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BUSINESS AND ECONOMY - January 2020

Jan 2020

Jan 31, 2020

Govt. Discusses Air India's Sale with Nine Companies

  • Indian officials met with as many as nine companies to gauge interest in a stake sale in the nation's loss-making flag carrier.
  • Officials from the South Asian nation met executives of companies including British Airways parent IAG SA, IndiGo, India's biggest airline that's operated by InterGlobe Aviation Ltd., SpiceJet Ltd. as well as Tata Sons Ltd.
  • A successful sale of Air India Ltd. after a failed attempt in 2018 is crucial for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help bridge a widening fiscal deficit exacerbated by dismal tax collections and a $20 billion corporate tax cut. Air India, which started as Tata Airlines in 1932 and later acquired by the government, hasn't made money since 2007. The airline posted a loss of $1.2 billion last year -- its highest ever -- and has $8.4 billion in total debt.

Boeing Posts First Annual Loss since 1997

  • Boeing reported its first annual loss in more than two decades as the lengthy grounding of the 737 MAX undercut the company's revenues and exploded costs.
  • The aerospace giant reported a $1 billion loss in the fourth-quarter and a loss of $636 million for all of 2019, the company's first year in the red since 1997.

Huawei Pips Apple to be Second Largest Smartphone Brand

  • As per a study by Hong Kong based analytics firm Counterpoint Research, China's top telecom company Huawei surpassed Apple Inc to become the second largest smartphone brand globally in 2019 despite US sanctions. The company shipped 238.5 million handsets in 2019, following close on the heels of world leader Samsung that sold 296.5 million units. Apple was at the third spot, having shipped 196.2 million units last year.
  • The world's most populous country alone accounted for over 60% of Huawei's global shipments.

Sequoia and Tiger Global Invest in InterviewBit

  • Bengaluru-based ed-tech startup InterviewBit raised $20 million in a Series A round led by Sequoia India and Tiger Global. Part of Sequoia's early-stage accelerator, Surge, Interviewbit will use the capital to scale up enrolment and launch its product in new markets, besides improving its curriculum and live teaching product to enhance the student-teacher experience. Founded in 2015 by Abhimanyu Saxena and Anshuman Singh, the startup runs an advanced online computer science programme for college graduates and young engineering professionals.

UrbanClap Renamed Urban Company

  • Home services start-up UrbanClap, which has now expanded to Australia, Singapore and the UAE, announced that it has renamed itself as Urban Company. The new umbrella brand captures the company's ambition to be a horizontal gig marketplace with a global footprint across categories like beauty & wellness and home repairs & maintenance.
  • Urban Company, which was launched in Delhi in November 2014 with a handful of service professionals as UrbanClap, now claims to be India's and the UAE's largest home services company.
  • The startup offers services related to salon, makeup, spa massages, grooming, repairs, cleaning, painting, pest control, etc. It also offers fitness and yoga services at home.

Amazon India's Second Pickup Kiosk

  • After a successful pilot in Mumbai, Amazon India announced to expand pickup points to Kolkata, with launching a kiosk at the Sealdah railway station that would act as a convenient and easy pickup point for customers.
  • The pick-up kiosk is in partnership with the Eastern Railways. In 2019, the company partnered the Indian Railways to launch pickup kiosks at four railway stations in Mumbai.
  • With a daily customer footfall of millions of people, Sealdah railway station will help Amazon customers in the region pick up their packages while commuting to work, home or even on vacation.

Jan 30, 2020

Vodafone Sells Stake in Egypt Unit

  • Saudi Telecom Co. (STC) agreed to pay $2.39 billion for Vodafone Group Plc's Egyptian business as part of an expansion outside its home market.
  • The cash offer is for Vodafone's 55% stake in Vodafone Egypt, the country's largest mobile operator, and gives the North African firm an enterprise value of $4.35 billion.
  • The deal gives STC access to a country of over 80 million people where Vodafone Egypt has a market share of about 44%. STC still gets more than 90% of revenue from its domestic market. It helps Vodafone further streamline its focus on Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, and cut debt.

Cut Skilled Workers' Salary Cap: UK Panel

  • An independent expert panel tasked by the UK government to assess how a post-Brexit immigration system would work called for a drop in the salary cap imposed on professionals, majority of them from India, applying for a skilled worker visa.
  • The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) called for the current salary threshold of 30,000 pounds on such workers to be cut down to 25,600 pounds to bring it in line with pay levels in specific occupations.
  • Indian nationals accounted for 39% alone, with Australia and the US both accounting for 9% each, Pakistan 7% and South Africa, Nigeria and New Zealand 5% each," notes the MAC report, in reference to workers accessing the Tier 1 (General) high-skilled category of UK visas.

Infosys Divests Stake in Danish AI Firm

  • IT services firm Infosys has divested its shares in Unsilo A/S for about $8,00,000 (over Rs. 5.70 crore).
  • The company announces that it has completed the divestment of its shares in Unsilo A/S for a total consideration of approximately $0.8 million.
  • In November 2016, Infosys had announced an investment of 14,920,000 Danish Krone (about Rs. 14.49 crore) from its Innovation Fund in an artificial intelligence start-up Unsilo.
  • The Danish firm focuses on advanced text analysis. It uses a unique combination of machine-learning and natural language processing to analyse large quantities of text and improve the speed and effectiveness of knowledge workers across many industries.

In Snub to US, Britain Will Allow Huawei in 5G Networks

  • Britain decided to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei to supply new high-speed network equipment, ignoring US government warnings that it would sever intelligence cooperation if it did not ban the firm. The government's decision on Tuesday is the first by a major US ally in Europe, and follows intense lobbying from the Trump administration and China as the two vie for technological dominance.
  • It sets up a diplomatic clash with the Americans, who claim that British sovereignty is at risk because the company could give the Chinese government access to data, an allegation Huawei denies.
  • The decision was awkward for British PM Boris Johnson, who risked the fury of one of Britain's closest allies at just the moment it really needs Trump's administration to quickly strike a trade deal after Brexit. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is due to visit London to meet with Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to reaffirm the tran-Atlantic relationship.

Buffett to Sell His Newspaper Business

  • Billionaire Warren Buffett is selling all of Berkshire Hathaway's publications to Lee Enterprises for $140 million, including the Omaha World-Herald in Nebraska and The Buffalo News in New York.
  • The deal covers 30 daily newspapers in 10 states as well as 49 paid weekly publications with digital sites and 32 other print products. Other newspapers include the Tulsa World in Oklahoma and the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina. As part of the agreement, Lee will enter into a 10-year lease for BH Media's real estate.
  • Lee has been managing the BH Media publications since July 2018.

Govt. Eases Pressure on State-owned Bank Heads

  • The finance ministry announced that heads of public sector banks will no longer be personally responsible for compliance with various timelines that have been laid down for reporting large value frauds.
  • The government has now modified its 2015 framework on large value frauds doing away with the personal responsibility of the managing directors and chief executive officers of public sector banks (PSBs) for compliance with various prescribed timelines. 
  • It said powers have been delegated by the Department of Financial Services (DFS) to the boards of PSBs to put in place a mechanism for ensuring compliance of the various timelines laid down in Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) circulars. This modifies the finance ministry's notification from May 13, 2015 that put the overall responsibility for ensuring compliance with the various timelines on bank chiefs. 

Jan 29, 2020

Emirates Not Interested in Air India

  • Dubai-based airline Emirates said that it was not interested in buying stake in Air India, a day after the Indian government solicited interest for 100% sale of the national carrier.
  • Through partnerships with SpiceJet and Vistara, Emirates customers have access to an extensive network of cities across India.
  • Air India is currently bleeding heavily with average daily loss pegged at Rs 20-25 crore. The Narendra Modi government is not keen to give any further financial support to the airline and has announced to shut it down if the second disinvestment bid fails.

Brexit: New Checks on Goods Entering NI Indispensible

  • Michel Barnier said that new checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain are an 'indispensable' consequence of the Brexit deal.
  • Last week the Prime Minister suggested GB-NI trade would remain unfettered.
  • But the EU's chief negotiator said that the UK's choices make frictionless trade impossible.
  • The Brexit deal means Northern Ireland will follow EU rules on agricultural and manufactured goods - the rest of the UK will not.
  • Additionally, the whole of the UK will leave the EU's customs union but Northern Ireland will continue to enforce the EU's customs code at its ports.
  • This means some new checks and processes for goods moving between Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK.
  • The nature and extent of any checks will only become clear near the end of a one year transition period which expires at the end of 2020.

Tata Group Firms Get Together to Create Ecosystem for EVs

  • At least half a dozen Tata group firms have come together to create an ecosystem for electric vehicles (EVs) in India as Tata Motors launched its electric SUV Nexon at an introductory price starting from Rs. 13.99 lakh.
  • While Tata Power will provide the charging solutions, Tata Chemicals will manufacture lithium-ion battery cells and Tata Autocomp will work for localisation of the battery pack assembly and motor assembly for the electric vehicle.
  • TCS has developed the payments application for customers, Croma will provide a digital retail experience to customers, while Tata Motors Finance will provide affordable financing solutions for both personal and fleet segments.
  • This is the first time Tata Group firms are collaborating in such a manner for an integrated project. The idea is to leverage the expertise of each firm to create an ecosystem for electric vehicles, an idea propagated by Tata Sons chairman N. Chandrasekaran two years ago.

World Bank Postpones Vote on Tanzania Loan

  • As per reports, the World Bank has postponed its decision to lend Tanzania $500 m (£383 m) following pressure from civil activists.
  • The loan, which was to be subjected to a vote, had divided opinion in Tanzania over plans to use part of it to offer alternative education to teenage mothers.
  • Pregnant schoolgirls are by law barred from returning to school after giving birth. They can only pursue other forms of education like vocational training.
  • The colonial-era law contains a clause that empowers authorities to expel pregnant girls from school.
  • The World Bank had announced that the loan is intended, among other things, to help such girls access "alternative education pathways".
  • But Tanzanian activists wrote to the bank, arguing that approving the loan would be endorsing the "discriminatory policy" of keeping pregnant girls away from schools.
  • They argued that the law has been given a new lease of life by President John Magufuli's regime and officials have been "overzealous" in implementing the controversial clause.
  • According to a World Bank document outlining the proposed loan, about 5,500 girls discontinued secondary education due to adolescent pregnancy and young motherhood in 2017.
  • On Monday, President Magufuli was bullish and urged government officials to ignore critics of the policy saying:
  • "The vice president of the World Bank came here last year, they will give us money knowing Tanzania's stand and what we are doing. The rest (of the people) are just noise makers, don't even respond to them."
  • In 2018, World Bank withdrew a $300 m (£230 m) loan to Tanzania amid concerns over the country's policy of expelling pregnant girls from school.

Airbus Reaches Deal to Settle Corruption Probe

  • Airbus agreed a settlement with French, British and US authorities following lengthy investigations into allegations of bribery and corruption.
  • The European plane maker said that the deal was subject to approval by courts in the three countries.
  • The allegations have centered on the use of middlemen in plane sales.
  • Details have not been revealed, but reports suggest that Airbus - based in Toulouse in south-west France - could pay more than €3bn (£2.5bn) in fines.
  • The UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO), and later its French counterpart, opened investigations into Airbus after the firm reported itself in 2016.
  • The SFO opened its investigation in August 2016 into allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption in the civil aviation business of Airbus.

Newcastle United Talks on Saudi Arabia Takeover at Advanced Stage

  • Talks on the potential £340 m takeover of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund are in advanced stage.
  • Negotiations between the Arab state's Public Investment Fund (PIF) and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have been in progress for several months.
  • The chances of an agreement are now high.
  • But they also warned that the talks were complicated and a deal could still collapse.
  • Businesswoman and financier Amanda Staveley is understood to have approached the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about buying the Premier League club.
  • Staveley failed to purchase the club two years ago after Ashley said he wanted to bring 10 years of ownership to an end.
  • She is thought to want a 10% stake in the club if a deal can be agreed with PIF, which would be the majority partner.
  • The takeover would be Saudi Arabia's latest venture into sports investment.

Jan 28, 2020

Entire Stake of Air India on Sale

  • The government announced a plan to sell its entire stake in Air India, renewing its attempt to sell the state-owned airline after a similar move in 2018 failed to attract any bidder.
  • A document released by the government invited initial expressions of interest (EOI) in the airline and set March 17, 2020 as the deadline for the submissions. The Air India Specific Alternative Mechanism (AISAM), headed by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, approved the release of the preliminary information memorandum (PIM) for inviting EOI for the disinvestment move.
  • Due to its accumulated debt of about Rs. 60,000 crore, its financial position is in a very fragile condition and Air India is currently under a debt trap. Any private investor can turn it around and make Air India a profitable venture by bringing operational as well as financial efficiencies. The government has limited financial resources whereas the private investor can bring the required capital to make it turnaround.

Urban Cooperative Banks Reported Nearly 1,000 Frauds in Five Years

  • According to the Reserve Bank of India, urban cooperative banks (UCBs) have reported nearly 1,000 cases of fraud worth more than Rs. 220 crore in the last five fiscals. Responding to an RTI query, the central bank said that a total of 181 fraud cases involving Rs. 127.7 crore were noticed during 2018-19.
  • A total of 99 and 27 such cases involving Rs. 46.9 crore and Rs. 9.3 crore were reported during 2017-18 and 2016-16 respectively.
  • As many as 187 cases of fraud involving Rs. 17.3 crore were reported in 2015-16 as against 478 such cases involving Rs. 19.8 crore during 2014-15.
  • During 2014-15 and 2018-19, a total of 972 cases of bank fraud worth Rs. 221 crore were reported by the UCBs.

Qatar Not Inclined to Lower LNG Prices to India

  • India pressed its largest LNG supplier Qatar to lower the price of gas under the existing long-term supply contracts, a request that Doha turned down saying sanctity of contracts is important for the credibility of both sides.
  • India imports 8.5 million tonnes per annum of LNG from Qatar under two long-term contracts with a rate linked to crude oil prices. Landed price of liquefied natural gas (LNG) comes to $9-10 per million British thermal unit while the same gas is available in the spot or current market at half the rate as in 2020. The long-term contract with Qatar is the most expensive with volumes from Australia, Russia, and the US on long-term contracts coming on cheaper rates.
  • Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan met Qatar Energy Minister Saad Sherida al-Kaabi to press for the need for realignment of existing long-term LNG contracts with the market to suit the affordability of end consumers.

Nissan to Revive India Business, Continue Datsun

  • In a bid to revive its business in the Indian market, Japanese car maker Nissan has re-worked its strategy for the country and plans to launch a new vehicle model every year, starting with a compact SUV to be introduced in 2020.
  • As part of the strategy, the company will be focussing on Nissan as its primary brand, Nissan Motor India managing director Rakesh Srivastava said. However, Datsun brand will not be discontinued.

LIC Increases Market Share in First-year Premium Income

  • Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) increased its share of the first-year premium income in the first nine months of this fiscal. LIC's share rose to 70.52% from 66.24% recorded in 2018-19.
  • Mukesh Kumar Gupta, managing director, LIC said that during the current fiscal, our market share improved in terms of first-year premium income. We have crossed last year's collection of Rs. 1,42,000 crore in total first-year premium, 67 days ahead of the schedule.
  • LIC also crossed Rs. 1 lakh crore in first year premium in the Pension and Group Insurance vertical for the first time. As per Mr. Gupta the insurance major had Rs. 32 lakh crore in assets and Rs. 29 lakh crore in investment. Recently, it had paid dividend of Rs. 2,611 crore to the Centre.
  • As of December 2019, LIC had posted a growth of 17.81% in number of policies sold and 45.56% in first year premium income.

Jan 27, 2020

AMC Marks Down Investment in Vodafone Idea

  • Franklin Templeton Mutual Fund, which marked down its investment in the securities issued by Vodafone Idea to zero, said that its board has approved the creation of segregated portfolios (or side pockets) to hold these securities in six of its schemes. The move would help prevent the distressed assets from damaging the returns generated from more liquid and better-performing assets. The board of trustees of Franklin Templeton MF approved the creation of segregated portfolios in six schemes—Franklin India Low Duration Fund, Franklin India Dynamic Accrual Fund, Franklin India Credit Risk Fund, Franklin India Short Term Income Plan, Franklin India Ultra Short Bond Fund and Franklin India Income Opportunities Fund. With effect from Jan. 24, various securities issued by Vodafone Idea in the schemes will be segregated from the total portfolio. The decision has been taken in order to protect the value for existing unitholders in these schemes, it added. On January 16, Franklin Templeton, which had an exposure of over Rs. 2,000 crore to Voda Idea, had marked down its investment in the securities issued by the telecom player to zero.

Govt. Eyes Unspent Funds to Tread Fiscal Tightrope

  • Money allocated for government schemes in the 2019-20 financial year that is lying unspent may help in keeping the Union government's fiscal math in order ahead of the upcoming budget despite the current economic slowdown and an expected fall in revenue receipts, according to two people aware of the matter.
  • As on November 2019, the total unspent money was Rs. 9,66,292 crore, or 34.7% of the Rs. 27,86,349 crore budgeted for 2019-20, according to official data of the Controller General of Accounts (CGA). Total unspent money during the corresponding period in 2018-19 was Rs. 7,83,572 crore, or 33.9% of the budgeted expenditure of Rs. 23,11,422 crore.
  • While a major portion of allocated money is often spent towards the end of the fiscal, the Union finance ministry has this year tightened its cap on rush expenditure. The finance ministry issued an instruction to all ministries not to indulge in the last minute spending considering the fiscal position of the government in the current financial year (2020-21).
  • According to the order, ministries cannot spend more than 15% of the budget estimate (BE) in two months (i.e. January and February 2020) and 10% of BE in the last month (March 2020) with some exemptions.

Brexit: Zero Tariff, Zero Quota Aim for Trade Talks

  • According to Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, the government is aiming to secure a "zero tariff, zero quota" free trade deal with the EU.
  • Mr. Barclay added the government's objectives for the trade talks would be published after Brexit on 31 January, 2020.
  • Mr. Barclay's comments came after the US treasury secretary said that his country wants to agree to a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK this year.
  • After Brexit happens at 23:00 GMT on 31-01-2020, the UK will be free to negotiate and sign new trade deals with countries with no existing EU deals - like the US.
  • The UK then enters into an agreed transition period with the EU, which lasts until 31 December 2020. During this time the UK will aim to negotiate a free trade deal with the EU to ensure that UK goods are not subject to tariffs and other trade barriers.

DCIL to Sell Away its Building in Vizag

  • The building constructed by the Dredging Corporation of India Limited (DCIL) in the Seethammadhara Housing Board Colony to run its corporate office has been put up for sale.
  • The DCIL, in which a consortium of four major ports led by Visakhapatnam Port Trust (VPT) acquired 73.47% equity in 2019 by paying little over Rs. 1,000 crore, has entrusted the job of finding a buyer through online sale to Metal Scrap Trading Corporation (MSTC), according to its Chairman Rinkesh Roy.
  • Mr. Roy, the Chairman of Paradip Port Trust, said that they were expecting a good response to sell away the five plus two basement building constructed with green technology.

Dream11 Eyes $500 mn from Tiger-led Funding Round

  • New York-based Tiger Global Management, one of the most active start-up investors in India, is likely to lead a $500 million funding round in fantasy gaming platform Dream11.
  • Tiger could spend as much as $200 million to buy new shares as well as shares from Dream11's early investors Kalaari Capital, Think Investment and private equity firm Multiples at a valuation of $2.5 billion. With this investment, Dream11 will be worth more than double its $1.1 billion valuation in April 2019. The company is working with investment bank Credit Suisse for the fundraising.
  • Founded by Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth in 2012, Dream11 offers games such as cricket, kabaddi and football, where users can win money from a reward pool, depending on the players they pick and the actual outcome of the game. Its official partners include the International Cricket Council (ICC), the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the National Basketball Association.
  • Dream11 also aims to build out its platform as a full-fledged sports platform selling merchandise. It has emerged as one of the fastest growing tech startups in India, driven by a lack of competition in the space, a large user base and avid following of sports, especially cricket.
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