Sunday, November 27, 2011

Banks prepare Plan B in case euro zone splits; 10 things to do in Kerala; Neuroeconomics revolution; Time up for the necktie

1 International Herald Tribune on banks preparing a Plan B in case euro zone splits. For the growing chorus of observers who fear that a break-up of the euro zone might be at hand, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has a pointed rebuke: It’s never going to happen. But some banks are no longer so sure. On Friday, Standard & Poor’s downgraded Belgium’s credit standing to AA from AA+. Ratings agencies this week cautioned that France could lose its AAA rating if the crisis grew. On Thursday, agencies lowered the ratings of Portugal and Hungary to junk. While European leaders still say there is no need to draw up a Plan B, some of the world’s biggest banks, and their supervisors, are doing just that. “We cannot be, and are not, complacent on this front,” Andrew Bailey, a regulator at Britain’s Financial Services Authority, said this week. Banks including Merrill Lynch, Barclays Capital and Nomura issued a cascade of reports this week examining the likelihood of a break-up of the euro zone.

2 The Telegraph on IMF drafting an $800bn bailout plan for Italy and Spain. The International Monetary Fund is being lined up potentially to help Italy and Spain amid growing fears that a European rescue scheme will not be able to prop up the countries. Reports in Italy suggested that the IMF is drawing up plans for a €600 billion (£517 billion) assistance package for the country. Spain may be offered access to IMF credit, rather than a rescue package, to avoid it being “picked off” by the markets in the coming weeks.

3 The BBC quoting Lonely Planet about the top 10 activities in Kerala, which are: Cruise the backwaters, live it up in Munnar, photograph Kochi’s fishing nets, get beached in Varkala, embrace Ayurveda, watch a Kathakali show, know your spices, meet Periyar’s tigers, learn your Kalarippayat moves, and get a taste of Malabar. (They forgot one of the key activities in Kerala, namely hartal-watching. In fact, there are a couple today in different districts, to draw attention to the ‘perilous’ state of the Mullaperiyar dam.)

4 Al Jazeera on the neuroeconomics revolution. Economics is at the start of a revolution that is traceable to an unexpected source: medical schools and their research facilities. Neuroscience - the science of how the brain, that physical organ inside one's head, really works - is beginning to change the way we think about how people make decisions. These findings will inevitably change the way we think about how economies function. In short, we are at the dawn of "neuroeconomics". The neuroeconomic revolution has passed some key milestones quite recently, notably the publication last year of neuroscientist Paul Glimcher's book Foundations of Neuroeconomic Analysis - a pointed variation on the title of Paul Samuelson's 1947 classic work, Foundations of Economic Analysis, which helped to launch an earlier revolution in economic theory.

Much of modern economic and financial theory is based on the assumption that people are rational, and thus that they systematically maximise their own happiness, or as economists call it, their "utility". When Samuelson took on the subject in his 1947 book, he did not look into the brain, but relied instead on "revealed preference". People's objectives are revealed only by observing their economic activities. Glimcher is skeptical of prevailing economic theory, and is seeking a physical basis for it in the brain. He wants to transform "soft" utility theory into "hard" utility theory by discovering the brain mechanisms that underlie it.

5 The Dawn on Kolaveri di’s meaninglessness making the flop song a hit song. Anna Wulf, the Dorris Lessing creation who struggles for deeper honesty by ridding herself of the nonsense around, observes at the beginning of The Golden Notebook: ‘the point is, that as far as I can see, everything’s cracking up. In Wulf’s time and ours, as far as we can see, everything is cracking up. Anxiety is the prevailing global mood. Widely felt anxiety is a modern unease. It often emerges from the rubbles of damaged reason. There are limits to human reason, especially collective human reason. Stalin, Hitler, Mao and humanitarian practitioners of liberal democracy in more recent times have done us a service by repeatedly exposing the limits of collective human reason. As people lose hope in the prose of modernity, they recoil with anxiety. The cunningness of reason inspires us to the ‘Why’ question even when we know an answer isn’t around. The kolaveri di phenomenon has become a rage because it speaks to that cunning habit. Asking why the soup song, the flop song, has become so popular is also, circularly, the reason why it is so popular. What else, and I fall in the trap here, explains the exponential growth in its popularity now that people know what kolaveri di means: it really means nothing.

But it must mean something if, in just over a week, over four and a half million people find an apparent nothingness interesting. The key cultural message of the surprise may be that it is serving two functions. First, it is establishing that we live anxious lives. Second, by going viral we are also trying to heal our anxious selves. There is often so much meaning around – created, contested, demolished, recreated – that we feel it is good to transition into zones of no-meaning; to zones where meaning is absent. Kolaveri di is one such zone of no-meaning.

6 PG Bhaskar in Khaleej Times, wondering whether the necktie has outlived its purpose. I have never shared this fascination for a tie. Possibly, at some time in an ancient era – whether British, French or Italian — it may have served some purpose; though I have serious doubts whether Roman orators’ vocal chords could have in any way been protected by a garment draped around their necks. And yet, man clings on to this utterly worthless piece of appendage. In this age of global warming, there is no need for any kind of protective wear. And day after day, we have men spending time in front of the mirror struggling with the momentous decision of whether to deploy the single knot or simply plunge into it, go for the jugular and go in for the double. Why, in this enlightened world, do we strangle ourselves with a piece of silk every morning? We, as a race, believe in making things difficult for ourselves. Over the years, many things have changed; our taste in food, our choice of entertainment, our manner of communication, our methods of transport, our styles of shopping and living. So, please, let us open our minds and relieve our throats from this meaningless throttle.

7 The Wall Street Journal on why India can’t feed its children. It was almost exactly 10 years ago that Goldman Sachs first came up with the term “BRICs.” Since then, Brazil, Russia, India and China have seen impressive growth figures and improved standards of living. But when it comes to feeding its children, India has fared the worst. In 2006, around 40% of Indian children under the age of five were undernourished. Rates of childhood malnutrition have been improving “extremely slowly” in India, says Lawrence Haddad, director of the UK-based Institute of Development Studies. Considering the country’s rapid economic growth, malnutrition should be going down by two-to-three times the current rate, he adds. Young girls, who are often allowed to eat only after their brothers, are particularly vulnerable, he notes. There is a peculiarity about India: here, agricultural growth hasn’t resulted in improved childhood nourishment. This is something that baffles Mr. Haddad. “In India the two seem to be disconnected and we don’t know why.” A possible explanation is that not enough has been done policy-wise.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Manila is call centre capital; Age of the superfluous worker; US still most dynamic society; Indian rupee's travails; Don't write off pencils

1 The New York Times on Philippines overtaking India as the world’s top call centre. Americans calling the customer service lines of their airlines, phone companies and banks are now more likely to speak to Mark in Manila than Bharat in Bangalore. Over the last several years, a quiet revolution has been reshaping the call center business: the rise of the Philippines, a former US colony that has a large population of young people who speak lightly accented English and, unlike many Indians, are steeped in American culture. More Filipinos — about 400,000 — than Indians now spend their nights talking to mostly American consumers. The jobs have come from the US, Europe and, to some extent, India as outsourcers followed their clients to the Philippines. India, where offshore call centers first took off in a big way, fields as many as 350,000 call center agents, according to some industry estimates. The Philippines, which has a population one-tenth as big as India’s, overtook India this year, according to Jojo Uligan, executive director of the Contact Center Association of the Philippines. The growing preference for the Philippines reflects in part the maturation of the outsourcing business and in part a preference for American English. In the early days, the industry focused simply on finding and setting up shop in countries with large English-speaking populations and low labour costs, which mostly led them to India. But executives say they are now increasingly identifying places best suited for specific tasks. India remains the biggest destination by far for software outsourcing.

2 Paul Krugman writing, 'We are the 99.9%' in The New York Times. “We are the 99 percent” is a great slogan. It correctly defines the issue as being the middle class versus the elite (as opposed to the middle class versus the poor). And it also gets past the common but wrong establishment notion that rising inequality is mainly about the well educated doing better than the less educated; the big winners in this new Gilded Age have been a handful of very wealthy people, not college graduates in general. If anything, however, the 99 percent slogan aims too low. A large fraction of the top 1 percent’s gains have actually gone to an even smaller group, the top 0.1 percent — the richest one-thousandth of the population.

3 The New York Times on the age of the superfluous worker. America, like other modern countries, has always had some surplus workers — people ready to work but jobless for extended periods because the “job creators,” private and public, have been unable or unwilling to create sufficient jobs. When the number of surplus workers rose sharply, the country also had ways of reducing it. However, the current jobless recovery, and the concurrent failure to create enough new jobs, is breeding a new and growing surplus pool. And some in this pool are in danger of becoming superfluous, likely never to work again. The currently jobless total about 15% of the work force, not including the invisible discouraged workers the government cannot even find to count. In the old days — before Social Security, welfare and Medicaid — poverty-caused illnesses killed off or incapacitated some of the people who could not find jobs. Even earlier, some nations sold their surplus workers as slaves, while the European countries could send them to the colonies. If modern capitalism continues to eliminate as many jobs as it creates — or more jobs than it creates — future recoveries will not only add to the amount of surplus labour but will turn a growing proportion of workers into superfluous ones.

4 Fareed Zakaria writing in Khaleej Times that America is the most dynamic society in the developed world. While Japan has entered and Italy and Germany are approaching a demographic death spiral, the US remains young, vibrant and active. Demographics is not destiny, but it helps mightily to have a growing society, with a healthy share of young workers — who are also taxpayers. US still attracts the most immigrants and most investment in the world.

5 The Wall Street Journal on the rupee sending a warning. The Indian rupee plumbed all-time lows against the dollar this week, prompting investors to question the health of one of the world's fastest-growing economies. Though some of this currency weakness is due to the "risk off" flight to safety that's affecting most emerging markets, the rupee has depreciated more than any other currency in Asia this year. And the reason is not hard to discern: Profligate government spending and a lack of reforms are feeding concern about the economy's fundamentals. Starting in 2004, the Congress Party-led government went on a binge of expanding subsidies and instituting new entitlements, while ignoring calls for further market liberalization. Social spending had more than doubled by 2009-10. Slower growth this year is robbing the fisc of tax revenues, yet spending continues to accelerate. This week, a senior official admitted that the fiscal deficit may end up one percentage point higher than the 4.6% of GDP the government budgeted in February, mostly due to extra spending on fuel and food subsidies. The government has had to borrow 530 billion rupees ($10 billion) more than it planned, which has India's bond markets spooked. Bond yields have spiked in the past month, and more than one government bond auction has failed.

6 The Economist on overvaluation of Australian houses. Australian house prices could plunge by as much as 25 per cent on the back of a global credit crunch caused by the European meltdown. In a dire warning for Australia and other developed countries, The Economist says global house price indicators suggest property was still overvalued. ‘‘The latest global house price indicators are now falling in eight of the 16 countries surveyed by the magazine, compared with five countries in late 2010.’’

7 Mint reporting on an across-the-board pay raise at Hero MotoCorp. In the middle of an economic slowdown, an across-the-board pay increase qualifies as a counter-intuitive response. But that’s what Hero MotoCorp Ltd, the world’s biggest two-wheeler maker, has done. For white-collar employees, the pay has been raised as much as 30%, while workers at the Dharuhera plant have got a monthly increase of Rs 6,500 each. The move isn’t so much counter-intuitive as reflective of the new ground reality that prevails across Haryana’s industrial estates in the Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera belt. No company wants to go through what Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, the country’s biggest car maker, had to endure in the past few months.

8 Mint quoting Count Anton Wolfgang Von Faber-Castell, chairman-CEO of the 250-year-old stationery company that pencils will last longer than we imagine. In a digital world, where cutting costs in offices means stationery is the first thing to go and a paperless world is looking increasingly realistic, what is the future of stationery? “It will probably last longer than we believe,” says Count Anton. “The question is in what quantities. It was already my concern 30 years ago with the pencil business which, to my surprise, is stronger than ever. One of the reasons is because pencils, especially coloured, are needed for education, they don’t dry out, last forever and are environmentally friendly. “Globally, colour pencils are growing because of education and demand in developing countries. Children might start early with computers, but as we know from brain research, it’s important that children use their hands for motor development and mental skills. There was a dream of a paperless office, which has remained a dream. Where there is paper, there is the need for pencils. Colour, including artist pencils, will remain for 50-100 years because they have special features but in limited quantities.”

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Asia's rich need a new banking system; The world's getting nicer; Chinese strike over wage cuts; 'End game' for Euro; Indian tigers have no votes

1 Khaleej Times on the need for a new banking system for Asia’s rich. Wealth is being created in Asia at a rapid pace by a young generation of entrepreneurs whose private banking needs differ significantly from those of high-net-worth individuals in Europe or the United States. Europe is “old money, and there are a lot of wealth preservation issues and intergenerational transfer of wealth, so it’s about trusts, taxes – that’s the type of conversation you have,” said Piyush Gupta, chief executive of DBS Group Holdings and DBS Bank in Singapore. “Asia is still in the wealth creation mode,” Gupta said. “It’s not wealth preservation, it’s wealth accumulation.” “In Asia, we find that linking up the private banking with the institutional side of the business, investment banking, and the ability to do deals is actually a lot more important than it is in Europe,” he noted. This, he added, requires private bankers to be a little more “quasi-investment banking type people,” and they must be able to orchestrate the right team of internal resources.

2 Nicholas Kristoff in The New York Times about the world getting nicer. It’s pretty easy to conclude that the world is spinning down the toilet. So let me be contrary and offer a reason to be grateful this Thanksgiving. Despite the gloomy mood, the historical backdrop is stunning progress in human decency over recent centuries. War is declining, and humanity is becoming less violent, less racist and less sexist — and this moral progress has accelerated in recent decades. To put it bluntly, we humans seem to be getting nicer. That’s the central theme of an astonishingly good book by Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard, called “The Better Angels of Our Nature”.

“Today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence,” Pinker writes, and he describes this decline in violence as possibly “the most important thing that has ever happened in human history.” Still, even in a 20th century notorious for world war and genocide, only around 3% of humans died from such man-made catastrophes. In contrast, a study of Native-American skeletons from hunter-gather societies found that some 13% had died of trauma. And in the 17th century, the Thirty Years’ War reduced Germany’s population by as much as one-third. The reasons for these advances are complex but may have to do with the rise of education, the decline of chauvinism and a growing willingness to put ourselves in the shoes of others.

3 The Financial Times on wage cuts prompting 10,000 to strike in fresh wave of unrest in China. China is facing its worst wave of labour unrest since a series of wildcat strikes at Japanese-owned car plants last year, as declining export orders lead ¬factories to reduce worker pay. More than 10,000 workers in Shenzhen and Dongguan, two leading export centres in southern Guangdong province, have gone on strike over the past week. The latest protests broke out on Tuesday at a Taiwanese computer factory in Shenzhen.

4 The San Francisco Chronicle on China overtaking the US as the biggest smart phone market. China passed the United States to become the world's largest smart-phone market by volume in the third quarter as the devices became cheaper and more widely available. Shipments in China reached a record 23.9 million units, up 58% from the second quarter. That compares with a 7% drop to 23.3 million units in the United States.

5 Stephanie Flanders on BBC Online about the Euro ‘end game’. Two very worrying things have happened in the eurozone in the past two weeks. The first is that financial markets have started to take seriously the idea that the single currency will break up. The second is that the politicians with the most to lose from that happening have dug in their heels. Needless to say, the two things are related. Investors look at the political gridlock and they draw their own conclusions. In my conversations with analysts, traders and officials, I'm finding more and more of them are talking about the end game for the euro. Not the end, necessarily, but a moment of truth very soon that will either force a big leap forward, or a wrenching break-up.

6 The Johannesburg Times on South Africa being a nation living in fear. A third of South Africans are so afraid of being attacked by criminals that they will not walk alone in open places. This was revealed in a survey released by Stats SA yesterday. Because of crime, 22.2% of South Africans will not leave their children unsupervised in their neighbourhood. The survey also found that 14.7% of parents would no longer let their children walk to school alone. In addition, 11.7% of the respondents said they did not use public transport because of crime, 33.3% would not venture into open spaces or parks, and 22.2% would not allow children to play in an open area.

7 The Wall Street Journal blog on Sachin Tendulkar approaching (and missing) his 100th international century:
Forgive us for tempting fate, but we – like millions of others – can’t help feeling that this is the day Sachin Tendulkar gets to that incredible landmark of 100 centuries in international cricket.
• 9.54am It's like the World Cup final all over again in Mumbai - the atmosphere is absolutely electric as Sachin Tendulkar, who is now joined by Virat Kohli, ticks his total towards that ton.
• 9.55am The wicket in Mumbai, Sachin’s home, is flat and friendly. That’s not, by any means, to say this is an easy task. Already the illustrious Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and, just now VVS Laxman have returned to the pavilion.
• 9.59am This is the closest Sachin has been to scoring a century since March. In the July Test vs. England at the Oval he got 91, but then was out LBW and we all cried.
• 10.00am 15 innings have come and gone since that March World Cup century against South Africa.
• 10.01am Single through covers off Edwards takes Tendulkar to 94. The Little Master looks like the most relaxed person in the stadium, perhaps India.
• 10.07am Tendulkar's scored quickly this match, taking just 150 balls to get to 94.
• 10.08am If my palms are sweaty, I dread to think what Tendulkar's are like. Probably ice cold. • 10.09am Youuuuch!! Noo, an edge.
• 10.10am Disaster, and Rampaul, strike. Tendulkar's edged him to Sammy in the slips and he goes for 94.
• 10.12am Wankhede is silent. The crowd (and us) really thought today would be the day.
• 10.14am India 323 for 5, chasing West Indies' total of 590. One way round this is for the remaining Indian batsmen to collapse so the team can go for a follow-on and Sachin can blast a ton tomorrow. That's not going to happen.

8 The Economic Times story on Daimler, pointing out that the world over, no foreign player has been able to dominate any local truck market till date.

9 Richard Branson writing in ET that it is an achievement of global importance that a nation of 1.2 billion people has managed to maintain half the world’s surviving wild tigers. But 1,600 is a low number. When I asked my guide at Corbett why the numbers are so low, he replied:” The tiger has no voting rights”.

10 Sudhir Tailang's cartoon in Deccan Chronicle: Corruption, black money, price rise. The common man is angry. We’ll have to do something immediately. We’ll beef up the security of our ministers.

11 While journalists generally went around asking others about the context and quality of the slap India's federal agriculture minister Sharad Pawar received on Thursday, Business Standard asked Pawar himself and he replied, “Please ignore the incident. I really don’t know who he was. I thought he was a journalist”.

12 Business Standard on Indian private airline Kingfisher beginning to lose leased aircraft. Kingfisher said today two of its aircraft were being taken back by a lessor – AerCap Aviation.

13 Business Standard quoting HSBC about the rupee’s likelihood of falling to 58-levels against the dollar. The rupee, which declined close to 18% in 2010-11 so far, may be headed further south, owing to further shocks from developed economies. India's widening current account deficit, volatile capital flows and high inflation have made the domestic currency vulnerable to developments in the West. With no quick resolution to the debt crisis in the euro zone, the rupee may have to go through more pain. “The rupee has room to fall further, if global growth expectations continue to decline and dollar liquidity pressures intensify… we believe the dollar-rupee rate could reach the 58-level,” said David Bloom, global head of foreign exchange strategy, HSBC Bank.

14 Business Line reporting that the total debt of Air India stands at Rs 437.77bn.

15 Financial Express editorial, 'Et tu Merkel'. On Monday, Reuters Breakingviews columnist Peter Thal Larsen came up with a new acronym to replace PIGS that rapidly got overtaken by events—after playing with SPIFFINESS to include the likes of France, Finland and the Netherlands, he settled for what a PIMCO portfolio manager called EEG, Everyone Except Germany! On Wednesday, however, the new EEG got a bit of a crack when a routine 6 billion auction of German bonds got only a 60% subscription. The immediate reaction was a hike in German yields, from 1.98% to 2.04% and a 1 percentage point fall in the euro. All of which suggests the panic is spreading.

16 Contrasting Indian media reaction to the government opening up retail to foreign direct investment:
Times of India: Coming soon: World’s top retailers.
Financial Express: Welcome to Walmart
Malayala Manorama: Kerala retailers to shut shop on Tuesday to protest entry of monopolies.
(You bet, Keralites think differently.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The poor, near poor and you; Plaxo founders relish chocolate; 'Squeezed middle'; Why Israel thrives as a high-tech hub; Getting pregnant for grants

1 The New York Times editorial, The poor, the near poor and you. What is it like to be poor? Thankfully, most Americans do not know, at least not firsthand. But everyone needs to recognize a chilling reality: One in three Americans — 100 million people — is either poor or perilously close to it. Census data shows 49.1 million Americans are below the poverty line — in general, $24,343 for a family of four. An additional 51 million are in the next category, which they termed “near poor” — with incomes less than 50% above the poverty line. There is also a growing out-of-sight-out-of-mind problem. A study, by Sean Reardon, a sociologist at Stanford, shows that Americans are increasingly living in areas that are either poor or affluent. The isolation of the prosperous, he said, threatens their support for public schools, parks, mass transit and other investments that benefit broader society. The poor do without and the near poor, at best, live from paycheck to paycheck. Most Americans don’t know what that is like, but unless the nation reverses direction, more are going to find out.

2 The New York Times on questions being asked about Germany as an island of stability. Germany’s stature as an island of stability in the European debt crisis was shaken Wednesday when it fell far short of selling all the government bonds it put up for auction. The debt crisis has toppled five governments, including Italy and Greece, by raising those countries’ borrowing costs to dangerously high levels. And now the crisis is prompting many investors to pull money out of the euro region altogether. Germany on Wednesday had sought to raise as much as 6 billion euros ($8 billion) in an auction of 10-year bonds. But it was able to sell only 3.9 billion euros worth, Germany’s central bank. By that thinking, investors might have concluded that the relatively low yield, or interest rates, on the German bonds — Wednesday’s auctioned bonds were priced at an average yield of 1.98 percent — were not worth the potential risk that Germany’s economy could soon be strained by the demands of bailing out Italy or Spain or other big debt-saddled euro union members. For comparison’s sake, yields on 10-year bonds offered by the United States Treasury, which continue to be considered a global haven, are about 1.9 percent.

3 The New York Times on Tata group’s new boss. The largest Indian business group, Tata Sons, on Wednesday appointed an insider whose family owns about 18% of the company to succeed its longtime chairman, Ratan N. Tata. The successor to Tata, Cyrus P. Mistry, will take over as chairman in December 2012 after serving as deputy chairman for a year. Tata Sons, based in Mumbai, is the holding company for an $83.3 billion group that includes companies engaged in industries including software, cars, steel and the Taj hotel chain. Mistry is a member of the committee that had been searching for Tata’s successor and a member of the board of Tata Sons, which is not listed on the stock exchange, though many of its subsidiaries are. In addition, Mistry is the managing director of Shapoorji Pallonji Group, a real estate and construction business that owns about 18% of Tata Sons, more than any other non-institutional investor. About two-thirds of Tata Sons is owned by charitable trusts established by the Tata family. Other potential candidates had included Indra Nooyi, an Indian native who heads PepsiCo in the United States; Arun Sarin, the former top executive of Vodafone of Britain; and Noel N. Tata, a stepbrother of Tata’s and an executive at the group.

4 San Francisco Chronicle on Plaxo founders turning to chocolate making. What do tech company founders do after selling their startup for millions? In the case of Cameron Ring and Todd Masonis, the young creators of Plaxo, an online address book service, the answer was simple: Make chocolate. Really good chocolate. The two friends are slated to open a chocolate factory, Dandelion, later this year — four years after selling Plaxo to Comcast for an amount that TechCrunch estimated at $150 to $170 million. Unlike Plaxo’s venture capitalist funding of $28 million, Dandelion is self-funded with less than a million dollars. But it demands the same hours as any startup, and Ring and Masonis take a hands-on approach.

5 The Guardian reporting the choice of ‘squeezed middle’ as word of the year. After a year defined by economic turmoil, austerity and cutbacks, the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary have chosen the phrase "squeezed middle" as word of the year. OED lexicographers on both sides of the Atlantic picked the phrase – popularised by Ed Miliband – as their first global word of the year. The phrase beat a group of other largely politically resonant terms such as Arab Spring, occupy, phone hacking, and hacktivism – the action or practice of gaining unauthorised access to computer files or networks in order to further social or political ends. The phrase "squeezed middle" was thoroughly derided when it was first aired by Ed Miliband during a headline interview on Radio 4's Today programme earlier this year. In an interview with John Humphrys, Miliband struggled to define who it specifically represented, but Dent said that had become the phrase's strength.

6 The BBC on Chinese manufacturing contracting to a 32-month low. China's manufacturing activity fell to its lowest level in 32 months in November, according to the HSBC bank purchasing managers' index. The news renewed fears that the economic powerhouse is losing steam. China is the world's second-largest economy.

7 The BBC on why Israel thrives as a high-tech hub. Israel currently has almost 4,000 active technology start-ups - more than any other country outside the United States, according to Israel Venture Capital Research Centre. In 2010 alone the flow of venture capital amounted to $884m. The result: high-tech exports from Israel are valued at about $18.4bn a year, making up more than 45% of Israel's exports. Israel is a world leader in terms of research and development spending as a percentage of the economy; it's top in both the number of start-ups and engineers as a proportion of the population; and it's first in per capita venture capital investment. Not bad for a country of some eight million people - fewer than, say, Moscow or New York.

"If you look at how this country was created, it was really a start-up on the large scale," says serial entrepreneur Yossi Vardi, who has been dubbed the godfather of Israel's high-tech industry. "A bunch of crazy people came here, trying to pursue a dream of 2,000 years." But there is more to this start-up scene than certain aspects of Israeli culture - the lack of hierarchy, a constant drive for individualism, regular risk taking. The government played a key role in the rapid rise of this start-up nation.

8 The Sowetan carrying a government report that 15.5% of teens are getting pregnant for grants. Teenagers are falling pregnant to access social grants to alleviate poverty, according to a report by the Limpopo (a province in South Africa) health and social department. The report was issued after the department conducted a three-month study into teenage pregnancies and factors forcing children to abandon their education. The report found 15.5% of participants fell pregnant to access child support grants. This behaviour forced children into inter-generational relationships with contraceptives largely ignored. Thirty-two percent of participants had multiple sexual partners but this was not seen as a major contributor to teenage pregnancy.

9 The Dawn on the scarring of Pakistani society as terrorists attack CD shops. Reports about bombings of shops selling CDs and DVDs have in recent years become so frequent that the public, bludgeoned from all sides by bad news, has become inured. We forget, though, that behind each such report is a story of assets ruined, livelihoods cut off and painstakingly built up businesses destroyed. This has prompted some to turn to new occupations. Owners of markets, unwilling to risk damage to their properties, have also started asking CD and DVD shopkeepers to either change their focus or vacate the premises. In so doing, an entire culture is being changed. No longer are marketplaces in the region characterised by Pushto music and film posters as was once the case, and people who have been musicians for generations are no longer training their sons to take their place; dholwallahs and flautists, traditionally invited to perform at weddings, are seeking other professions. The situation can be seen as an analogy for Pakistani society as a whole, being forced as it is down unfamiliar paths by the extremists and their violence-imbued agenda. Whatever else happens, one thing can be said with certainty: Pakistanis will emerge badly scarred from this experience.

10 The Wall Street Journal on the importance of office politics. Many promising executives derail sometime during their careers, often because they weren't very good at office politics. Not playing the political game is often seen as a good thing, even a badge of honor. Some managers see it as proof of their integrity. They are going to succeed because of job performance alone. They couldn't be more wrong. Research finds that a person's political skills are key to building a successful career—for the good of both themselves and their company. When talented executives combine a knowledge of what their company needs with an ability to get things done, everyone benefits. Being politically savvy is not about pushing others down or being untruthful to advance your own cause. Instead, it means building networks—relationships—with people inside and outside your company who can provide useful information and assistance. It means not picking fights over issues that aren't critical. It means informing others in the company about your contributions and accomplishments, and asking for advice and help, particularly from those senior to you. Self-serving? Sure. But there's nothing wrong with that. If you are going to make a difference, you need to have power.

11 The Economic Times on India's carmakers cutting production to deal with falling demand. The country’s top car maker Maruti Suzuki will end the fiscal with a 10% drop in output. Last month, car sales had fallen 24%.

12 Business Standard and Business Line quoting Qatar Airways CEO as saying 26% FDI in Indian aviation sector is not good enough.

13 Sunil Jain writing in Financial Express about the India story beginning to unravel, and that the PM is right in saying India could go the same way as the West if political parties don’t co-operate to pass critical legislation.

14 Financial Express editorial on Sabir Bhatia’s breakthrough in free SMSing across the globe. The new free SMS service released by Hotmail co-founder Sabeer Bhatia is the next step in a process already well under way. The service, called JaxtrSMS, allows users to send SMSs to anybody around the world for free. What is different about JaxtrSMS is that it allows users to receive messages sent via the service even if they don’t have the app installed. Now consider this: In the not-inconceivable future, everybody has at least a data-enabled phone, and data service penetration is excellent. With VoIP services and SMS services like JaxtrSMS, the only role service operators will have is to provide Internet; they could very well have to shut down their voice and SMS networks. That’s perhaps a long way off, but it gives some indication as to why these companies are focusing so much on the 3G auctions.

15 Jagannadham Thunguguntla pointing out in Financial Express that at Rs 72 trillion, total debt of all listed Indian companies now exceeds their total market cap of Rs 64 trillion. The total value of shares pledged by the promoters alone is to the tune of Rs 1 trillion. That’s massive by any stretch of imagination. There are about 752 companies whose promoters have pledged shares. In the current bearish market conditions, there is a big risk that the margin calls may get triggered on several of these companies, leading to further panic selling resulting in crisis. Several mid-cap companies are not properly hedged for such an eventuality.

16 The Deepika reporting that locals in Kannur handed over a 25-year-old to the police after catching him dumping wastes by the roadside. (Kerala is clamping down on waste disposal in public places with a fine of Rs 5,000 – a first world development in a third world country.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Eurozone crisis v/s urology crisis

While the world endured the eurozone crisis, I had my own urology crisis after I was diagnosed with a kidney stone by a doctor in Chennai, southern India. Post surgery, I'm taking the mandatory rest at Kottayam district in Kerala.

The learning? The doctor has advised drinking lots of water. He says it's not the quantity that matters, but spacing out the sips through the day to ensure there is no long dry patch. The pain was gut-wrenching and I'd like to see you live safe, with a steady supply of fluids.

Hope to be back with the pick of world news within a week.

My apologies to readers from Russia, the US, Germany, the UK, Brazil, Indonesia and Oman, and of course, India, for the break.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Rio clears slum for Olympics, Chinese matchmaking, Globalisation's flip side, India politics' credibility crisis, Unbearable cheapness of Indian life

1 San Francisco Chronicle on Rio de Janeiro’s slum clearance. Some 3,000 police and soldiers moved into one of Rio's largest slums on Sunday to assert control over lawless areas of the city ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. Elite police squads patrolled the alleys of the Rocinha slum and snipers perched on rooftops as tanks rolled through the narrow streets and helicopters flew overhead. The occupation of the sprawling slum, or favela, ended peacefully. By early afternoon, the police, accompanied by contingents from the Brazilian army and navy, had not fired a shot. Officials said that feat was made possible by months of intelligence gathering and the arrest last week of Antonio Bonfim Lopes, the drug lord of Nem, who was said to have effectively ruled Rocinha. The slum sits between the city and areas where many Olympic events will be held.

2 The Guardian on Chinese matchmaking. Thousands of singletons gathered at an inaugural matchmaking expo in Shanghai’s Thames Town at the weekend, an event so popular that organisers halted online registration after double the expected number signed up. Estimates of those attending ranged from 10,000 to 40,000. In downtown Shanghai, 24.3% of people over the age of 15 are unmarried. In far-flung areas, the figures are even more startling: just 11.9% of over 15s are unmarried in Chongming county. A lack of young women – a result of the skewed rate of baby boys born under China’s one-child policy – means an estimated 30 to 50 million men will be without a wife in 20 years.

3 Khaleej Times on the flip side of globalisation. The failure of the G-20 and the eurozone to resolve their problems, highlighted by the abortive summit in Cannes, throws into sharp relief the flip side of globalisation. The seemingly inexorable increase in the flow of goods and finance ’round the planet that marked the first decade of this century has been replaced by the ever-rising risk of contraction. That risk is all the greater precisely because of the way global interconnections have flourished, especially since China joined the World Trade Organisation at the end of 2001, and the current inability of government leaders to handle adversity.

The economic and financial crisis is serious enough, but underlying it is a deeper issue of confidence in political leadership. If Barack Obama, Hu Jintao and the leaders of Europe cannot come up with at least the start of a common response to the gathering global downturn, where is the world to look for salvation? If the eurozone is still floundering to come to grips with crisis 18 months after Greece received its first bailout package, what belief can anybody have in the ability of the common currency’s institutions and managers?

4 The Dawn on the reasons for someone to join civil services in Pakistan. ‘Why do you want to join the Civil Service of Pakistan?’ To put it honestly, I want to make some quick money and grant favours to my relatives by getting some lucrative postings. To put it bluntly, I want to loot and plunder, and to put it politically correctly, I want to serve the people of Pakistan. This is the typical question-and-answer session that takes place between aspirants to the civil service and the interview panel of the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC), the body in charge of recruitment in the federal civil services of Pakistan. However, one obvious clarification is that only the politically correct part of the answer is said out loud. The rest is left unsaid because actions speak louder than words, so why waste time by spelling them out and shooting down your chances of getting selected and living your ‘dream’ later?

5 The Dawn on crisis of credibility for Indian politics. “The tragedy of India is its political system.” That admission by a government minister captured the frustration of delegates at this week’s India’s World Economic Forum (WEF), where blame has been heaped on corruption and the policy paralysis in New Delhi for a darkening economic outlook. The government was running scared just a few months ago when a group of activists whipped up popular rage over a rash of corruption scandals, bringing millions of people out onto the streets. The crowds have long gone, but the pressure is far from off Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his government. And some of India’s top industrialists warned that Asia’s third-biggest economy needs to quicken reform and improve governance.

GDP growth may come in at 7.2 per cent in the current fiscal year, a respectable enough number but a sharp fall from 8.5 per cent in 2009/10. Industrial output has slowed sharply, consumer confidence is waning and inflation remains near double digits despite 13 interest rate increases. “We shouldn’t say that because the institutions of democracy are there, we will be paralysed,” said Mukesh Ambani, head of Reliance Industries and India’s richest man. “And because there is an opposition and a party in power, we would do nothing. That’s what worries me.”

6 The Times of India on declining EQ of Indian kids. Indian parents often goad their babies to not grow up fast. If childhood is about magic, it is vanishing even before it is lived. In fact children are indeed growing up fast, speeding past the springtime of their lives, say psychiatrists who connect that to the falling levels of emotional quotient. The warm hugs, the tiny kisses, a ride on the Ferris wheel, a family camping trip, vanishing into a book with mum, playing chess against dad, are all now just cloying instances tucked away in fables. "The EQ among our children is on the decline. They have a lower threshold for tolerance, they are easily depressed, their coping ability has reduced and complexity has gone up. Seven- and eight-year-olds talk of violent acts and of dying these days," says psychiatrist Dr Nirmala Rao. The new toys like Angry Birds, Crime Life: Gang Wars and other ultra-violent games don't score too well in enriching EQ.

7 The Wall Street Journal on the unbearable cheapness of life in India. Is life cheap in India? As a possible answer, here are some recent grisly headlines from Mumbai: Eleven construction workers died when a wall collapsed in the suburb of Thane. Five workers were killed when a service lift failed and crashed to the ground. An 8-ton iron beam crushed four workers and killed two of them on the spot. Six construction workers died when scaffolding collapsed. I picked these stories more or less at random and they’re all from this year. If you scour the headlines in any major city, you’ll find such tragic stories in abundance. And those of us who live in the metros see workers in hazardous and unsafe conditions all the time.

The perception that India is a dangerous place for its workers is borne out by statistical evidence. Many governments, including India, notoriously underreport workplace injuries to the International Labour Organisation. For example, in 2001 India reported 222 work-related accidents to the ILO. Scholars estimate the true figure to be closer to 40,000 with a fatality rate 10 per 100,000 workers. By comparison, fatality rates in the same year in the United States were estimated at just under 5 per 100,000 workers, half the Indian rate. The good news is that as countries get richer, labour standards tend to improve. Britain in the nineteenth century had labor standards as abysmal as India’s today. The bottom line is that, regrettably, life is cheap in India. With more rapid economic development, it’ll become costlier and hopefully a day will come when an Indian life has the same value as a life in a rich country.

8 The Deepika reporting on a strike by nursing students in Delhi’s reputed Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, where the principal allegedly tore the uniform of a Keralite student, saying it was dirty. (Nurses have gone on strike in recent times in different Indian cities including Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkatha demanding better salaries and benefits, and have managed to secure their demands. Significantly, the nurses’ strikes have been carried on impromptu, and succeeded on their own merit without the help of politicians, as has been the case with recent protests around the world. Kerala politicians, however, have rushed to Delhi and Mumbai to join hands with the protestors. The protests in Ram Manohar Lohia hospital have been suspended after an inquiry was announced.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Alabama, Jo'burg in liquidity crunch, Eurozone's existential crisis, India refineries' coffers run dry, 100 years of Delhi as India's capital

1 New York Times on Alabama’s bankruptcy filing. Last-ditch efforts by the governor of Alabama to prevent a record-breaking municipal bankruptcy in his state broke down on Wednesday, as the Jefferson County Commission voted 4 to 1 to declare bankruptcy on roughly $4 billion of debt. After the vote, lawyers for the county filed a Chapter 9 petition in federal bankruptcy court in Birmingham, Ala. At $4 billion, Jefferson County’s bankruptcy eclipses the $1.7 billion bankruptcy filing by Orange County, Calif., in December 1994, the previous record. Jefferson County’s debt grew out of poorly conceived efforts to finance a court-ordered rebuilding of its decrepit sewer system. The county used a complicated combination of debt instruments and derivatives that was supposed to save money, but it failed in 2008, leaving it with more debt than it could repay.

2 Johannesburg Times reporting that its home city is in cash crisis. The City of Johannesburg - South Africa's industrial and economic hub - is facing a liquidity meltdown that could see it fail to meet its short-term liabilities in a matter of days. Municipal finance spokesman in Johannesburg, Patrick Atkinson, said any unforeseen crisis in the municipality could result in the council failing to pay creditors. Atkinson said: "National Treasury has indicated its deep concern about Johannesburg's liquidity position. Treasury's requirement is that all metros hold three months in cash and cash instruments to ensure that they can meet their short-term liquidity requirements and pay creditors. Johannesburg has 12 days' worth of cash cover." For the past two years, the city has been unable to bill residents correctly because, it says, of the failure of its R580-million Project Phakama - an IT system which was intended to integrate all municipal services accounts into one billing database.

3 BBC’s Robert Peston on eurozone’s existential crisis. The eurozone faces an existential crisis following alarming increases in the interest rates that Italy would have to pay to borrow. Every single maturity of Italian government bond, from one year up to 30 year, closed at a yield well over 7%. On any new borrowing, Italy would now have to pay well over 7% and if that rate were applied to its entire 1.8tn euros of debt, well it would cripple Italy's economy, which in turn would make it impossible for Italy to repay its debts. What's the solution? Well the creation of a stable government in Italy with credible policies for easing the burden of debt would help to reassure investors that lending to Italy would not be throwing good money after bad. But Italy's political history does not augur well for the establishment of a strong government able to make tough economic decisions. Reason dictates that Germany will put up the necessary money because the alternative, Italy being unable to repay its debts, would cause economic misery in Europe and beyond, and could fracture the eurozone.

4 Straits Times report that Steve Jobs was the most used name in media in 2011. 'Arab Spring' and 'Royal Wedding' were on Wednesday deemed the top phrases of 2011, while late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is the year's top name, according to a global survey of the English language. 'Occupy' - be it Iraq or Wall Street - and 'deficit' were the two single top words of the year in a list that reflected global turmoil.

5 The Economic Times on India’s impending energy crisis. India is staring at an energy crisis after December as state-run refineries will start shutting down because they will run out of money to import crude oil, Indian Oil Corp chairman RS Butola said after declaring the company's biggest quarterly loss. IOC posted the second successive quarterly loss because it has not been compensated for selling kerosene, cooking gas and diesel below market rates. This is forcing IOC to buy crude oil with borrowed money, but banks cannot endlessly support this as the company's borrowings have surged to over Rs 730bn and it is unable to raise prices of fuels. Oil companies are trapped between the government's political and economic compulsions, which are blocking moves to pay subsidy or to raise fuel prices: The government is under strong political pressure to freeze fuel rates while the finance ministry, which is struggling to meet its fiscal targets, is looking for ways to raise revenue and reduce expenditure on subsidies. Butola said the company had reported its "worst ever" loss of Rs 74.86bn in the second quarter of the current fiscal after the government did not pay it a penny to compensate its Rs 117.57bn revenue loss.

6 Kiran Karnik writing in The Times of India that India’s nuclear deal is beginning to look like an increasingly bad idea. Despite repeating 'Open Sesame' many times over for three years, the door that was to usher us into the nuclear club remains tightly shut. No genie to grant our wishes magically appears even after endless rubbing of the lamp. Were we taken for a ride and sold a dud lamp? We were to be chaperoned into the nuclear club, to presumably sit at the high table, by our chosen mentor, the US. This was to be India's 'reward' for signing the nuclear deal. The agreement itself, signed in the face of strong opposition from the Left parties, saw the government staking its survival on this issue.

It is now clear that the benefits of signing the nuclear deal no longer exist and the gains are, at best, minimal. Yet, the cost - especially in terms of strategic space and manoeuvrability - remains high. Is it time, then, to revisit the agreement? Given India's standing and reputation, there is no question of repudiating the agreement. However, there are other ways of effectively annulling it and extracting ourselves from the self-imposed constraints. Formulation of appropriate domestic laws - which override international agreements (emulating how the US denied us fuel for Tarapur) - is one way.

7 Mint on Delhi celebrating a 100 years as India’s capital. December marks the hundred years of Delhi being designated as the capital of India. It was at the Delhi Durbar of 1911 that King George V announced that the capital was moving to Delhi from Calcutta. Now one could argue that Delhi was the capital of several monarchies and empires before that. Delhi famously sits on the remains of seven Delhis before it, starting with that of the Tomar dynasty established in AD 736. But it is reasonable to assume that Delhi became the national capital, in the sense we know it today, a 100 year ago. (The Wall Street Journal also carries interesting reports on the Delhi Durbar of 1911.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

49m Americans in poverty, Brazil's Charcoal Slaves, Cricket's innocence lost 200 years ago, Humming bird v/s F1, India sick of diabetes and BP

1 San Francisco Chronicle on poverty in the US. Who is poor in America? The question has immense relevance in determining programs and policies to help people make ends meet. A new formula released on Monday by the Census Bureau tries to draw a more realistic picture of poverty - and found that it's more prevalent than ever. A record 49.1 million Americans lived in poverty in 2010, according to the census' supplemental poverty measure. The new measure considers a range of expenses, including food, shelter, clothing and utilities, and takes into account different sources of income, such as food stamps and housing subsidies. It shows that 16 percent of the US population lives in poverty. By contrast, the decades-old official measure, which considers only food costs and before-tax income, shows 15.1 percent of Americans, or 46.6 million people, living in poverty in 2010.

2 San Francisco Chronicle on US mortgages that are ‘underwater’. As many as 28.6% of US homeowners are "underwater" - owing more on their mortgages than their houses are worth. The figure climbed in the third quarter as banks repossessed fewer homes. (A year ago, only 23.2% were underwater.)

3 Al Jazeera on Brazil’s charcoal slaves. Brazil, once the world's largest importer of slaves from Africa, has taken the lead in fighting 21st century slavery with a raft of innovative laws aimed at stamping it out. However, slave labour continues to thrive in the South American country - especially in the age-old practice of charcoal burning. The dirty and dangerous business is relied on by many international companies as one of the early stages in the manufacturing of pig iron. Brazilian pig iron is shipped to some of the world's biggest companies, including household name car manufacturers - who use it to forge steel. But the charcoal burning stage is sometimes done by forced labourers, including men from the poverty-stricken north of Brazil who are lured with false promises to remote camps. They are forced into working and living in appalling conditions, and often tricked into amassing massive debts that are impossible to meet in order to pay for their accommodation and even work equipment.

4 The Guardian stating cricket’s innocence was lost 200 years ago. The judge in the spot-fixing trial said cricket is 'damaged in the eyes of all'. His words were about 200 years out of date. Reverend Pycroft’s book, The Cricketer's Field, published in 1851, includes the first detailed account of corruption in cricket. Then, as now, the rot started when the players were allowed to mingle with the gamblers and bookies. Access was everything, and that is what they got in the Green Man. "Hundreds of pounds were bet upon all the great matches, and other wages laid on the scores of the finest players," recalled Billy Beldham, to Pycroft. "And that too by men who had a book for every race and every match in the sporting world - men who lived by gambling." "Then these men would come down to the Green Man and drink with us," recalled Pycroft's source. There, they would play on two weaknesses in the players: their relative poverty and their greed.

5. BBC on Formula One cars being no match for the humming bird. Slow-motion footage has revealed how a hovering hummingbird is able to cope with wet weather. The cameras show that the delicate bird shakes its heads with such acceleration that it can reach a g-force of 34 (Formula 1 racing cars typically reach less than 6g). This mid-air manoeuvre takes just 0.1 seconds and removes almost all of the water droplets from its feathers. Professor Robert Dudley, one of the authors of the study, from the University of California, Berkeley, said: "It is the extreme mobility - its head is going through 180 degrees in a 10th of a second or less - it is just extraordinary." The Anna's hummingbird is found in cloud forests and the neo-tropics where rainy days are common, and is able to remain active even in very wet weather. Yet, until now, nobody knew how the bird did it.

6 BBC on the IMF chief’s prediction of a lost decade for the world. The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, has warned that the global economy is at risk of being plunged into a "lost decade". Speaking in China, Ms Lagarde called upon Beijing to rebalance its economy. "Our sense is that if we do not act boldly and if we do not act together, the economy around the world runs the risk of downward spiral of uncertainty, financial instability and potential collapse of global demand," she said. "We could run the risk of what some commentators are already calling the lost decade," Ms Lagarde added.

7 The Dawn on India’s twin epidemics. India is facing a twin epidemic of diabetes and high blood pressure, doctors have warned, after the results of a countrywide study suggested that one in five people had both conditions. The two-year study of nearly 16,000 adults in eight states found that 21% of patients with family doctors and consultants had diabetes and hypertension. Just over a third (35%) had diabetes, while nearly half (46%) had hypertension, according to the Screening India’s Twin Epidemic or SITE research, which was published on Monday.

8 The Dawn on Joe Frazier losing the fight to cancer. Joe Frazier, the former undisputed heavyweight champ famed for his epic fights against Muhammad Ali, died on Monday after a brief but brave battle with liver cancer. He was 67. The boxing icon won an Olympic gold medal in a brilliant career that spanned almost 20 years but he was best known for fighting Ali in a famed 1970s trilogy of bouts, including the epic “Thrilla in Manila.” Frazier, nicknamed “Smokin’ Joe,” was a huge part of the heyday of boxing’s heavyweight division in the 1970s. He finished his storied career with 32 wins (27 knockouts), four losses and one draw. His four losses came at the hands of just two other legendary fighters from that era: Ali and Foreman. Frazier was the first man to defeat Ali, with a unanimous 15-round decision in 1971 at Madison Square Garden, in what was dubbed the “Fight of the Century”. An estimated 300 million people around the world watched the fight on television. In recent years, Frazier turned to singing, forming a back-up group called the Knockouts.

9 The Economic Times and The Financial Express on financial losses of the power sector. ET story says Allahabad Bank is freezing power loans. Subsidised sales have pushed distribution companies to the brink of collapse with losses estimated at Rs 400bn. Allahabad Bank has Rs 13,600 crore of loans to utilities and distributors. Writing in Financial Express, SL Rao says financial losses of electricity distribution sector are around 1% of GDP, increasing 21% annually on a cumulative basis, and expected to reach Rs 1.16 trillion by FY 15. FE’s title, ‘Watch those lights go out’, captures the financial ill-health of India’s power scenario.

10 The Financial Express editorial, ‘Broadbanned’, pointing out that though10% of Indians now use the internet, the country is ranked a lowly 116 out of 165 countries in the International Telecommunication Union’s ICT Development Index.

11 Financial Chronicle editorial that a demand decline in steel is not such a bad thing to have happened. In the past decade there has been a sharp rise in the capacity of the steel industry, especially in the rolled product segment. Now, when the slowdown is affecting China, the impact is felt by our domestic industry as well, since a large section of the industry has been dependent on exports to China for years. But there is a silver lining to this dark cloud. Since this slowdown is Chinese-led, demand for other metals like copper and aluminium will also gradually come down, leading to a correction in commodity prices in international markets. Power producers have been crying hoarse for a revision in tariffs paid by state electricity boards as coal, one of the major raw materials for power production, has seen a sharp rise in prices in the international market. It is not just power companies that will benefit from a decline in commodity prices; even infrastructure projects that have been delayed due to rising commodity prices along with rising costs of capital will also take off. So a bit of trouble for steel demand is just something that perhaps is needed for the Indian economy.

12 The Deepika on an anti-maida movement in Kerala as the state turns health conscious. Hotels are now serving whole-wheat parottas. The anti-maida discussion is hot in the Gulf countries as well, where there are over 2 million Keralites.