Pradhan expresses concern over high oil prices with Saudi Minister

May 18, 2018 0

New Delhi– Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan raised concern over the ongoing surge in crude oil prices and the resultant hike in transport fuel prices in the country during a telephonic interaction with Saudi Arabias Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources Khalid Al-Falih.

Indian Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan

“Minister Pradhan expressed his concern about rising (oil) prices and its negative impact on consumers and the Indian economy,” an official statement said here on Friday.

The concern comes as the petrol price in the national capital hit Rs 75.61 per litre on Friday, inching closer to the previous high of Rs 76.06, reached in September 2013.

Pradhan emphasised his desire for stable and moderate prices.

According to the statement, Minister Al-Falih also assured Pradhan that supporting global economic growth is one of the Saudi Arabia’s key goals.

He reiterated his commitment towards stable supplies and that “the Kingdom together with other producers will ensure availability of adequate supplies to offset any potential shortfalls and ensure that prices remain reasonable.”

The spike in transport fuel prices in India can be largely attributed to the consistent rise in global crude oil prices recently. Brent crude oil is currently priced above $79 per barrel.

Petrol prices in the major cities of Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai also were at multi-year highs on Friday — Rs 78.29, Rs 83.45 and Rs 78.46 per litre, respectively.

Similarly, prices of diesel, continued its gaining momentum and reached new record levels across the country, with the price in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai being — Rs 67.08, Rs 69.63, Rs 71.42 and Rs 70.80 per litre. (IANS)

Read More

PNB shares plunge 14% after Q4 loss, Jefferies suggests bailout

May 16, 2018 0

Mumbai– Shares of multi-crore fraud hit Punjab National Bank (PNB) slumped around 14 per cent (intra-day) on Wednesday, a day after the bank reported a loss of over Rs 13,000 crore for the fourth quarter of 2017-18.

Looking at the bank’s Q4 earnings, financial services company Jeferries said in a report that “the need for a bailout by the government is immediate.”

The public sector major on Tuesday had reported a net loss, after closing hours of the stock markets, of Rs 13,417 crore for quarter ended March, against a net profit of Rs 262 crore for the corresponding quarter in 2016-17.

The gross non-performing assets (NPA) of the company stood at 18.38 per cent for the fourth quarter of 2017-18 compared to 12.53 per cent during the corresponding quarter in 2016-17.

On Wednesday, the share price of the bank on the BSE settled at Rs 75.55 — down Rs 10.45 or 12.15 per cent — from the previous close of Rs 86 per share.

PNB shares may take support around Rs 69 per share in the near term, said Deepak Jasani, Head of Retail Research, HDFC Securities.

“We will keep seeing intermittent bounces in the PSU banking stocks based on emerging newsflow,” Jasani told IANS.

He was of the opinion that “till there are no major corporate governance change in the whole PSU banking space, a sustained rise in these (PSB) stocks seems unlikely.”

He said that if few large IBC (Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code) resolutions happen, then probably PSU banks may witness an upward correction.

“PNB may also be restricted to conduct normal business. Two of its Executive Directors have also been divested of their functional powers. PNB will likely face significant operational challenges in the near term,” Jefferies said in its report.

The CBI on Monday filed a chargesheet against Allahabad Bank MD and CEO Usha Ananthasubramanian and 21 others, including 11 bank officials, in the over Rs 13,000 crore Punjab National Bank fraud case in which diamantaire Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi were allegedly involved. Ananthasubramanian was earlier with PNB.

The agency also named PNB Executive Directors K.V. Brahmaji Rao and Sanjiv Sharan, and General Managers Nehal Ahad (who dealt in international operations) and Rajesh Jindal in its chargesheet filed in a special CBI court here.

CBI officials said the chargesheet names Nirav Modi and his brother Nishal in connection with the issuance of Letters of Undertaking totalling Rs 6,498.20 crore during 2011-17. (IANS)

Read More

Modi to meet Putin amid US sanctions against Russia

May 15, 2018 0

New Delhi– Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Russia on May 21 for an informal summit with President Vladimir Putin in the summer beach resort of Sochi amid US sanctions against Moscow that might impact Russian military supplies to India, particularly an estimated Rs 40,000-crore deal to buy the sophisticated, long-range S-400 air defence system..

Modi will be travelling to Russia at Putin’s invitation, the government said on Friday.

The Prime Minister’s previously unannounced visit comes after National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale visited Moscow last week to discuss a way out of the US sanctions on Russian firms.

The sanctions against Russian oligarchs and companies, including Rosoboronexport, the state-owned Russian weapons trading company, has raised concerns in India about a possible impact on India’s military buys from Moscow.

Rosoboronexport has long-standing significant contracts and business ties with India and other countries.

At the heart of the current India-Russia military ties is a multi-billion dollar deal for five S-400 long-range surface-to-air missile systems — billed as a game changer by the Indian military for its ability to counter ballistic missiles and stealth aircraft like those China is developing.

The two countries signed an agreement in principle for the S-400 deal in 2016.

The sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act mandates similar action against those who conduct transactions with the banned Russian oligarchs and defence firms.

The sanctions aimed to punish Moscow for its meddling in Ukraine, Syria, the 2016 Presidential elections and, most recently, Russia’s alleged involvement in the poisoning of a former intelligence officer in the United Kingdom.

India’s deep military and strategic ties with Russia date back to the beginning of the Cold War even as New Delhi led a movement of “non-aligned” countries that declared their tilt with neither Washington nor Moscow. However, India always leaned toward the USSR.

India still buys over 60 per cent of its defence equipment from Russia. At present, the Indian armed forces are 70 per cent equipped with Soviet or Russian weapons.

Besides, the US decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and its ramifications on India-Russia have also caused new worries in New Delhi.

An External Affairs Ministry release said Modi’s visit to Russia will be an important occasion for him and Putin to exchange views on international matters in a broad and long-term perspective in order to further strengthen the special and privileged strategic partnership.

“Both leaders will discuss their respective national developmental priorities and bilateral matters,” the statement said.

It said the informal summit was in keeping with the tradition of regular consultations between India and Russia at the highest level.

The Sochi meeting comes in the wake of Washington pulling out of the nuclear deal signed between Iran and six world powers (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US).

Putin is also expected to visit India later this year for the annual bilateral summit.

Russia and Japan are the only two countries with which India holds annual bilateral summits.

Modi’s visit to Russia also comes just after Putin won a fourth term in office in March this year after remaining in power for almost two decades. Modi and Putin last met in Russia last year.

Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a similar informal summit in China last month. (IANS)

Read More

Modi ranked 9th among 75 most powerful globally in Forbes list, Xi tops

May 9, 2018 0

New York– Prime Minister Narendra Modi figures among the 10 most powerful people in the world in US magazine Forbes’ 2018 list that is topped by Chinese President Xi Jinping, while Reliance Industries (RIL) Chairman Mukesh Ambani is the only Indian businessman to feature in the list of 75.

Modi, who is ranked 9th and Ambani at 32, are the only two Indians on the Forbes World’s Most Powerful People list that was released here on Tuesday.

“There are nearly 7.5 billion humans on planet Earth, but these 75 men and women make the world turn. Forbes’ annual ranking of The World’s Most Powerful People identifies one person out of every 100 million whose actions mean the most,” Forbes said.

According to Forbes, to compile the list it considered hundreds of candidates worldwide, from various walks of life, and measured their power along four dimensions of whether the person has power over lots of people, financial resources controlled by each person, whether the candidate is powerful in multiple spheres and whether the candidates actively used their power.

Xi tops the list for the first time, replacing Russian President Vladimir Putin, who drops to second place after being named the most powerful person in the world for four years in succession.

“Xi Jinping seizes the top spot for the first time ever after China’s congress amended its constitution in March, broadening his influence and eliminating term limits. He enjoys a cult of personality not seen since Chairman Mao,” Forbes said.

“Modi has raised his profile as a global leader in recent years during official visits with US President Donald Trump and Xi Jinping. He has also emerged as a key figure in the international effort to tackle climate change, as warming affects millions of his country’s rural citizens,” it said, adding that Modi “remains hugely popular”.

Ranking Trump in third position, the American magazine said he “has seen limited success pushing his agenda through a Congress controlled by his own party, is under investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies, and can’t shake off scandals arising from his personal and business life – but he’s still Commander in Chief of the world’s greatest economic and military power.”

Earlier this year, Putin was re-elected Russia’s President for a fourth term with nearly 77 per cent of the vote.

“That’s the largest margin of victory for any candidate for the office since the fall of the Soviet Union,” Forbes said.

“This year’s list highlights the consolidation of power in the hands of an elite few.”

Forbes said the Ambani-led RIL sparked a price war in India with the launch of 4G phone service Jio in 2016.

“Jio has signed on 160 million customers by offering free domestic voice calls, dirt-cheap data services and virtually free smartphones,” it said.

While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is ranked 13, British Prime Minister Theresa May is at 14 and Apple CEO Tim Cook has been ranked 24th this year.

Ranking the Indian-origin Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in 40th place, Forbes said he had steered the company away from a failing mobile strategy and focused on other segments, including cloud computing and augmented reality.

“Since taking over as a CEO, Microsoft’s stock has increased by more than 150 per cent,” it said.

There are 17 new names in this year’s list, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud (8).

“His father remains king, but ‘MBS’ has consolidated power beyond any doubt and taken control of the country. In November 2017, he launched an anti-corruption campaign that caused many prominent Saudis to be arrested and forced to turn over their fortunes.

“The crown prince will be the fulcrum around which the Middle Eastern geopolitics moves for the next generation,” Forbes said.

Other new members include US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell (11), Exxon Mobil Chief executive Darren Woods (34) and US Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller (72), who is investigating whether there was any collusion between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign. (IANS)

Read More

Walmart buys 77% stake in Flipkart for $16 bn

May 9, 2018 0

Bengaluru– The world’s largest retailer Walmart Inc on Wednesday announced it was buying 77 per cent equity stake in India’s e-tail major Flipkart for $16 billion.

“Subject to regulatory approval in India, Walmart will pay $16 billion (Rs 104,000 crore) for an initial stake of 77 per cent in Flipkart,” the Arkansas-based firm said in a statement from the US.

The acquisition of the majority stake makes Walmart the largest shareholder of the city-based Flipkart group and its investment will help accelerate its customer-focused mission to transform e-commerce in India through technology.

“The investment underscores our commitment to sustained job creation and investment in India, one of the largest and fastest-growing economies in the world,” it said.

The remainder of the business will be held by some of Flipkart’s existing shareholders, including co-founder Binny Bansal, Tencent Holdings Ltd, Tiger Global Management LLC and Microsoft Corp.

“Though the focus will be on serving customers and growing the business, Walmart supports Flipkart’s ambition to transition into a publicly-listed, majority-owned subsidiary in the future,” the statement said.

The mega deal will give Walmart an opportunity to partner with the local leader in a large, fast-growing market, as the e-tailer leadership team will be supported by the other investment partners.

“The deal also underscores Walmart’s long-term commitment to India, where it looks to serve customers, support job creation, small businesses, farmers and women entrepreneurs.” (IANS)

Read More

Indian tea industry records highest ever production

May 8, 2018 0

Kolkata– Achieving a historic feat, the Indian tea industry recorded the highest ever production of 1,325.05 million kg as well as export of 256.57 million kg during financial year 2017-18, official figures released on Tuesday revealed.

The total tea production in 2017-18 went up by 74.56 million kg or 5.96 per cent, as compared to the corresponding figure in 2016-17, when India produced 1,250.49 million kg of tea, according to Tea Board India.

Similarly, the total quantity of tea exports during 2017-18 increased by 28.94 million kg or 12.71 per cent as compared to the corresponding period last year. Exports stood at 227.63 million kg in 2016-17.

The foreign exchange realised from tea exports was $785.92 million in 2017-18, a rise of $95.19 million or 13.78 per cent over 2016-17 when it had earned $690.73 million.

In rupee terms, the total value of the exports was pegged at Rs 5,064.88 crore during 2017-18.

The value realisation increased by Rs 432.38 crore or 9.33 per cent over 2016-17 (Rs 4,632.50 crore).

The growth in exports was majorly driven by five countries – Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, China and Russia.

India’s tea export to Egypt during the last fiscal was at 12.69 million kg, up by 7.49 million kg or 144.04 per cent from 5.20 million kg exported in 2016-17 while export to Iran stood at 31.19 million kg in 2017-18, up by 28.67 per cent compared to previous fiscal.

India shipped out 16.09 million kg of tea to Pakistan during FY18, an increase of 4.96 million kg or 44.56 per cent from 11.13 million kg exported in FY17.

Exports to China also rose by a whopping 47.78 per cent to 9 million kg in 2017-18 while India’s exports to Russia went up by 6.39 per cent to 48.10 million kg.

The earlier record for the highest quantity of tea exports was during 1976-77 when the total quantity exported was 242.42 million kg.

According to Tea Board India, the trend towards a new record in exports was evident in calendar year 2017 itself as the total quantity of exports stood at 251.91 million kg, an increase of 29.46 million kg or 13.24 per cent over 2016, with value realisation at $766.06 million, rising by $100.90 million, a rise of 15.17 per cent.

During the calendar year 2016, the total exports were 222.45 million kg, with value realisation at $665.16 million.

In rupee terms, total exports in calendar year 2017 were at Rs 4,987.59 crore, up by 11.63 per cent from Rs 4,468.11 crore in 2016.

The previous highest export quantity for a calendar year was in 1981 when the total tea exports had reached 241.25 million kg. (IANS)

Read More

NITI Aayog, Google join hands to foster AI ecosystem in India

May 7, 2018 0

New Delhi– NITI Aayog on Monday joined hands with Google to foster growth in India’s nascent artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning ecosystem by working together on several initiatives in the two areas.

Under the aegis of the programme, Google will train and incubate Indian AI startups in an accelerator programme. These startups will be mentored and coached by Google and its affiliates to enable them to better leverage AI in their respective business models, the NITI Aayog said in a statement.

Further, Google will also bring its online training courses on AI to students, graduates and engineers to numerous cities across India in the form of study groups and developer-run courses.

Highlighting the importance of this partnership, NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said that artificial intelligence is going to disrupt the way business is done.

“India, in particular, is uniquely poised in utilising AI to innovate for social and inclusive good.

“India is embracing future technologies such as machine learning and AI to augment its capacity in healthcare, improve outcomes in education, develop innovative governance systems for our citizens and improve overall economic productivity of the nation,” Kant said after the NITI Aayog and Google signed a statement of intent.

Kant said the partnership will unlock massive training initiatives, support startups and encourage AI research through Ph.D scholarships, “all of which contributes to the larger idea of a technologically-empowered new India”.

Under the programme, NITI Aayog and Google will organise an AI and machine learning hackathon focused on solving key challenges within agriculture, education, healthcare, financial inclusion, transportation and mobility.

The NITI Aayog has been entrusted by the government to set up a national programme to conduct research and development in frontier technologies such as AI. (IANS)

Read More

Google.org expands grant pool to support education in India

May 3, 2018 0

New Delhi– In an effort to further support education and learning efforts in India, Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, on Thursday announced additional grants of $3 million to two non-profit organisations — Central Square Foundation and The Teacher App.

With online video emerging as a popular medium of learning, Google.org will provide a $2 million grant and technical assistance from the YouTube Learning team to Central Square Foundation — a policy think tank focused on improving the quality of school education.

The grant will support a minimum of 20 content creators to produce at least 200 hours of quality science, technology, engineering and Math content in Hindi and vernacular languages.

With $1 million grant to The Teacher App, Google.org aims to empower teachers with the right training and resources on concepts of Math, science, language and pedagogy. The funds will be used to scale the platform to reach 500,000 teachers in two years.

“We strongly believe that technology can play a powerful part in solving the learning gap in India, and we are expanding our investments in India to ensure that all teachers and students are able to benefit from it,” said Nick Cain, Education Lead, Google.org.

These new projects are in addition to Google.org’s existing projects that were funded last year in India.

With the additional grants, Google.org’s total grant for NGOs in India to support learning and education efforts stands at $11.4 million.

Four NGOs — Learning Equality, Million Sparks Foundation, Pratham Books StoryWeaver, and Pratham Education Foundation — received total grants of $8.4 million to add scale to their existing efforts and help provide access to quality education and learning for all.

Since receiving Google.org funding last year, the grantees have reached more than 800,000 students and teachers with their tools and programs across India.

“These new funds will help contribute in building more locally relevant solutions and content for students and teachers,” Cain added.

“Globally, learning and educational content drives over a billion views a day and we believe there is a huge opportunity for creators in India to enhance education and learning through YouTube,” said Satya Raghavan, Head of Entertainment for India at YouTube.

India was among the first country to receive grants from Google.org’s global $50 million commitment to support nonprofits who are building tech-based learning solutions.(IANS)

Read More

Mahindra Group sets 11 new commitments to cut emissions

May 2, 2018 0

Bonn– Taking the initiative in action against climate change, top Indian corporate Mahindra Group at a UN summit here on Tuesday announced 11 new commitments to cut emissions in line with the landmark 2015 Paris agreement goals.

With this, Mahindra push the number of major global companies with science-based targets to over 400.

Anand Mahindra of the Mahindra Group addressed the opening of the signing ceremony for the Paris climate change agreement Friday, April 22, 2016, on behalf of the world’s corporate sector. (Credit: UN/IANS)

Briefing delegates and journalists on the margins of the ongoing UN Climate Change Conference, Mahindra Group’s Chief Sustainability Officer Anirban Ghosh announced business had taken an important step forwards today.

In total, 13 of its companies have now committed to cut their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals by signing-up to a science-based target, he said.

Welcoming this development, Summit Co-Chair and top UN Climate Change official Patricia Espinosa said: “At COP24 in Katowice (Poland), the world has much to accomplish to ensure that the Paris Agreement delivers the desired result, which is to keep climate change within manageable limits.

“Thankfully, the revolutionary progress underway in the ‘real world’ economy, which will descend on California in September, will be instrumental to helping make Poland a success.”

Organisers of the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) taking place this September in San Francisco on Wednesday displayed new evidence of how cities, states, regions, businesses and investors are taking climate ambition to the next level.

In this way, they are helping to build momentum for a successful outcome for the UN Climate Change Conference in Katowice at the end of the year.

The summit in San Francisco will be hosted by California Governor Jerry Brown; UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Climate Action Michael Bloomberg; Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra and Espinosa.

To date, over 700 leading businesses around the world have made strategic climate commitments through the ‘We Mean Business’ coalition’s Take Action campaign.

Collectively, these companies represent 2.62 gigatons of emissions, which is equivalent to the total annual emissions of India.

The announcement by the Mahindra Group responds to one of the five “Summit Challenges” being presented to sub-national governments, business and civil society worldwide in advance of the Global Climate Action Summit.

Its commitment falls under the second of the five challenges – Inclusive Economic Growth – and means that so far 400 companies have positively reacted to this particular “call to action,” which aims to sign on 500 companies by the conclusion of Global Climate Action Summit in September.

“There is remarkable congruity between the goals of the Paris Agreement, the Indian government, and businesses like the Mahindra Group. India, like the Agreement, is driven by a strong belief at the highest political level that pursuing environmental stability is the only way forward,” Anand Mahindra said in a statement.

“As a result, India has set extremely ambitious targets in the area of renewable resources and is actually ahead of schedule in meeting some of these. In my business, we are driven by the belief that sustainability is a business opportunity as well as a way to make work meaningful for our young millennials.”

Global Climate Action Summit Communications Director Nick Nuttall said, “2018 is the year when the world must step up climate action to bend down emissions by 2020 — and set the stage for the fast and full implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and its crucial temperature goal.”

“The summit will bring businesses, states, cities, regions, territories and people from around the world together and in common cause to take climate ambition to the next level,” he added. (IANS)

Read More

WhatsApp CEO quits Facebook over ‘data privacy’ concerns

May 1, 2018 0

San Francisco– In a jolt to Facebook, WhatsApp co-founder and CEO Jan Koum has decided to move on amid reports that he had a difference of opinion with parent company Facebook over data privacy, encryption and other issues.

Koum announced his exit from WhatsApp immediately after The Washington Post on Monday reported his plans to depart “after clashing with its parent, Facebook, over the popular messaging service’s strategy and Facebook’s attempts to use its personal data and weaken its encryption”.

“I’m leaving at a time when people are using WhatsApp in more ways than I could have imagined. The team is stronger than ever and it’ll continue to do amazing things,” Koum said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

“I’m taking some time off to do things I enjoy outside of technology, such as collecting rare air-cooled Porsches, working on my cars and playing ultimate frisbee. And I’ll still be cheering WhatsApp on – just from the outside. Thanks to everyone who has made this journey possible,” he added.

According to the report, Koum who sold WhatsApp to Facebook for more than $19 billion in 2014, “also plans to step down from Facebook’s board of directors”.

“The independence and protection of its users’ data is a core tenet of WhatsApp that Koum and his co-founder, Brian Acton, promised to preserve when they sold their tiny start-up to Facebook,” the report added.

Koum further said in his post that “It’s been almost a decade since Brian and I started WhatsApp, and it’s been an amazing journey with some of the best people.

“But it is time for me to move on. I’ve been blessed to work with such an incredibly small team and see how a crazy amount of focus can produce an app used by so many people all over the world,” he added.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg quickly replied via a post: “I will miss working so closely with you. I’m grateful for everything you’ve done to help connect the world, and for everything you’ve taught me, including about encryption and its ability to take power from centralised systems and put it back in people’s hands”.

According to Tech Crunch, One possible candidate for the new WhatsApp CEO role would be its top business executive Neeraj Arora.

Arora has been with WhatsApp since 2011 — well before the Facebook acquisition.

With 1.5 billion monthly users, WhatsApp is the biggest mobile messaging service in the world. Over 3 million people are actively using WhatsApp Business app.

After the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Facebook has warned investors that more users’ data scandals in the future may adversely affect the social networking giant’s reputation and brand image.

In its quarterly report shared with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), without mentioning Cambridge Analytica, Facebook said that its ongoing investments in safety, security and content review will identify additional instances of misuse of user data.

“We may also be notified of such incidents or activity via the media or other third parties,” Facebook said.

Appearing before the US Congress, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the lawmakers that his own personal data was part of 87 million users’ that was “improperly shared” with the British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica. (IANS)

Read More