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Ban on wheat futures goes
New Delhi, May 15
The government today lifted the ban on futures trading on wheat on the back of bumper output and procurement of the grain this year. "Suspension on futures trading in wheat has been lifted today," FMC member Rajeev Agarwal told PTI.

Maruti launches Ritz
‘No plans to phase out M800’
New Delhi, May 15
Country's largest carmaker, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd (MSIL), today launched its latest hatchback small car Ritz in both petrol and diesel variants.

Managing Director and CEO of Maruti Suzuki India Limited, Shinzo Nakanishi poses with newly launched Ritz car in New Delhi on Friday. Tribune photo: Mukesh Aggarwal



EARLIER STORIES



Diamonds are still forever
Gujarat’s multi-thousand crore diamond industry is showing signs of steadying. But only just, possibly marking the beginning of an end to the crisis. The sudden slump which started six months ago has resulted in 4.14 lakh layoffs, the closure of about 2,230 diamond units, a slowdown in the remaining 4,317 units still operational, and losses running into thousands of crores in this state which accounts for 72 per cent of the world’s processed diamonds and 80 per cent of India’s diamond exports.


A man is reflected on a sign at Panasonic Corp’s showroom in Tokyo on Friday. Panasonic Corp reported an annual net loss on Friday, battered by weak demand, price falls and restructuring costs, and the Japanese electronics maker forecast a bigger-than-expected loss this year. — Reuters

LCD television makers eye rural market
Chandigarh, May 15
To sustain the high growth of LCD televisions in India, manufacturers are now eyeing the rural segment, by offering a new range of LCDs at low price points.

Euro zone GDP shrinks
2.5 pc in Q1

London, May 15
The economies of 16 nations that share the common currency euro, contracted 2.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2009, indicating that the European region continues to reel under recession.

Pink slips galore at Jet Airways
Mumbai, May 15
Private carrier Jet Airways today confirmed that it has begun to sack people in phases in view of the economic recession that was affecting its finances.

LIC halts distribution of NPS
New Delhi, May 15
Life Insurance Corporation of India today said it has halted distribution of the New Pension System (NPS) to employees other than government staff following a directive from the sectoral regulator IRDA.

Sensex up 300 points
Mumbai, May 15
Investors optimistic of a stable government propelled the Sensex up 300 points at 12,173 points on Friday.

Alcatel-Lucent bags $150-m Unitech deal
New Delhi, May 15
France-based telecommunication firm Alcatel-Lucent today said it has bagged a five-year contract of about $150 million from Unitech Wireless, a telecom venture of real estate major Unitech, to support the launch of the company’s GSM mobile services.

Airtel user base crosses 100 m
New Delhi, May 15
Bharti Airtel today said its subscriber base had crossed the 100-million mark, making it the world's third largest 'in-country/single country’ mobile operator. "Bharti Airtel has achieved 100-million subscriber mark," said a beaming Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of the Rs 375 billion company. "This milestone reiterates the emergence of India as the world's top telecom markets," he said. The milestone makes every fourth mobile phone user in the country a customer of Airtel.

Barclays to sell asset mgmt arm
London, May 15
British banking entity Barclays, which has refused to take funds from the government, is in discussions to sell its asset management arm Barclays Global Investors for nearly $10 billion.

India ahead of China in global IP Index
New Delhi, May 15
India has been placed in the bottom half of a ranking of 24 countries in terms of protection and enforcement of intellectual property practices, but is still ahead of neighbouring China, a survey shows.

 





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Ban on wheat futures goes

New Delhi, May 15
The government today lifted the ban on futures trading on wheat on the back of bumper output and procurement of the grain this year. "Suspension on futures trading in wheat has been lifted today," FMC member Rajeev Agarwal told PTI.

A senior government official said the ban on rice futures would, however, continue.

Trading in wheat futures would commence after exchange would send their fresh proposal to launch wheat contract, Agarwal added.

Commodities market regulator FMC would approve the proposal after vetting the specification of the new contracts in wheat, he said.

Sources said the decision to lift the ban on wheat futures was taken by the Consumer Affairs Minister Sharad Pawar last month.

But the FMC was directed to announce the decision after expiry of the model code of conduct, they added.

Wheat prices in the country is stable on the back of bumper production in last two years. India produced a record 78.57 million tonnes of wheat in 2008 and is estimated to harvest 77.63 million tonnes this year.

The procurement was also record 226.89 lakh tonnes last year. In 2009 till yesterday, the procurement has already reached 224.28 lakh tonnes.

The ban on futures trading in wheat and rice was imposed in February 2007 as part of measures to control prices of these two commodities. — PTI

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Maruti launches Ritz
‘No plans to phase out M800’
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 15
Country's largest carmaker, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd (MSIL), today launched its latest hatchback small car Ritz in both petrol and diesel variants.

Putting the car on offer at an introductory price of Rs 3.90-4.99 lakh, MSIL has positioned Ritz at a step below its largest-selling model Swift and is looking at targeting not only the youth but also the fashionable. Incidentally, Ritz may end up competing with its sister model Swift for place in the market.

Launching the car, MSIL managing director and CEO Shinzo Nakanishi told reporters, "Ritz is our parent Suzuki's fifth global model to be launched in India and it will be the first Bharat Stage-IV emission norms compliant Indian car. We have launched it at the beginning of the fiscal and we hope it will bring excitement in the market."

While ruling out phasing out of any of the existing MSIL models, Nakanishi said the new model would have as much as 85 per cent of indigenisation content and the company would be looking at expanding the market for it to do as well as the Swift has done.

There had been reports that MSIL may phase out its once highest selling M800 along with Omni. But the insistence of Nakanishi clearly spells out that company has no such plans.

Ritz has been developed on the existing hatchback Swift's platform and common usage of the platform helped the company to offer Ritz at a lower price, he added. "Also higher level of localisation helped us in reducing the cost," Nakanishi said.

About the sales of the car, he said the company has not fixed any target as "it is tough to project for future. We have capacity to meet all requirements."

Regarding its product portfolio, Nakanishi said: "We are constantly expanding our portfolio in the competitive compact car segment. India is a diverse market, no two customers think in the same way. We do not want to miss any opportunity in this segment."

The petrol version of Ritz would be available in three variants in the price range of Rs 3.90 lakh to Rs 4.80 lakh, while the diesel model will be available in two variants between Rs 4.65 lakh and Rs 4.99 lakh.

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Diamonds are still forever
Dinesh Kumar writes from Surat

Gujarat’s multi-thousand crore diamond industry is showing signs of steadying. But only just, possibly marking the beginning of an end to the crisis. The sudden slump which started six months ago has resulted in 4.14 lakh layoffs, the closure of about 2,230 diamond units, a slowdown in the remaining 4,317 units still operational, and losses running into thousands of crores in this state which accounts for 72 per cent of the world’s processed diamonds and 80 per cent of India’s diamond exports.

“It is early days yet, but during the past one month we have seen signs of resumption of work”, says Shailesh Shah, a diamond merchant.

The main reason for things looking up is that diamond merchants have begun to “fit into the new price” which is much lower than before and are getting more realistic about the decline in demand, he says.

The diamond industry went into a sudden slump after Diwali when diamond merchants found themselves bereft of finished diamonds from their main market, the USA, despite Christmas. By then, hundreds of merchants had invested in buying rough diamonds at high prices hoping to make a killing. Instead, the demand for finished diamonds declined and so did the price of rough diamonds. To make matters worse, the US dollar began climbing from an earlier Rs 40 to a dollar to Rs 50. Within weeks, helpless diamond merchants were left holding rough diamonds and a finished product valued at far less than the price at which they had bought it for. They also ended up holding a long pipeline of seven to eight months of stocks of finished diamonds instead of the normal two to three months worth. The diamond and gem industry has recorded a negative growth of 4.62 per cent in the 2008-2009 fiscal year compared to the preceding period.

But now, most diamond merchants, many of whom are in debt, are selling finished diamonds against both instant and cash payments rather than giving long time-lines to buyers. They are taking fewer chances just in case the market slumps further. But diamond merchants still have to deal with the high stocks of finished diamonds that they produced from rough diamonds earlier purchased at considerably higher prices.

“The units have large stocks but no buyers”, says Diamond Merchant Association president C P Vanani. In the earlier season, diamond merchants had made high profits because they were able to sell at prices far higher than they had bought the rough diamonds owing to a falling dollar. But the sudden rise of the dollar threw their calculations out of the window, he explained. This well-knit, largely family-run, ‘trust-based’ industry is confined to nine cities with Surat figuring at the top followed by Amreli, Bhavnagar and Ahmedabad. As many as 38% of Gujarat’s diamond units are located in Surat alone, which employs up to 57 per cent of the diamond workforce in the state. In Surat alone, two lakh workers out of four lakh have been laid off and 1,262 diamond units out of about 2,500 have been closed down.

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LCD television makers eye rural market
Ruchika M. Khanna
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 15
To sustain the high growth of LCD televisions in India, manufacturers are now eyeing the rural segment, by offering a new range of LCDs at low price points.

The top three players in the LCD television market, Samsung, Sony and LG, are all eyeing a major chunk of the pie from amongst rural populace. The fact that the rural economy is still booming (even as urban India comes to terms with the economic slowdown) has also propelled the manufacturers to have a new rural focus.

According to the data available with The Tribune, the volume growth in LCD TV market was 100 per cent last year. As against 300,000 units sold in 2007, one million units were sold in 2008. This year, various manufacturers hope to sell over 1.5 million units.

The fact that almost 50 per cent of the CTV market in most urban (tier I and II) centres have already seen a conversion to LCDs, has also prompted manufacturers to eye the rural market for increasing growth in volumes.

Talking to TNS here today, Sunil Nayyar, head (sales), Sony India, said this year they were planning to increase their market share from 28 per cent to 30 per cent. “To increase our market share, we are looking at making strong inroads in the rural areas. We have recently launched a new series of LCDs — T Series — which are targeted at the rural masses. The price points for these LCD TVs are much lower at Rs 15,990, so that they suit the sensibilities of the cost-conscious rural buyers,” he said.

Sony is not the only one that is eyeing the rural market for expansion of its LCD TV business. Amitabh Tiwari, business group marketing head, home entertainment and B2B, LG India, said, “We are launching new LCD TV models in small screen like 19'', 22'' and 26", in the price range of Rs 13,000 to Rs 24,000 to suit the pockets of rural customers. We are also increasing our distributor presence in rural areas to cater to our rural consumers”.

Samsung India, which claims to have a 40 per cent market share in the LCD TVs, too, is wooing the customers in small cities and semi-urban areas to convert CRTs into LCDs. Ravinder Zutshi, deputy managing director, Samsung India, said they were targeting rural consumers by offering slim TVs.

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Euro zone GDP shrinks 2.5 pc in Q1

London, May 15
The economies of 16 nations that share the common currency euro, contracted 2.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2009, indicating that the European region continues to reel under recession.

The GDP in the 16-nation Euro zone shrank by 2.5 per cent in the first three months of 2009, much higher than expectations, the data from Eurostat showed today.

Going by the Eurostat, the statistics agency of the European Union, the Eurozone's GDP has shrunk for the fourth consecutive quarter.

Estimates suggested that Euro zone economy would shrink about two per cent in the first quarter. Moreover, the GDP in the 27-nation European Union declined by 2.5 per cent in the same period.

Ironically, the gloomy figures come amid rising hopes of possible green shoots in the global economy.

"GDP declined by 2.5 per cent in both the Euro area and the European Union during the first quarter of 2009, compared with the previous quarter...In the fourth quarter of 2008, growth rates were -1.6 per cent in the Euro area and -1.5 per cent in the European Union," Eurostat said in a statement.

Among the Euro zone countries, German economy contracted at a staggering pace of 3.8 per cent in the first quarter, as exports plunged in the wake of the financial turmoil.

Many of the European Union nations, including the UK, Germany, Italy, France and Netherlands, are in deep recession — broadly defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

Earlier this month, the European Central Bank slashed the key interest rate to a record one per cent, as the apex bank continue to explore ways to bolster the region's sagging economy.

Meanwhile, the American economy shrunk at a stunning rate of 6.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2009 despite the country's government coming up with unprecedented efforts to tame the raging financial crisis. In the fourth quarter of last year, the nation's GDP declined 6.3 per cent.

The 16 Euro zone countries are Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Finland, Cyprus, Ireland, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia. — PTI

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Pink slips galore at Jet Airways
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, May 15
Private carrier Jet Airways today confirmed that it has begun to sack people in phases in view of the economic recession that was affecting its finances.

The airline issued a statement that it was retrenching employees because it was overstaffed. "The aviation industry....is burdened with excess capacity (that has) depressed demand for both business and leisure travel," Jet Airways said in a statement. The airline, however, denied reports that it was sacking 40-50 persons every week for the past month.

Only in October, Jet Airways announced sacking of 1,900 employees in one go. This evoked public protests with airline crew seeking the support of politicians like Raj Thackeray. However, the airline quickly revoked the decision after Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel intervened on behalf of the employees.

Since then, there has been a buzz in the aviation industry that Jet has been quietly sacking people in phases in order to avoid a public backlash. To begin with, the airline quietly sacked a number of foreign employees, including 120 foreign stewardesses, employed with it.

All Indian airlines have been asked to replace foreign pilots with Indians by 2010. However, many airlines are already doing this since the downturn is forcing them to reduce services.

In addition to flying crew, Jet has sacked some 60 employees on probation and another 50 employees who had reached the age of superannuation but were employed on a contract basis.

In addition, the airline also introduced pay cuts of as much as 25 per cent for people earning more than Rs 75,000 per month.

Jet Airways also said it was setting up a help desk and an outplacement faclity to help the sacked employees find alternative jobs.

The airline has already unveiled several cost-cutting measures which included closing down of offices and downsizing operations in a number of countries. Ticketing offices operating out of leased premises were also shut down earlier this month.

Jet has already shut down bases in the Far East where it operates from and asked its flying crew to re-locate either in Mumbai and Delhi.

According to sources, as many as 500 employees attached to the back-end operations of the airline are likely to be sacked as a result of restructuring operations. The airline is said to be considering leasing out some of its aircraft to foreign carriers since it has plenty of idle capacity, say sources.

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LIC halts distribution of NPS

New Delhi, May 15
Life Insurance Corporation of India today said it has halted distribution of the New Pension System (NPS) to employees other than government staff following a directive from the sectoral regulator IRDA.

"We have halted the operation following the IRDA circular. We have approached the regulator to find out if there could be any exception," LIC managing director A K Dasgupta told PTI.

When LIC had applied before interim pension regulator PFRDA to undertake activity of Points of Presence (PoP), there was no such circular, he said, adding that, however, the company will abide by the regulatory order.

Earlier this week, IRDA asked insurance companies to set up a subsidiary if they want to be Points of Presence (PoP) under the New Pension System.

"No insurance company can act as PoP," IRDA circular had said.

PoPs are contact and collection points for customers wanting to be part of NPS.

LIC is only life insurance company which has been shortlisted by the PFRDA as one of the PoPs. The other 21 PoPs include, State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, IDBI Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce, Axis Bank and Union Bank of India. — PTI

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Sensex up 300 points
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, May 15
Investors optimistic of a stable government propelled the Sensex up 300 points at 12,173 points on Friday.

In the broader markets, the Nifty closed 78 points higher at 3,671.65 points. Among the Sensex stocks, 25 scrips closed in positive territory while five ended in the red.

The biggest gainer was Ranbaxy Laboratories which was up 8.6 per cent at Rs 199. ICICI Bank, Bharti Airtel and Grasim Industries were the other main gainers. ONGC was the biggest loser closing down 2.3 per cent lower.

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Alcatel-Lucent bags $150-m Unitech deal

New Delhi, May 15
France-based telecommunication firm Alcatel-Lucent today said it has bagged a five-year contract of about $150 million from Unitech Wireless, a telecom venture of real estate major Unitech, to support the launch of the company’s GSM mobile services.

According to the five-year contract, worth $150 million, Alcatel Lucent would deploy GSM/EDGE networks for Unitech in the Kerala and Orissa circles, a company spokesperson told PTI.

Unitech Wireless, in which Norwegian telecom group Telenor has a majority stake, has licences to operate in all 22 circles in India. However, the company is yet to launch its services.

Alcatel-Lucent will build Unitech Wireless' network and provide operations management under a comprehensive management services contract.

The company will offer project management, network design, integration, testing, installation, multi-vendor radio network planning and optimisation and network management. — PTI

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Airtel user base crosses 100 m
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 15
Bharti Airtel today said its subscriber base had crossed the 100-million mark, making it the world's third largest 'in-country/single country’ mobile operator.

"Bharti Airtel has achieved 100-million subscriber mark," said a beaming Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of the Rs 375 billion company. "This milestone reiterates the emergence of India as the world's top telecom markets," he said. The milestone makes every fourth mobile phone user in the country a customer of Airtel.

He said: "the Indian telecom sector is seen as providing the most affordable services in the world and has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade”. Total income also surged over 37 per cent to Rs 375.04 billion from Rs 272.9 billion.

The company has also become the sixth largest single country integrated telco in the world. Besides 25 per cent subscriber share, Bharti Airtel enjoys 30 per cent market share in terms of revenue.

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Barclays to sell asset mgmt arm

London, May 15
British banking entity Barclays, which has refused to take funds from the government, is in discussions to sell its asset management arm Barclays Global Investors for nearly $10 billion. "Barclays is in talks about selling asset management arm Barclays Global Investors for about $10 billion, with potential bidders including US money manager BlackRock," the Financial Times has reported quoting people familiar with the matter. The report published online said that talks on the potential sale of BGI are the outcome of an initial auction for iShares, which Barclays agreed to sell to private equity group CVC Capital Partners for about $4.2 billion. — PTI

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India ahead of China in global IP Index

New Delhi, May 15
India has been placed in the bottom half of a ranking of 24 countries in terms of protection and enforcement of intellectual property practices, but is still ahead of neighbouring China, a survey shows.

According to a survey conducted by European legal firm Taylor Wessing LLP, India stands at the 23rd position and is followed by neighbouring China in 'IP competitiveness' in its Global Intellectual Property Index 2009.

The UK tops Taylor Wessing's Global Intellectual Property Index (GIPI) and is followed by Germany and the US. — PTI

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BRIEFLY

CPI-IW stationary at 148
Chandigarh:
The all India Consumer Price Index Number for Industrial Workers (CPI-IW) on base 2001=100 for the month of March, 2009, remained stationary at 148. The index recorded maximum gain of 4 points each in Warrangal and Munger-Jamalpur centres, 3 in Bhilwara centre, 2 in 7 centres and 1 point in 25 centres. The index recorded a fall of two points each in Chennai, Jalpaiguri and Ernakulam centre, 1 in 6 centres while in the remaining 34 centres the index remained flat. — TNS

Re stronger by 37 paise
Mumbai:
Cutting short a two-day losing steak, the Indian rupee on Friday ended at 49.40/42 against the dollar, up 37 paise, as local stocks rallied smartly amid sustained capital inflows into the equity. The Interbank Foreign Exchange (forex) market witnessed active trade during the day with the domestic currency moving in a range of 49.38 and 49.68 after resuming firm at 49.60/62 a dollar from its previous close of 49.77/78 a dollar. — PTI

Jet fuel prices hiked
New Delhi:
Jet fuel or ATF prices continue to be on a roller-coaster ride with state-run oil firms today increasing the rates by 1.8 per cent. Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum raised the aviation turbine fuel (ATF) price by Rs 585 per kilolitre in Delhi to Rs 32,199 with effect from midnight tonight, an IOC official said. The increase comes on the back of a marginally one per cent reduction effected on May 1, which had brought the rates in Delhi down to Rs 31,614.51 per kl. — PTI

Nike to cut 1,750 jobs
New York:
Sportswear maker Nike Inc will be reducing nearly 1,750 jobs, representing nearly five per cent of its global workforce, as part of its restructuring efforts. "Nike Inc will reduce its overall global workforce of nearly 35,000 by approximately five per cent. Nike will eliminate approximately 500 jobs from its world headquarters near Beaverton," the firm said in a statement on Thursday. A major chunk of the job cuts are expected over the next several weeks. — PTI

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