Sunday, October 28, 2012

Steve Jobs's Secret Yacht Looks Like a Giant iPhone

Just over a year after Steve Jobs's death, shipbuilders in Aalsmeer, Holland have finally finished the yacht that the Apple visionary spent years designing -- stealthily, of course. Boy, does it look like an Apple product. Her name is Venus.

Built entirely out of aluminum, the yacht was designed by Jobs personally along with some help from French designer Phillipe Stack. It's a big one, too. The ship measures between 70 and 80 meters, but because of the aluminum construction, it's lighter than your typical yacht, giving it a bit of an edge when it comes to speed. It doesn't lack amenities, either. The front of the ship is equipped with a uniquely large sun deck with a jacuzzi built in. Behind that comes an all glass cabin that's topped with a bridge equipped with seven 27-inch iMacs that handle the ship's navigation and controls. When you take a step back, squint a little and turn your head to the left, it sort of looks like an iPhone 4 with the strip of windows around the middle and the clean lines.

Jobs's yacht project might seem a little out of character at first. After all, the billionaire was famously humble about many aspects of his lifestyle. He lived in a normal house on a normal suburban street in Palo Alto, California, not some massive mansion out in the mountains. He wore jeans, a black turtleneck sweater and New Balance tennis shoes, a basically thrifty choice for a man who could afford his own cashmere farm. He also drove a very nice car, but it wasn't rapper nice. That is, it wasn't a Bentley or an Aston Martin or a Maybach -- just a Mercedes. (Ok, now we're stretching the humble thing, but you get the point.)

We now know that Steve Jobs was not a stranger to the finer aspects of being filthy rich, luxuries like chrome-coated yachts and custom-built private jets. But hey, the guy wanted to retire one day, and so what if he wanted to live like a king after building the world's most valuable technology company. Walter Isaacson wrote about the yacht in his biography of Steve Jobs, who had evidently been working on the project alone for six years:

After our omelets at the café, we went back to his house and he showed me all of the models and architectural drawings. As expected, the planned yacht was sleek and minimalist. The teak decks were perfectly flat and unblemished by any accoutrements. As at an Apple store, the cabin windows were large panes, almost floor to ceiling, and the main living area was designed to have walls of glass that were forty feet long and ten feet high. He had gotten the chief engineer of the Apple stores to design a special glass that was able to provide structural support. By then the boat was under construction by the Dutch custom yacht builders Feadship, but Jobs was still fiddling with the design. "I know that it’s possible I will die and leave Laurene with a half-built boat," he said. "But I have to keep going on it. If I don’t, it’s an admission that I’m about to die."

Sadly, Jobs did die before the yacht was finished, but the folks at Feadship finished the job. Evidently, the Jobs family recently had a little christening party with the shipbuilders, who all got an iPod Shuffle with "Venus" engraved on the back as a token of thanks. Now that we said all that stuff about Jobs and conspicuous consumption, you'd think they could have at least splurged for the iPod Touch.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Seamless transit at all highway toll plazas by 2014

The Government is working on a plan which would bring an end to long vehicular traffic at the national highways' toll plazas with the help of electronic collection system, a move that will save Rs. 87,000 crore a year.

"Within two years we intend to bring all toll roads under the electronic collection system," Road Transport and Highways Minister C P Joshi told PTI.

The system, which has already been made operational on pilot basis at Chandimandir near Panchkula on the Delhi-Parwanoo highway, the toll is paid electronically.

It works through Radio Frequency Identity (RFID), which is given to the vehicle by embedding a smart chip, which can store value like the pre-paid mobile cards.

Doing away with the manual system, the RFID would enable toll collection without making the vehicle stop.

"Inexpensive sticker tags with unique IDs would be fixed on the windshield of the vehicle. Simultaneously all toll plazas on National Highways will be equipped with the system to read this tag," Joshi said.

Joshi said, the present manual system of toll collection suffers from several loopholes.

"There are many complaints of overcharging and undercharging. There is a congestion and crowding of vehicles at toll booths leading to wastage of time and fuel," he said.

According to a study by the Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata, and the Transport Corporation of India, delays at toll plazas cost the economy an estimated Rs. 87,000 crore every year.

Joshi said the initiative follows recommendations of a high-level committee, headed by Chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India, Nandan Nilekani.

The country at present has about 10,000 km of National Highways under toll with about 200 manual collection centres.

India risks backlash hurrying through Aadhaar project

India is shaking up the way it gets billions of welfare dollars to the poor with a plan that could one day reshape the economy and tackle graft keeping millions in poverty, but in one small town a pilot of the new system is proving unpopular.

Putting India's technological prowess to work to bring the entire 1.2 billion population within the reach of government, the widely feted unique identity (UID) project set up by Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani two years ago has so far scanned the irises of 210 million people into a biometric database.

Now, in a more ambitious version of programmes that have slashed poverty in Brazil and Mexico, the government has begun to use the UID database, known as Aadhaar, to make direct cash transfers to the poor, in an attempt to cut out frauds, who siphon billions of dollars from welfare schemes.

"We can ensure that the money goes to the correct person and the role of middleman is ended with direct transfer of benefits to the needy," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a crowd of thousands in the Rajasthani town of Dudu on October 20, as he launched the programme, accompanied by the president of his Congress party, Sonia Gandhi.

Following a slew of reforms aimed at jolting Asia's third largest economy from a deep slump, the plan could over medium term bring some order to India's troublesome fiscal deficit by plugging leakages of subsidized grain, fuel and fertilizer.

Two years ago, a McKinsey report estimated such an electronic platform for government payments to households would save up to $18 billion (Rs. 96,480 cr) annually - enough to wipe out one-sixth of a fiscal deficit that could hit 6 per cent of GDP this fiscal year.

In the next year alone, the government plans to transfer the wages for over 50 million workers in a rural job scheme, along with pensions for 20 million senior citizens and about 5 million education scholarships and some fuel subsidies directly to bank accounts linked with the Aadhaar identity number.

But in Beelaheri, a small village in the Rajasthani region of Kotkasim where the kerosene pilot began last year, hundreds of bank accounts have been set up without referencing the UID database, as the government pushes ahead with the politically rewarding cash transfers before readying Aadhar to identify the correct beneficiaries.

Critics warn good intentions are already being undermined by the hurry ahead of a national election due in 2014 and by vested interests, including bureaucrats and politicians in states, who stand to lose discretion over distributing funds.

The government is aiming for about two trillion rupees of cash transfers under different schemes by March 2014 even if the distribution of the ID numbers is incomplete, according to several media reports.

By lowering costs, Aadhaar could make a planned food subsidy programme that is a pet project of the left-leaning Sonia Gandhi easier to finance, for example.The Congress party is banking on that programe to help it win a third consecutive term, despite voter anger at graft.


The pilot project in Beelaheri, a village of 2,000 people some 130 km (81 miles) southwest of Delhi, replaces kerosene subsidies with cash rebates and has been running since December. It has massively lowered demand for the subsidized fuel, which weighs on government finances.

But teething problems are immediately visible.Hundreds of new Aadhaar ID cards are strewn in messy piles on the counter of a small tea-shop on the edge of the village. Locals drift in and rifle through the cards, looking for their own.

The government has begun the cash transfers even to people who have not received their cards, said Pushkar Raj Sharma, a local government official overseeing the scheme in the area.On the back foot over multiple corruption allegations, the government is desperate to win back voters with effective welfare programs without further blowing out a fiscal deficit being closely watched by global credit ratings agencies.

The government is likely to spend over $55 billion (Rs. 2,94,769 crore) this fiscal year ending in March on fuel, fertiliser and food subsidies, as well as a flagship scheme guaranteeing 100 days of work a year to rural labourers, and other welfare programmes.

Launched by Singh in 51 districts, the government says the direct cash transfer plan will eliminate millions of fraudulent benefit claimants over the next 4-5 years. It says Aadhaar could reduce subsidies by about one percentage point of GDP.

The Kotkasim plan, one of five small pilot projects across India, offers insight into issues the wider Aadhaar-direct transfer project may face when it is rolled out nationally.

Sharma said the project had cut the amount of kerosene being sold to one-eighth of the earlier levels, partially d ue to elimination of "ghost beneficiaries," or duplicate identities used to claim benefits.

But he also admitted the pilot had been rolled out with little coordination with the UID database and that funds being transferred arrived only sporadically in bank accounts.

"Funds are not coming in time. Otherwise the scheme is very useful to check leakages," Sharma said.Many villagers were frustrated at the new system, which makes them pay market rates up to three times the subsidized cost of kerosene, and then makes it difficult to recover the money.

Tailor Dharam Pal said he had simply stopped buying kerosene he was entitled to because he faced a lengthy visit to the bank to withdraw the rebate, often to find it had not been deposited."I have no idea when the money will come and I have to spend half of my working day every time to visit the bank," said Pal.

Instead, many villagers are buying more easily available cooking gas, suggesting lower kerosene sales in part represent a drop in legitimate use.Lower sales are good for government finances whatever the reason - but obstacles to cheap fuel do not play well with voters."The government will have to pay a price in elections. Not even half of the people in village are buying kerosene." said Tulsi Ram, 45, a villager.

Critics warn the goal of registering the biometric data of 1.2 billion people -- currently being carried out by two different enrollment programmes -- and bringing the masses of rural India into the banking system could face big problems if the wrinkles are not quickly ironed out.

"I would call it a logistical nightmare," said Jyotinder Kaur, an economist at HDFC Bank, India's No. 3 lender.Kaur feared the system would be still vulnerable to graft, whereby one person could obtain multiple cards during their distribution, for example.

"I would be very cautious given the implementation risks, and the size of the population and the fact that there is really no sanctity attached to the UID," Kaur said.

Apple iPad mini vs Amazon Kindle Fire HD, Google Nexus 7, Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0

After much speculation, Apple has finally taken the wraps of its iPad mini on Tuesday.

Apple iPad mini sports a 7.9-inch screen and has a screen resolution of 1024X768 pixels. The 16GB Wi-Fi only variant of iPad mini will retail for $329. Apple has announced that the pre-orders for this table will start from October 26 and the Wi-Fi versions would begin shipping on November 2, 2012.

Apple iPad mini will compete head on with Google's Nexus 7, Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Samsung Galaxy Tab 2. Here's a quick specs comparison to show how Apple's new offering stands against the rivals.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

One World Currency – Not Just Coming… Already Here

Now before you write me off as another tinfoil helmet whack job, take a look at how the 2nd largest US airline defines its liability for lost luggage:

For international travel to which the Montreal Convention applies (including domestic portions of international travel), United’s liability is limited to 1,131 SDR (Special Drawing Rights) per customer for checked and unchecked baggage.

That’s right. United Airlines uses SDR as part of its normal and customary business practices. Now technically, only a sovereign country can acquire and hold SDR (right now) so what United Airlines is doing is quoting SDR as a measure of value.

But it gets better. In 2011 there was a serious proposal to price oil, gold and other hard assets in SDR. This would, in one fell swoop, replace the US Dollar as the world reserve currency. As long as SDR are country to country, they represent a sovereign reserve. But when lost luggage is priced in SDR, and maybe oil too, this sounds like a new form of money.

And now, SDR have been proposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a possible global currency. In their own words: “In the even longer run, if there were political willingness to do so, these securities could constitute an embryo of global currency.” And, “(g)eneralized use of SDR as a unit of account for global trade invoicing would also create demand for SDR- denominated assets as both the public and private sectors develop exposure to SDR- denominated flows.”

Where did all this start? The International Monetary Fund (IMF) invented the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) in 1969 to function as an “international reserve asset.” The SDR were created as part of the Bretton Woods Agreement, which operated on a gold/US dollar standard until 1973. Initially the SDR was tied to gold, but with Nixon’s breaking of the gold standard, the value basis was switched to a basket of currencies and has remained such since. Exchange rates for the SDR to the Euro, Yen, Pound and Dollar in August 2012 are as follows:

The SDR has now taken on a life of its own. The IMF now also sees the SDR as a means to create liquidity in the system. In 2009, when banks in the US and around the globe were teetering on the brink of collapse, the IMF “printed” about 180 billion new SDR to inject into the financial system. To help mitigate the effects of the financial crisis, a third general SDR allocation of SDR 161.2 billion was made on August 28, 2009.

Separately, the Fourth Amendment to the Articles of Agreement became effective August 10, 2009 and provided for a special one-time allocation of SDR 21.5 billion.

Money Magazine’s online edition reported in 2011, that “Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the IMF, acknowledged there are some ‘technical hurdles’ involved with SDR, but he believes they could help correct global imbalances and shore up the global financial system.” He went on to say, “Over time, there may also be a role for the SDR to contribute to a more stable international monetary system.” Recent proposals have been floated to increase the amount by another couple trillion more.

The IMF and member countries see the SDR as a powerful way to keep the financial system stabilized, but that stability rests on a house of cards created by the IMF and each country’s ability to print more money as needed. The US dollar still remains strong even with the trillions injected in various stimulus packages in the past decade. The main reason is that even though huge sums of new dollars entered the system, the velocity of those dollars is slow. Most of it has gone into propping up the capital reserves of regulated banks and financial institutions. If and when these dollars begin to circulate in the economy, the effect will be felt as inflation to the consumer.

In the last decade, the cost of commodities in dollar terms has sored. The HIRE act has wittingly or unwittingly made the US dollar difficult to utilize as an international means of settlement. In November of 2010, China and Russia stopped requiring companies to trade in dollars and settled accounts in Rubles and Yuan. What company would want to risk the seizure of 30% of their transfer just for the privilege of trading in dollars? As more and more companies decide to use their own currencies, the strength of the dollar is bound to fall. The SDR is the logical replacement and is being positioned to take its place.

China is running around the globe buying mining companies, oil production, and other hard assets with their huge stockpile of US dollars. They are effectively dumping dollars for commodities, or actually even better, the source and production of commodities. Talk about a long-term multigenerational play.

HIRE Act and Dollar Depreciation

Match this up with the draconian provisions of the HIRE Act, a strong form of US currency controls and, “The idea was that an off-market reserve pool managed by the Fund would provide an opportunity for large reserve holders to diversify their reserve assets while limiting the risk of market disruption, particularly a sharp depreciation of the dollar.”

Where this will end up is anyone’s guess, but the push for a new currency that takes the US dollar out of its current role as the world reserve currency is not happening willy nilly. There is a strategic focus behind the change and the better we understand what is happening and why, the better we can protect ourselves and the value of our assets.

A group of concerned experts and panelists will be gathering in Belize early next month to discuss this and other important issues. The round robin brainstorming sessions are an excellent opportunity to hear what is on everyone’s mind at a level rarely put into writing.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Aadhaar to help millions get benefits of government schemes

Millions across the country may soon get benefits of various government schemes, like cooking gas subsidies and old age pension, targeted at them with the launch of the much-awaited Aadhaar-enabled direct cash transfer system in Rajasthan.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi launched the much touted payment mechanism which is aimed at checking corruption and pilferage in the social sector schemes that seek to promote financial inclusion.

The launch of the scheme coincides with the second anniversary of Aadhaar project, which is being implemented by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

In the last two years, the UIDAI has generated over 20 crore Aadhaar numbers. The Aadhaar number 21 crore was handed over to a villager in Dudu by Sonia Gandhi at a function in Rajasthan which was also attended by Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Chief Minister of Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Union Ministers Sachin Pilot, Ashwani Kumar and Namo Narain Meena among others.

"This is very significant thing and it will help reducing wastage, fraud and corruption," said UIDAI Chairman Nandan Nilekani.

Use of Aadhaar-based delivery mechanism will improve compliance management, reduce leakages and increase efficiency and accountability of the government's social sector schemes.

The government is rolling out Aadhaar enabled service delivery initiative in 51 districts across the country. It will be used for making pension payments, MNREGA payments, PDS distribution, scholarship payments, an official statement said.

UIDAI Director General R S Sharma said, 80 per cent of the work in the 20 districts out of total 51 districts, will be completed by December 2012. Around 80 per cent work in the remaining 31 districts will be completed by the March 31, 2013.

UIDAI has been mandated to cover a total population of 60 crore by March 2014 across 18 states including Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Friday, October 19, 2012

China, India consumer spending to triple by 2020 to $10 trillion: study

Consumer spending in emerging market powerhouses China and India is expected to triple by 2020 to a combined $10 trillion a year, potentially helping to boost economic growth and corporate profits in the developed world, researchers said on Tuesday.

The study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is based on a survey of 24,000 consumers as well as interviews with business leaders. The business strategy consultancy predicts consumers in China and India will spend a combined total of $64 trillion on goods and services in the decade leading up to 2020.

Annual spending on consumer goods will be three times the level spent in 2010, according to "The $10 Trillion Prize: Captivating the Newly Affluent in China and India".

"We are at a turning point in history where relative wealth will shift from the West to China and India, but absolute wealth, including in the West, should increase," said Michael J. Silverstein, a senior partner at BCG and the book's co-author.

Some of the enthusiasm for India, China and other emerging markets has dimmed in recent months due to slowing economic growth, weak progress with structural reforms and political risks. Emerging equities have also not performed as well in recent years as their developed peers.

But the book's authors played down these worries, saying India and China were experiencing the inevitable volatility in emerging economies.

The middle class in the two countries is expected to reach 1 billion by 2020, BCG said, noting that in India, the proportion of middle-class people is expected to grow to 45 percent in 2020 from 28 percent in 2010.

BCG said Western companies need to win over the growing middle class of the two countries via long-term strategies adapted to the future spending habits of these new consumers.

It named Kraft, Yum! Brands, PepsiCo, Gucci, LVMH, BMW, and Pernod Ricard as companies that have deployed successful strategies in these countries.

India, China took less time to double economic output: US

India and China, the two leading emerging economies, are experiencing roughly 10 times the economic acceleration of Industrial Revolution, a top American official has said. This is resulting in tectonic shifts in global commerce, he noted.

The Assistant Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, Michael Camunez said while Europe took two centuries to double its economic output per person, US took 50 years, India and China, each having more than a billion population, achieved it in 16 and 12 years respectively.

"The Industrial Revolution, hatched in the mid-1700s, took two centuries to gain full force -- Britain, the revolution's birthplace, required 150 years to double its economic output per person; in US locus of the revolution's second stage, doubling GDP per capita took more than 50 years," Camunez said in American National Standards Institute.

"A century later, when China and India industrialized, the two nations doubled their GDP per capita in 12 and 16 years, respectively," he said.

Moreover, Britain and US began industrialization with population of about ten million, whereas China and India began their economic takeoffs with populations of roughly one billion (each), he said.

"Thus the two leading emerging economies are experiencing roughly ten times the economic acceleration of the Industrial Revolution, on 100 times the scale -- resulting in an economic force that is over 1,000 times as big," Camunez said.

According to a recent report of McKinsey Global Institute by 2025, the consuming class will swell to 4.2 billion people. “Consumption in emerging markets will account for USD 30 trillion -- nearly half of the global total," Camunez said.

This is consistent with recent World Bank and IMF forecasts, which predict that about 95 per cent of consumers and up to 90 per cent of world GDP will take place outside the territory of the United States in the coming decades, he said.

"And this rapid growth, as you know, is not limited to the so-called BRICs -- Brazil, Russia, India and China. Indeed, six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The fastest growing economy in Europe last year was Turkey. The fastest growing market in the EU was not Germany but Poland. And this says nothing of the Southeast Asian economies and their white hot markets," he said.

Dragon Speak: Economy, not military, is India's soft spot, Chinese daily says.

India's "soft spot is economic, not military", said a state-run Chinese daily which made it clear that though India's military strength may help defend its border, China's influence "cannot be avoided".

"India has no better choice than to quickly boost its economic growth and improve people's lives in its northeastern region," said a column in the People's Daily.

Ding Dang, a senior editor with the daily, wrote: "India's military strength may help defend its border with China. But China's influence, no matter how indirect it looks at the moment, cannot be avoided. Instead, it's pressing on India right now."

"India's soft spot is economic, not military," it added.

The column said that 50 years have passed since the Sino-Indian Border War of 1962. "Many young Chinese only have a vague idea of that war, but the Indians haven't forgotten."

It said that some Indians "still worry that sometime in the future, China, with increasing military power, may retake the land that it recovered but later gave to India five decades ago".

The writer stated that India "cannot understand where China's strength lies today, and thus fails to find a way through which it can really deal with China's influence or seek joint development".

Stressing that that Chinese military arms and equipment are apparently better than those of the Indian army, and China has increased its spending on border defense, it said that China's military growth is essentially simultaneous with its economic development.

"The Sino-Indian gap actually lies in the economy. China's power stems from its reform and opening-up. Today China has become the second largest economy in the world," it said.

"What deserves more attention from India is the spillover effect of the Chinese economy, rather than the comparison of military power between the two countries."

It went on to say that "East of India, changes are taking place. As soon as the vigour of Myanmar, which has embarked on the path of reform, is activated, the economic fever brought by prosperous development throughout East Asia will spread all the way to India's border".

"As more and more ordinary Indians, especially those living in bordering regions of northeastern India, feel the benefits of rapid economic growth in China and East Asia, how will they look at New Delhi? This is probably the question that India needs to give the most consideration," said the columnist.

The column noted that India has greater military strength in its northeastern regions than before.

"However, the Assam state remains in chaos, and a recent flood left 1.7 million people homeless. Development has remained stagnant in this region for years. The poor economy will only worsen ethnic conflict," it added.

Aircraft carrier Gorshkov's delivery date extended.

Russia delayed delivery of a trouble-plagued aircraft carrier for at least a year on Friday, a blow to India's efforts to quickly build up naval strength as increasingly assertive Asian rival China expands its maritime reach.

Originally built as the Admiral Gorshkov in the Soviet Union, the $2.3 billion aircraft carrier is being reconditioned and was due to be ready this year, but problems with the ship's boilers have pushed the delivery date back several times.

"We believe the handover of the ship will take place in the fourth quarter of 2013," Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said at a joint news conference with his Indian counterpart in New Delhi.

Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony said he had conveyed "serious concern" at the delays to Serdyukov.

The bilateral meeting precedes a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to New Delhi on November 1.

The ship is to be renamed as Vikramaditya and the success of the order is seen as an important test of defence ties between Russia, the world's second-largest arms exporter, and its biggest customer.

India, a big buyer of Soviet Union weaponry, still relies on Russia for 60 percent of its arms purchases, but has diversified its suppliers in recent years. Israel is now the No. 2 seller, and countries like the United States and France also increasing their presence.

"I myself expressed serious concern about the delay," Antony said, adding that the issue had been raised several times. He said he was putting pressure on both sides to finish work on the biolers as soon as possible, but said he had not discussed penalising Russia so far.

India is closely watching the Chinese navy's newly assertive stance in the South China Sea and in a dispute with Japan over contested islands that have raised tensions in East Asia this year.

India bought its first, British-built aircraft carrier in the 1960s, which was decommissioned in 1997. Another ex-British carrier, the INS Viraat, is in operation but is reaching the end of its useful service.

Last month, at a time of high tensions with Japan over the islands, China put its first-ever aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, into service.

Itself a reconditioned vessel from Ukraine, the Liaoning will be used mostly for training and testing ahead of the possible launch of China's first domestically built carriers after 2015, analysts say.

Wary of China's might, a host of south-east Asian nations have ramped up their maritime defence spending.

India plans to spend about $100 billion over the next 10 years to upgrade its largely Soviet-era military equipment.

Apart from Vikramaditya, India is also buying or planning to buy stealth fighters, warships, nuclear-powered submarines and tanks from Russia.

Serdyukov said that production of the fifth generation stealth fighter, the Sukhoi T-50, which it is jointly developing with India, is expected to start in 2020.

He said 1,000 units of the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile, another joint venture, are being built. He said a new faster version of the weapon, which can reportedly travel at seven times the speed of sound, is being developed.

Wal-Mart is accused of violating India's investment rules

Indian regulators have begun an informal inquiry into allegations that Wal-Mart Stores violated rules restricting foreign investment in the country's fast-growing retailing industry.

The regulators are investigating an investment of nearly $100 million by Wal-Mart in an Indian company, Bharti Retail, which operates more than 200 supermarkets across India, at a time when India restricted foreign investments in retailing. The investment took the form of debt securities that paid no interest to Wal-Mart but could be converted into a 49 per cent ownership stake in Bharti. 

India long prohibited foreign equity investments in retail chains that sell more than one brand of products, known here as multibrand retail. It recently changed those rules to allow foreign companies to own up to 51 per cent of such stores, but that change has faced stiff resistance from opposition political parties and even allies of the governing coalition. 

Wal-Mart has long wanted to expand into India, where small, family-owned stores dominate a retail sales market worth about $500 billion annually. The company has a 50-50 venture with Bharti that operates 17 wholesale stores, and it provides logistics and management services to Bharti's Easyday retail stores. 

The investigation into Wal-Mart's relationship with Bharti was prompted by a letter last month to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from a lawmaker representing the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which opposes foreign investment in retailing and many other sectors. 

Wal-Mart and Bharti issued statements denying that they had violated Indian rules or laws. 

"We are in complete compliance with India's FDI laws," the Indian unit of Wal-Mart said, referring to foreign direct investment. "All procedures and processes have been duly followed and details filed with relevant Indian government authorities including the Reserve Bank of India," the central bank. 

An Indian official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing government policy, said Mr. Singh's office had forwarded the letter to the Ministry of Commerce, which sent it to the central bank, which oversees foreign transactions involving Indian companies, to obtain more information. The official said the investigation was not yet a formal inquiry. 

Wal-Mart's actions in overseas markets have come under scrutiny in the United States, where officials are investigating allegations of bribery at its Mexican subsidiary. 

Officials want to determine if the loan from Wal-Mart to Bharti was intended to skirt the letter or the spirit of the foreign investment rules. Wal-Mart lent 4.56 billion rupees ($101 million at the time) to Cedar Support Services, the parent company of Bharti Retail, on March 29, 2010. 

According to Cedar Support's latest annual report, the debentures would automatically convert into a 49 percent equity stake 30 months after they were issued. It is unclear if that conversion took place last month when the 30 months elapsed or if the companies extended that deadline. 

The companies' opponents are expected to argue that the terms of the debentures violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the rules because the debt was to be automatically converted into equity. Critics say the plan was a clever legal maneuver to allow Wal-Mart to quickly enter the Indian market when policy makers relaxed the restrictions on foreigners, which happened last month. 

"The tragedy is we are not monitoring the end use of FDI in India," said MP Achuthan, the lawmaker who wrote to the prime minister. "The government has to ensure that they monitor the FDI coming to India is used" only in industries where it is allowed. 

Bharti is a conglomerate that also controls Airtel, the largest cellphone company in India. In recent years it has expanded aggressively into retailing with help from Wal-Mart, which supplies its stores with produce and other goods, and offers training and management support. 

The partners are expected to announce a venture soon to take advantage of the recent change in the investment rules, which grant each of India's 29 states the right to keep foreign retailers out of their regions. In a telephone interview last month, the top executive at Wal-Mart's Indian operation, Raj Jain, said the company would complete its plans in the next 45 days and could open its first stores in 18 months. 

India has been seen as one of the last large untapped markets for the global retailing chains. Ikea, the Swedish furniture retailer, is expected to open stores in India soon, and Starbucks will open its first outlet in central Mumbai on Friday. 

Can Starbucks change the rule of the game in India?

Your morning cuppa just got frothier. Tata Starbucks, a 50-50 joint venture between Starbucks Coffee and Tata Global Beverages, will launch the country’s first Starbucks outlet in the tony Horniman Circle neighbourhood of south Mumbai today.

The joint venture plans to open 50 stores by the end of 2013.

Avani Saglani Davda, who has worked for the Tata group for over a decade, is the chief executive of the venture. Most recently, she served in the vice-chairman's office of Tata Global Beverages, where she was responsible for marketing and business development, and helped forge the Starbucks partnership.

The store opening is a tangible vote of confidence in India's beleaguered economy. The coffee shop industry in India, which is the world’s sixth largest coffee exporter, is growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 25 per cent for the past few years.

The government has opened its retailing market to foreign players, over loud populist protests, in a bid to boost growth and improve its reputation among skeptical foreign investors. Wal-Mart and IKEA have also said they intend to open retail outlets in India soon.

According to brokerage CLSA, expectations are high from the world’s largest coffee house, which may change the landscape in a nation that has less than 2,000 outlets today. The café culture, which made a humble beginning in 1996 in Bangalore, already faces challenges like small ticket size (calculated as total sales divided by the number of invoices) and competition from other formats.

Coffee consumption in India grew by 3 per cent to 1.06 lakh tonnes in 2011 as compared to 2010, according to data from the International Coffee Organisation. According to the government-run Coffee Board of India, domestic consumption increased by 6 per cent to 1.08 lakh tonnes in 2010 from 1.02 lakh tonnes in 2009.

Traditionally, coffee is the more popular beverage in south India, while the North prefers tea. However, the trend is changing, shows a recent survey by the Coffee Board of India. The number of casual coffee drinkers has risen significantly in the last few years in the non-South regions of the country.

Starbucks’ China foray in 1999 created a lot of concern due to a complex market with a strong consumer preference for tea in addition to low average ticket size, according to CLSA. Today, China is the second largest market (after US) and Starbucks reportedly plans to treble the outlets by 2015 to 1,500.

Starbucks in China is now considered as an aspirational brand. Local alliance, product customisation and premium focus were key success factors for Starbucks in China.

In India, while its association with the Tata group and tailor-made offerings (Tata Tazo Tea) are already in place, only time will show if it is able to make a bond with India’s value-conscious consumer.

Despite a history of 16 years and stunning growth in the recent past, India had just about 1,600 cafes in 2011, according to CLSA. One of the key challenges in India is the high preference for tea over coffee, as a habitual drink—this may change as even FMCG majors like Nestle and HUL are focusing on expanding coffee markets in India.

A typical café in India also competes with a neighbourhood restaurant, which offers several options and operates on a low-cost model.

While the natural inclination for any new entrant would be to operate in premium segment, which accounts for around 22-25 per cent of the overall market, the challenge would be to please India’s value conscious buyers and get scale, CLSA noted.

Less than 25 percent of Chinese like India: Report

Wary of India's economic growth, an overwhelming majority of Chinese have a negative opinion about India, a recent survey has found.

"Roughly a quarter (23 percent) has a favourable opinion of India, while 62 percent offer a negative opinion," a survey done by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre showed.

"Currently, only 44 percent of Chinese say their southern neighbour's expanding economy is positive for China, down from six-in-ten in 2010," the survey said.

Meanwhile, those saying India's growing economy is a bad thing has almost doubled over the same period.

Even Indians don't seem to like Chinese.

"Only 23 percent of Indians describe their country's relationship with China as one of cooperation and only 24 percent think China's growing economy is a good thing for India," it said.

However, the survey showed better attitude of the Chinese towards Pakistan as compare to India.

China's relationship with Pakistan is much brighter, with nearly half of Chinese (49 percent) seeing the relationship as one of cooperation and only 10 percent describing it as one of hostility," Pew said.

Chinese attitude towards Russia is favourably balanced, with 48 percent expressing a positive and 38 percent a negative view.

In contrast, perceptions of the US and the United Nations are roughly divided, with 43 percent holding a favourable opinion of each.

Also, only about a third see the European Union (33 percent) and Pakistan (31 percent) positively.

Chinese perceptions of these foreign nations and institutions have mostly held steady since last year, the report said.

Similarly, Iran receives largely negative ratings, with only 21 percent expressing a favorable view of the Islamic Republic, a decline of eight percentage points since 2011.

According to Pew, while a 39 percent-plurality of Chinese see their country's relationship with the US as one of cooperation, this is down sharply from 2010, when 68 percent held this view.

Meanwhile, over a quarter (26 percent) say the relationship with the US is one of hostility, up from eight percent two years ago.

Similarly, 39 percent in China view their relationship with India as one of cooperation, down significantly since 2010, when 53 percent saw the relationship positively.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

India fully capable of defending itself: AK Antony

India has strengthened its military power since the 1962 Sino-Indian war and is now fully capable of defending itself, Defence Minister AK Antony said on Thursday.

"Infrastructure in the northeast is not up to our satisfaction but it has improved a lot as compared to the past....India of 2012 is not India of that period. We are now capable of defending every inch of our country," he told reporters on the sidelines of a Navy conference in New Delhi.

He was replying to a question on India vis-a-vis China 50 years after the 1962 war in which India had suffered a humiliating defeat.

Mr Antony said earlier India had not focused on enhancing infrastructure in northeastern states. However, we have moved very fast. Now our infrastructure, assets and manpower have substantially improved compared to the past."

The Defence Minister said India will continue to build its infrastructure and provide best equipment to its armed forces while continuing to its dialogue with China on the border issue and maintaining cordial relations with it.

"On the one side, we are strengthening our capability in the border, on the other side, we have established a border management mechanism with China that is now functioning satisfactorily," he said.

On cyber security, Mr Antony said though India is a "latecomer" in terms of putting up a mechanism in this regard, there was an overall coordination within the government and "we are confident of protecting our cyber assets."

"Even though we are a latecomer in putting a mechanism and network for strengthening our cyber security, now we are moving very fast," Mr Antony said.

"Within the armed forces, they have a unified approach on the one side and each service is tasked to certain particular activities in area of cyber security. There is a coordinated effort and all agencies have to work together," he said.

On the issue of requirement of choppers in the Navy, the Defence Minister said, "There is some shortage (of helicopters) and they (Navy) are in the process of overcoming that also."

Earlier this week, three Naval personnel were killed when their ageing Chetak helicopter crashed while landing at an air base in Goa. The Navy has recently issued a tender to replace its fleet of old choppers.

On the issue of help being provided to the families of the personnel killed in the crash, the Defence Minister said, "Whatever maximum possible help is permissible under the law would be provided to them. My sympathies are with their families."

Rs. 8,000 crore cleared for BrahMos, Invar missiles

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the highest decision making body for security issues headed by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, today cleared the acquisition of air-launched version of BrahMos missiles for the Russian-made Su-30 MKi air planes and Russian made Invar anti-tank missiles. The acquisition is estimated to cost the Indian exchequer Rs. 8000 crore.

Earlier, in March, 2012, in a letter to the Prime Minister and Defence Minister A K Antony, former Army Chief General V K Singh had highlighted severe shortfalls in ammunitions and missiles and had pointed out the Indian Army had tank ammunition for three-four days only.

Sources told NDTV that the CCS cleared the Rs. 6,000 crore plan to acquire the air-launched version of the BrahMos missile for India's main stay fighter plane Su-30 MKi.

BrahMos, a super-sonic missile that can travel at about 3 mach speed, is already being used by the Indian Navy and the Indian Army. It is a joint venture between India and Russia.

The Indian Air Force is expected to get about 200 of these missiles. Su-30 MKi will have to be modified to enable them to carry the air version of the BrahMos. In its current form only a single BrahMos can be fitted in the underbelly of the Su-30 MKi. There is, however, an effort to miniaturise the missiles and also modify the Sukhoi-30 under-the-wing-pods so that more than one missile can be fitted into a single aircraft. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is currently working on the modifications.

The first test launch of the air version of the BrahMos is expected to be conducted in December 2012. The BrahMos air version missiles will have range of about 290 kilometres and will enable the Indian Air Force to hit targets deep inside Pakistan while flying within Indian air space.

The CCS also cleared the acquisition of Invar anti-tank missiles for T-90 tanks at a total estimated cost of Rs. 2,000 crore to tide over crippling shortage of tank ammunition. The Invar Missile are fired from the barrel of the T-90 tanks. The Army wants about 20,000 Invar missiles. Source said that about 10,000 of these missiles would be brought from Russian whereas the remaining would be produced by Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) under Transfer of Technology (ToT).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

23 crores of security for Kerala temple, world's richest

The Kerala government on Wednesday cleared a proposal for purchase of security gadgets worth Rs. 23.61 crore to provide security to the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, rated the richest temple in the world.

In July 2011 a Supreme Court committee found six vaults in the 16th century temple laden with treasure. The bullion in five of the vaults is estimated to be worth Rs. 1 lakh crore. One vault is yet to be opened.

"The (security) proposal was put up by the state-owned Keltron (an electronics corporation) which estimated purchase of security gadgets worth Rs. 23.61 crore in three phases. For the first phase, we have given the administrative sanction to buy equipment worth Rs. 9.80 crore," Chief Minister Oommen Chandy told reporters after the weekly cabinet meeting Wednesday night.

The temple has been maintained by the royal family of Travancore.

Two separate committees appointed by the Supreme Court are currently preparing an inventory of the valuables.

Battery builder A123 Systems that won $249 million federal grant files for bankruptcy

No company has embodied Washington's hope for an American-built electric vehicle business like A123 Systems. The Massachusetts-based company was supposed to become the leading home-grown supplier of lithium-ion batteries for automakers in the United States and around the world -- fueled in part by a $249 million grant from the Obama administration. Today, A123 Systems filed for bankruptcy, saying much of its assets would be sold after losing $857 million over the past several years. Here's why it failed.

That photo above comes from an April 2010 speech in the Rose Garden of the White House, where President Barack Obama hailed A123 with Chief Executive David Vieux on his left, for its plans to create 2,000 jobs by 2012. A123 also won $125 million in grants and tax credits from Michigan state officials for building plants there. I was in the audience covering the event, and walked out of the White House while talking to two new A123 employees -- both grateful engineers who had lost jobs in the recession and spent months e-mailing resumes with few responses.

When A123 opened its plant in Michigan later that year, Obama called again to congratulate Vieux: "This is about the birth of an entire new industry in America -- an industry that's going to be central to the next generation of cars," Obama said according to a transcript released by the White House. "When folks lift up their hoods on the cars of the future, I want them to see engines and batteries that are stamped: Made in America."

But A123 was never able to turn the promise of its creation by MIT students and faculty into real-world products. It lost out on supplying batteries for the Chevrolet Volt to South Korea's LG Chem, with General Motors executives at the time citing the more established firm as a safer bet. A123 did eventually win a GM contract for batteries in the upcoming Chevrolet Spark EV, but that wasn't expected to be a high-volume model.

A123's biggest bet lay with Fisker Automotive, and when the Fisker Karma suffered a series of launch delays and sales far below expectations, A123's finances began to take a hit. The company also had to spend $66 million on a recall of its Karma battery packs in 2011 due to a charging defect. While it tried to find other uses for its batteries outside the auto industry, none came close to generating the kind of revenue a major automotive supply contract might.

Since that Rose Garden speech, American have proven far less excited about electric vehicles than what the Obama administration expected. President Obama's goal of having one million plug-in hybrids or electric vehicles on the road by 2015 looks like it will come up short by some 600,000 vehicles, according to Pike Research. So far this year, Americans have bought about 31,000 all-electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids -- and all of their batteries were made by suppliers outside the United States.

While demand has fallen far short, battery supply has boomed. The Obama administration was far from alone in thinking that battery makers were a source of future jobs; A123 and Vieux had been guests of President George W. Bush when he touted his energy plans. Governments around the world, especially China and Japan, have poured billions of dollars into battery research and manufacturing. That money has yet to produce a breakthrough that would make EVs as usable as liquid-fuel vehicles, but it has created a mini-glut of battery makers, driving down prices. A123 attempted to lower its costs with deals in China and Korea, but neither paid off in time.

A123 says in its bankruptcy filing that its assets will be bought for $125 million by supplier Johnson Controls; it had said earlier this year that the government had paid about $130 million of the $249 million grant. Its failure will only strengthen arguments from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that the Obama administration wasted millions of dollars in its pursuit of green jobs. Obama was right on the broader point: Batteries will be essential to future vehicles around the world. But that change won't happen as quickly as he expected, and every nation that builds cars in volume will have its own favored firms vying for the same opportunity. Voters will have to decide whether the chase was worth the charge.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Karbonn announces made-in-India Agnee tablet with Android 4.0

India handset maker Karbonn announced the launch of Ice Cream Sandwich powered Agnee tablet in partnership with Innominds. Based on a Qualcomm reference design, the Agnee tablet will be available in country before Diwali for price-tag under Rs. 10,000. There is no word on the exact pricing or availability details right now.

 On the specs side, Karbonn Angee features Qualcomm MSM722A S1 processor, 7-inch WVGA display, 1.3MP front camera, 512MB RAM and 4GB of internal storage. The tablet also comes with 3G and voice-calling support.

According to Karbonn, the tablet allows access in 22 different Indian languages, and comes bundled with a host of India related content.

Other specs of the tablet include HDMI out, Android 4.0 and 4,000 mAh battery.

"We are excited to present the indigenously designed and developed 3G tablet, driving our focus in creating solutions for consumer and vertical markets. We are glad to be a part of, and to be committed to nurture the ecosystems and partnerships with industry leaders, like Karbonn. We thank QTI for their immense support and enablement," said Anil Katakam, EVP, Innominds.

Karbonn has also stated that it plans to release two more similar tablets in the coming weeks.

Key specs
  • 7-inch 800x480p display
  • 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S1 processor
  • HDMI out
  • 3G HSPA with voice calling
  • 4000 mAh battery
  • Support for 22 Indian languages
  • 512MB RAM

5 investment robbers, and how to deal with them

As an investor you may face different types of challenges in the current global environment where markets and investments are linked. As a fund investor, your life is even more complicated when you have to select between myriad funds from various fund houses. There are several investment options you have among funds—open-ended or close-ended, equity, debt, or commodities, etc.

Having said that, what is the best fund that meets your investment target and needs? Rather than looking at the positives of each fund, let us take a look at the different “investment robbers” and how each fund protects and guards you against each of these robbers.

A fund which protects you from all the “robbers” is the fund we are looking for you.

Investment Robber 1: Inflation

Inflation is one of the biggest—and silent—enemies of any investor, a monster that many investors fail to recognize. Many people believe in “saving money” and mistake it for investment. However, saving is not investing – not according to the rules of money at least.

The rules of money permanently changed in 1971 when the then US president Richard Nixon took the country off the gold standard—a monetary system in which the standard economic unit of account is a fixed weight of gold—and granted itself the license to print money. Since then the US dollar and other world currencies have depreciated while the prices of all commodities measured against them, be it precious metals like gold and silver, industrial metals like steel, copper and aluminum, or agricultural commodities—have all gone up and will continue to rise over the long term.

Hence, inflation is the primary evil that a fund has to protect your investments from.

Debt funds do not offer any protection against inflation because bonds and money market instruments primarily invest for coupon interest or accrual, neither of which is capable of protecting your money against currency depreciation due to inflation. These investments only offer current income, not growth income.

Equity funds certainly offer you protection from inflation as they are invested in companies whose earnings are supposed to grow. Also, gold funds will offer you protection against inflation.

Investment Robber 2: Income Tax

The government is the biggest investment robber, one which systematically takes away your money at all dealing stages—savings, spends, investment or insurance. The tax authorities usually leave a large dent in your pocket. For example, the interest on a bond is fully taxable. As far as mutual funds are concerned, all debt products are taxed and, hence, pure debt funds are helpless at protecting you from taxes.

Equity funds offer you protection in the form of tax-free dividends and long-term capital gains exempt from the purview of the taxman.

Investment Robber 3: Interest Rates

Interest rates are very dangerous in that they affect both debt and equity investments. When interest rates rise, bonds prices fall and so does the net asset value of your bond fund. Again, when interest rates rise, equities as a general rule fall because the earnings of companies drop due to the high finance and interest costs and a contraction in equity valuations due to an increase in discount rates.

Gold investments are what will help you fight off the interest rate demon.

Investment Robber 4: Market Volatility

Prices of all market-determined products, be it equities, bonds or gold, will fluctuate day-to-day. Yes, the price of an accrual product, like a liquid fund, will certainly protect you against market volatility but not against inflation, income tax as well as incorrect asset collection.

Investment Robber 5: Incorrect Asset Allocation

The importance of asset allocation can be understood by only one statistical fact which, Roger Ibbotson, chairman and chief investment officer of equity investment and hedge fund manager Zebra Capital Management, and a professor in finance at Yale University, and Morningstar's Paul D. Kaplan showed in a study in 2000 that 90 per cent of portfolio variability is due to asset allocation. This means only 10 per cent of the variability in portfolio performance is due to individual holdings.

In his book ‘Intelligent Asset Allocator’, American financial theorist William Bernstein has said that “there are two kinds of investors: those who do not know where the market is headed, and those who do not know that they do not know. Then again, there is a third type—the investment professional who indeed knows that he does not know, but whose livelihood depends on “appearing to know”.

Therefore, a cardinal principle of investment is that the only thing which is under your control is asset allocation because that is what you have full control over. However, equity, bond or gold funds do not offer you protection against incorrect asset allocation.

Then what does? Read on.

The panacea is a ‘balanced fund’. Let us see how a balanced fund indeed protects you from all different investment robbers.

Inflation: Balanced funds invest both in equities and debt. The equity component guards your investment against inflation.

Income Tax: Balance funds are treated as equity funds for taxation purposes and, hence, its dividends are tax free as well as outside the purview of long-term capital gains tax. The beauty of it is that even the debt portion becomes tax free, which never ever happens in any other case.

Interest Rates: These funds invest in both equities and debt. The equity component will help you thwart off interest rate troubles.

Market Volatility: Since these funds invest in both equity and debt, they even out-market volatility by providing you with the best risk-adjusted returns with minimal market volatility.

Incorrect Asset Allocation: This is perhaps the most important protection offered by balance funds. As explained earlier, the key to a long-term superior investment performance is asset allocation and what can be better than a fund which has allocation in both equities and debt? Further, these funds always buy the cheaper asset and sell the costlier one when one asset class outperforms the other for optimal asset allocation. This actually is the most important principle of investment—buy cheap and sell dear.

China leads rise in Asia military spending: Study

China in the past decade has outpaced four major military powers in Asia - Japan, India, South Korea and Taiwan - in terms of defence spending as its defence budget quadrupled since 2000, an American think tank has said.

The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, in a report said that the defence spending of these five countries have doubled in the last 10 years.

In 2011, these countries - China, Japan, India, Taiwan and S Korea -- collectively spent an approximate USD 224 billion on defence.

Until 2005, Japan had the largest defence budget in Asia. Since 2005, China has been the biggest spender on defence, having previously replaced India as the second-biggest spender in 2001.

"This comparatively rapid expansion in defence spending is also illustrated by China's share of the group's combined defence spending, which more than doubled from 19.9 per cent in 2000 to 40.2 per cent in 2011," the report said.

The defence spending during the first half of the decade (2000-2005) increased at a slower rate-even contracted in the case of Taiwan-than in the second half (2005-2011) for all countries except South Korea, the report said.

In comparison, aggregate spending in the United States and Europe reflected a different trend. Specifically, total defence spending in the United States grew by twice as much during 2000 to 2005 (7.2 per cent CAGR) as it did between 2005 and 2011 (3.6 per cent CAGR).

In Europe, total defence spending declined from 2001 to 2005 at a CAGR of -1.4 per cent, and declined at an even faster rate (-2.5 per cent CAGR) between 2006 and 2011, it added.

According to the report, the defence outlook for South Korea and India will also continue to be largely shaped by their strained relations with North Korea and Pakistan, respectively.

Notable economic factors include the availability of financial resources and the overall economic climate.

Three of the five countries assessed in this report -China, India, and Japan- ranked in the global top ten defence spenders in 2011, it said.

Hyderabad's last Nizam named all-time richest Indian

When you think of India's all-time richest people, what are the names that cross your mind? No, it's not the Tatas, Birlas or Ambanis, it's Osman Ali Khan, the last Nizam (or ruler) of Hyderabad.

According to a new inflation-adjusted list of the world's richest people of all time, the Nizam, who ruled Hyderabad between 1886-1967, was ranked sixth with USD 236 billion.

Osman Ali Khan died in 1967 at age of 80. Mansa Musa I of Mali - the obscure 14th century African king - was named the richest person in all history, British newspaper 'The Independent' reported today.

With inflation adjusted fortune of USD 400 billion, Mansa Musa I would have been considerably richer than the world's current richest man, Carlos Slim, who ranks in 22nd place with a relatively paltry USD 68 billion.

The list, compiled by the Celebrity Net Worth website, ranks the world's 24 richest people of all time. The list advertises itself as the top 25, but only 24 names appear in the list.

Although the list spans 1,000 years, some aspects of wealth appear consistent throughout history; there are no women on the list, only three members are alive today, and 14 of the top 25 are American.

The list uses the annual 2199.6 per cent rate of inflation to adjust historic fortunes - a formula that means USD 100 million in 1913 would be equal to USD 2.299.63 billion today.

Mansa Musa I ruled West Africa's Malian Empire in the early 1300s, making his fortune by exploiting his country's salt and gold production.

Second on the list are the Rothschild family, whose descendants are still among the richest people on the planet.

Starting out in banking in the late 18th Century, Mayer Amschel Rothschild's finance house accumulated a total wealth of USD 350 billion.

Meanwhile, John D Rockefeller, third on the list, is the richest American to have ever lived, worth USD 340 billion in today's USD at the time of his death in 1937.

In comparison, the poorest man on the list is 82-year-old Warren Buffett, who at his peak net worth, before he started giving his fortune to charity, was USD 64 billion.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reliance Industries may report rise in profits after 3 quarters

Reliance Industries will report earnings for the July to September quarter after market hours on Monday. Analysts expect Reliance Industries, which is India's most valuable firm by market capitalisation, to post a rise in quarterly profit after three consecutive quarters of profit dip. Also see: Major milestones of an oil giant

According to a brokers' poll conducted by NDTV, net profit is seen to jump over 21 per cent sequentially at Rs. 5,424 crore from Rs. 4,473 crore, mainly on account of sharp gains in refining margins. The 5 per cent depreciation in the rupee in the September quarter is likely to aid earnings further. Net sales are expected to rise 2.7 per cent quarter-on-quarter at Rs. 94,377 crore against Rs. 91,875 crore.

Reliance Industries' year-on-year performance is likely to be muted though. Net profit is seen to decline nearly 5 per cent at Rs. 5,424 crore against Rs. 5,703 crore while sales are expected to rise 20 per cent at Rs. 94,377 crore against Rs. 78,569 crore.

Reliance Industries is India's biggest conglomerate in terms of market capitalisation with interests ranging from oil and gas to retail. Here's how key segments are likely to perform.

Refining: It is the biggest of Reliance Industries' business, accounting for two-thirds of the company’s net sales and 40 per cent of the company’s profit before interest and tax (PBIT). Reliance Industries is likely to report a strong sequential jump in gross refining margin (GRM) from $7.6 per barrel in the June quarter to $9-10 per barrel in the September quarter. GRM is the difference between the price of petroleum products and crude oil. GRM gains are likely to be led by middle distillates like kerosene and diesel. On an annual basis, GRMs are likely to be flat.

Petrochemical: It is the second biggest business accounting for over a quarter of the net sales and one third of the profit before interest and tax. However, Reliance Industries' profitability is under pressure from this segment and the trend is likely to continue led by lower product margins.

Oil and gas: Output at Reliance's flagship D6 block, India's largest offshore gas field, is projected to fall to 29 million standard cubic metres a day (mscmd) from 32 mscmd in the June quarter. That's nearly half of the 60 mscmd it was producing in 2010.

New businesses: Investors would be looking for any announcement regarding the upcoming 2G spectrum auction in November. Representatives of RIL subsidiary Infotel Broadband have been attended meetings organised by Department of Telecommunications on proposed spectrum auction, fuelling speculation of RIL's participation in the bidding process.

Reliance said it held nearly Rs. 71,000 crore in cash reserves at the end of June. The company has seen its cash hoard multiply in the last two years, resulting in a disproportionate increase in profits from treasury operations.

Shares in the company have gained over 14 per cent in the three months since July 16. In contrast, the BSE Sensex has gained 9 per cent over the same period. Brokerage major Morgan Stanley had downgraded Reliance Industries to "underweight" from "equal weight" last month citing sharp gains.

The stock traded 0.7 per cent higher at Rs. 824.50 in a weak market today.

Smartphones - Indian buyer's guide

Choosing a new smartphone can be a daunting task. Given the amount of choice available in the market, it is very easy to get confused. To simplify this task, we have compiled a list of a best smartphones which offers the best combination of features and pricing.

Sub-Rs 10,000

The entry-level smartphone segment is most happening price segment in the country. Almost every single mobile phone manufacturer has its products in the segment, making it near impossible to choose your next phone in this budget. If you are going for a smartphone in this budget, chances are that you are a first time smartphone buyers and, like everyone else, you don't want to waste your hard earned money on pretenders.

We recommend Sony Xperia tipo in sub-Rs 10K price segment. It is one of the best budget phones around. With features like 800MHz processor and Android 4.0, you get a decent hardware with a recent Android version on-board. tipo also comes with a 3.2-inch scratch-resistant display with 480x320p resolution. You can even get a dual-SIM version of the phone by paying a little extra money with identical features


If you are a Nokia fan and don't trust other manufacturers, you can opt for Nokia Asha 311, a recently launched Series 40 phone. It may not be able to compete with Android or iOS in features, but certainly provides simplicity and the credibility of Nokia. Asha 311 comes with industry-standard specification and you get a 1GHz processor, a 3-inch display with 400x240p resolution, 3G and 3.2MP camera at a very affordable price.

If you prefer QWERTY, HTC ChaCha is your best bet. Originally launched with a price around Rs. 15,000, the price of this smartphone has since come down to under Rs. 10,000 and it is the best QWERTY in this budget. It might not be running on Jelly Bean or Ice Cream Sandwich, but other features make it worthy of consideration. ChaCha comes with 2.6-inch 480x320p resolution display, 512MB RAM, 800MHz processor, 5MP rear camera and front camera.

Rs. 10,000 to 15,000

The low-mid range price segment has also seen plenty of activity in the recent months and many interesting new smartphones have landed in this budget.

We recommend the Nokia Lumia 710. Powered by Windows Phone 7.5, the smartphone packs some great features at a great price. It might not boast of the app choice provided by Android, but you will find most of the popular apps on the platform and more are being added every day. The smartphone features a 1.4GHz processor, 3.7-inch 800x480p resolution display, Windows Phone 7.5, 5MP rear camera, and 1300 mAh battery. The phone should also get the forthcoming Windows Phone 7.8 update, though, like other Windows Phone of its generation, it will miss out on the Windows Phone 8 update.


If don't want to go Windows Phone way, LG Optimus L5 is a decent option with Android in this budget segment. LG Optimus L5 is part of Korean manufacturer's L-Style series of smartphones and comes with good features and a nice design. The smartphone features a 4-inch display, 800MHz processor, 5MP rear camera, Android 4.0.

You can also opt for HTC's Desire C, another potent Android smartphone in the budget. The smartphone comes with Android 4.0 and HTC Sense UI. Other features include 5MP rear camera, 800MHz processor and 1500 mAh battery.

Rs. 15,000 to 20,000

With time, Rs. 15-20K price segment has become quite interesting. Dual-core processor powered smartphones have breached Rs. 20K price point and we often see high-end smartphones getting price-cut and landing in this price-bracket. Thus, we have some really nice smartphones in this budget and choosing one is really hard.

We recommend the Sony Xperia U because of the great specifications in a price that borders Rs. 15K. The smartphone is part of Sony's NXT lineup and has recently got the Ice Cream Sandwich update. It also comes with dual-core processor and a 3.5-inch display. The overall performance of the smartphone is great and you will not find a more powerful smartphone at its price.


Don't like buying Sony smartphones, you can opt for Motorola's Atrix 2, which also received its Android 4.0 update recently. Powered by a dual-core processor, the smartphone sports a 4.3-inch qHD display, making it a great media consumption device thanks to the large display size. The smartphone also offers a decent 8MP rear camera, VGA front camera and 1785 mAh battery.

Another alternative is Samsung Galaxy S Advance, a Galaxy series smartphone from the Korean manufacturer. Galaxy S Advance packs some great features and is powered by Android 2.3, but company has promised to provide Jelly Bean update to the smartphone, skipping ICS altogether. It comes with 4-inch Super AMOLED display, dual-core processor, 1500 mAh battery, 5MP rear camera, and 1.3MP front camera.

Rs. 20,000 to 30,000

Typically this amount could buy you the flagships devices from most manufacturers but Rs. 20-30K price bracket no longer houses industry's top devices. However, there are still many great smartphones to choose from in the segment.

We recommended LG Optimus 4X HD for the price-segment and there is no doubt that this is the best smartphone that you can buy right now under Rs. 30K. Powered by Tegra 3 quad-core processor, the device sports a 4.7-inch 720p display, 8MP rear camera, front camera and Android 4.0. This is the only quad-core smartphone in this budget and is a steal at current pricing.


Despite the launch of Galaxy Note II, Samsung Galaxy Note still remains a great device to buy. The specifications of the phablet are still better than many smartphones and company has already promised Jelly Bean update for the device. It features a 5.3-inch Super AMOLED HD display, 1.4GHz quad-core processor, 8MP rear camera, front camera and Android 4.0. The device also comes with S-Pen support.

If you don't want to go for Android, Nokia's Lumia 800 is another alternative that you can choose in this budget. Featuring a 1.4GHz processor and 3.7-inch AMOLED display in a spectacular design, the smartphone is worthy contender for Windows Phone lover in this budget. It too comes with 8MP camera, Windows Phone 7.5 and 16GB of internal storage. The same warning as the Lumia 710 regards to software updates applies.

Above Rs. 30,000

What used to be a price segment for rare devices, now houses the real high-end devices with monster specifications

With the iPhone 5 yet to launch in the country, we recommended Samsung Galaxy S III if money's no bar. The smartphone is one of the best Android smartphones around. Powered by a quad-core processor, the smartphone comes with 4.8-inch Super AMOLED HD display, 8MP rear camera and a host of software customisations. The device is scheduled to get Jelly Bean update very soon.


HTC's flagship smartphone One X is no less than Samsung Galaxy S III and perhaps the only place where the S III scores a significant advantage is in software customisations. The smartphone has an awesome display and a great camera. One X comes with quad-core processor, 4.7-inch 720p display and 8MP rear camera.

Don't want to go for neither Galaxy S III or One X, until iPhone 5 lands in India, iPhone 4S is your best bet. The smartphone has already got iOS 6 update and packs some decent specifications despite being a year old. The smartphone comes with 3.5-inch Retina display, dual-core processor and 8MP rear camera. Some retailers have dropped the price of the iPhone 4S, making it an even more attractive option.