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Inflation casts shadow on UPA’s 3-year rule
New Delhi, May 22
In a stock taking of his government’s performance over the last three years and especially in 2006-07, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed concern about the rate of inflation hovering above 6.5 per cent and outlined the broad measures taken to contain the price spiral.

Viacom, TV18 join hands
Mumbai, May 22
Media conglomerate Viacom Inc and India's TV18 Group are forming an equal joint venture for general entertainment business in India, where television channels are booming, the two groups said on Tuesday.


President and CEO of Viacom Inc Philippe P. Dauman looks on at a press conference in Mumbai on Tuesday. Global media conglomerate Viacom and India’s media TV-18 group announced they would set a multi-platform entertainment company, through an equal joint venture. — AFP
President and CEO of Viacom Inc Philippe P. Dauman looks on at a press conference in Mumbai on Tuesday.


EARLIER STORIES

 
Merged entity is Air India
Maharaja to be mascot; flying swan to be new logo
New Delhi, May 22
The government today decided to continue with the name of Air India for the merged entity of the two public sector airlines, the Air India and the Indian (formerly Indian Airlines) and would also keep the quintessential turbaned and mustachioed Maharaja as the mascot.





Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel addresses a press conference in New Delhi on Tuesday. — PTI
Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel addresses a press conference in New Delhi on Tuesday.


Governor of Kuwait’s Central Bank Sheikh Salem al-Sabah talks to reporters at a press conference in Kuwait City on Tuesday.
Governor of Kuwait’s Central Bank Sheikh Salem al-Sabah talks to reporters at a press conference in Kuwait City on Tuesday. Kuwait’s decision to stop pegging dinar to the dollar has confirmed speculation that oil-rich Gulf states will not be able to launch their single currency by 2010, economists said. — AFP

Reliance slashes roaming rates
Chennai, May 22
Starting a price war, Reliance Communications (RCom) today slashed its roaming rates by about 70 per cent at the lowest 40 paise a minute on some select plans, while incoming has been made just Re 1 per minute from Rs 1.75 a minute.

Chandigarh firm to co-produce soccer flick
Chandigarh, May 22
Integrated media and entertainment company Compact Disc India Limited (CDI) will now be co-producing an international movie with Hollywood based production company, Motion Pixel Corporation. This will be a 90 minute 3D animation film called Goaaaaal!, based on the game of soccer and featuring the Brazilian soccer star, Ronaldo.

Bhushan Steel to take 15 pc of Aussie firm
Mumbai, May 22
Bhushan Steel Ltd. has signed an initial agreement with Australia’s Bowen Energy to buy 15 per cent stake in the latter to source coal for its Orissa plant, a senior official said.

OVL eyes Caspian Energy stake
New Delhi, May 22
ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) is likely to bid over $300 million to buy Caspian Energy Group (CEG) LLP’s interest in an Azerbaijan oilfield.

GM to launch Optra TCDi
Mumbai, May 22
General Motors India is planning to launch Chevrolet Optra TCDi series luxury Sedan next month.

Farm growth concerns PM
New Delhi, May 22
With two years to go for general elections, the Manmohan Singh Government today finds itself in a piquant situation as the growth in agricultural sector remained at abysmal 2.7 per cent, way short of the targeted four per cent and suicide by farmers continues to haunt the UPA coalition.

Mumbai costlier than Shanghai
Mumbai, May 22
As India witnesses a spurt in property prices, its financial capital Mumbai has been ranked as one of the world's top 10 expensive locations in terms of accommodation cost.

UTI-MNC Fund
New Delhi, May 22
Mutual fund house UTI MF has declared a 30 per cent, for its UTI-MNC Fund scheme. The record date for the dividend is May 25, UTI Mutual Fund (UTIMF) said in a press note here today.

Bank Account
Indian Bank targets rural sector
Mumbai, May 22
Indian Bank has tied-up with Mumbai-based Financial Information Network and Operations Ltd (FINO) to introduce smart card banking in rural sectors.

 

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Inflation casts shadow on UPA’s 3-year rule
T.R. Ramachandran & S. Satyanarayanan
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 22
In a stock taking of his government’s performance over the last three years and especially in 2006-07, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed concern about the rate of inflation hovering above 6.5 per cent and outlined the broad measures taken to contain the price spiral.

The wide ranging measures to check inflation has begun to be felt, he observed and expressed confidence of keeping the rate of inflation under control in future. Besides the galloping demand for many products particularly in the case of some essential products, “we have taken credible steps to control inflation and will continue to be vigilant on this front so that the poor and vulnerable sections of society do not suffer unduly.”

Dr Singh stressed that all reasonable steps will be taken to accelerate the tempo of agricultural production and to strengthen the public distribution system.

In presenting his government’s report card here this evening, Dr Singh drew pointed attention to fulfilling life’s promise of healthcare, education and assuring Child Rights.

The macro-economic parameters remained quite impressive during the three years of the Congress-led UPA Government, with average growth rate at 8.6 per cent, but high inflation rate dented, to a great extend, the ‘common man’ plank of the coalition.

Desperation within the government to check inflation, which was largely attributed by analysts for defeat of the Congress in Punjab and Uttarakhand recently, could be seen from the slew of fiscal and monetary measures initiated by the government and the RBI.

Largely due to supply side constraints in essential commodities like wheat, pulses, milk powder, edible oil, crude oil and other primary commodities, triggered by less agricultural production and increased demand, inflation rate hovered over 6 per cent, much above RBI’s target rate of 5 per cent.

Admitting that supply side constraints, due to stagnation of agricultural production and rise in international prices along with difficulty in availability of essential commodities, have contributed to the rise in prices, the UPA Government, in its ‘performance report’, hoped that impact of wide-ranging measures has been felt and the government is confident of keeping the rate of inflation within control in future.

For the first time, investment and savings rates have risen to 34 per cent and 32 per cent of the GDP respectively and Foreign Direct Investment equity inflows touched $10.6 billion during April-December 2006 from $3.7 billion in 2004-05. 

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Viacom, TV18 join hands

Mumbai, May 22
Media conglomerate Viacom Inc and India's TV18 Group are forming an equal joint venture for general entertainment business in India, where television channels are booming, the two groups said on Tuesday.

"India is one of our priority market for our expansion and we see long-term growth opportunities," Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman, who is on his first visit to India, told reporters at a news conference. India, the world's third-largest pay TV market, is set to become the top pay television market in Asia-Pacific by 2015, research firm Media Partners Asia said in a report last month.

Indian pay TV revenue from advertising and subscription, which grew 17 per cent in 2006 to $4.2 billion, is expected to more than double to $10 billion by 2011, the Hong Kong-based firm estimates.

Viacom and TV18 did not disclose financial details of the deal.

The new venture, Viacom-18, will launch a Hindi-language entertainment cable channel within a year, Viacom and TV18 said in a joint statement.

When asked whether Viacom was looking to buy a stake in Television Eighteen or in Network 18, William Roedy, vice-chairman at MTV Networks said: "Not now... (but) we are always open to it."

The venture will include locally produced programming, and Viacom's television channels in India, MTV Networks, Vh1 and Nickelodeon India, it said.

The TV18 Group will contribute motion pictures division to the joint venture, it said.

The TV18 Group runs business channels such as CNBC-TV18 and CNBC-Awaaz and has stakes in Global Broadcast News Ltd, which runs English news channel CNN-IBN and Hindi news channel IBN7. — Reuters

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Merged entity is Air India
Maharaja to be mascot; flying swan to be new logo
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 22
The government today decided to continue with the name of Air India for the merged entity of the two public sector airlines, the Air India and the Indian (formerly Indian Airlines) and would also keep the quintessential turbaned and mustachioed Maharaja as the mascot.

“As Air India is a globally and nationally recognised brand name, as well as the designated airline in international bilaterals — the ‘AI’ code being available only to the existing name, it has been decided that the merged entity would continue with the same name,” Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told reporters here following the unveiling of the new logo for the merged airline. The merged entity will thus have single code AI and famous IC code for Indian will cease to exist.

The design components of the new logo have been drawn after merging some of the current features of both Air India and Indian Airlines. The logo of the new airline is a Flying Swan with the Konark Chakra placed inside it. The Flying Swan has been morphed from Air India’s characteristic logo, ‘The Centaur’, whereas the ‘Konark Chakra’ is reminiscent of Indian’s logo. The new logo will feature prominently on the tail of the aircraft.

Individually the Konark Chakra will also feature on all engines of the aircraft. The minister said that the choice of colours namely red for “Flying Swan” and orange for “Konark Chakra were meant to signify vigour and advancement.

The merged entity will have 111 new aircraft ( 68 Boeing and 43 Airbus) over the next three years, 25 of which would be arriving within 2007 itself.

While the aircraft will be ivory in colour, the base will retain the red streak of Air India. Running parallel to each other will be the orange and red speed lines from front door to the rear door, subtly signifying the individual identities merged into one.

The brand name Air India will run across the tail of the aircraft. The new company, National Aviation Company, will have its registered office in Delhi, its corporate office will be in Mumbai and its office for domestic operations as well as the strategic business units will be mostly based in Delhi. Mr Patel said that Air India would commence its first non-stop Mumbai -New York flight from August 1 this year.

This would be followed by direct flights to San Francisco, Houston and Washington. The minister also said that a public issue was “very much on the cards”. “The public offer of the merged entity would be floated in 2008,” the minister said.

Meanwhile, in a separate development low-cost carrier SpiceJet today said it intends to add eight more aircraft by March next year for which the funding mechanism has been put in place.

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Reliance slashes roaming rates

Chennai, May 22
Starting a price war, Reliance Communications (RCom) today slashed its roaming rates by about 70 per cent at the lowest 40 paise a minute on some select plans, while incoming has been made just Re 1 per minute from Rs 1.75 a minute.

In February, the TRAI had reduced roaming charges, as per which, maximum permissible charge for roaming calls, irrespective of terminating networks and tariff plans, was set at Rs 1.40 per minute for outgoing local calls, Rs 2.40 for outgoing national long distance calls and Rs 1.75 for incoming calls. The telecom regulator had already removed rentals.

Roaming charge reduction gained more ground after former telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran had said he was planning the abolition of national roaming charges as a gift to Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi on his birthday on June 3.

RCom president (personal business) S P Shukla said, “Now, we have taken a step further by reducing roaming rates. — PTI

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Chandigarh firm to co-produce soccer flick
Ruchika M. Khanna
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 22
Integrated media and entertainment company Compact Disc India Limited (CDI) will now be co-producing an international movie with Hollywood based production company, Motion Pixel Corporation. This will be a 90 minute 3D animation film called Goaaaaal!, based on the game of soccer and featuring the Brazilian soccer star, Ronaldo.

CDI has inked the deal with Motion Pixel Corporation for a record $20.15 million. As part of this covenant, CDI will produce the animation content - right from the storyboard to the post production job. Motion Pixel has worked on the script, and will be engaged in the voice overs and music for the movie. CDI will produce the animation content over a one year period from their state- of- art studio in Chennai.

Goaaaaal! is centred around soccer superstar Ronaldo and a young girl who dreams of becoming a soccer world champion. Unlike most other animated movies, Goaaaaal ! will feature real life sports personalities and celebrities and will create animated versions of them. Academy award winning actor Ben Kingsley, Catherine Zeta Jones, Michael Douglas and Christina Aguilera have been signed in to lend their voices to the film.

Talking to TNS here today, Suresh Kumar, chairman of the Chandigarh-based company said that though CDI had been doing a lot of outsourcing animation work for major Hollywood producers for the past couple of years and was one of the largest animation film outsourcing companies in South East Asia.

“But this is the first time that we will be co-producing a Hollywood movie. The cost of production of the movie will be raised through internal accruals and through finance by a leading London based bank,” he said. The movie is slated for an early 2009 global release, in consonance with the FIFA Federation Cup.

CDI chairman said that they now proposed to produce at least four international ventures each year (two being outsourced ventures and two stand alone productions/ co-productions). Besides, animation, CDI will also be producing a $ 20 million live action movie with Sir Ben Kingsley called ‘Guru of Sex’, based on the life of Osho Rajneesh.

Kumar added that the company was also coming up with a multimedia knowledge park and a multi media college at Jaipur. “We are in talks with the governments of Rajasthan and Kerala for setting up the multimedia knowledge park, which will have all world class facilities in animation.

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Bhushan Steel to take 15 pc of Aussie firm

Mumbai, May 22
Bhushan Steel Ltd. has signed an initial agreement with Australia’s Bowen Energy to buy 15 per cent stake in the latter to source coal for its Orissa plant, a senior official said.

Bhushan Steel will buy 10 million shares in Bowen Energy for Aus$3.2 million ($2.63 million) at an issue price of Aus$0.32 each under the agreement signed last week, Bowen said. “Initially, it will be for our Orissa plant which starts next year,” Bhushan Steel’s chief financial officer Nitin Johari said.

If the deal goes through, Bhushan will have first refusal right to develop Bowen’s coal projects, the Australian firm reported.

Indian firms are increasingly looking overseas for supply of raw materials and critical inputs through acquisition of mines or stakes in exploration firms.

Bhushan plans to raise $100 million in external commercial borrowings to substitute domestic loans it raised for Orissa unit.

The company is expanding integrated Orissa plant at an investment of Rs 52 billion, expected to be completed by 2008. Once completed, the expansion would push capacity to 3 million tonnes hot-rolled steel annually.

Bhushan Steel plans to fund its proposed $2 billion investment in a two million tonne steel project in West Bengal. — Reuters

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OVL eyes Caspian Energy stake

New Delhi, May 22
ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) is likely to bid over $300 million to buy Caspian Energy Group (CEG) LLP’s interest in an Azerbaijan oilfield.

In a code-named project called Project Golden Goose, OVL is bidding to buy CEG’s 51 per cent stake in Shivran Oil Operating Company that operates Kyurovdag oil field in Azerbaijan, company sources said.

The remaining 49 per cent stake in the company is held by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic.

CEG will mark OVL’s entry into energy-rich Azerbaijan. OVL currently has assets in 14 countries including Myanmar, Vietnam, Russia, Egypt, Sudan and Australia but none in central Asia.

The field is believed to hold an in-place oil reserves of 4.3 billion barrels of which 800 million barrels are recoverable and is currently producing 4,517 barrels of oil per day.

It is estimated to produce a minimum of 146 million barrels during 2007 and 2030, 51 per cent of which will belong to OVL upon it winning the CEG bid.

The production is projected to rise to 13,300 barrels per day in 2010 and, thereafter, start declining to reach 2,200 barrels per day in 2030, it is believed. — PTI

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GM to launch Optra TCDi

Mumbai, May 22
General Motors India is planning to launch Chevrolet Optra TCDi series luxury Sedan next month.

GM India vice-president P. Balendran said here today: “'The company is in the final stage of bringing its latest member of the optra family to the market. It will be manufactured at Halol plant and should reach Chevrolet retailers next month.”

The new Optra with TCDi (Turbocharged Common rail Direct injection) engines utilise second generation common rail technology, in which diesel fuel is injected at a high pressure of 1,600 bar through a multi-step injection process. This will result in more efficient combustion and delivering great performance. — UNI

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Farm growth concerns PM
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 22
With two years to go for general elections, the Manmohan Singh Government today finds itself in a piquant situation as the growth in agricultural sector remained at abysmal 2.7 per cent, way short of the targeted four per cent and suicide by farmers continues to haunt the UPA coalition.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has directed the planning commission and agriculture ministry to come up with a short-term plan to uplift the crucial agriculture sector, which is denting Congress’ “aam aadmi” image.

As the Congress-led coalition completes its three years in office, the UPA said it has several measures to help peasants be partners in the economic growth, which is benefiting certain sectors and have resulted in bull run in stock markets.

The government claimed that Radhakrishnan committee on agricultural indebtedness would submit its report later this month and the centre would take follow-up measures, adding that it is committed to a common market by amending the Essential Commodities Act along with working with states to amend the local Agriculture Produce Marketing Acts and expanding food supply and storage chains.

With a view to cover the risks involved in agricultural operations, the scope and coverage of National Agriculture Insurance Scheme has been expanded. The government has asked the Agriculture Insurance Corporation to start a weather based crop insurance scheme on a pilot basis in two or three states as an alternative to the existing scheme.

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Mumbai costlier than Shanghai

Mumbai, May 22
As India witnesses a spurt in property prices, its financial capital Mumbai has been ranked as one of the world's top 10 expensive locations in terms of accommodation cost.

Mumbai, which is ranked seventh, is followed by Shanghai, on whose lines the government is planning to develop the Indian financial hub.

The list comprises Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, Moscow, Seoul, London, Mumbai, Shanghai, Caracas (Venezuela) and Paris (in order of their position), according to a study by International Human Resource organisation ECA International.

"High rentals in Tokyo, New York, Seoul, Moscow, London and Paris largely reflect high living costs in these locations, while Mumbai, Shanghai and Beijing suffer from a shortage of modern and well-equipped properties, pushing prices up for those properties that do," ECA International Hong Kong General Manager Lee Quane said.

However, Caracas, capital of Venezuela, makes to the list of top 10 expensive cities for renting a three bedroom apartment as people have to spend huge amounts on security, Quane said.

In April, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said the government will shortly set up a committee to lay a roadmap to make the city the heart of international financial activities.

Mumbai is the prime choice for many multinational firms for establishing their base as they expand operations here, which is on the way to be transformed into international financial hub, Quane said.

Though five of the top 10 expensive locations are in Asia, the list of world's cheapest locations to rent a three bedroom apartment does not include any Asian city.

Unlike Bangalore and Delhi, hospitality-cum-residential options in Mumbai are mostly provided by luxury hotel chains as there are limited economical serviced apartment options in the city," Global property consultants Cushman and Wakefield said in its latest Residential Snapshot for Mumbai.

Serviced apartments are at least 300 to 400 per cent more expensive than similar sized residential apartments in prime locations. Rent for a two bed room serviced apartment range between Rs 4.50 lakh to 7 lakh, while a semi-furnished regular two bed-room apartment vary between Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2.50 lakh.

"Given the asymmetric demand-supply situation in Mumbai, serviced apartments have emerged as viable short-term residential option for business travellers," Cushman and Wakefield added. — PTI

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UTI-MNC Fund

New Delhi, May 22
Mutual fund house UTI MF has declared a 30 per cent, for its UTI-MNC Fund scheme. The record date for the dividend is May 25, UTI Mutual Fund (UTIMF) said in a press note here today.

The fund house invests the assets from the UTI-MNC scheme mainly in MNCs. Investors who join the dividend option of the scheme on or before the record date, apart from the existing ones, would be eligible for the dividend, it said. — PTI

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Bank Account
Indian Bank targets rural sector

Mumbai, May 22
Indian Bank has tied-up with Mumbai-based Financial Information Network and Operations Ltd (FINO) to introduce smart card banking in rural sectors.

The system is intended to put in place technology banking in rural circles. As part of the agreement, no-frills accounts (zero balance saving accounts) will be provided by the Indian Bank for carrying out transactions on FINO smart cards and Point of Transaction (POT) devices.

SBICAP in Africa

SBI Capital Markets Limited (SBICAP), has said that it has been appointed as financial adviser by Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) for setting up coal-based power generation plants there.

SBICAP is the investment banking arm of the State Bank of India and this is its first mandate in Africa in the power sector. The plants, each of 600 MW, are coal-based and will be set up in two phases with the cost of phase-1 pegged at $1 billion.

“The project is proposed to be executed via the SPV route with a debt-equity ratio of 80:20. Phase I of the project is expected to be commissioned by 2010,” SBICAP’s vice-president, project advisory and structured finance, Rajat Mishra, said.

Syndicate Bank

Syndicate Bank has proposed to tap capital market with follow on public offer of eight crore shares during the year to meet basel II requirement and expansion plans. It would use the proceeds to meet capital requirements under Basel II guidelines as the bank has overseas presence.

Besides, it would also be utilised for expansion activity. Price will be determined later and will subject to necessary approvals from the government, the RBI and other statutory bodies, the bank said in a filing to the BSE. Currently, the government holds 66.47 per cent stake in the Manipal-based bank.

i-flex Consulting

i-flex Solutions has said the third largest banking group in Malaysia, the Public Bank, has chosen the firms’ consulting division, i-flex Consulting, for providing credit risk management and basel II consultancy. i-flex Consulting would help the Public Bank further enhance its credit risk management function, establish data requirements for basel II, and draw up an implementation plan to meet its compliance objectives, the company told the BSE.

The consulting assignment would cover the Public Bank Group’s Malaysia and Hong Kong operations, it added.

Union Bank

Union Bank will provide Core Banking Sevices(CBS) in its 1,700 branches by March 2008. Talking to newspersons, Union Bank’s deputy general manager S. Govindan said: “We have already started implementing CBS network and by December 943 will be in play. We also aim to provide various technologically based services like railway freight payment, air and rail ticket booking, tax payment and internet telephone.”

The bank has also adopted four-pronged strategy for growth in the eastern market. They are retail, agri-business, small and medium enterprises (SME) and corporate. — Agencies

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