PNB fraud touches Rs 12.6K cr as Nirav Modi firm in US files for bankruptcy

Feb 27, 2018 0

New Delhi– The ongoing Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud case took a turn for the worse on Tuesday as the bank reported an additional Rs 1,300 crore unauthorised transactions, taking the estimated quantum to around Rs 12,600 crore in the scam related to diamond trader Nirav Modi and owner of Gitanjali Gems, Mehul Choksi.

In a 11.22 pm filing with the stock exchanges on Monday, the bank said: “In continuation to our filing with stock exchanges on February 14, 2018, we have to inform that quantum of reported unauthorised transactions can increase by $204.25 million.”

Earlier on February 14, PNB, the second largest public sector bank in India, had said it had detected a $1.8 billion or Rs 11,300 crore, fraud in the Brady House Branch in Mumbai. On Tuesday, the bank said in regulatory filings with the stock exchanges that it had appointed a group Chief Risk Officer.

In another development, Firestar Diamond Inc, the US company of Indian billionaire diamond trader Nirav Modi filed for bankruptcy in a New York court, under chapter 11.

According to the court filing at the Southern District Of New York on Monday, the firm listed assets and liabilities in the range of $50 million and $100 million. A Chapter 11 filing under the Bankruptcy code usually allows a company to reorganise its business.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had filed the first FIR in the scam on February 14 against Nirav Modi, his wife Ami, brother Nishal, uncle Mehul Choksi and his firms Diamond R US, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamond.

The CBI on Tuesday said it had questioned former Punjab National Bank Managing Director Usha Anant Subramanian and ICICI Bank Executive Director N.S. Kanan in connection with ithe bank fraud case.

“The agency also questioned the ICICI Executive Director because it was the leader of a consortium of banks that sent money to Mehul Choksi’s Gitanjali Group,” a CBI official, who did not want to be named, said.

In the evening, a statement from ICICI said it was a lender of working capital to the Gitanjali group of companies along with several other banks in the consortium. It said its exposure was not the largest in the consortium and it had not lent any money to the Nirav Modi group, nor did it have any buyer’s credit exposure against LoUs to the two groups.

The CBI also questioned two PNB General Managers, Nehal Ahad and Vimlesh Kumar, apart from two statutory auditors of the PNB.

The agency has till date arrested 12 persons in the case.

Keeping in view the biggest-ever banking fraud in India, the government on Tuesday set a deadline of 15 days for public sector banks (PSBs) to examine all non-performing assets above Rs 50 crore for possible fraud and to identify operational and technical gaps.

“PSB MDs directed to detect bank frauds and consequential wilful default in time and refer cases to CBI. To examine all NPA accounts > Rs 50Cr for possible fraud. Involve ED/DRI for PMLA/FEMA/EXIM violations if any,” Financial Services Secretary Rajeev Kumar said in a tweet on the Finance Ministry’s Twitter handle

He also said that executive directors and chief technological officers of the PSBs have to prepare a blueprint for combating increasing risks.

With the escalation of the fraud amount, the bank’s shares tanked on the bourses. The bank’s stocks closed 12.11 per cent down on Tuesday at BSE at Rs 98.35 per share. (IANS)

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Digital economy cannot be forced on people: Former minister Pallam Raju

Feb 20, 2018 0

By Mohd Asim Khan

New Delhi– The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has “twisted” some of the things in the digital revolution, such as “forcing digital transactions” on people and insisting on linking Aadhaar with everything, says M.M. Pallam Raju, a minister in the earlier Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

He contends that the genesis of India’s electronics and information technology (IT) revolution can be traced back to Congress governments in the previous century, adding that the momentum has been lost now.

M Mangapati Pallam Raju, Minister of State for Defence at Parliament House in New Delhi, India. (Parliament Session Aug – 2011. Politics)

Raju, an electronics engineer and a former Minister for Human Resources Development, trashed the idea of a totally cashless or even “less cash” Indian economy, saying digital transactions should be “an option and convenience” and not forced upon people.

“Cashless economy has to be integral to the overall economy. It is essential where large transactions are involved, but not on a day-to-day basis. It can be an option and convenience if somebody wants to pay digitally, but cash has been the comfort factor, especially for the rural population that is comfortable transacting in cash rather than digitally,” Raju said.

“Also, see how much fraud is happening in cyberspace, in terms of accounts getting hacked, money getting diverted, etc. And the chances of such frauds are higher with rural and uneducated people,” he said, adding that a “suitable ecosystem” has to be created before anything is “imposed on people”, which “unfortunately has not happened”.

As a former Union Minister, how does he see the current government’s insistence on linking everything from SIM cards to bank accounts and insurance covers with Aadhaar? After all, Aadhaar was conceived and rolled out during the UPA’s time.

“Aadhaar was envisioned to link welfare schemes. The whole idea was to streamline government benefits and to curtail losses/pilferage. That is being twisted and made into big monster without adequate preparation.

“If databases are to be secure — which I don’t think they are right now — there have to be more security features built in, and then if you utilise linking of Aadhaar for putting some checks and balances in place in the system, that’s all right. But don’t insist on linking everything with Aadhaar.

“That is not what founding fathers desired when they gave us the Constitution. We have a right to live our life, but that is being encroached upon,” Raju said.

Raju recently wrote “A Contribution in Time: India’s Electronics Revolution”, based on the life of his father, Dr M.S. Sanjeevi Rao, who served as Deputy Minister for Electronics in Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ‘s cabinet. It was unveiled by former President Pranab Mukherjee and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

He said that while the book is a personal tribute to his father, it also tells the larger story of the genesis of India’s electronics revolution.

“As Electronics Minister and Chairman of the Electronics Commission, Dr Sanjeevi Rao ushered in dynamic and far-reaching policies that enabled exponential growth of the electronics, telecom and IT sectors in India. He was part of the team, along with Sam Pitroda, which led the country into the era of telecom, computers and IT (during Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure),” Raju said.

“As millennials are so familiar with technology and its utilisation, it would be quite insightful for them to understand the genesis of this revolution — when electronics was happening and becoming a phenomenon worldwide,” he added.

Raju said that the vision of the leaders in India then was to make electronics-based technology accessible to the common people at an affordable price.

“It all started with consumer electronics and then became all pervasive with information technology, telecom and its role has increased exponentially,” he said, speaking of the book that captures the life of Sanjeevi Rao and the contemporary milieu in text and pictures.

It also contains a report that throws light on the coming into being of the Electronics Commission and the Department of Electronics in 1971.

“The good work that was started back then (in the 1970s-80s) for creating an ecosystem for manufacturing of electronics, which are the building blocks for applications anywhere, that momentum has not been sustained,” Raju said.

Of the modern internet and mobile phone connectivity revolution, Raju said that the “building blocks and the foundation of all this” was laid under the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government.

“We realised there was a need for bigger bandwidth, higher speeds as the digital communication was growing and becoming all pervasive. And so we envisioned this high-speed network — which the current government has named as Digital India.

Striking a personal note on how he conceived of the book, Raju recalled: “When our father passed away in 2014, it was an emotional moment for us. After suffering a stroke in 1998, he was paralysed, lost his speech. He was like a child (to me). It was a reversal of roles. He became the child and I became the father. When he passed away, it was like losing a child. I had to get that pain out. So the idea of writing a book occurred.” (IANS)

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‘Strictest’ action taken against Nirav Modi, Congress playing politics: Prasad

Feb 15, 2018 0

New Delhi– The NDA government has taken “strictest” and “fastest” action against jeweller Nirav Modi accused of duping the state-owned Punjab National Bank (PNB) of thousands of crores but the Congress was doing politics over national interest, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said here on Thursday.

Addressing a press conference, Prasad said that the scam started in 2011 when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was in power and is the “latest in line in the legacy of corruption and fraudulence left by the Congress Party”.

Ravi Shankar Prasad

He said that the agencies are already taking action against Nirav Modi who fled the country.

“The ED (Enforcement Directorate) and the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) are already in action against Nirav Modi. ED has already raided nine properties associated with Nirav Modi, three in Surat, four in Mumbai and two in Delhi. Assets worth Rs 1,300 crore have been seized. Action has been taken to initiate revocation of his passport,” Prasad said.

He added the CBI is also raiding 20 locations associated with him and has seized his Mumbai residence.

He said that the CBI first received a complain from PNB pertaining to Rs 280 crore on January 29 this year and a case was registered on January 31. Lookout notice was issued on February 1.

“The Prime Minister had said in the Lok Sabha that our government has not given any loans that have become NPA (Non Performing Assets). The legacy of NPAs comes from the Congress,” he said, claiming that it was a “well known fact” that Nirav Modi was close to the Nehru-Gandhi family.

“The genesis of the scam was in 2011 and interesting thing to note is that the total income of Geetanjali Jewels almost doubled within a span of 2 years between 2011 and 2013. Geetanjali Jewels — a company owned by Mehul Choski who is also one of the partners along with Nirav Modi in the firms booked for fraud by PNB,” Prasad said.

Prasad also questioned Congress’ right to comment on the incident, claiming that their government allowed liquor baron Vijay Mallya to run away with around Rs 9,000 crore which he had taken as loan from 17 Indian banks.

He also slammed the Congress for referring to Nirav Modi as “chhota Modi”. “Rahul Gandhi is the President of a party not because of his capability but because of his family. What kind of language are they using?”

He denied the incident will taint the Prime Minister’s image, saying PM Modi “has the blessing of the people of India”.

The Congress on Thursday asked the Modi government to come clean on the government’s “failure” to prevent the scam and identify those who helped the alleged kingpin, billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi to flee the country.

It accused the Prime Minister’s Office and other authorities of not taking action even after a complaint was filed in July 2016. (IANS)

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Not our job to recruit journalists for content: Facebook

Feb 14, 2018 0

San Francisco– In a clear message to news publishers, a top Facebook executive has emphasised that it is not their job to recruit people from media organisations for the content on the social media platform.

At the “Code Media 2018” conference in California organised by the famous tech portal ReCode, Facebook’s Head of News Partnerships Campbell Brown said “her job is to make sure there is quality news on Facebook”.

But “my job is not to go recruit people from news organisations to put their stuff on Facebook,” she was quoted as saying in The Verge late on Tuesday.

Facebook hired former NBC and CNN anchor Brown to lead its news partnership team last year.

When asked about why Brazil’s largest newspaper Folha de Sao Paolo had stopped publishing content to its six million Facebook followers, she said: “This didn’t come as a big surprise to me quite honestly”.

“Folha hadn’t been publishing regularly on Facebook for a while, she said. And in any case, it wasn’t her job to persuade them,” the report added.

“Publishers who want to be on Facebook …have a business model that works. If anyone feels this isn’t the right platform for them, they should not be on Facebook,” she was quoted as saying.

Facebook in October launched a new programme that would allow publishers to sell subscriptions to their news sites on Facebook.

At the event, Brown also announced a deal with Apple to commence the go-ahead of the subscription service programme in the Facebook iOS app.

Facebook recently rolled out an update to its News Feed that will prioritise local news that have a direct impact on the users and they can discover what’s happening in their area.

The update comes after the social media giant announced changes to News Feed that showed posts from friends and high-quality news sources.

Users can choose which news sources, including local or national publications, that they want to see at the top of their feed with the social media giant’s “See First” feature.

According to Alex Hardiman, Head of News Product and Brown, there are no constraints on which publishers are eligible, which means large local publishers will benefit, as well as publishers that focus on niche topics like local sports, arts and human interest stories.

“That said, small news outlets may benefit from this change more than other outlets because they tend to have a concentrated readership in one location,” Hardiman said recently.

In addition to prioritising local news, Facebook is also testing a dedicated section on Facebook that connects people to news and information in their community, called “Today In.” (IANS)

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Delhi HC upholds order on shifting IndiGo’s operations

Feb 13, 2018 0

New Delhi– The Delhi High Court on Tuesday upheld its order which dismissed airline IndiGo’s plea against DIAL’s decision to shift a part of its operations from Terminal 1 to the newly-opened Terminal 2 of the IGI here.

The court’s direction came while hearing an appeal filed by IndiGo, India’s biggest private airline by market share, challenging the single-judge order of December 20, 2017, upholding Delhi International Airport Ltd’s (DIAL) decision related to shifting a part of the airline’s operations to a new terminal of the Indira Gandhi International Airport.

A bench of Justice Hima Kohli and Rekha Palli observed that the decision of DIAL cannot be said unreasonable only because it may operate harshly against IndiGo and ruled that “when public interest competes with private interest, then the latter has to give way to public interest”.

“In the present case, public interest lies in expediting the redevelopment activity at T-1, which is a purely administrative decision,” the court said while pointing out to delay in renovation work.

“It is not as if IndiGo, and for that matter, SpiceJet and GoAir have been banished forever from T-1. If we may twist the American idiom, ‘My way or the Highway’ to fit the present context, then the IndiGo cannot be heard to say that it is either their way, or the runway,” the court said.

“IndiGo are tending to forget that this part relocation from T-1 to T-2 proposed by the DIAL is only a temporary measure and once T-1 is renovated and commences its operations after capacity building, all the airlines can operate from there full throttle and take wings.”

However, the division granted a last opportunity of one week to IndiGo and SpiceJet to approach DIAL to suggest other sectors that they would be ready and willing to shift from T-1 to T-2, as long as they collectively meet the yardstick of one-third passenger traffic volumes of their operations at T-1.

“In the event such a request is received by the DIAL within the stipulated timeline, the same shall be considered and a decision taken under written intimation to both the airlines within one week from the date of receipt,” the court said.

“If no such request is received within the stipulated timeline, then DIAL shall fix a deadline for shifting one-third of the flight operations of the concerned airlines from T-1 to T-2, under written intimation to them.”

On December 20, 2017, a single judge bench had rejected IndiGo’s plea.

“We are of the opinion that there is no illegality, arbitrariness or infirmity in the impugned judgment (December 20 order) that warrants interference. Moreover, the learned Single Judge has gone to the extent of watering down the option given by DIAL to IndiGo and SpiceJet by directing that in the event they make a request to shift one third of their operations by excluding the three identified sectors, i.e., Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru, they may do so within one week from the date of the judgment,” the division bench said.

The court held that “logistics are aspects that need expertise in the technical field and have attendant financial and administrative dimensions of serious magnitude, apart from other practical considerations, best left to be handled by experts”.

DIAL, which operates the airport here, had asked three airlines operating from T-1 to shift a third of their flights to T-2 to enable it to expand the terminal to meet growing passenger traffic.

Defending its decision, DIAL had said T-1 had already exceeded its capacity and if airline operations were not shifted partially, it would lead to overcrowding of the airport.

DIAL had said the safety and security of passengers was its primary responsibility and in case of fire or a terror threat, an overcrowded airport would lead to serious consequences for which it alone would be answerable, not the airlines.

IndiGo contended that shifting partially from T-1 to T-2 would result in confusion and cause inconvenience to passengers. By this decision, IndiGo will be spread across three terminals as it operates international flights from Terminal 3 (T-3).

Seeking quashing of DIAL’s decision, IndiGo said the decision would strain its operations and proposed an alternative solution of giving the entire T-1 exclusively to it and shifting the other two carriers to T-2.

The DIAL had directed IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir to relocate their operations in “parts” and split their operations by shifting flights to and from some sectors, namely Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru, to T-2.

It also said that the capacity of the three airlines to and from the three sectors would amount to around eight million persons per annum and shifting those to T-2 would considerably reduce the burden on T-1. (IANS)

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Trump’s ‘America First’ policy worries Bill, Melinda Gates

Feb 13, 2018 0

New York– Microsoft Corporation co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda on Tuesday expressed their concern over US President Donald Trump’s “America First” philosophy in their annual letter to the world.

“More broadly, the America First worldview concerns me. It’s not that the US shouldn’t look out for its people. The question is how best to do that,” said Bill Gates.

Prime Minister Modi with Bill Gates (Photo: Twitter)

He said that engaging with the world instead of withdrawing from it has proven over time to benefit everyone, including Americans, Xinhua news agency reported.

“Even if we measured everything the government did only by how much it helped American citizens, global engagement would still be a smart investment,” he said.

Gates also said the Trump administration’s policies affect the foundation’s work in various areas, with “the most concrete example” of foreign aid, which can create jobs at home, prevent disease outbreaks from becoming epidemics, as well as make Americans more secure and poor countries more stable.

Although the Bill and Melinda Foundation disagrees with the Trump administration “more than the others we’ve met with”, Gates said, he and his wife still believed that “it’s still important to work together whenever possible”.

“We keep talking to them because if the US cuts back on its investments abroad, people in other countries will die and Americans will be worse off,” Gates added.

Melinda Gates, co-chair of the foundation, said one of the duties of the US President is to champion American values on the world stage.

The President has a responsibility to “set a good example and empower all Americans through his statements and his policies”, she said.

The Gates’ made the statement in their annual letter answering the “10 toughest questions” they had received. Since 2009, the couple has published such correspondence with the world about their philanthropic work and lessons learned each year. (IANS)

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Abu Dhabi oil lease price to emerge after all bids come: Pradhan

Feb 13, 2018 0

New Delhi– The price that India will pay for the 10 per cent concession in Abu Dhabi’s Lower Zakum oilfields will emerge after the bids are in for the remaining 30 per cent that the Emirate intends to lease out, Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan said on Tuesday.

He also said the first oil from the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co (Adnoc) for India’s strategic petroleum reserves at Mangalore – under an agreement signed with the Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Ltd. during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UAE last week – would be arriving in May this year.

Indian Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan

Modi’s second visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) resulted in an Indian consortium gaining stake for the first time in Abu Dhabi’s massive oil resources.

An MoU was signed on Saturday in Abu Dhabi between an Indian consortium comprising of state-run explorer ONGC Videsh, Bharat PetroResources, Indian Oil and Adnoc for the acquisition of 10 per cent participating interest in its offshore Lower Zakum Concession.

The UAE is one of the largest suppliers of crude oil to India and is also the 10th largest investor.

The consortium, led by India’s ONGC Videsh, contributed a participation fee of Arab Emirates Dirham (AED) 2.2 billion ($600 million) to enter the concession. The concession will be operated by ADNOC Offshore, a subsidiary of ADNOC, on behalf of all concession partners.

The agreement, which has a term of 40 years and an effective date of March 9, 2018, was signed by ONGC Chairman Shashi Shanker and ADNOC Group Chief Executive Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber.

Abu Dhabi, which is a constituent of the UAE and holds most of latter’s oil reserves, is looking for new partners at its offshore fields in the Persian Gulf as the current production concession for some deposits expires next month.

According to a statement from ONGC’s overseas arm, the current production at the Lower Zakum field is about 4,00,000 barrels a day, while the plan is to increase the target to 4,50,000 barrels a day by 2025.

Adnoc’s offshore fields currently produce about 1.4 million barrels a day, an Adnoc statement said.

Increased production from its offshore reservoirs is part of the state-run company’s plans to raise its onshore and offshore output capacity to 3.5 million barrels a day by the end of 2018, it added.

The company also said it had received more than 10 bids from firms seeking to operate these offshore fields. This agreement will enable Adnoc to cater to a part of India’s massive oil demand, over 80 per cent of which is met by imports.

The MoU is an important milestone in India’s search for energy security, at a time when oil prices have started hardening again mainly due to output cuts put in place by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC producers deal with a supply glut that was pushing down prices till last year.

During Modi’s visit, Adnoc also signed an agreement with the Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Ltd. to implement the strategic crude oil storage facility on India’s western coast in Mangalore (Karnataka) for the storage of 5.86 million barrels of Adnoc crude in underground facilities.

Pradhan also told reporters here that the situation had changed from the time that India would be sending emissaries to oil-producing capitals in search of crude supplies. In order to tap the massive Indian market, countries were now sending their energy ministers here, he said, pointing to the upcoming visit of ministers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the US.

“We have to have good relations with all, in line with our traditional philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is one family),” he said.

Pradhan also mentioned the hosting of an LPG ‘Panchayat’ on Tuesday by President Ram Nath Kovind at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Organised by the Petroleum Ministry, the ‘Panchayat’ aims to provide a platform for LPG consumers to interact with each other, promote mutual learning and share experiences.

Each such Panchayat has about 100 consumers coming together to discuss safe and sustainable usage of LPG, its benefits and the link between clean cooking fuel and women empowerment.

The Ministry intends to conduct 1 lakh such ‘Panchayats’ across India by March next year, Pradhan said. (IANS)

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Trump launches attack on ‘predatory’ trade in Davos speech

Jan 26, 2018 0

Davos– US President Donald Trump on Friday launched a fierce attack on “predatory” trade practices, warning trading partners at the World Economic Forum here that Washington will not tolerate unfair practices.

Speaking to the political and economic elite of the world, Trump said he would always put the US first when it came to trade, but “that does not mean America alone”.

President Donald Trump talks on the phone aboard Air Force One during a flight to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to address a joint gathering of House and Senate Republicans, Thursday, January 26, 2017. This was the President’s first Trip aboard Air Force One. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Repeating his famous America-first message, the US President said: “The world is witnessing the resurgence of a strong and prosperous America.

“I believe in America. As President of the US, I will always put America First. Just like the leaders of other countries should put their countries first,” he said, adding, that America first doesn’t necessarily mean “America alone”.

Trump said that the US “will no longer turn a blind eye” to some economic practices he called “predatory behaviour”.

“We cannot have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others. We support free trade, but it needs to be fair and it needs to be reciprocal. In the end, unfair trade undermines us all.”

The US leader said in his address that “America is open for business and is competitive again”.

“The world is witnessing the resurgence of a strong and prosperous America … There has never been a better time to hire, to build, to invest and to grow in the United States. America is open for business,” he said.

He added: “Come to America, where you can innovate, create and build.” (IANS)

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Reforms have touched all sectors, India to become $5 trillion economy: Modi

Jan 23, 2018 0

Davos– Hardselling the country to global investors, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday said India’s reforms have touched almost all sectors and the country is set to become a $5 trillion economy by 2025, riding on its vast market and strong and stable fundamentals.

“Our present development agenda is based on five pillars. First and foremost, we do understand that our systems need to change. Hence, we are persisting with far reaching structural reforms. Thus, our first pillar is our mantra of reform, perform and transform,” Modi said while addressing the plenary session of the World Economic Forum.

He said: “India is an investment in future,” also adding that: “Indians accepted in one voice and moved towards a less cash society and a unified tax system in the form of GST.”

Saying reforms have touched almost all sectors, Modi said: “This specially includes: formalising the informal economy through demonetisation and digital transactions, direct tax reforms and expansion of the tax base, banking reforms, DBT (direct benefit transfer) through UID (Unique Identification) and bank accounts, minimising discretion, combating corruption and controlling inflation. Also, we have consistently reduced fiscal deficit and current account deficit.”

He pointed out that over the last three years, the Indian government has resolved a number of regulatory and policy issues facing businesses, investors and companies.”

“In this direction, we have also undertaken bold FDI (foreign direct investment) reforms. More than 90 per cent of the FDI approvals have been put on the automatic approval route. As a result of these changes, there has been a sharp rise in FDI in the past three years — from $36 billion in 2013-14 to $60 billion in 2016-17.”

Modi said the country is using technology to transform governance and deliver public entitlements and services. “I have been saying that e-governance is easy and effective governance.”

“Our government agencies are finding innovative ways to create a business friendly environment. We have now developed the digestive capacity for various technologies. Our young people have already distinguished themselves in the realm of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.”

About infrastructure development in the country, he said: “Our objective is to reduce the logistics cost transaction time for various activities. Also, improvement in infrastructure have already enthused people as they are beginning to see a qualitative change in their lives.”

He said India needs to be fully integrated with the world in major policy areas. “May be it is the regime of entry and exit of businesses, for IPRs (intellectual property rights), or arbitration and commercial adjudication, we have moved very decisively to brush up the framework to bring them in line with global best practices.”

Regarding inclusive economic development, he added: “As I said, the biggest reason for fracture within the countries is inequality and disparity leading to divide and distrust. Personally, I have always said that development process should be inclusive and encompassing. We have tried in our own way to bridge the income and opportunity divide.” (IANS)

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Is the stock market overvalued?

Jan 23, 2018 0

By Amit Kapoor

Last week, Uday Kotak of Kotak Mahindra Bank had a warning about the stock markets entering a possible bubble. According to him, Indians are investing massive amounts of savings into “a few hundred stocks” of firms whose governance standards are questionable. The Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) Sensex rose almost 28 percent in 2017 and the rally has continued in the new year. It is trading at prices that are over 26 times their underlying average earning per share. Even Uday Kotaks warning was not enough to break the general market trend (although mid-caps did face a correction soon after the red flag was raised, but other sectors more than compensated for it).

To put things in perspective, it must be pointed out that Reserve Bank of India (RBI) data shows that the pattern of household savings has drastically changed over the last year. In the decade-and-a-half between 2000-01 and 2015-16, household investment in shares averaged around Rs 226 billion and peaked at Rs 743 billion just before the crisis in 2007-08. However, in 2016-17, it jumped to a historical high of Rs 1,825 billion.

Demonetisation can be said to be the immediate trigger. Since holding cash is now seen as a risk, households have been looking at new avenues of parking their money. Even bank deposits have witnessed an abrupt jump over the last financial year. After gradually rising from Rs 1,000 billion to Rs 6,220 billion between 2000-01 and 2015-16, bank deposits almost reached Rs 11,000 billion in 2016-17.

So, the bottom line is that the average Indian saver is getting more and more invested into the stock market and so any significant downturns will have far-reaching implications. Therefore, Uday Kotak’s warnings need serious consideration and even more so because there are multiple global factors that can put an end to the bull markets.

First, the global economy began witnessing its first signs of recovery last year after the 2008 financial crisis. As a response to the crisis, central banks all over the world had began a policy of quantitative easing that pumped excess liquidity into global markets. The gains from this policy are debatable but the money found its way into financial assets and bloated their prices. Therefore, despite a lack of positive economic news and unexpected political changes throughout the world, equity markets continued to show an upward trend.

However, as economies continue to show signs of revival the quantitative easing policies will slowly come to an end and excess liquidity will be rolled back by central banks. The US Federal Reserve is already doing so, and other major economies will soon follow suit. This money will be withdrawn from the global equity markets which will, therefore, face an inevitable correction.

Second, the flip side of a change in liquidity is the interest rate level. In pursuit of the policy of quantitative easing, central banks in the advanced economies have reduced interest rates to rock bottom levels with Japan even going into sub-zero levels. However, as the liquidity taps are closed, interest rates will be raised to pre-crisis levels. If there are no recessionary signals this year, the US might raise interest rates three times to about 2 percent. This will be another strong reason for money to flow out of global equity markets into the safer havens of US bonds. Such trends will not be good news for investors in the Indian stock market.

Third, there are fears that the American dollar might become weak as China has indicated an inclination towards curtailing its purchases of US government bonds. Since China is the single-biggest foreign holder of US debt, a slowdown in its purchases would imply higher bond yields and a weaker dollar. This would result in a flight of capital to safety out of world markets, including that of India.

Finally, crude oil prices are expected to be high this year with the unrest in the Middle East. Prices are already above $60 a barrel and will continue its upward trend as the oil cartel tightens the market supply and US output of shale oil slows. Since oil prices are the leading drivers of inflation in the world, and especially in India, interest rates will also have to be raised commensurately. These two factors — inflation and rising interest rates — are highly inimical to company earnings and, hence, will have a significant negative impact on the markets.

There are numerous global factors that are poised to bring an end to the bull run in the stock markets and considering the fact that, historically, high levels of household savings have been invested in it, a forewarning is due so that investors are not caught unawares and overexposed. It is better to form bear market plans now when investors have ample time and a clear head. (IANS)

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