that was established by IDRBT (Institute of Development and Research in Banking Technology), a subsidiary organization of RBI. Recently IDRBT handed over this NFS to National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI), which is owned by six commercial banks including the SBI.
    • The switching charge, which was Rs 2 per transaction until 2007, was completely waived in December 2007 to bring down ATM interchange charges. While IDRBT has waived the charges for the usage of the switch, NPCI has started charging the member banks (37 are there) at the rate of Re. 1 per transaction from January 1, 2010.
    • However, NPCI is reportedly at looking at lowering the cost below Re. 1and also adding more members. The 37 members have 49,467 ATMs and the daily average volume is around 1.6 million with a peak volume of 2.6 million so far.
Health
  • How big is the problem of suicides in the country and the world at large? What should be done to tackle it? (Excerpted from an ET op-ed that appeared today.)
    • Two third of suicides are in the age group 14-44 and that and for every reported suicide case there are at least four which are hidden. And, even with the incomplete statistics India is near the top of suicide table of the world. Further, the menace of urban and professional suicides is increasing and becoming game spoiler for the Indian century. It is instructive to note that annually more Indians die from suicide than combined curse of naxalism, terrorism and deadly lungs cancer.
    • Lost productivity, health and social care costs of suicides are estimated at many billions of dollars each annually and suicide accounts for 20 millions years of healthy life lost in the world, with India being a prime contributor.
    • Rigorous studies in developed countries have concluded that there are two groups of people who commit suicide — 50% are those with diagnosed or treated mental disorder and 90% of the balance 50% in whose case psychiatric autopsies and retrospective studies confirmed that a psychiatric disorder existed. This makes mental illnesses, more particularly the subgroup of clinical depression and bipolar disorder as the prime contributor to completed and attempted suicide.
    • Following is the seven-point national agenda worth pursuing to combat the epidemic:
      • We need to get the suicide statistics right. With barely 20% deaths medically certified in the country, the task is difficult. But dramatic improvements made in South Korea can act as a role model.
      • We need to humanise and decriminalize suicide by deleting Section 309 of Indian Penal Code. The Law Commission in its 210th report recommended deletion and found it as the stumbling block for prevention of suicide and improving the access of medical care to survivors. There is a case to emulate UK Suicide Act, 1961 which abrogated the law which made attempt to suicide a crime but enhanced punishment for complicity in another s suicide to 14 years.
      • With mental illness being prime contributor to suicide, there is urgent need to set up a standing empowered National Commission for Mental Health to work as nodal agency for all the policy and action for prevention, early detection, treatment and rehabilitation of mentally ill.
      • A paradigm shift is needed at government, school, workplace and family level to accept that suicide is preventable. Education and awareness of all including health professionals, is central to such an approach.
      • Outlay and utilisation of budget for mental health and suicide prevention needs exponential augmentation the economic and financial return of the same will be high as most who commit suicide are in productive age group.
      • Non-governmental efforts require mainstreaming and working in tandem with government, sufferers and carers.
      • Media has collateral responsibility in dissemination of information, education, creating awareness and self regulation for humane portrayal of suicide.
  • felicity: Noun
    • Pleasing and appropriate manner or style (especially manner or style of expression); State of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy
    • eg: Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar would appear to have lost the felicity with words essential for a politician.
  • expletive: Noun
    • Profane or obscene expression usually of surprise or anger; A word or phrase conveying no independent meaning but added to fill out a sentence or metrical line
    • eg: If he had used a few less expletives, could Britain’s best known chef Gordon Ramsay have morphed into Goverdhan Ramji on his recent whirlwind visit to shoot for a TV food show?
  • deracinate: Verb
    • Move (people) forcibly from their homeland into a new and foreign environment; Pull up by or as if by the roots
    • eg: His penchant for prurience may have been a mite more believable, though, if he had picked up some choice Indian terms of the same genre, or even their abbreviations in English devised by deracinated city dudes.
  • etiology: Noun
    • The cause of a disease; The philosophical study of causation
  • akimbo
    • Adjective: (used of arms and legs) bent outward with the joint away from the body
    • Adverb: With hands on hips and elbows extending outward
    • eg: We were neither privy to his flying tackles, gravity-defying breathless stunts or his usually macho akimbo pose.

22.01.2010

Politics & the Nation
  • How hard should the kids be pushed for performance in exams?
    • We are sure many of you would have felt at one time or the other, the weight of expectations from your parents. You might have faced the pressure in your own way and perhaps some of you may even be wilting under the pressure. Though this article from an educationist is basically aimed at parents, we strongly recommend that it be read by even students. If you know how your parents should be behaving, when they don't behave that way, at least you will be aware of their deficiency and you will be in a better position to handle the pressure.
Finance & Economy
  • Carry trade in US$ gives jitters?
    • It certainly looks so with with the dollar beginning to harden against currencies like the euro. The strengthening of the dollar is confirmed by a rise in DXY - the currency index that measures the relative value of the dollar to a basket of currencies — by 2.48% since January 14 at around 78.525 levels. The index is viewed as the barometer of the greenback against major currencies in the world. Currencies in the basket include the euro, yen, pound, Canadian dollar, Swedish krona and Swiss franc.
    • How is a rise in DXY suggesting unwinding or possible unwinding of the dollar carry trade?
    • The carry transaction is where global fund managers borrowed dollar and converted it into currencies of countries they chose to invest in. This had captured the imagination of global investors (mostly hedge funds) as the greenback weakened and the US Federal Reserve cut interest rate to battle recession. Hedge funds and other international investors found their borrowing cost go down every time the US central bank slashed rates and the dollar dipped against other currencies. As rates dropped, they borrowed more to push up stocks in these markets, which in turn drew more investors.
    • It looked like an invincible strategy, till now.
    • Investors, who have been banking on the cheap dollar to punt, are now feeling the jitters, with the dollar beginning to harden against currencies like the euro. A stronger dollar means that they will have to convert more of other currencies to pay the interest on the dollar loan.
    • As the carry currency turns more expensive, markets begin to fear that investors will start to sell some of the stocks to pay back the loan which no longer looks cheap. This, in market parlance, is the carry trade unwinding. In the past, markets had been shaken by unwinding in yen, which for years had been the favourite carry trade currency.
  • A 'countercyclical' capital framework to ensure stable banking system and face financial shocks.
    • A downturn in the economy generally leads to deterioration of asset quality of banks and increase in NPLs. At the bottom of the business cycle, the bank NPLs tend to be high and banks increase provisions against higher NPLs. These higher provisioning requirements makes bankers cautious at the bottom of the business cycle. They tighten credit, further deteriorating borrowers financial position and making general economy worse.
    • In contrast, at the peak of the business cycle, companies performance is strong and banks NPLs are low. Banks tend to reduce provisions because of lower NPLs, ease credit terms and expand their loan portfolios, spurring economic growth. This easy credit approach results in poor loan selection, leading to higher NPLs when the cycle turns. The net result is that banks procyclical actions at the high and low points in the business cycle tend to further amplify the cycle with all the negative consequences associated with this increased volatility. The alternative approach being considered now is a “countercyclical” provisioning approach under which banks build their reserves during good times when their earnings are high and let these reserves come down during the economic slow down.
  • Remember our earlier notings about takeout financing?
    • Here is an excellent ET in the classroom column that explains all about the concept. Take a look.
  • Poor show in agriculture to depress growth?
    • A lower growth in farm sector due to the widespread drought and floods in some parts of the country is likely to pull down economic growth in the third quarter to 6-6.5%, according to Pronab Sen, chief statistician of India and secretary, ministry of statistics and programme implementation.
    • Farm production is likely to dip by 6- 7% during the third quarter.
  • How are loans to infrastructure sector classified by banks? Why is that occupying news space now?
    • As per RBI guidelines, loans given to infrastructure sector, specially road, construction, telecom and ports, fall under the unsecured category as there is no tangible asset that can banks can take over in the case of default to secure their loan.
    • But now the government has reportedly written to the RBI asking it to consider classifying loans to infrastructure sector as secured lending to ensure an increased flow of funds to the sector.
    • The government's argument is that most of these projects are formed through the private-public participation (PPP) route and have implicit government support.
    • There is little cause for these loans turning into non-performing assets. Further, the payment towards these loans is made through the escrow account, from which the principal amount is given to the lender first.
    • As banks have a cap on lending to unsecured category, government wants them to consider lending to infrastructure as secured, so that the sector doesn't suffer from the sectoral cap.
    • According to RBI norms, banks have to make a provisioning of 20% in the first year, if unsecured loans goes bad or becomes non-performing asset in banking parlance. The provisioning amount goes up to 100% in the second year for unsecured NPAs.
International
  • BASIC countries to establish a fund to help LDCs?
    • Reportedly this is what is happening. With their appearing to have broken ranks with the G77 in Copenhagen summit, the BASIC countries now want to cozy up to the Least Developed Countries to retain their negotiating strength. As it is making common cause with the rest of the developing bloc that would give it better negotiating strength.
    • The proposed fund will be bilateral in nature and not under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change. The fund is unlikely to be a formal set up as that would require setting up of structures. Instead, each of the four BASIC countries will co-ordinate their climate-related aid to vulnerable countries.
Personality
  • Lt. Gen V.K. Singh
    • He is named the new Army Chief of India. He will be taking over from Gen. Deepak Kapoor when the latter retires on 31.03.2010.
    • Get some more details about him here.
Science

21.01.2010

Politics & the Nation
  • On NEPA
    • This is one regulatory that is proposed to be set up in the National Environmental Appraisal Notification of 2006. NEPA stands for National Environment Protection Authority. Let us take a look at the views of two experts on what this authority should and should not do.
    • Take a look at the opinions here.
Finance & Economy
  • Amir Khan lands the biggest advertisement deal
    • Aamir Khan has just landed the biggest endorsement deal in Indian advertising history. He will promote new telecom entrant, UAE’s Etisalat, for Rs 30-35 crore for three years.
    • Mr Khan, along with his Bollywood competitor Shah Rukh Khan, already commands the biggest rates, pegged at Rs 6-8 crore per year per endorsement.
    • However, the figures pale in the light of the billion-dollar life-time endorsement that golf legend Tiger Woods signed, and the $70-million deal that Russian tennis sensation Maria Sharapova bagged early this month from Nike for eight years.
  • What is the benefit of having exchange traded currency futures?
    • From a macro perspective, exchange-traded products are vastly superior to opaque OTC products. The latter, as the recent financial crisis has shown, pose a huge risk both by way of management of counterparty risk and absence of transparency. The advantage of exchange-traded products is that they substitute a centralised clearing platform for individual counterparty risk and allow for standardised netting and margining.
    • Of course, to the extent that it is available only for standardised products in terms of size and maturity, it may not do away entirely with OTC products.
    • There is also the fear, expressed in some quarters, that the shift to exchanges might result in an increase in purely speculative activities and hence might increase systemic risk. But, provided regulators do their job and don’t sleep on the watch, there is no reason to fear.
  • Titbits on how our foreign currency hoard is doing
Environment
  • IPCC admits to its goof up
    • It was only yesterday that we were noting about how IPCC is facing tremendous criticism of its prophecy that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035. After vociferously dismissing a report, two months ago, by India’s senior-most glaciologist VK Raina that questioned IPCC’s claim as “vodoo science”, the RK Pachauri-led panel went into damage control mode and acknoweldged that it was they who had erred on the Himalayan glaciers and not Mr Raina.
    • It is a blow to its credibility as the reliable authority on global climate science. IPCC is the world’s premier outfit on climate change science and its assessments form the basis of government policy.
  • cahoots: Noun
    • collusion
    • eg: She also believed that the private owners of banks were in cahoots with the Swatantra Party.
  • ignominious: Adjective
    • (used of conduct or character) deserving or bringing disgrace or shame
    • eg: He also differed with the party on the ignominious issue of expelling then Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee from the party.
  • savant: Noun
    • Someone who has been admitted to membership in a scholarly field

20.01.2010

Politics & the Nation
  • MoS complain about lack of work
    • We thought, so far, that lack of work plagues only those bureaucrats that are sidelined to posts with glorious designations carrying no work. But after reading this news report, we are highly surprised to know that even our mantrijis are more often than not underemployed or even unemployed. Makes for an interesting and bemusing reading.
    • We draw your attention to the diplomatic language used by the PMO in the press release. It said that the meeting discussed ways and means for better utilisation of the enormous pool of talent available in the team of ministers of state.
  • If there arises a situation to use nuclear weapons, how is the decision taken?
    • It is interesting to know something about this. There is a body called the NCA which stands for Nuclear Command Authority. The NCA consists of a political council and an executive council. The political council is to be chaired by the prime minister and it is the sole body which can authorise the use of nuclear weapons. The executive council is chaired by the NSA (National Security Advisor), and it provides inputs for decision-making by the NCA and executes the directives given to it by the political council.
  • How important is cyber security from civilian point of view?
    • Given the increasing use of Scada (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems that use computers to monitor and control industrial operations, the nation can be brought to a halt by terrorists or hostile powers taking control of computers in what are normally considered civilian installations. From power stations to sugar factories, dam sluice gates to suburban train signalling systems, banks to stock exchanges, most large complex systems are controlled by computers. If hostile elements gain control of these decidedly-civilian establishments, they can create havoc. Therefore, cyber security has to go beyond securing overtly sensitive systems such as in the government and the defence network.
Finance & Economy
  • What are the pros and cons of having a partial roll-out of the GST?
    • Take a look at this column. Both the experts feel that a partial roll-out will not be good for the country. We vote for a full roll-out. But will the politicians facilitate it before April 1, 2010?
  • NTPC plans to set up arm for acquiring coal assets abroad
    • NTPC, the world’s second-largest independent power producer (IPP), plans to set up a new entity for acquiring coal assets abroad to secure fuel supplies for its coal-based plants.
    • NTPC’s coal imports stood at eight million tonne in 2008-09. It is expected to reach the 12.5-million tonne mark in the current fiscal (2009-10) and rise further as the company’s coal-based generation capacity will go on stream in the coming years. It is estimated that the company may require at least 270 million tonne of coal annually by 2017, by when its total generation capacity is targeted to touch 75,000 mw from the current level of 30,644 mw. Of the NTPC-owned capacity, 86% is coal-based, operated through 15 coal-based power stations.
  • Mauritius government comes hard on round-tripping
    • The Financial Sevices Commission of Mauritius has imposed a stringent set of conditions on Mauritius-based companies investing in India in a bid to allay fears about round-tripping of funds.
    • Hope you remember what is meant by round-tripping. In round tripping, domestic funds/companies go out and come back again through circuitous routes from Mauritius or other tax havens, to save taxes.
    • The Mauritian government has also warned that licences of entities investing in India would be revoked if they source funds from India.The move provides a new turn to the lingering debate over allegations of Indian corporates using the Mauritius route to escape capital gains tax.
    • Mauritius is the top source of foreign direct investment (FDI) flowing into India. During the first seven months of the current financial year, nearly $8 billion of the $18 billion FDI flowing into India came from Mauritius.
  • Know what is a teaser rate?
    • This is an offer by lenders where customers seeking homes loans are extended an attractive interest rate — at a substantial discount to market rates. These rates, normally an introductory offer, last only for a few months or sometimes only during the initial year or two of a mortgage loan. Subsequently, the rate is adjusted to the market rate after the special offer period is over. In India, the concept is relatively new with many banks offering a low interest rate for the first 2-3 years of the maturity of the loan. State Bank of India — the country’s largest bank — queered the pitch in early 2009 in an attempt to woo home borrowers and revive the sagging demand for loans, following the global economic crisis. The Reserve Bank of India has, however, expressed its concern relating to banks indulging in this practice, keeping in mind the impact on bank balance sheets.
  • On investing in stock markets -- the basics.
    • This is a very good ET in the classroom column that explains you about the basics of stock market investing. Take a look at it. Worth a read. Very helpful for beginners.
  • Currency futures ahoy!
    • The RBI has taken a giant leap by permitting retail investors to trade in additional currency futures with immediate effect.
    • Dollar-rupee futures are currently traded on three recognised exchanges — NSE, MCX and BSE. Now the RBI has decided to allow currency futures in Euro, Pound Sterling and Yen.
    • As in the case of the dollar-rupee futures, the contract size has been fixed at 1,000 units each for pound and euro, and 100,000 units for the yen, across 12 concurrently available contracts, one for each month. The contracts, like the existing dollar futures, would be cash-settled in rupees and the settlement price would be at RBI’s reference rate for all the four currencies.
Environment
  • Are Himalayan glaciers really melting at an alarming pace?
    • That they have been melting at an alarming rate is what we have been fed on by the IPCC for long now. But now, an independent study got conducted at the instance of the Government of India appears to have arrived at an opposite conclusion.
    • Want to see a scathing criticism of the IPCC in this regard? Can't get a better one than this one from SSA Aiyar.
International
  • Crystal gazing the American economy
    • What's happening in the American economy now and what does the future hold for it? You may have your own take on the subject, but do take a look at what Martin Feldstein one of members of the US president Barack Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board has to offer.
Sport
  • IPL to go 3D!
    • IPL is reportedly going 3D in the last four matches of the upcoming version IPL3. It is perhaps the first sports body in the world to do so. After they see the performance this time, it is reportedly considering giving the entire broadcast a 3D uplift for the ensuing seasons.
    • They are also reportedly looking at introducing a spider camera wherein the camera will actually move across the ground like a spider web.
    • The 3D experience will be initially available in pubs, cinemas and bars.
    • BTW, want to know the latest price tags for players? Take a look at this graphic.

19.01.2010

Finance & Economy
  • Carrefour set to enter India's retail scene?
    • Carrefour, Europe’s biggest retail chain, is reportedly close to a deal with Kishore Biyani of Pantaloon Retail to set up franchisee stores in India.
    • The Carrefour franchise stores will be aimed at affluent customers, pitting them against the Raheja group’s HyperCity, which operates four stores in three cities.
    • Currently, Indian rules permit foreign direct investment in the cashand-carry wholesale business to supply to other retailers, but not directly to customers. Foreign investment is barred in case of multi-brand retail stores, while single-brand retailers such as Nike and Reebok can be foreign owned up to 51%. Multi-brand international retailers are also allowed to operate, but only through the franchisee route.
    • Modern retail is only 5% of the entire retail pie, which is estimated to be $390 billion, according to the Retailers Association of India.
  • What is prepaid brokerage in stock market parlance?
    • It is nothing but brokerage amount paid in advance a la prepaid mobile services by clients to the broking houses.
    • Advance credit/deposit, or prepaid brokerage, is typically in vogue during a market rally when bullish investors expect plenty of trading opportunities.
    • Prepaid brokerage schemes have made a spectacular comeback as big stock broking houses look to hook as many clients as possible while the upbeat market sentiment lasts and customers flock to a trading system that is up to 40% cheaper.
  • On Mutual Fund investments by corporates and tax arbitrage
    • Why do corporates and banks want to invest in Mutual Funds?
      • They prefer to invest through MFs because of a tax arbitrage: dividends distributed by debt MFs attract a lower rate of tax as compared to income generated by direct participation in the market.
    • So what's the remedy?
      • The government should scrap dividend distribution tax (DDT) levied on companies and instead tax dividends in the hands of shareholders.
    • How would such a change benefit?
      • It would boost the government’s revenues, as promoters, who have been paying themselves hefty, tax-free dividends, pay 30% tax on their income.
      • It would end the tax arbitrage on investments in MFs and, thereby, remove the artificial incentive companies have for carrying out their treasury deployments through MFs.
      • Similarly, it would remove a large part of the incentive that banks have for lending to one another and to companies via MFs. There would be greater transparency on bank lending.
      • Such a move would, in addition, restore salience to the role of MFs as vehicles for retail investors to invest in securities. And all MFs can have tax pass-through status.
  • Bituminous vs. cement roads
    • Bituminous roads last for about 10 years while concrete roads last for about 40 years.
    • While the former require frequent repairs the latter remain virtually maintenance free.
    • The former are less fuel efficient -- cement roads result in better fuel consumption (10 to 15%) due to better grip.
    • Concrete roads cost as much as three times more than bituminous roads.
    • Bitumen roads offer better driving comfort and cause less noise pollution.
    • Hungry for more? Do read this ET editorial.
Technology
  • About 'sleeved column' braces
    • Know what are these? They consist of a brace surrounding a core of high-performance steel. These are used in construction industry to construct buildings that can withstand earthquakes measuring beyond 5 on the Richter scale.
    • This structure is designed and developed by Mr. Benne Narasimhamurthy Sridhara, a structural steel design consultant from Bangalore.
    • Know he gets paid $60-80 as royalty whenever US-based steel fabricators are involved in the construction of a new hospital, school or commercial building in the earthquake-prone American west coast? Cool know?
    • Conventional braces, which do not have any sleeved material for absorbing energy, can buckle under even in an earthquake measuring 5 on the Richter scale.
International
  • Why are Wall Street pays so high?
    • The economic base on which their pay is decided is wealth; not production. That's what makes Wall Street pays humungous when compared with pays from other sectors.
    • Confused? Take a look at this article. Very well written.
Music
  • Rahman in race for Oscar, yet again; but for a Tamil song
    • The Tamil song ‘Na Na’ has been shortlisted for nomination in the original song category for the 82nd Academy Awards.
    • The song will be competing with 62 other songs from eligible feature-length motion pictures for nomination, which will be announced February 2.
    • ‘Na Na’ was written by Rahman along with rapper Blaaze and Vivian Chaix and sung by the trio along with Alim, Clinton and Dominic.
  • indubitably: Adverb
    • In a manner or to a degree that could not be doubted
    • eg: Then again, it (Google) is also indubitably a vehicle for making information infinitely more accessible.
  • fracas: Noun
    • Noisy quarrel

18.01.2010

Politics & the Nation
  • New Governors
    • MK Narayanan - West Bengal
    • Shivraj Patil - Punjab
    • ESL Narasimhan - Andhra Pradesh
    • Shekhar Dutt - Chattisgarh
    • Mohsina Kidwai - Jharkhan
    • K Sankaranarayanan - Maharashtra
    • Prabha Rau - Rajasthan
    • Urmilaben Patel - Himachal Pradesh
Finance & Economy
  • Tax sops for corporates in Mutual Fund investments to go?
    • If reports are to be believed, this is what is recommended by SEBI to the Finance Ministry. It is likely that the RBI and the Government may also be veering round to the same view. What triggered this proposal?
    • SEBI is uncomfortable with MF industry’s unhealthy dependence on short-term funds from corporates. Though this helps fund houses grow their assets and boost valuations, policymakers are worried about the systemic implications of any swift outflow of such institutional funds that could hobble some of the fund houses. This was evident during the secondhalf of 2008, when the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had to keep liquidity support open to help MFs meet their redemption obligations.
    • RBI has also been unhappy at the way banks have been parking their surplus with MFs, which in turn finds its way back to banks. The central bank has nudged banks to restrict their investments in MFs.
    • Any move, either to do away with the tax benefits or to tweak the tax rates, could hurt the local MF industry whose growth is linked to the flow of funds from corporates. Over 50% of the money that Indian MFs attract for their debt schemes comes from corporate treasuries and banks. According to latest data, the assets under management of the Indian MF industry are a little under Rs 7-lakh crore.
  • In the context of RBI's pressing banks to offer home loans at uniform rates to all the customers -- old and new alike -- what suggestions do you have to offer?
    • While RBI's suggestion to banks -- made in the context of teaser loans being offered -- about teaser loans in unexceptionable, it is wrong in interfering in pricing decisions of banks in asking them to lend at the same rate to the old and new customers alike. In this context, the following suggestions deserve a close look:
    • One, urge caution in lending, as the RBI deputy governor has already done.
    • Two, ensure more transparency so that borrowers know what they are getting into — it can tell banks to incorporate an illustrative example in the loan document so that the implications become plain to customers.
    • Three, encourage financial literacy so that customers cannot be taken for a ride so easily. Four, keep a tab on the level of non-performing assets (NPAs) and act against those banks whose NPAs start flashing red.
    • Five, and most important of all perhaps, address the cause rather than the symptom of the disease: excess liquidity in the system that is forcing banks to push credit by any means.
  • After a long lull, the government is expected to be able to implement a number of the critical policy changes in 2010. Comment.
    • Every major policy decision in the country goes through a one to three-year cycle of Pota: proposition, opposition, treaty consensus and action. Many of the key reforms are now moving towards the action phase. Five key measures that are likely to move to the ‘action’ stage in 2010-11 are the goods and services tax system, consolidation of public sector deficit, meaningful steps towards divestment of government stake in state-owned enterprises, acceleration in infrastructure spending, particularly in roads, and direct tax reforms.
  • What's wrong with the existing system of taxation of goods?
    • The current system taxes production whereas the GST will aim to tax consumption. Indeed, the current law levies taxes on movement of goods from one state to another — effectively creating borders within borders. It distorts the allocation of resources and inhibits productivity growth. The transition to GST will be an important milestone from a macro perspective.
  • Some stats on divestment in India
    • Since the formation in May 2004 of the coalition government led by the United Progressive Alliance, the pace of divestment in state-owned enterprises has been extremely slow. The total proceeds from divestments during the five years ended March 31, 2009, were just $3.1 billion.
    • The value of government stake in listed state-owned enterprises is estimated to be at about $320 billion. If we include the unlisted companies, the total value would be about $460 billion.
Obituary: Jyoti Basu
  • Mumbai Marathon
    • Denis Ndiso of Kenya clinched his first marathon title with an impressive timing of 2:12:34 while Bizunesh Mohammed led an Ethiopian clean sweep of top three slots among women in the $310,000 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon.
    • The second spot among men was taken by Ethiopian Siraj Gena who clocked 2hrs 13mins 58secs. He was followed by another Kenyan Samson Limareng (2:24:24) at the third place.
    • The women’s race became a two-way battle between winner Bizunesh Mohammed (2:31:09) of Ethiopia and her compatriot Haile Kebebush (2:31:11) — the defending champion, with the former surging ahead only in the last 100 metres.
    • Another Ethiopian Azalech Masrecha (2:32:12) finished third.
  • Bhadralok: Noun
    • well-mannered person
    • It is a Bengali term used to denote the new class of 'gentlefolk' who arose during colonial times (approximately 1757 to 1947) in Bengal. It is still used to indicate members of the upper middle and middle classes of Bengal.
  • transmogrify: Verb
    • Change completely the nature or appearance of
    • eg: If the pun was intended, then the company deserves to be commended with at least a smirk: what could be better for both British shopper and shop than pounds dropping — transmogrified, from the weighing scales into the till?