THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
B U S I N E S S

Sensex crosses 5,500
Mumbai, December 19
India's key share market index breached the magical 5,500 mark today on large-scale buying in stocks of new as well as old economy companies on hopes of sustained foreign fund inflows even as the year draws to a close.

Markfed proposes cotton export to Pak via Wagah
Chandigarh, December 19
Markfed has submitted to the Centre a proposal to export cotton from Punjab to Pakistan via the Wagah border as the route will reduce transportation costs and prove more competitive for the state.

Agilent new centre in Gurgaon
To recruit 500 professionals

New Delhi, December 19
Agilent Technologies International Ltd, a fully-owned subsidiary of the US-based Agilent Technologies Inc., today opened second services centre in Gurgaon and announced plans to recruit 500 persons in the new facility, which would increase its staff strength to more than 1,200 in India.



EARLIER STORIES

 
Infosys Chairman Narayana Murthy in conversation with Ratan Tata as the corporates join the IAVI in a conference in Mumbai on Friday
Infosys Chairman Narayana Murthy in conversation with Ratan Tata as the corporates join the IAVI in a conference in Mumbai on Friday to advocate support from the corporate sector for an accelerated research and development of an effective and accessible AIDS vaccine for India. — PTI

ONGC may buy stake in Angola
New Delhi, December 19
ONGC Videsh is in talks with Royal Dutch/Shell to acquire half of the Anglo-Dutch giant’s 50 per cent stake in an oil field in Angola.

Internet firm sues Microsoft
Seattle, December 19
RealNetworks Inc. said on Thursday it is suing longtime rival Microsoft Corp., accusing the software giant of unfairly promoting its own software for playing audio and video on computers and over the Internet.

  • Windows 2000 Server software to retire

Alto, Indica, Bajaj bag BBC Wheels awards
New Delhi, December 19
Maruti’s Alto and Bajaj Auto’s Boxer AT K-Tech came out tops at the BBC World’s Wheels 2003 Awards in the entry level four-wheel and two-wheel segments while the Chevrolet Optra LT Manual and Hero Honda Karizma were awarded the Wheels car and bike of the year.

Raids against misuse of ISI mark
Chandigarh, December 19
To curb the misuse of ISI mark, a team of senior officials of the Northern Regional Office of the Bureau of Indian Standards, along with the local police, conducted raids against Shiva Cementech, Bilaspur, Haryana and Himalaya Cement Corpn, Shahpur village, Bilaspur, Yamunanagar.

Bank loan to SSIs at prime lending rates
New Delhi, December 19
The government said today country’s the leading banks have agreed to bring the credit rate for small scale industries at par with their prime lending rates as applicable from January 1 next year.

MRF payout at 200 pc
Mumbai, December 19
MRF Ltd has posted a net profit of Rs 13.62 crore for the quarter ended September 30, 2003, as compared to Rs 26.49 crore for the quarter ended September 30, 2002.

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Sensex crosses 5,500

Mumbai, December 19
India's key share market index breached the magical 5,500 mark today on large-scale buying in stocks of new as well as old economy companies on hopes of sustained foreign fund inflows even as the year draws to a close.

Dealers said the market opened on a sharply positive note and surged higher in the early trade on buying on counters of blue-chip technology companies following an overnight rally in the tech-laden Nasdaq stock exchange.

The buying interest also spread to select old economy stocks in the intra-day trade on hopes most of the traditional companies would report robust earnings growth in the quarter ended December 31, 2003.

Sensex closed at 5,541.35, representing a gain of 86.35 points or 1.58 per cent over its previous session's close.

"The crossing of the 5,500 mark after nearly 45 months comes as a great boost for investors. There is a great deal of optimism in the market that the index will touch new heights in the days to come," said a market analyst.

"Today's market rally was fuelled by hopes that foreign fund inflows into the Indian bourses will continue unabated in 2004 as well with foreign fund managers betting on a sharp economic rebound in the current fiscal."

Foreign fund investors have made huge investments in the market in recent months on hopes of a sharply higher economic growth in the year ending March 31, 2004 boosted by improved agriculture production and industrial activity.

Despite speculations that the foreign fund inflows would taper off towards the end of the year as majority of overseas equity managers go on yearend holidays, money is pouring into the trading ring unabated.

Overseas funds have, so far, pumped in over $6 billion worth of investments in the Indian equity market in the current calendar, making the local stock markets one of the best performers in the Asian region.

Dealers said buying was observed almost across the board today. Old economy stocks traded higher in anticipation of yet another impressive financial quarter, while tech shares rose following overnight gains in the US markets.

In the old economy sector, Larsen and Toubro gained 8.3 per cent to touch Rs.498.25 on speculations that a proposed sell off of its cement division will get official approvals shortly.

Shares of Grasim Industries rose 2.8 per cent to Rs.978 and ACC closed with a gain of 1.2 per cent at Rs.230.65 on fresh institutional buying interest.

Other major gainers in the sector included Cipla, Ranbaxy Laboratories, ONGC, Reliance Industries, State Bank of India, Hero Honda Motors, and Hindustan Lever.

In the technology sector, Infosys Technologies gained 2.6 per cent to touch Rs.5,255.85 after the company on Thursday acquired Australia-based Expert Information Services for $22.9 million.

Satyam Computer ended nearly one per cent higher at Rs.354.65 and Wipro closed with a gain of 1.2 per cent at Rs.1,699.60 on selective buying interest. — IANS

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Markfed proposes cotton export to Pak via Wagah

Chandigarh, December 19
Markfed has submitted to the Centre a proposal to export cotton from Punjab to Pakistan via the Wagah border as the route will reduce transportation costs and prove more competitive for the state.

“A proposal is being sent to the Union Government to open the Wagah border for transportation of cotton to Pakistan from Punjab because the route will be shorter and save transportation costs,’’ Markfed Managing Director S S Channey said here today.

Pakistan is importing cotton this year due to less production as compared to previous years. The expected consumption in Pakistan is around 121 lakh bales whereas the estimated production is around 97 lakh bales which shows that the country has a gap of around 24 lakh bales, Mr Channey said.

After a long time, Punjab had a good cotton crop this year. The production of cotton in the state is estimated at around 12.90 lakh bales as against 8.00 lakh (170 kg each).

Punjab becomes uncompetitive on the export front solely due to freight and high transportation costs. The bales have to be first sent to Mumbai then Karachi before reaching the mills in northern Pakistan near Lahore, which is actually closer to the Wagah Border.

The state can export cotton via the Wagah border at a very low transportation cost and taking little delivery time which is very important because the market for cotton remains fluctuating. As there is no ban on trade activities between the two countries, export of cotton through the Wagah border will be more beneficial for Punjab farmers as well as for the traders and millers in Pakistan due to lower carrying charges, he said.

To extend market support and more remunerative prices to the farmers, the exports by road will be very useful. This will help in providing better prices to the farmers and bring more area under cotton cultivation, encouraging crop diversification, Mr Channey added.

Many countries, including Pakistan, are showing keen interest in cotton import and they made enquiries even before the arrival of the crop in Gujarat and the northern belt.

Mr Channey said this year cotton production in India is expected between 165 to 170 lakh bales against 136 lakh bales (approximately) during last year. The major contribution towards the increase will be from the Northern zone, which will produce around 28 lakh bales against last year’s production of 18 lakh bales. — UNI

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Agilent new centre in Gurgaon
To recruit 500 professionals

New Delhi, December 19
Agilent Technologies International Ltd, a fully-owned subsidiary of the US-based Agilent Technologies Inc., today opened second services centre in Gurgaon and announced plans to recruit 500 persons in the new facility, which would increase its staff strength to more than 1,200 in India.

Agilent Technologies International, which is the first IT-enabled services organisation of the NYSE-listed company, already has a centre in Gurgaon with over 700 professionals working on back-end financial processing, intranet development, engineering support, IT support and R and D. The second centre will provide additional support to Agilent businesses worldwide.

The new centre will house the software development team involved in the development of software products that are either embedded in or supplied with the company’s technology equipment in the areas of communication and electronics.

Agilent Technologies Inc Vice-President and General Manager, Global Sourcing, Anita Manwani said at the inaugural function, “Based on our first services centre in Gurgaon, we are expanding our operations here. India is increasingly becoming an important location on our global map and with the availability of a large pool of high-skill professionals, more and more work is expected to come to India.” — UNI

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ONGC may buy stake in Angola

New Delhi, December 19
ONGC Videsh is in talks with Royal Dutch/Shell to acquire half of the Anglo-Dutch giant’s 50 per cent stake in an oil field in Angola.

“OVL is talking to Shell Development Angola, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch/Shell, for acquiring stake in the British oil major BP-operated 2,00,000 barrels per day Greater Plutonio project (also known as Block 18) off Angola,” industry sources said.

BP holds the remaining 50 per cent stake in the block which has six fields — Plutonio, Cobalto, Paladio, Cromio, Galio and Platina. Block 18 is estimated to hold between 750 million and 1 billion barrels of oil.

In addition, two recent exploration wells — Cesio and Chumbo — are estimated to hold 60 million barrels of oil.

The sources said Shell had opened data rooms in Houston and Rijswijk in the Netherlands for companies interested in picking up its stake in Angola. Besides OVL, Petronas of Malaysia too is reported to be interested in the oil field.

Shell, which holds 15 per cent stake in deep-sea block 34 and 10 per cent in block 21, has called for price bids by January 16, 2004, from interested companies.

First oil from Block 18 is targeted for 2007. OVL is also in talks with Gulf Petroleum Corp and the al-Thani group for acquiring their 11 per cent stake in Block 3 and 7 in Sudan.

Besides, the company is also talking to CNCP of China for a stake in its Block 6, which is estimated to hold one billion barrels of oil reserves. — PTI

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Internet firm sues Microsoft

Seattle, December 19
RealNetworks Inc. said on Thursday it is suing longtime rival Microsoft Corp., accusing the software giant of unfairly promoting its own software for playing audio and video on computers and over the Internet.

In an antitrust complaint filed in federal court in San Jose, California, RealNetworks claimed that Microsoft “pursued a broad course of predatory conduct over a period of years by abusing its monopoly power, resulting in substantial loss of revenue and business for RealNetworks.’’ RealNetworks is seeking more than a billion dollars in damages and unspecified injunctive relief measures.

RealNetworks said its lawsuit was complementary to an ongoing European Commission investigation into Microsoft’s activity involving media-playing software and that it was cooperating with the EC.

Windows 2000 Server software to retire

Los Angeles: Microsoft, the developer of the Windows 2000 Server, has decided to gradually phase out the software almost four years after its was launched, reports Xinhua. Effective April 1, 2006, the products will no longer be available, according to a posting on Microsoft Website.

The phase-out schedule does not change support plans for Windows Server 2000. Microsoft will end mainstream support on March 31, 2005, and extended support on March 31, 2007.

Windows Server 2003, the successor to Windows 2000 Server, was introduced eight months ago. — Reuters, IANS

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Alto, Indica, Bajaj bag BBC Wheels awards

New Delhi, December 19
Maruti’s Alto and Bajaj Auto’s Boxer AT K-Tech came out tops at the BBC World’s Wheels 2003 Awards in the entry level four-wheel and two-wheel segments while the Chevrolet Optra LT Manual and Hero Honda Karizma were awarded the Wheels car and bike of the year.

The Alto LX pipped home brands Maruti 800 models as well Fiat’s Uno to grab the top spot in the below Rs 3 lakh car while the best car award in the Rs 3-5 lakh category was taken by Tata’s Indica DLX which beat other contenders like the Zen, Fiat Palio, Opel Corsa and Ford Ikon.

According to Niret Alva, presenter and car reviewer on Wheels, extensive reviews, customer and viewer feedback as well as a model’s technological advances were among the important criteria in selecting the winners.

Ford’s higher-end model, the Ikon 1.6 NXT SXI, was adjudged the best car in the Rs 5-8 lakh category where it performed better in the judging parameters than other models like Hyundai Accent CRDi, Honda City and Tata Indigo LX.

General Motors’ Chevorlet Optra won the award in the Rs 8-12 lakh section beating the likes of Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Sonata and Skoda Octavia while the Honda Accord was the winner in the Rs 12-20 lakh segment.

In the luxurious Rs 20 lakh and above segment, Mercedes S 350L was adjudged the best car.

Mahindra’s Scorpio Diesel 4WD was voted the best SUV under Rs 10 lakh by the Wheels team while the Ford Endeavour came out tops in the above Rs 10 lakh segment, beating models like Honda CRV and Grand Vitara.

The best bike in the Rs 30,000-40,000 range was TVS Victor GL while LML Freedom DLX was the best in the Rs 40,000-45,000 segment.

Bajaj Pulsar was the best in the Rs 45,000-55,000 segment ahead of models like Yamaha Enticer, Hero Honda CBZ and Kinetic Laser while the Hero Honda Karizma was the best in the over Rs 70,000 segment, ahead of the Royal Enfield and Kinetic Aquila. — UNI

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Raids against misuse of ISI mark
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 19
To curb the misuse of ISI mark, a team of senior officials of the Northern Regional Office of the Bureau of Indian Standards, along with the local police, conducted raids against Shiva Cementech, Bilaspur, Haryana and Himalaya Cement Corpn, Shahpur village, Bilaspur, Yamunanagar.

Shiva Cementech was found engaged in illegal manufacturing of cement which was being sold under the brand names “AGC Cement”-35 MPA, “Birla Uttam”-43 Grade and “Laxmi Cement”-43 Grade. About 250 cement bags were seized.

Himalaya Cement Corpn was found selling cement under the brand names “ACC” and “Shakti”. Eighty bags of cement of 50 kg each were seized. Also 50 bags of cement of J.K. Power with imitations of ISI mark along with 23 empty new cement bags were seized during the raids.

The bureau also conducted raid against Manoj Electric Industries, Jalandhar.

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Bank loan to SSIs at prime lending rates

New Delhi, December 19
The government said today country’s the leading banks have agreed to bring the credit rate for small scale industries at par with their prime lending rates as applicable from January 1 next year.

“The banks have agreed to make credit available to the small and tiny sector entrepreneurs at prime lending rates as applicable from January 1,” Union Small Scale Industries Minister C P Thakur said after a meeting with country’s 30 bankers here.

There would not be any sub-PLRs for the SSI sector, he said, adding that the banks had also agreed to set up a separate technical section to assist small entrepreneurs and spread awareness about the existing facilities for them.

Thakur, quoting Banking Secretary S S Sisodia who was present at the meeting, said there is an urgent need to bring labour reforms as the present rules and inspector raj provisions hamper the growth of the sector. — PTI

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MRF payout at 200 pc

Mumbai, December 19
MRF Ltd has posted a net profit of Rs 13.62 crore for the quarter ended September 30, 2003, as compared to Rs 26.49 crore for the quarter ended September 30, 2002.

Informing the BSE, the company said the total income (net of excise) had increased from Rs 482.69 crore for SQ-02 to Rs 603.43 crore in SQ-03.

It has posted a net profit of Rs 117.38 crore for the year ended September 30, 2003 (FY-03), as compared to Rs 78.46 crore for the year ended September 30, 2002 (FY-02). The total income (net of excise) has increased from Rs 1,836.76 crore in FY-02 to Rs 2,192.76 crore in FY-03.

Meanwhile, the Board of Directors MRF at its meeting held today had re-designated Joint Managing Director Arun Mammen as Managing Director of the company from April 01, 2004.

The Directors had recommended a final dividend of 140 per cent on the paid-up capital as on September 30, 2003. The company has already declared and paid two interim dividends of 30 per cent each for the year, thus aggregating to a total dividend of 200 per cent for the year. — UNI

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BRIEFLY

Corpn Bank ties up with IndusInd
Mumbai, December 19
Corporation Bank and IndusInd Bank have signed an agreement for mutual sharing of their ATM network. The arrangement is aimed at offering the customers of both banks the facility of using the combined network of ATMs both existing and proposed ones across India, a IndusInd Bank release said here today. — PTI

Inflation rises
New Delhi, December 19
A rise in energy prices pushed up wholesale prices-based inflation rate by 0.13 per cent to 5.38 per cent during the week ended December 6 against 5.25 per cent during the previous period. While prices of fuels of almost all categories, except petrol, moved up significantly, others moved in a narrow range. — UNI

IT man of 2003
New Delhi, December 19
Deepak Puri, Managing Director of Moser Baer, the world’s third largest manufacturer of optical media, is Dataquest’s “IT Man of the Year” for 2003. Moser Baer India also gets the award for the fastest growing company. Vijay Bhatkar, Chairman, Dishnet DSL, bags Dataquest’s Lifetime Achievement award for 2003.

Wi-Fi laptops
New Delhi, December 19
Zenith Computers, today launched Wi-Fi Notebook computers. Based on Intel’s Centrino Mobile Technology, Zenith Wi-Fi laptops can access Internet wirelessly in hotspots across the country at a speed of 11 Mpbs. The cost of the laptop is Rs 73,000. — PTI

M&M awarded
Chandigarh, December 19
The Ministry of Power has conferred upon Mahindra & Mahindra the prestigious National Energy Conservation Award for the year, 2003. Mr A.G. Geete, Power Minister presented the award to Mr V.V. Raghavan, Vice-President M&M- Auto Sector, for the Kandivli plant in Delhi. — TNS

Electrolux oven
Bangalore, December 19
Electrolux Kelvinator (EKL) will foray into microwave oven and airconditioner segments soon, a top company official said today. Managing Director and CEO Rajeev Karwal told reporters here that EKL, the Indian operation of Electrolux Global, would enter the segments during January-February. — PTI

SAIL growth
Kolkata, December 19
SAIL will shortly start an idle blast furnace at its Bhilai steel plant and is debottlenecking its facilities to increase production to cater to the growing demand for steel. SAIL Chairman V S Jain told PTI here that the company was ready to spend Rs 800-1,000 crore annually on debottlenecking and technology upgradation. — PTI

Jet the best
Chandigarh, December 19
The panel of judges for the Galileo Express Travel and Tourism award 2003 have adjudged Jet Airways as the best domestic airline, while Singapore Airlines was adjudged the best International Airline (East-Bound). — TNS

HDFC branch
Nawanshahr, December 19
Ms Neena Singh, Vice-President and regional head, HDFC Bank, inaugurated a branch here today. It is the 22nd branch of the bank in Punjab. — OC
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