Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Asia rice glut to worsen; Setback for Vedanta in India; America's war on truth; Record profit for Samsung

1 Asia rice glut to worsen (Sameer C Mohindru & Warangkana Chomchuen in The Wall Street Journal) Asia is awash in rice, as favorable weather and government support for farmers combine to produce a bumper crop. The glut is driving down prices for big rice importers in Africa and China. But consumers in some of the biggest rice-producing nations, including Thailand and India, are paying higher prices as surplus supplies sit in government warehouses. Asia's surplus will have little impact in the US, which produces different varieties of rice.

When traveling by train from New Delhi to neighboring states, a common sight in the countryside is rice piled high on wooden plinths, protected only by plastic tarps. In Thailand, the government has considered using a warehouse at the city's old airport to store rice because other storage facilities are full.

Analysts see the glut getting worse. Thailand, a top exporter, is trying to sell some of its own 17 million-ton surplus, the result of a subsidy program in which the government bought rice from farmers at above-market prices. India, the world's biggest exporter, is expecting near-record harvests in a couple of months, as is Pakistan. Meanwhile, demand from large importers, including the Philippines and Nigeria, is dropping.

Some traders and consumer groups have raised concerns that some long-stored rice may not be safe because of high levels of methyl bromide, which is used on crops in storage to prevent infestation by rice weevils and other insects. Rice has a shelf life of at least three years, if kept away from moisture, though even when dry it can be eaten by rats and insects if not properly protected. Still, even if part of this year's crop is destroyed, it would quickly be replenished by the next harvest, analysts said.

2 Setback for Vedanta in India (Biman Mukherji in The Wall Street Journal) London-listed Vedanta Resources’ plan to mine bauxite in eastern India's Orissa state has hit another roadblock with a majority of village councils in the area rejecting the proposal. India's Supreme Court in April asked the village councils to decide within three months on whether to allow the company to mine around the Niyamgiri mountain, which is sacred to the members of the local Dongria Kondh tribe.

Eight of the 12 village councils in the area have rejected the plan and the remaining are expected to give their opinion on Aug. 19, said an official who works at an Orissa-government department that oversees state welfare programs aimed at tribal communities. A Vedanta spokesman in India didn't immediately comment. Company executives had in the past said that its investment in Orissa had been made based on assurances from the government on mining rights.

Getting land for mining and industrial projects is a major problem as India doesn't have a clear policy on the compensation to be paid to landowners and the steps to rehabilitate them, though amendments to land-acquisition and mining rules have been proposed to simplify the process. Steelmakers ArcelorMittal and Posco cited difficulties in getting land as a reason for scrapping two multibillion-dollar projects this month.

3 America’s war on truth (Mahir Ali in Khaleej Times) The big bully in world politics has pretty much had its way. A verdict in the military trial of Bradley Manning has been convicted. The US army private has already been in detention for more than three years during which he has endured degrading treatment and cruelty tantamount to torture.

Were the US in any meaningful sense the exemplary democracy it purports to be, it would be devoting its energies to challenging the personnel and policies that brought it to this sorry pass. Not surprisingly, it has chosen instead the path of vindictive punishment for those who betray its dirty secrets. Is it in surprise, then, that Edward Snowden prefers the inconvenience of temporary facilities at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport to the idea of facing “justice” at home?

The big bully in international relations has pretty much had its way in Western and allied nations since the Second World War. Its remit has expanded considerably since the end of the Cold War. The extent to which Russia will hold out remains an open question. Instead of pursuing the likes of Manning and Snowden, what the US really needs to do is take a good, hard look at itself. It may then begin to discern an image of a less-than-benign Uncle Sam. This guy is by no means the only one who violates human rights, but he does it on an unprecedented scale, at home and abroad.

In the case of Bradley Manning, too, the attention on his personality conveniently outweighs the wealth of information he helped to publicise. And there is evidence, highlighted among others by The New York Times, that an indictment is being prepared against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, holed up for more than a year in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The only conclusion one can draw is that the truth does not set you free, particularly where unpalatable facts are concerned.

4 Record profit for Samsung (BBC) Samsung Electronics has reported a record quarterly profit boosted by growing smartphone sales and a surge in earnings at its display panel division. Net profit was 7.8 trillion won ($7bn) in the April to June quarter, a 50% jump from a year ago. It said the launch of new models such as the Galaxy S4 helped boost sales of smartphones during the period. But it warned that the pace of growth of smartphone business, a key driver of its recent success, may slow down.
The success of its smartphone business has seen Samsung displace Nokia as the world's biggest mobile phone maker. Its market share in the sector has risen sharply. According to research firm Strategy Analytics, Samsung accounts for almost 95% of the Android smartphone sector's profits.
Analysts say Samsung needs to introduce new and innovative products if it is to maintain its market share and keep charging a premium price. "The big question right now is whether they have got that card up their sleeve," Bryan Ma of research firm IDC told the BBC. "What is the killer product that they have in the pipeline that is going to help sustain this growth," he added.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Emerging markets boom may be over; India business confidence drops; Amazon adding 7,000 jobs; Britain's Sangin mess

1 Emerging markets boom may be over (Nouriel Roubini in The Guardian) During the last few years, a lot of hype has been heaped on the Brics (Brazil Russia, India, China, and South Africa). With their large populations and rapid growth, these countries, so the argument goes, will soon become some of the largest economies in the world – and, in the case of China, the largest of all by as early as 2020. But the Brics, as well as many other emerging-market economies – have recently experienced a sharp economic slowdown. So, is the honeymoon over?

Brazil's GDP grew by only 1% last year, and may not grow by more than 2% this year. Russia's economy may grow by barely 2% this year, with potential growth also at around 3%, despite oil prices being around $100 a barrel. India had a couple of years of strong growth recently (11.2% in 2010 and 7.7% in 2011) but slowed to 4% in 2012. China's economy grew by 10% a year for the last three decades, but slowed to 7.8% last year and risks a hard landing. And South Africa grew by only 2.5% last year and may not grow faster than 2% this year.

Many other previously fast-growing emerging-market economies – for example, Turkey, Argentina, Poland, Hungary, and many in Central and Eastern Europe – are experiencing a similar slowdown. So, what is ailing the Brics and other emerging markets?

First, many of them thus tightened monetary policy in 2011, with consequences for growth in 2012 that have carried over into this year. Second, the idea that emerging-market economies could fully decouple from economic weakness in advanced economies was far-fetched: recession in the eurozone, near-recession in the UK and Japan in 2011-2012, and slow economic growth in the US were always likely to affect emerging-market performance negatively.  .

Third, most Brics and a few other emerging markets have moved toward a variant of state capitalism. This implies a slowdown in reforms that increase the private sector's productivity and economic share, together with a greater economic role for state-owned enterprises (and for state-owned banks in the allocation of credit and savings), as well as resource nationalism, trade protectionism, import-substitution industrialisation policies, and imposition of capital controls.

Fourth, the commodity super-cycle that helped Brazil, Russia, South Africa, and many other commodity-exporting emerging markets may be over. The fifth, and most recent, factor is the US Federal Reserve's signals that it might end its policy of quantitative easing earlier than expected, and its hints of an eventual exit from zero interest rates, both of which have caused turbulence in emerging economies' financial markets.

Finally, while many emerging-market economies tend to run current-account surpluses, a growing number of them – including Turkey, South Africa, Brazil, and India – are running deficits. And these deficits are now being financed in riskier ways: more debt than equity; more short-term debt than long-term debt; more foreign-currency debt than local-currency debt; and more financing from fickle cross-border interbank flows.

2 India business confidence drops (Will Davies in The Wall Street Journal) Indian companies became more pessimistic about the economy in the April-June quarter, according to a survey by the New Delhi-based Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry in India, which called on the government and the central bank to take action to boost confidence. The group said 51% of respondents in its latest business confidence survey felt the economic situation worsened in the quarter, while 30% said a fiscal stimulus package would help build sentiment in the short-term.

The majority of the 200 business representatives surveyed from June 1 to July 25 said factors affecting business performance included weak demand in India and overseas, poor infrastructure, high cost of credit, rising prices of raw materials and wage costs, Assocham said in a statement Sunday.

India’s economic growth last fiscal year slowed to a decade-low of 5%. Investment in infrastructure rose just 7.8%, about half the average annual rise since 1991. The government says at least $1 trillion needs to be invested in new infrastructure over the next five years. Foreign investment, meanwhile, tumbled to $25.3 billion from $43.4 billion five years before.

3 Amazon adding 7,000 jobs (San Francisco Chronicle) Amazon says it is adding 7,000 jobs in 13 states, beefing up staff at the warehouses where it fills orders, and in its customer service division. The company said it will add 5,000 full-time jobs at its US distribution centers, which currently employ about 20,000 workers who pack and ship customer orders.

The world's largest online retailer has been spending heavily on order fulfillment, a strategy meant to help the business grow, but one that has also weighed on profit margins. The company said last week that it lost money in the second quarter, even as revenue increased.

The company is also adding 2,000 jobs in customer service, including full-time, part-time and seasonal. Amazon shares fell $5.91 to close at $306.10.

4 Britain’s Sangin mess (Khaleej Times) In a rare development, British soldiers are back in action in Afghanistan. The strange part is that they have been flown back to the restive areas of Sangin to tackle insurgency. It is not known under what mandate they have returned, and who sent in the requisition. Reports say that local Afghan commanders requested foreign assistance in Sangin district, an area British forces defended from the Taleban until 2010.

At a time when the foreign forces stationed in Afghanistan are on the verge of pulling back, and the withdrawal plan is supposed to be executed by the end of next year, this new surge is baffling. Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a detailed policy prescription, a couple of months ago, had said that coalition troops would not be allowed to operate on Afghan territory, and solo drone strikes conducted by Pentagon are an anti-thesis of understanding between Kabul and its Western allies.

So how come the return of British troops became a reality without the approval of the president of the republic, and Britain studying at length as to what necessitates its boys back in action? Secondly, it is strange that the Western powers that had, of late, decided to broker a dialogue with the Taleban are so wittingly ready to fight the militia and derail the new geopolitical understanding. It is incumbent upon Kabul to make public the specific purpose the British forces were called in, and what were the casualties. Karzai should also make it clear as to what was the participatory role of the Afghan National Army in the entire one-sided episode.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

In US, 4 in 5 face near-poverty, no work; America over the top; Apple, Samsung domination is over; Unemployed, older and jobless for life; World's biggest ad firm

1 In US, 4 in 5 face near-poverty no work (San Francisco Chronicle) Four out of 5 US adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream. Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized US economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.

The findings come as President Barack Obama tries to renew his administration's emphasis on the economy, saying in recent speeches that his highest priority is to "rebuild ladders of opportunity" and reverse income inequality. Hardship is particularly growing among whites, based on several measures. Pessimism among that racial group about their families' economic futures has climbed to the highest point since at least 1987. In the most recent AP-GfK poll, 63% of whites called the economy "poor."

While racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show. Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in the government's poverty data, engulfing more than 76% of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published next year by the Oxford University Press.

Nationwide, the count of America's poor remains stuck at a record number: 46.2 million, or 15% of the population, due in part to lingering high unemployment following the recession. While poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics are nearly three times higher, by absolute numbers the predominant face of the poor is white. More than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41% of the nation's destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks.

2 America over the top (Jonathan Power in Khaleej Times) What is the rationale behind spying on half the world? Even taking into account the terrorist bomb attack on the Boston marathon an American has had less chance this year of being killed by a terrorist than killed falling off a ladder. Is it really necessary to monitor the phone calls and emails of half the world in order to combat such a small threat (including countries such as Brazil, which have never had a terrorist incident)?

Why not monitor the use of ladders? Or find a way of reducing car crashes in the US, which claim 33,000 deaths a year to the Swedish level? According to the widely respected Pew Research Centre, 70% of the membership of the New York-based, elite, Council on Foreign Relations believe that the world is as dangerous as it was during the Cold War. This is so wide of the mark as to be unbelievable. The Cold War threatened mutual nuclear annihilation and the number of wars has gone down sharply the last 20 years.

Of course, there are challenges — the current ones are Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Syria, Somalia, the Congo and Palestine/Israel. Depending on the situation one or other of the existing tools of diplomacy, economic sanctions or peacekeeping can do as good a job as can be done of ameliorating them.
Threat exaggeration is a tool of the military-industrial-academic complex in order to enhance internal vested interests. Without its influence the US defence budget would be cut sharply, as would the income of the arms suppliers. Could the US ever have an honest discussion about supposed threats? If President Barack Obama has not opened one who will?

3 Apple, Samsung domination is over (Eric Fanner in Sydney Morning Herald) As Samsung and Apple slug it out for domination of the smartphone market, new competition is stirring. The combined share of the worldwide smartphone market controlled by Apple and Samsung slipped to 43% in the second quarter from 49% a year earlier, research firm IDC reported.

Some of the companies chipping away at the leaders are familiar names that are trying comebacks, like Sony, Nokia and HTC. Others are relative newcomers, like LG of South Korea and Lenovo, ZTE and Huawei of China. ''The story is no longer Apple versus Samsung,'' Forrester Research analyst Bryan Wang said. ''They will both face similar challenges.'' Analysts say buyers are more willing to look at alternatives to Apple or Samsung because the differences among smartphones are less pronounced nowadays.

Individually, none of these companies pose a threat to the top two. Collectively, however, the next three top players showed strong growth over the past year. No.3 LG's share of worldwide smartphone sales rose from 3.7% a year earlier to 5.3% in the second quarter, Strategy Analytics said. No.4 ZTE rose from 3.7% to 5% and No.5 Huawei went from 4.2% to 4.8%. As recently as the first quarter of 2011, three Western companies - Apple, Nokia and BlackBerry - had topped IDC's list.

4 Unemployed, older and jobless for life (Alina Tugend in The New York Times) For those over 50 and unemployed, the statistics are grim. While unemployment rates for Americans nearing retirement are lower than for young people who are recently out of school, once out of a job, older workers have a much harder time finding work. Over the last year, according to the Labor Department, the average duration of unemployment for older people was 53 weeks, compared with 19 weeks for teenagers.

There are numerous reasons — older workers have been hit both by the recession and globalization. They’re more likely to have been laid off from industries that are downsizing, and since their salaries tend to be higher than those of younger workers, they’re attractive targets if layoffs are needed. Even as they do all the things they’re told to do — network, improve those computer skills, find a new passion and turn it into a job — many struggle with the question of whether their working life as they once knew it is essentially over.

This is something professionals who work with and research the older unemployed say needs to be addressed better than it is now. Helping people figure out how to cope with a future that may not include work, while at the same time encouraging them in their job searches, is a difficult balance, said Nadya Fouad, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

5 World’s biggest ad firm (BBC) France’s Publicis and US firm Omnicon have announced a merger to create the world’s biggest advertising company worth $35.1bn. Omnicom chief executive John Wren and Publicis Groupe boss Maurice Levy are to become joint CEOs. Each firm's shareholders will hold about 50% of the new Publicis Omnicom Group. The firm will be listed in Paris and New York and will employ more than 130,000 people. Among the well-known industry names that are in the combined company are BBDO, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Leo Burnett.
"The communication and marketing landscape has undergone dramatic changes in recent years including the exponential development of new media giants, the explosion of big data, blurring of the roles of all players and profound changes in consumer behaviour," said Mr Levy.
The companies see savings of $500m from the merger, and the deal is expected to be finalised by the end of the March 2014. They say the merger should be "tax-free" and the holding company based in the Netherlands. The new Publicis Omnicom Group will overtake UK rival WPP in size.

Friday, July 26, 2013

IMF sees US economy picking up; Egyptians' quarter-life crisis; Gold smuggling takes off in India

1 IMF sees US economy picking up (BBC) The underlying condition of the US economy is improving, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, the IMF added that the recovery from recession has so far been "tepid". In its regular assessment of the economy, the IMF said the US still faces "powerful headwinds". But it noted gains on stock markets and in house prices, and predicted that economic growth should gradually accelerate over the next year.

The IMF said the expiration of the payroll tax cut earlier this year and the impact of government spending cuts (through the so-called sequester) were "weighing significantly on growth this year". However, further ahead, the IMF sees a slightly brighter picture and expects "economic activity to accelerate to 2.7% next year as the fiscal drag subsides and the negative legacies of the financial crisis wane further".

Overall, the IMF felt that the improvement in the underlying conditions of the US economy "bodes well for a gradual acceleration of growth". The IMF's assessment is in stark contrast to one it released early this week on the eurozone, in which it concluded that the economies in several member countries remained weak.

2 Egyptians’ quarter-life crisis (Maria Golia in The New York Times) Youth is at the forefront of Egypt’s political movement because it has the most at stake. Among all the citizens of this overpopulated, chronically mismanaged desert country, they also have the hardest work ahead: They are inheriting limited land and water resources, environmental devastation born of unregulated development and inadequate housing owed to decades of clumsy or corrupt policies.

Considering that half of the 20 million Egyptians aged 18 to 29 live in poverty and 77% of those between 15 and 29 years old are unemployed, Egypt is remarkably peaceful these days. I wonder if New York or any other big American city could survive for over two and a half years amid such political uncertainty without a functioning police force.

The relative calm is the result of entrenched traditions respecting authority and favoring order, however tenuous, over chaos. Parents here command respect without having to threaten withholding allowances or privileges. Questioning authority in this culture can mean losing your job or worse. Yet obedience and conformism — which are reinforced in schools, mosques and churches, and the workplace — have paralyzed both individual initiative and teamwork. Consensual decision making comes hard to people accustomed to either giving or taking orders.

Whether they stand firmly for or against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s youth have much in common. They, like the rest of their beleaguered fellow citizens, all want good governance, stability and prosperity. Their real battle is not with one another but with the outdated “my way or the highway” thinking they inherited from their authoritarian elders.

3 Gold smuggling takes off in India (Biman Mukherji & Arpan Mukherjee in The Wall Street Journal) India, the world's largest gold consumer, meets almost all of its demand via imports. And purchases from abroad require buyers here to sell the rupee to raise greenbacks. Curbing imports is meant to limit that downward pressure on the currency.

The country sharply increased the import tax on gold to 8% from 6% in June, the fourth such increase in the last year and a half. In December 2011, the import tax on gold was set as a flat rate that amounted to about 1%. Last month, the government also made it harder for dealers to use bank credit to buy the precious metal from suppliers overseas. The nation's central bank restricted banks and trading agencies from importing gold on behalf of customers and taking payment later.

The measures are having an effect. Gold imports declined 11% to 859.7 tons in 2012 from 969 tons in 2011. And the total for June fell about 80% to 30 tons from 162 tons in May, according to a trade ministry official. But while supply may be falling, demand isn't.

Traders and tax officials say the import decline presents opportunities for smugglers. "Smuggling of gold seems to be increasing month on month," said a senior official in the Department of Revenue Intelligence, a part of the Finance Ministry that combats tax evasion. "It is mostly coming from Dubai but also from Bangkok and Singapore." The official said some of the gold comes by sea, but it also is being smuggled across land borders with Bangladesh and Nepal.

The number of people arrested by the department for gold smuggling rose to 32 in the quarter that ended in June from four during the same period a year earlier, according to the Revenue Intelligence official. The value of the gold seized during the quarter was 270 million rupees, more than 10 times the 25 million rupees of precious metal retrieved from smugglers during the same period in 2012, said the official.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Eurozone recession may be over; Reading India's poverty stats; Enter Baby Cambridge; Enjoy now, new prince -- It's all downhill from here

1 Eurozone recession may be over (Phillip Inman & Graeme Wearden in The Guardian) Hopes of a recovery in the eurozone were lifted after private sector firms across the region reported a rise in output for the first time in 18 months, leading to predictions that the single currency bloc is on the cusp of exiting recession. A strong performance by German manufacturers and a halt to the headlong decline in French business activity gave the eurozone a much needed boost after the area slipped into reverse last year.

With the US manufacturing sector expanding at a faster pace in July, the main blot on the global economic recovery was a decline in manufacturing output in China that some economists have warned could force Beijing to renew its stimulus spending or risk a hard landing. China's manufacturing sector tempered the eurozone data, slowing to an 11-month low as new orders faltered and the job market darkened.

Policymakers in Brussels will be buoyed by the monthly healthcheck of firms in the euro area that found that manufacturing output has risen for the first time since February 2012. Service sector firms are also pulling out of their long decline, with France and Germany leading the way out of the downturn. The euro hit a one month high of $1.3249 against the US dollar after the data was released.

2 Reading India’s poverty stats (Anant Vijay Kala in The Wall Street Journal) This week the Indian government released its latest estimates on the number of people living in poverty in the country. And there seemed to be good news. In the year ending 2012 there were 269.3 million people (21.9% of the population) living below the poverty line, the Planning Commission, the government’s think-tank, said.

For sure, that’s a huge number, but it’s far lower than the 407.1 million people under the poverty line in the year ending 2005, when the Planning Commission estimated that 37.2% of the population were living in poverty. But how accurate are these most recent estimates and do they stand up to economic scrutiny? Some experts have questioned the government’s definition of poverty and argue that it may lead to a gross underestimation of poverty levels in India.

The Planning Commission’s data are based on a methodology recommended in 2005 by a panel of experts headed by economist Suresh Tendulkar who died in June 2011. The methodology defines poverty in terms of consumption or spending of an individual during a certain period. Only those spending up to around 27 rupees a day (45 cents) in rural areas and about 33 rupees (55 cents) in urban areas would be counted as living in poverty. The Commission’s report does not qualify the term “poverty.”

Critics say the spending line has been drawn too low. The lower the poverty line, the fewer people who qualify as existing beneath it. Economic realities, such as the high and rising cost of food, rent and commodities, in India, mean it is impossible to make even bare minimum purchases of food with such small amounts of money, some economists say.

NC Saxena, a former bureaucrat who monitors food programs in India on behalf of the Supreme Court of India, says the estimates of numbers living in poverty are meaningless in the current economic climate. He says the poverty line has been historically set at “very very low levels” in India. The latest definition puts the poverty line slightly below the lowest levels set by the World Bank; levels at which the bank says people are living at the edge of subsistence. The World Bank’s extreme poverty line is based on purchasing power parity, or PPP, for $1.25. The PPP compares the amount of currency needed to buy the same item in different countries.

3 Enter Baby Cambridge (Khaleej Times) For months, the media had given in-depth coverage on Kate Middleton’s pregnancy that precariously bordered on utter voyeurism. Now the “great Kate wait” is over. The Duchess of Cambridge has delivered an eight-pound, six-ounce, baby boy, much to the delight of fans, who are arriving in hordes outside the Buckingham Palace to celebrate his birth.

The international interest in the arrival of the royal baby has been especially phenomenal. The media in the US — a country that has been historically bereft of an aristocratic class and prides itself for giving its citizens equal opportunities — has ironically shown a great obsession with the royal baby. It seems like the modern fairytale has generated much fascination among the Americans, despite their age-old dislike for the concept of nobility or a privileged class.

But there are some who are rather puzzled or annoyed by this abnormal fixation on the latest addition to the British royal family and have taken to the social media to express their views. These people, however, should know that the royal baby mania is not going to die anytime soon. Speculations regarding the baby’s name are already rife in the media and soon the paparazzi will go in a mad rage to snap a picture of the newborn. Subsequently, the baby’s looks will spawn columns in tabloids. So, everyone must get ready to hear and watch anything and everything about the future King of England. Baby Cambridge is definitely going to be the most talked about baby in the world, and there’s nothing that will change that.

4 Enjoy now, new prince – It’s all downhill from here (Simon Jenkins in The Guardian) The public craves bad news, especially gossip. If it is to absorb good news, it must be served hysterical. Thus every sporting victor is a "hero" and every minor actor a "megastar". The trivial must be accorded significance. The Olympics must be "worth billions" to Britain; a Murray triumph must mean freedom for Scotland.

When stripped of executive power, monarchy does not represent the state; it is the state anthropomorphised, the state in human form. The bloodline is thus the guarantor of national eternity. Blessed by the luck of inheritance, offspring must literally play to the cult of the individual, like Krishnamurti or the Dalai Lama. That is why the birth of infants has always heralded a new dawn, symbolising both continuity and renewal. Henry VIII was delirious with joy on the birth of a son, the hapless Edward VI.

No amount of gilding can strip inherited celebrity of danger. The good fairies who gather round the new prince's cradle this week have evil ones hovering on their shoulders. Even as the press hypocritically debates how the baby's privacy might be respected, its fingers shift the lens focus and itch over the Twitter feed; #labour is readying itself for a Niagara of gossip. Nothing can stop it.
Short of going into exile, the third in line to the throne cannot expect to enjoy the slightest privacy.

He will spend his life with a media drone hovering overhead, listening, prying, revealing, proclaiming a global "public interest" in intrusion. Who knows but today's celebrity may yet prove the prince's happiest – or at least most private – moment. But at least he has done his public duty by sharing that happiness with millions.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

China manufacturing at 11-month low; Cisco buys Sourcefire for $2.37bn; World cold to India retail policy

1 China manufacturing at 11-month low (BBC) China's manufacturing activity fell to an 11-month low in July, hurt by a decline in new orders, according to a preliminary survey by HSBC.  The bank's Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) fell to 47.7 from 48.2 in June. The PMI is a key indicator of activity in the sector and a reading below 50 shows contraction. This is the third month in a row that the HSBC reading has been below that level.

The data comes amid fears of a slowdown in China's overall economy. Data released earlier this month showed that China's economic growth slowed in the April to June period, the second straight quarter of weaker expansion. The world's second biggest economy grew by 7.5% compared to the previous year, down from 7.7% in the January to March period.

China's manufacturing and export sectors have been key drivers of its economic growth over the past decades. However, demand for China's exports has slowed recently, especially from key markets such as the US and Europe as they grapple with slowing economic growth.

2 Cisco buys Sourcefire for $2.37bn (San Francisco Chronicle) Cisco has said that it reached a deal to buy computer network security company Sourcefire for about $2.37 billion in cash. Under the terms of the agreement, Cisco will pay $76 cash for each of the Columbia, Md.-based company's shares.

Cisco said the addition of Sourcefire will boost its own cybersecurity offerings and speed development of its security strategy of defending, discovering, and remediating advanced threats. The deal also includes the assumption of outstanding stock awards and retention-based incentives. The companies valued it at about $2.7 billion.

Sourcefire was founded in 2001 and went public in 2007. In 2012, its revenue jumped 35% to $223.1 million.

3 World cold to India retail policy (Rajesh Roy in The Wall Street Journal) India could ease its policy on foreign investment in the multibrand retail sector, as the country has yet to receive any firm proposals from overseas supermarkets about 10 months after it allowed them to set up operations.

The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, which is part of the Trade Ministry, has proposed several changes to the policy to attract investors in the sector. India lifted a ban on foreign investment in supermarkets in September, allowing foreign companies to own as much as 51% of local joint ventures.

The department has suggested that foreign supermarkets should be required to make a minimum investment of $50 million in supply-chain infrastructure such as cold storage and warehouses. When the government announced the policy, it had said foreign companies must make half of their total investment in supply-chain infrastructure. The department also has proposed that the cabinet lift a provision that bans foreign retailers from setting up stores in cities with populations of less than one million.

In September, when India opened up the multibrand retail sector, the government positioned the policy change as a landmark economic overhaul that had the potential to bring in much-needed foreign capital, help tame food-price inflation and modernize the country's logistics industries. But critics argue that the introduction of foreign supermarkets to the sector would erode business at 12 million traditional retail vendors. The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has threatened to reverse the decision if the party comes to power.

Foreign retailers such as Wal-Mart and Tesco had shown interest in India's retail sector, enticed by the country's highly fragmented $500 billion market. But they have become cautious amid the lack of political unanimity, as well as concerns over rules such as the compulsory investment in supply-chain infrastructure and a requirement to source at least 30% of the products they sell from small local industries.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Resignation letter as a book: Invitation

Resignation letter as a book: Invitation

My book, ‘Fourth Estate to Rubber Estate – Resignation letter of a journalist’, is being released at the Press Club, Trivandrum, Kerala (India) on Monday, July 22 at 10 am.

The book is a tongue-in-cheek take on my 28 years in media, from 1984 to 2012, touching on changes in society, technology, journalism and much else during that period. It also takes stock of my contribution to making a mess of this world.

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Ambassador (Retd) TP Sreenivasan will release the Malayalam and English versions of the book.

Would love to have your there.
Regards and a warm welcome.

Joe A Scaria 

(The publisher is Poorna Publications, Kozhikode, Kerala. +91 495 2720085 tbsbook@gmail.com. Flipkart or Amazon India should be able to deliver the book, sourcing it from Poorna Publications. Price India Rs 90. Roughly US $ 1.5. For the book cover visuals, search Joe A Scaria on Facebook.)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Profits tumble at Intel, IBM; After Posco, ArcelorMittal scraps India project; Taliban to Malala: This is why we tried to kill you

1 Profits tumble at Intel, IBM (BBC) Two tech titans, IBM and Intel, have reported big drops in net income. Intel reported a second-quarter profit of $2bn, down 29% from a year ago. For its part, IBM saw earnings for the same period fall 17% to $3.23bn. Revenue for both companies slipped as well, with IBM's falling by 3% and Intel's down 5%.

Chipmaker Intel suffered as consumers and businesses switched away from traditional computers, while IBM made less on hardware and more on software. Last quarter, IBM's revenues and profit fell short of analysts' forecasts for the first time in eight years. As a result, the world's largest computer company slashed jobs and pivoted to focus on data analysis and cloud computing in an effort to stabilise its business.

More than 3,300 workers were cut from its ranks, and management at the top was changed. The company has now upped its forecast for the rest of the year, while its April-to-June figures beat expectations. IBM is unaffected by the global slide in sales of traditional personal computers, since it sold that division of its business to China's Lenovo for $1.75bn in 2005.

For Intel - the world's largest semiconductor manufacturer - the picture is not as rosy. After initially assuring investors that the outlook for the rest of the year would be bright, the company has now slashed its expectations in the wake of declining PC sales. According to market research firm Gartner, global PC shipments fell 10.9% to 76 million in the second quarter. This is the fourth straight quarter of declining sales for the company.

2 After Posco, ArcelorMittal scraps India project (BBC) The world's largest steel company, ArcelorMittal, says it has abandoned plans to build a steel plant in eastern India because of problems acquiring land. Initially agreed in 2006, the company was to manufacture 12 million tonnes of steel a year in Orissa state. But farmers who oppose the purchase of their land have protested.

The move comes a day after Korea's Posco scrapped a $5.3bn plan for a steel plant in southern India. The company said it was still pursuing two other projects in Jharkhand and Karnataka states. Farmers complain that they are being forced to sell land at below market rate.

3 Taliban to Malala: This is why we tried to kill you (Saba Imtiaz in The Guardian) A senior member of the Pakistani Taliban has written an open letter to Malala Yousafzai – the teenager shot in the head as she rode home on a school bus – expressing regret that he didn't warn her before the attack, but claiming that she was targeted for maligning the insurgents.  

Adnan Rasheed, who was convicted for his role in a 2003 assassination attempt on the country's then-president Pervez Musharraf, did not apologise for the attack, which left Malala gravely wounded, but said he found it shocking. "I wished it would never happened [sic] and I had advised you before," he wrote.

Malala was 15 when she and two classmates were targeted by a masked gunman who picked them out on a school bus as they went home from school in Pakistan's northwest Swat valley last October. Last week, she celebrated her 16th birthday by delivering a defiant speech at the United Nations in New York, in which she called on world leaders to provide free schooling for all children.

In the letter, Rasheed claimed that Malala was not targeted for her efforts to promote education, but because the Taliban believed she was running a "smearing campaign" against it. "You have said in your speech yesterday that pen is mightier than sword," Rasheed wrote, referring to Malala's UN speech, "so they attacked you for your sword not for your books or school."

Rasheed – a former member of Pakistan's air force, who was among 300 prisoners to escape jail in April last year – advises Malala to return to Pakistan, join a female Islamic seminary and advocate the cause of Islam.