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THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS

B U S I N E S S

Inflation slips to 5.44 pc
PM promises to bring it down to 5 per cent
New Delhi, May 18
In a much-needed respite to the Congress-led UPA government, on the eve of completion of three years in office, inflation fell for the third consecutive week to over four-month low of 5.44 per cent for the week ended May 5, 2007.

Mittal loses bid for Nigerian refinery
New Delhi, May 18
India-born billionaire Lakshmi Niwas Mittal, who wants to make it big in oil after forming the world's largest steel empire, has lost a bid for taking over Nigeria's biggest oil refinery.

Cobra Beer to set up brewery in Punjab
New Delhi, May 18
UK-based Cobra Beer today said it would set up a greenfield brewery in Punjab with an investment of about $10 million. The company has already announced that it would be setting up another brewery at Hyderabad at a similar investment.

Jindal steel plant for Orissa
Mumbai, May 18
Jindal Stainless has said would set up a 1.6-million tonne integrated stainless steel plant in Orissa state in phases, and would invest Rs 56 billion for the first 0.8 million tonnes.

Birlas to invest Rs 9,000 cr in retail stores
Mumbai, May 18
The $24-billion diversified Aditya Birla Group today announced its entry into domestic organised retail market with an investment of up to Rs 9,000 crore over three years to set up 1,000 supermarkets.



EARLIER STORIES

 
Bollywood actress and brand ambassador of Vibrogym, Yana Gupta poses with the newly launched acceleration training machine, in New Delhi on Friday.
Bollywood actress and brand ambassador of Vibrogym, Yana Gupta poses with the newly launched acceleration training machine, in New Delhi on Friday. Vibrogym will be available at a starting price of Rs 3 lakh. — Tribune photo by Mukesh Aggarwal

Corporate Results
Tata Motors declares 150 pc dividend
Mumbai, May 18
Tata Motors today reported a 26 per cent growth in net profit at Rs 576.72 crore for the fourth quarter ended March 31 against Rs 458.11 crore in the corresponding period previous year.

Business not as usual in Punjab
Chandigarh, May 18
Business and commercial activity has taken a direct hit from uncertain times in Punjab.

BSE completes demutualisation
Mumbai, May 18
The Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) today said it has completed the process of demutualisation, mandated by market regulator SEBI before May 19.

Ranbaxy Labs
Mumbai, May 18
Ranbaxy Laboratories today said its US subsidiary Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals Inc has received tentative nod from the USFDA for manufacturing and marketing fexofenadine hydrochloride tablets, used in treatment of allergies.

CAG raps FCI
New Delhi, May 18
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has criticised the Food Corporation of India (FCI) for hiring godowns at higher rates, making excess payment for transportation charges and providing undue benefits to rice millers which resulted in huge loss to the exchequer.

Gold tumbles to five-month low
New Delhi, May 18
Gold prices plummetted on the bullion market today to touch nearly five-month low levels on reports of heavy selling by major market players, losing Rs 120 at end Rs 8940 per 10 gram.

Royal Enfield unveils 500 cc Machismo
Chennai, May 18
Heavyweight mobike maker Royal Enfield today launched a 500 cc variant of its popular cruiser bike Machismo priced at Rs 1.05 lakh (on road Chennai).

Vedanta under scanner for illegal mining 
New Delhi, May 18
Vedanta has been accused of illegal mining by Azerbaijan, prompting India to assure the government of the former Soviet republic of investigating the issue.

London mayor coming tomorrow
New Delhi, May 18
London mayor John Stuttard, who represents UK-based financial services, arrives in India on May 20 to explore how the city of London can work with the Government of India to develop an international financial centre in Mumbai.

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Inflation slips to 5.44 pc
PM promises to bring it down to 5 per cent
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 18
In a much-needed respite to the Congress-led UPA government, on the eve of completion of three years in office, inflation fell for the third consecutive week to over four-month low of 5.44 per cent for the week ended May 5, 2007.

Wholesale price-based inflation had stood at 5.66 per cent in the previous week. The annual rate of inflation, calculated on a point-to-point basis, stood at 4.37 per cent during the corresponding week of the previous year, according to official figures released here today.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the effort of the government will be bring the inflation down to 5 per cent level in the near future.

“In the next couple of months, we will bring it down to the level of 5 per cent from the existing 5.5 per cent,” Dr Singh said on the sidelines of a function at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Admitting that high prices of essential commodities were a cause of concern, he said efforts would be made to moderate its prices.

“There is concern about prices (of essential commodities). We will moderate it. It is already coming down,” the Prime Minister said.

According to the figures released today, prices of eggs, masoor, fruits and vegetables, arhar, bajra, imported edible oil and butter became costlier, while prices of pulses like moong, barley, condiments and spices, sooji, sugar, flour and maida declined.

Finance minister P Chidambaram said the government was taking steps to augment supplies of food items and attributed the spurt in prices to higher demand, capital flows, commodity prices and public spending.

The index for the primary articles group rose by 0.4 per cent to 219.6 from 218.8 for the previous week.

The Index for food articles group rose by 0.7 per cent to 219.8 from 218.3 for the previous week. The index for the non-food articles group declined by 0.4 per cent to 203.3 from 204.2 for the previous week.

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Mittal loses bid for Nigerian refinery

New Delhi, May 18
India-born billionaire Lakshmi Niwas Mittal, who wants to make it big in oil after forming the world's largest steel empire, has lost a bid for taking over Nigeria's biggest oil refinery.

Essar wins oil block

Essar group has won an offshore oil block in Nigeria with reserves of up to 80 million barrels.

Essar Energy Holdings Ltd, a unit of Essar Global, has bagged a shallow water offshore exploration Block 226 in the African country, industry sources said. Nigeria had offered 45 exploration blocks in its latest licensing round, to which no Indian company except Essar had responded.

Of the total 45 blocks, 11 were in deep water offshore, 10 shallow water on the continental shelf, 13 onshore in the Niger Delta and 11 in inland basins. 

Mittal offered lesser than the $561-million winning bid by a consortium of three Nigerian indigenous companies for acquiring 51 per cent of government stake in Port Harcourt refinery, industry sources said.

The winning Blue Star consortium comprises Zenon Oil, Dangote Oil and Gas and Transnational Corp, which belong to close associates of outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Blue Star emerged winner of the refinery in an open bid conducted yesterday by the Nigerian privatisation agency - Bureau of Public Enterprises in Abuja.

Two other bidders, local fuel marketer Oando and the Sahara/Refinee PetroPlus, were disqualified for not providing bank drafts to cover 50 per cent of their bid amount.

The sources said Mittal had originally planned to bid for the 2,10,000 barrels per day Port Harcourt refinery with Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd (HPCL) but in the end went alone.

Indian Oil Corp, India's biggest refiner, was also invited by the Nigerian government to participate in the refinery auction but it too decided against making an offer. Mittal has joint ventures with ONGC for oil business but bid for Port Harcourt refinery alone. — PTI 

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Cobra Beer to set up brewery in Punjab

New Delhi, May 18
UK-based Cobra Beer today said it would set up a greenfield brewery in Punjab with an investment of about $10 million. The company has already announced that it would be setting up another brewery at Hyderabad at a similar investment.

"Currently we produce beers from four locations, which are through joint ventures with local partners. We are going to set up two greenfield units, one each in Punjab and Andhra Pradesh," Cobra India Beer Pvt Ltd COO Poonam Chandel told reporters here.

"Each of these new projects would have the capacity of three million cases per annum and that could be further upgraded without much investment," she added. The project in Punjab is already in advanced stages and the company is soon expected to announce the details in June. — PTI

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Jindal steel plant for Orissa

Mumbai, May 18
Jindal Stainless has said would set up a 1.6-million tonne integrated stainless steel plant in Orissa state in phases, and would invest Rs 56 billion for the first 0.8 million tonnes.

The company is already implementing one round of expansion, which includes setting up a 1,50,000 tonne ferro alloy unit and 250 MW power plant. The new investment will mark the second phase and there would also be a third phase involving the balance 0.8 million tonnes. — Reuters

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Birlas to invest Rs 9,000 cr in retail stores

Mumbai, May 18
The $24-billion diversified Aditya Birla Group today announced its entry into domestic organised retail market with an investment of up to Rs 9,000 crore over three years to set up 1,000 supermarkets.

The group, which has interests in telecom, cement, textile and aluminium, had in January acquired control of the Trinethra supermarket chain in its run up to the retail foray.

Its retail stores would be christened 'More' and the first outlet would be opened in Pune this month.

"The business will, however, not be funded by any of our listed companies," Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said, adding a debt-equity mixture will be used to fund the venture.

"We also have the option of tapping the vibrant capital market," he said.

While ruling out the franchisee model for the business, Birla said that the group would be setting up 1,000 super markets over the next two years of about 10,000 sq.ft each. The retail outlets will be in two formats — hypermarket and supermarket, Birla told reporters here today.

"We will offer variety, cost-effectiveness and a comfortable and world-class shopping environment to our customers," he said, adding that the group would go it alone in the business.

"We will be hiring thousands of youngsters to man our outlets," Birla said, adding that "we will form direct linkages with farmers." — PTI

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Corporate Results
Tata Motors declares 150 pc dividend

Mumbai, May 18
Tata Motors today reported a 26 per cent growth in net profit at Rs 576.72 crore for the fourth quarter ended March 31 against Rs 458.11 crore in the corresponding period previous year.

The revenues (net of excise) for the quarter was at Rs 8,267 crore, a growth of 20 per cent over Rs 6,869.65 crore in the corresponding quarter previous year, a company statement said.

The total sales volume for the March quarter was at 1,72,355 units, a rise of 16 per cent over 148,343 units sold in the corresponding period a year ago.

The board of directors has declared a 150 per cent dividend of Rs 15 on shares of Rs 10 each for the financial year 2006-07, subject to approval of the shareholders.

Dr Reddys Lab

Dr Reddys Laboratories (DRL) has posted a net profit of Rs 268.9 crore for the quarter ended March 31 and the total income (net of excise) increased over two fold to Rs 1151.06 crore. For the year ended March 31, it recorded a net profit of Rs 1176.86 crore and the total income (net of excise) grew to Rs 4084.31 crore. The board of directors declared a final dividend of 75 per cent on the enhanced share capital.

UTI Mutual Fund

UTI Mutual Fund has declared a 35 per cent tax-free dividend to investors. Unit holders registered under the dividend option of UTI banking sector fund as on May 23 and investors who join the dividend option on or before the record rate (May 23) will be eligible for dividend, said a UTI release here.

Federal Bank

Federal Bank has reported 95.6 per cent growth in net profit at Rs 99.25 crore for the fourth quarter ended March 31and the total income of the lender rose by 38.38 per cent to Rs 636.63 crore, Federal Bank informed the BSE. The board of directors has recommended a dividend of 40 per cent on equity shares.

Sun pharma

Sun Pharmaceutical Industries has reported an over 34 per cent surge in profit after tax (PAT) to Rs 155.67 crore for the fourth quarter ended March 31 and its total income (net of excise) rose by nearly 40 per cent to Rs 633.74 crore, Sun Pharmaceutical informed the BSE. — Agencies

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Business not as usual in Punjab
Saurabh Malik
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 18
Business and commercial activity has taken a direct hit from uncertain times in Punjab.

Some national and multi-national mega-brands, Ponds for one, have cancelled their week-long events scheduled to be held this week in Ludhiana and elsewhere.

A well-known Delhi-based group, engaged in organising educational summits, was to hold an event just before an educational fair to be held in Ludhiana next week. The event has been put off for now.

Event managers say jobbing was never so good in the state since the beginning of this year. Initially, in January and February, corporate houses were staying away from organising events because of the elections. In March, it was annual closing. But, just when business was on fast track, with companies launching new products with gusto, the situation has suddenly turned abonormal.

Events and launches are planned months in advance. So, the effect of the situation is expected to reflect itself in the weeks ahead. Rough estimates put the number of such events to be over 100. Commercial activities linked to holding events may also become a causality.

Cut-flower business may bear the brunt. In Ludhiana alone, florists account for an annual sale of about Rs 22 crore which is largely due to the holding of launches and such other events. Otherwise also, each hotel where an event is organised earns revenue of anywhere between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh from the activity - depending upon the extent and the venue of the pragramme.

The amount includes not only hall or ground charges, but also board, lodging and catering expenses. As the situation in Punjab is fraught with political overtones, not many hoteliers are willing to comment on the issue. A Ludhiana-based hotelier, off the record, explains how events are a major source of revenue. “Even payment of staff salaries will not be easy if the problem continues,” he says.

Entrepreneurs and event managers fear business will take time to settle again even after normalcy is restored in the state. They are not buying the promises that the government is making. In fact, some are even thinking in terms of shutting their business and shifting out.

Manav Inder Singh Guram, for one. After working in the industrial hub of the state for almost three years, he set up his own event management firm. ``Just as business was looking good, the clashes came. Since day one of the unrest, I have been attending to calls from corporate offices based in Delhi and other places asking us about the law and order situation, and directing us to cancel the events,” he says. “This is like the days of militancy in the state”.

Punjab’s Chief Parliamentary Secretary (Finance) Raj Khaurana says the government has already appealed to people of all shades to maintain peace so that the state does not suffer any loss of life or revenue.

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BSE completes demutualisation

Mumbai, May 18
The Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) today said it has completed the process of demutualisation, mandated by market regulator SEBI before May 19.

The BSE has placed 51 per cent of equity shares of its member brokers with 21 investors, including Singapore Exchange and Deutsche Bourse.

While it had sold five per cent stake each to both the overseas exchanges earlier, the BSE has placed the remaining 41 per cent with 19 other investors.

“The investor group includes pedigreed marquee domestic and overseas institutions as well as select domestic corporates and HNIs,” the exchange said . The issue to the 19 investors as well as the two overseas exchanges were done at Rs 5,200 per share. — PTI

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Ranbaxy Labs

Mumbai, May 18
Ranbaxy Laboratories today said its US subsidiary Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals Inc has received tentative nod from the USFDA for manufacturing and marketing fexofenadine hydrochloride tablets, used in treatment of allergies. The approval will allow RPI, engaged in selling and distribution of generic as well as branded prescription products in the USA, to make and market the tablets. — PTI

RINL contract

Mumbai, May 18
Larsen and Toubro Ltd today said it has bagged two orders valued at Rs 412 crore from the Andhra Pradesh government and Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd (RINL). The first contract is from the irrigation and command area development department under the government of Andhra Pradesh while the second order, from RINL. — PTI

UBI in China

Shanghai, May 18
The Union Bank of India (UBI) opened its first representative office in China’s financial capital here today. The office will initially undertake non-commercial activities like providing business information to Chinese and Indian corporates. — PTI

ICICI Bank

Moscow, May 18
A money remittance service for the NRIs in Russia was launched here by the Indian ambassador to Moscow Kanwal Sibal. The facility named ‘Money2India’ is being provided by the ICICI Bank (Eurasia LLC). ICICI started its operation here in 2006. — PTI

R.D. Kailey

Chandigarh, May 18
Mr R.D. Kailey today took over as senior regional manager of Chandigarh 'A' region of Punjab National Bank. PNB Chandigarh 'A' region consists of three districts of Haryana, namely Ambala, Yamunanagar, Panchkula and Union Territory of Chandigarh. — TNS

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CAG raps FCI
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 18
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has criticised the Food Corporation of India (FCI) for hiring godowns at higher rates, making excess payment for transportation charges and providing undue benefits to rice millers which resulted in huge loss to the exchequer.

The FCI hired godowns under the seven year guarantee scheme and incurred extra expenditure of Rs.348.61 crore due to hiring of godowns from state warehousing corporations at rates higher than those payable to the corporation. The storage space acquired was also not properly utilised resulting in payment of rent amounting to Rs.287.9 crore for surplus capacity for the period February 2002 to March 2006, the CAG report, tabled in the Parliament last week, said.

The report said while fixing final rates for custom milled rice, transportation charges were allowed to rice millers without considering the element of transportation charges paid along with provisional rates resulting in excess payment of Rs.406.21 crore by the FCI to the state governments and their agencies during 1998-99 to 2002-03.

Transportation charges though inadmissible were allowed by the FCI to rice millers for delivery of levy rice within eight km resulting in avoidable payment of Rs.160.39 crore during 1999-2000 to 2002-03, it said.

Acceptance of inflated transportation bills by the FCI in respect of hill transport subsidy resulted in excess payment of transportation charges amounting to Rs.67.4 crore to the government of Arunachal Pradesh during 2002-03 to 2004-05, the CAG said.

Meanwhile, the FCI, the state governments and their agencies have set up over 10,000 purchase centre throughout the country to extend and ensure that farmers get the MSP of Rs 850 per quintal for wheat.

These agencies have so far purchased 97 lakh MT of wheat for central pool while the purchase are still in progress.

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Gold tumbles to five-month low

New Delhi, May 18
Gold prices plummetted on the bullion market today to touch nearly five-month low levels on reports of heavy selling by major market players, losing Rs 120 at end Rs 8940 per 10 gram.

Marketmen said some major players off-loaded a bulk stock of gold in the domestic market, which placed the metal at a level last seen on January 8.

They said weakening trend further gathered momentum as the market experienced panic selling from other stockists amid off marriage and festival season.

The report of a major fall in precious metals in the overseas markets last evening, which normally set price trend in domestic markets here, was another dampening factor, they added. The gold in Asia touched a five-week low level of $659 an ounce.

Standard gold and ornaments fell by another Rs 120 each at Rs 8,940 and Rs 8,790 per 10 gram, respectively. — PTI

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Royal Enfield unveils 500 cc Machismo

Chennai, May 18
Heavyweight mobike maker Royal Enfield today launched a 500 cc variant of its popular cruiser bike Machismo priced at Rs 1.05 lakh (on road Chennai).

The company would manufacture 500 units of the new Machismo annually and is targeting premium segment customers.

"The new motorcycle would meet the aspirations of the urban youth," Royal Enfield director Anupam Thareja told reporters here.

The new Machismo is powered by an engine which is similar to that being exported to the US, Europe and Australia, he said. — PTI

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Vedanta under scanner for illegal mining 

New Delhi, May 18
Vedanta has been accused of illegal mining by Azerbaijan, prompting India to assure the government of the former Soviet republic of investigating the issue.

Azerbaijan has complained to the Indian government that Vedanta Sterlite Industries was illegally exploiting gold in its territories occupied by Armenia, an official reported.

“India has assured Azerbaijan that it will probe the issue. The government has also told them that Indian companies will have to operate in accordance with inter-governmental agreements and local legislation,” the official said.

According to sources, the commerce ministry has forwarded the complaint of the Azerbaijan government to the department of mines for taking up this issue with Vedanta.

A Vedanta spokesperson could not be immediately contacted.

The two former Soviet republics are locked in a long-standing land dispute, with Azerbaijan claiming that Armenia has occupied 20 per cent of Azheri territory.

Vedanta Resources listed in London has annual sales of $1.9 billion. A large part of its operations are in India where it has major market share in aluminium, copper, zinc and lead.

It is also in a dispute over buying the government’s remaining stake in Balco. Last month, the metal giant agreed to buy 71 per cent stake in India’s largest private iron ore exporter Sesa Goa for $1.37 billion. — PTI

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London mayor coming tomorrow
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 18
London mayor John Stuttard, who represents UK-based financial services, arrives in India on May 20 to explore how the city of London can work with the Government of India to develop an international financial centre in Mumbai.

During the mayor's visit to Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai, he and an accompanying delegation of up to 40 senior business people from the UK will share their experience of developing a financial centre and adapting to globalisation.

According to the British High Commission, Stuttard's week-long schedule includes meeting with finance minister P Chidambaram, commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath , mayor of Kolkata and the Governor of the RBI. The visit is part of a series of high-level visits from the UK to India in 2007 to explore areas of collaboration.

The mayor is also the ambassador for the UK-based financial services industry as a whole, which includes regional financial centres such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Bristol. The sector employs 1.3 million across the UK, accounts for 12 per cent of GDP and a net contribution to the UK's export earnings of £19b in 2005.

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