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THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
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B U S I N E S S

Core sectors grow by 2.2% in February
New Delhi, March 27
Bolstered by "hopeful signs" in certain sectors, the government today said India will beat the International Monetary Fund projection of 5.1 per cent growth in 2009.

RIL inks gas sales pacts with 12 fertiliser firms
New Delhi, March 27
Reliance Industries (RIL) today signed gas sales and transportation contracts with 12 fertiliser firms who have been chosen to receive the first produce from the company's eastern offshore KG-D6 fields when they go on production in a few days from now.

Infosys eyes buyouts in US
New York, March 27
Indian software major Infosys Technologies expects to find acquisition opportunities in the US during the downturn, co-chairman Nandan Nilekani was today quoted as saying.

Another first by Nano: Online booking
New Delhi, March 27
Tata Motors is offering what insiders say is another first in the Indian automobile industry — online booking.

EPFO against parking funds in stocks
New Delhi, March 27
The Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) has bluntly rejected the Finance Ministry's proposal to park up to 15 per cent of its depositors' retirement fund in stocks and other equity instruments.

Himachal mulls sops to improve PSUs’ working
Shimla, March 27
The Himachal government will explore the possibility of signing MoUs with various public sector undertakings (PSUs) to bring about professionalism and introduce efficiency-linked incentives.

Man U approach Tatas for shirt sponsorship
Mumbai, March 27
European and world club champions Manchester United have sent a shirt sponsorship proposal to the Indian conglomerate Tata Group. United’s four-year, $100 million contract with American International Group runs until May 2010 but the insurance giant said in January it would not be renewing the deal.



Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif walks the ramp showcasing Barbie collections on the first day of the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai on Friday. — PTI

EARLIER STORIES





President and CEO of Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India, Shinji Aoyama (R) and president Honda Research and Development India, Nabuhiko Takizaawa pose with the newly launched Honda Activa scooter in New Delhi on Friday. The new 110cc scooter will be available in the Indian market with a starting price of Rs 39,800. Tribune photo: Manas Ranjan Bhui

Spice pulls out of Satyam race
New Delhi, March 27
B K Modi-promoted Spice Corp today said it was withdrawing from bidding "for the moment" for Satyam Computer alleging non-transparency, multiple short-listing process and lack of clarity in the selection criteria.

UK economy shrinks by 1.6 pc in Q4
London, March 27
The British economy contracted by 1.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2008, the most since 1980, as the country continued to battle the financial meltdown.

7,500 GM staff to leave
New York, March 27
Auto maker General Motors has said that about 7,500 employees have decided to leave the company as part of the attrition programme.

Google to slash 200 jobs
New York, March 27
Internet search giant Google Inc is planning to cut nearly 200 jobs in sales and marketing operations worldwide, as the entity grapples with the economic slowdown.

 





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Core sectors grow by 2.2% in February
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 27
Bolstered by "hopeful signs" in certain sectors, the government today said India will beat the International Monetary Fund projection of 5.1 per cent growth in 2009.

As per the data released today, infrastructure sector output grew by 2.2 per cent in February as against last year. This growth was fuelled by higher demand for finished steel and increased petroleum refinery output. There are signs of pick up as against the month of January, which grew by a mere 1.4 per cent.

"Overall we are beginning to see some hopeful signs... in a number of sectors we have seen some changes... cement, steel, capital goods... I don't think 5.1 per cent is what we are going to achieve," Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar said here at the CII Annual session here.

However, he said banks, particularly those in the private sector, have not cut interest rates as much as they were expected to, following the easing of monetary policy by the Reserve Bank.

Output in the six key industries — crude oil, petroleum refinery products, coal, electricity, cement and finished steel — during April-February 2008-09 this fiscal was 3 per cent as against 5.8 per cent a year ago.

The infrastructure sector accounts for 26.7 per cent of India's industrial output and is an important indicator to where the economy is heading, reason analysts.

Finished steel posted a growth of 3.6 per cent, up from 2.3 per cent in February 2008 and 1.2 per cent in January this year. Production of petroleum refinery products, which had declined by 2.6 per cent in January, showed an improvement and grew by 0.5 per cent in February.

Analysts say pick up in steel and oil is a sign of recovery ,though much cannot be read in just a month’s numbers.

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RIL inks gas sales pacts with 12 fertiliser firms

New Delhi, March 27
Reliance Industries (RIL) today signed gas sales and transportation contracts with 12 fertiliser firms who have been chosen to receive the first produce from the company's eastern offshore KG-D6 fields when they go on production in a few days from now.

Indian Farmers Fertiliser Co-op (IFFCO), Krishak Bharti Co-op (Kribco), Tata Chemicals and Indo Gulf Fertiliser were among the companies which signed the Gas Sales and Purchase Agreement with RIL for buying the KG-D6 gas at $4.20 per million British thermal unit price.

They signed a separate Gas Transportation Agreement with Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Gas Transportation India Ltd for transporting the gas through its 1,396-km East-West pipeline from Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh to Baruch in Gujarat.

Others who signed the twin contracts included National Fertiliser Ltd, Chambal Fertiliser, Gujarat State Fertiliser, Rashtriya Chemical Fertiliser, Nagarjuna Fertiliser, GNFC and Sriram Fertiliser.

KG-D6 will start producing gas by month-end and initial volumes would go to meet the fuel deficit at 15 urea making plants operated by 12 fertiliser companies. A total of 15.35 million cubic meters per day of gas would go to fertiliser plants, an official said.

Eight urea plants on Hazira-Vijaipur-Jagdishpur (HVJ) pipeline of GAIL that transports fuel from Gujarat coast to North would get 7.026 mmcmd of RIL gas, while 6.689 mmcmd would go to Kribco and GSFC's units in Gujarat, Rashtriya Chemical's Maharashtra plants and Nagarjuna Fertiliser in Andhra Pradesh.

The official said on the HVJ, National Fertilisers will get 0.65 mmcmd, Chambal Fertiliser 1.15 mmcmd, and Indian Farmers Fertiliser Co-op's Aonla and Phulpur units in Uttar Pradesh 1.75 and 0.52 mmcmd, respectively.

The delivered price, including taxes and transportation charges, of RIL gas in Andhra Pradesh would be $5.34 per mmBtu while in Maharashtra it would cost $5.87. — PTI

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Infosys eyes buyouts in US

New York, March 27
Indian software major Infosys Technologies expects to find acquisition opportunities in the US during the downturn, co-chairman Nandan Nilekani was today quoted as saying.

"Acquisitions will definitely be very accessible in this market from a price point of view," Nilekani told the Wall Street Journal in an interview. "If it makes sense, we'll do it." Companies that operate in the healthcare and pharmaceuticals sectors might make particularly interesting targets, he said, adding that Infosys has $2 billion in cash and no debt.

In the interview, Nilekani reiterated Infosys's earlier guidance of about 12 per cent revenue growth for the fiscal year ending March 31. That would be a sharp deceleration from growth of 35 per cent, as measured by the US accounting rules, in the year ended March 31, 2008. Nilekani told the Journal that potential customers were holding back both because of the economic crisis and a rise in protectionist sentiment.

On the economic crisis, Nilekani said "I've never seen this level of lack of clarity." He said executives are "more focused on short-term tactical issues" than making bigger decisions about outsourcing.

In response, Nilekani said Infosys was working with customers on alternative payment arrangements, including some that would link fees to business results. Other customers are asking to pay on a per-transaction basis, rather than a lump sum for a system.

Nilekani said rising protectionist sentiment in the US was also affecting customers' decision-making about outsourcing.

Partly for that reason, he told the journal that he does not know whether more US firms will lay off domestic workers and move more jobs to India, as International Business Machines Corp plans to do, Nilekani said. — PTI

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Another first by Nano: Online booking

New Delhi, March 27
Tata Motors is offering what insiders say is another first in the Indian automobile industry — online booking.

Along with retailing co-branded Nano merchandise such as watches, T-shirts and phones on the Internet, the dedicated website for the "people's car" set up by the $62.5-billion group has a detailed section for applying for the car online, with a secure payments gateway. Applications will be accepted during April 9-25.

"The Tatas have certainly devised a futuristic way of doing business," said auto expert and commentator Tutu Dhawan, who anticipates a good response for online booking, going by the initial response for the car.

"When almost everything today is available online, why not a car?" Dhawan told IANS, adding: "It is also time buyers are offered the ease and convenience of booking vehicles online."

Agrees Avinash Kalla, a Jaipur-based journalist, who is happy that the ease of booking the car through a few mouse clicks will save him time and, of course, the trouble of queuing up for an application form.

For online booking, Tata Motors has a discount — Rs 200 per form, instead of Rs 300 for their printed counterparts, available at State Bank of India, as also Westwide apparel stores, Croma appliances chain and Titan watch showrooms, all promoted by the group.

"With a virtual showroom available online, packed with specs and an innovative feature that allows you to see your car online after choosing from a range of accessories, online booking was only logical," said Kalla.

"It will save me a lot of time," said the 30-year-old journalist, who hopes to graduate to a car soon, preferably the affordable Nano, from a motorcycle.

Tata Motors has also arranged for online financing for Nano with 15 non-banking finance companies and banks. This option requires customers to pay just Rs 2,999 as the booking fee, as opposed to nearly 75 per cent of the price for the self-financed option.

"The availability of online booking will boost the numbers for Tata Motors significantly with quite a lot people having access to the Internet in both the urban and rural areas," said Arun Krishnan, an automotive industry expert with consultancy KPMG. — IANS

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EPFO against parking funds in stocks

New Delhi, March 27
The Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) has bluntly rejected the Finance Ministry's proposal to park up to 15 per cent of its depositors' retirement fund in stocks and other equity instruments.

Sources said the Finance and Investment Committee (FIC) of the EPFO was opposed to the proposal to invest up to 15 per cent of the Rs 1,82,000 crore provident fund corpus in stocks or equity linked Mutual Funds, given the volatility in the market.

The committee, which is an advisory body of EPFO, met yesterday to discuss this issue.

The Finance Ministry in August last year had suggested a new investment pattern to the EPFO under which the organisation could park up to 15 per cent of its funds in the companies listed on Bombay Stock Exchange and National Stock Exchange and also the equity-linked schemes of the SEBI-regulated Mutual Funds.

The recommendations of the finance and investment committee are usually accepted by the EPFO's apex body Central Board of Trustees, which is headed by the Labour Minister. The CBT has the final authority to take any policy decision.

The Finance Ministry came out with the new investment pattern in August, 2008 after EPFO allowed private players HSBC, Reliance Capital and ICICI Prudential to manage the incremental funds of EPFO in July last year. The EPFO had also selected the country's largest public sector bank State Bank of India for the purpose.

The Finance Ministry wanted EPFO to invest in stock markets to increase its yield on invested funds. When bankers in the country were offering interest rates higher than 9 per cent in April last year, EPFO found it difficult to announce even 8.5 per cent returns for 2008-09.

This is not the first time that the FIC has opposed a proposal of Finance Ministry. In 2007, the Finance Ministry had proposed something similar, saying that EPFO could invest up to 10 per cent of its funds in stocks.

Considering the volatile nature of stock markets, EPFO did not invest in stock markets. — PTI

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Himachal mulls sops to improve PSUs’ working
Tribune News Service

Shimla, March 27
The Himachal government will explore the possibility of signing MoUs with various public sector undertakings (PSUs) to bring about professionalism and introduce efficiency-linked incentives.

This was stated by Chief Minister P K Dhumal while presiding over the Board of Directors meeting of HP General Industries Corporation (HPGIC), State Khadi and Village Board Industries and State Electronics Development Corporation, here yesterday.

Dhumal said a high-level committee would evaluate the efficiency of the PSUs from time to time and declare the best PSU. “The best performing PSUs, fitting into the efficiency parameters will be eligible to draw additional incentives,” he said. He hoped that the practice would encourage PSUs to work with more professional vigour and vitality to fit into the efficiency-linked parameter criteria as per the MoU.

He said the PSUs besides diversifying and competing in the open market should lay stress on updating of professional skills. “In this age of competition and excellence one needs to keep pace with the latest trends to survive,” he said.

Dhumal said the governemnt had been making efforts to bring the PSUs out of the red but this endeavour could be successful only if each and every employee did his bit honestly. “The GIC is likely to be merged with the HP State Industrial Development Corporation since both PSUs were carrying similar activities and their merger would strengthen their performance,” he said.

He advised the HP State Electronics Development Corporation to explore the possibility of boosting business in association with BSNL.

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Man U approach Tatas for shirt sponsorship

Mumbai, March 27
European and world club champions Manchester United have sent a shirt sponsorship proposal to the Indian conglomerate Tata Group. United’s four-year, $100 million contract with American International Group runs until May 2010 but the insurance giant said in January it would not be renewing the deal.

The English Premier League champions sent a shirt sponsorship proposal to another Indian company, the Sahara Group, in January and local media reported on Thursday that United had also approached the Tata Group.

“It’s reasonably right,” a brand consultant of the Tata Group told Reuters of the reports. “There are various sponsorship options, one for the team shirt. This has been going on for some time but nothing has been finalised.”

The Tata Group has interests spanning steel, cars, information technology, communication, power, tea and hotels. Tata Consultancy Services, the software arm of the group, is one of the sponsors of the Ferrari Formula One team.

Last month the chief executive of Malaysian budget airline AirAsia also said his company was pondering whether to become United’s new shirt sponsor. Saudi Telecom and British insurer Prudential have also been linked as potential backers of United, who rely on sponsorship for around a third of their revenue. — Reuters

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Spice pulls out of Satyam race

New Delhi, March 27
B K Modi-promoted Spice Corp today said it was withdrawing from bidding "for the moment" for Satyam Computer alleging non-transparency, multiple short-listing process and lack of clarity in the selection criteria.

A senior company official said, "It is withdrawing for the moment from the race after the Satyam board told Spice Corp that it is following the best possible transparency in the process as laid down by SEBI and CLB." "We have no option but to withdraw from the process at the moment as we feel the Satyam board is not following an open auction, not sharing the name of bidders and going for multiple rounds of technical short-listing process, which are not suggestions by CLB and SEBI," the official said.

"The withdrawal is for the moment as we have written a letter to Justice S P Bharucha who is overseeing the bidding process, asking for more transparency in the bidding process. "Once we get response from the Justice over these issues that we raise, we will decide accordingly to be remain in the race or out of it completely, he said. — PTI

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UK economy shrinks by 1.6 pc in Q4

London, March 27
The British economy contracted by 1.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2008, the most since 1980, as the country continued to battle the financial meltdown.

The recession-hit European economic major's GDP skid a little more than the earlier estimate of 1.5 per cent for the October-December period.

"GDP contracted by 1.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2008, revised down from a contraction of 1.5 per cent. GDP in the fourth quarter of 2008 is now 2 per cent lower than the fourth quarter of 2007," UK's Office for National Statistics said in a statement today. The decline is the highest since 1980.

During the fourth quarter, the worst hit was construction output, which declined 4.9 per cent over the previous quarter.

For the full year 2008, the UK GDP rose by 0.7 per cent and down from 3 per cent in the previous year. — PTI

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7,500 GM staff to leave

New York, March 27
Auto maker General Motors has said that about 7,500 employees have decided to leave the company as part of the attrition programme.

"... approximately 7,500 of its UAW (United Auto Workers) union-represented employees have decided to take advantage of the company's attrition programme," GM said in a statement on Thursday.

The car maker, which has been severely hit by the global financial meltdown, has already received billions of dollars from the US Federal government. Most of the employees participating in the programme would leave the firm by April 1.

GM noted that last year, about 19,000 hourly employees left the company through a special attrition programme. The number stood at around 34,000 hourly employees in 2006. The latest announcement brings the total hourly reduction to over 60,500, the company noted.

GM noted that it would fill job openings with current employees whenever possible. — PTI

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Google to slash 200 jobs

New York, March 27
Internet search giant Google Inc is planning to cut nearly 200 jobs in sales and marketing operations worldwide, as the entity grapples with the economic slowdown.

"...we have informed Googlers that we plan to reduce the number of roles within our sales and marketing organisations by just under 200 globally," Omid Kordestani, Google's vice-president said in a blog posting on Thursday.

The Internet search major said it had to restructure its operations to improve "effectiveness and efficiency as a business".

Google had little over 20,000 employees at the end of 2008. In recent months, Google has laid off about 100 employees and also cut down on perks, primarily in the wake of the financial meltdown.

The company has significant presence in India.

According to Kordestani, the entity has created overlapping organisations in some areas, which not only duplicate effort but also complicate the "decision-making process". — PTI

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Qatar Airways to link Amritsar

Mumbai: Gulf-based air-carrier, Qatar Airways, plans to add two new destinations in India this winter as part of its global expansion plans, a senior airline official said. "We are adding five new destinations across countries in 2009 and two of them are in India," Qatar Airways Regional Manager (India) Naveen Chawla told reporters here on Friday. The new destinations — Goa and Amritsar — would be launched during the winters of 2009, Chawla said. — PTI

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BRIEFLY

Singapore plans e-visa for Indian travellers
New Delhi:
Indian travellers to Singapore would soon be able to secure visa to the South East Asian country in a single working day. The Singapore government tourism nodal agency Singapore Tourism Board on Friday announced that the city state would be introducing e-visas for Indian travellers from April 1. The new facility would be launched by the Singapore government's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is aimed at introducing "hassle-free" visa facilities, Singapore Tourism Board said in a statement. — PTI

IL&FS Fin Serv buys 14.5 pc stake in Maytas
Mumbai:
IL&FS Financial Services has acquired 14.5 per cent stake in Maytas Infra, promoted by former Satyam chairman B Ramalinga Raju's kin, through invocation of pledge and off-market transactions. In a disclosure to the BSE, Maytas Infra said IL&FS has acquired 56.53 lakh shares representing 9.61 per cent stake in the company following invocation of pledge. In a separate filing to the NSE, Maytas Infra said IL&FS has also acquired 28,79,999 shares representing 4.89 per cent stake in the company through off- market transfer. — PTI

UCO Bank to finance Nano
Kolkata:
UCO Bank will enter into an agreement with Tata Motors to finance Nano, the world's cheapest car, the bank's CMD S K Goel said on Friday. Goel said the bank would finance the car where the applicant would be required to pay 10 per cent interest for the first three months, from application to delivery, after which it would be converted into a car loan at prevailing rates then. He said as the customer pay Rs 2,999 for the base variant of Nano as booking amount, the bank would pay Rs 95,000 to Tata Motors. — PTI

Srinivasan is CII president
New Delhi:
TVS Motor Company CMD Venu Srinivasan has been elected president of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) for the year 2009-10. Srinivasan, who is also the managing director of Sundaram-Clayton Ltd, succeeds K V Kamath, CII said in a statement on Friday. — PTI

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