Friday, September 28, 2012

Obama blocks Chinese purchase of US wind farms

Citing national security risks, President Barack Obama on Friday blocked a Chinese company from owning four wind farm projects in northern Oregon near a Navy base where the U.S. military flies unmanned drones and electronic-warfare planes on training missions.


It was the first time in 22 years that a U.S. president has blocked such a foreign business deal.

Obama's decision was likely to be another irritant in the increasingly tense economic relationship between the U.S. and China. It also comes against an election-year backdrop of intense criticism from Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney, who accuses Obama of not being tough enough with China.

In his decision, Obama ordered Ralls Corp., a company owned by Chinese nationals, to divest its interest in the wind farms it purchased earlier this year near the Naval Weapons Systems Training Facility in Boardman, Ore.

The case reached the president's desk after the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, known as CFIUS, determined there was no way to address the national security risks posed by the Chinese company's purchases. Only the president has final authority to prohibit a transaction.

The administration would not say what risks the wind farm purchases presented. The Treasury Department said CFIUS made its recommendation to Obama after receiving an analysis of the potential threats from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The military has acknowledged that it used the Oregon Naval facility to test unmanned drones and the EA-18G "Growler." The electronic warfare aircraft accompanies U.S. fighter bombers on missions and protectively jams enemy radar, destroying them with missiles along the way.

At the Oregon site, the planes fly as low as 200 feet and nearly 300 miles per hour.

The last time a president used the law to block a transaction was 1990, when President George H.W. Bush voided the sale of Mamco Manufacturing to a Chinese agency.

In 2006, President George W. Bush approved a CFIUS case involving the merger of Alcatel and Lucent Technologies.

The Treasury Department said in a statement that Obama's decision is specific to this transaction and does not set a precedent for other foreign direct investment in the U.S. by China or any other country.

China's trade advantage over the U.S. has emerged as a key issue in the final weeks of the presidential campaign. Romney accuses Obama of failing to stand up to Beijing, while the president criticizes the GOP nominee for investing part of his personal fortune in China and outsourcing jobs there while he ran the private equity firm Bain Capital.

Both campaigns are running ads on China in battleground states, especially Ohio, where workers in the manufacturing industry have been hard-hit by outsourcing.

Obama, in an interview Wednesday with The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, said the U.S. must push hard against Beijing but "not go out of our way to embarrass" China.

"We're not interested in triggering an all-out trade war that would damage both economies," Obama said.

The president has the power to void foreign transactions under the Defense Production Act. It authorizes the president to suspend or prohibit certain acquisitions of U.S. businesses if there is credible evidence that the foreign purchaser might take action that threatens to impair national security.

CFIUS is chaired by the treasury secretary. The secretaries of state, defense, commerce, energy and homeland security are also on the committee. The director of national intelligence is a non-voting member.

Earlier this month, Ralls sued the national security panel, alleging CFIUS exceeded its authority when it ordered the company to cease operations and withdraw from the wind-farm developments it bought. Ralls asked for a restraining order and a preliminary injunction to allow construction at the wind farms to continue. The firm said it would lose the chance for a $25 million investment tax if the farms were not operable by Dec. 31.

A lawyer for Ralls said Friday that the project posed no national security threat and said "the President's order is without justification, as scores of other wind turbines already operate in the area."

Ralls dropped its request for a preliminary injunction this week after CFIUS allowed the firm to resume some pre-construction work. The firm's lawyers were expected to react quickly to the administration decision, said a person familiar with the lawsuit who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitive legal repercussions.

Ralls' legal team includes Paul Clement and Viet Dinh, two top law veterans of President George W. Bush's administration. Both men were key players in Bush's aggressive national security operation.

Clement, who was solicitor-general and argued administration positions before the Supreme Court, has since opposed the Obama administration's health care plan and defended the Defense of Marriage Act before the top court.

Dinh, a former assistant attorney general who was the main architect of the Bush administration's anti-terror USA Patriot Act, has lately served as a director and legal adviser to Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

A second Chinese firm stymied by CFIUS urged U.S. authorizes this week to investigate their firm to quell fears of ties to China's military. Huawei Technologies Ltd. announced in early September that it would unwind its purchase of U.S.-based computer firm 3Leaf Systems after the deal was rejected by CFIUS.

Huawei, one of the world's largest producers of computer network switching gear, has repeatedly struggled to convince U.S. authorities that they can be trusted to oversee sensitive technology sometimes used in national security work.

Prime Minister leads initiative for direct cash transfer to subsidy beneficiaries.

The Prime Minister has begun the process of developing a system that will allow cash to be transferred directly to the bank accounts of those who qualify for government subsidies and schemes. A committee headed by him will supervise the plan and deadlines for the electronic cash transfer system that is intended to eventually cover a quarter of all households.


A statement from his office said the "Cash Transfer System would improve targeting, reduce corruption, eliminate waste, control expenditure and facilitate reforms." It stressed that the plans for this scheme will be fast-tracked.

The government spends a huge amount of Rs. 3,25,000 crores annually on subsidies and the new electronic scheme is intended to check corruption and pilferage of subsidised items like diesel, LPG. The programme will initially cover scholarships, pensions and unemployment allowances. Later, it will be used for Public Distribution Schemes which make subsidized grain, sugar and kerosene to poor families. Another big focus will be on using the electronic transfer system for the government's rural employment scheme or MNREGA - wages would be deposited in the bank account of the labourer, checking corruption by middlemen.

What makes the new electronic system possible is the national identification scheme - Aadhar -which provides a unique ID card for all Indians with the individual's biometrics. A national database -the largest in the world when complete - will store this information. Bank accounts will eventually be linked to Aadhar cards, making it possible for the government to pay pensions or health benefits directly to beneficiaries. The government expects all Indians to have their unique ID cards in another two years.


The committee that the Prime Minister heads will include ministers of Finance, Information Technology, Health, Food, Petroleum and Natural Gas and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission.

Sub-committees will handle the technological, banking aspects as well as transfer rules, controls and audits. But cash transfer has been opposed by political parties like the Left. The move is sure to rake up yet another controversy.

Aakash, touted as the world's cheapest computer.

Clearly, whatever the computing power of the Aakash, politicians find it difficult to resist wordplay around it. Mr Modi had said that the much-hyped tablets have not come down to earth yet.


"Kaash (If only) this Aakash tablet could land on earth, then the lie (promise of free laptops by state Congress) they (Congress) are spreading now would hold some weight," Mr Modi had said.

Saying that the advanced version of the device Aakash 2 has been developed by IIT Bombay with more applications, Mr Sibal in his letter asked Mr Modi for his feedback hoping "you would be satisfied with the hard work that has been put in by our institutions and our people".

He said "though it (Aakash) has taken time, I am of the firm opinion that Aakash will showcase the best in frugal innovation that our country can proudly pioneer". Mr Sibal said the Cabinet would soon be approached on seeking of approval for manufacture of five million Aakash tablets.

He said that on education day, they would provide 20,000 children with Aakash at Vigyan Bhawan here.

"We dreamt and we realised it. Why? Because we don't have an alternative."

He said Aakash-2 tablets will be priced at Rs. 2,276. It will have Cortex A8 - 1Ghz processor, 512 MB RAM and 4 GB of Flash Memory.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sahara: massive, splashy...and mysterious

On August 31, the Supreme Court ruled that finance schemes run by two Sahara companies were illegal and ordered it to repay as much as $4.5 billion (Rs. 24075 crore; $1 = Rs. 53.5) to up to almost 3 crore mostly small investors, plus interest. The final figures are still to be determined as some clients have already redeemed their investments, lawyers on both sides of the matter said.The case has shone a rare light on the unlisted giant whose interests range across finance, housing, media and entertainment.

Sahara has accumulated a string of trophies in recent years, including a stake in a Formula One motor racing team and ownership of Grosvenor House hotel in London. In July, it agreed to buy a controlling stake in New York's Plaza Hotel.

But its core client base is the towns and villages away from the shiny cities of modern India. There, Sahara sells investment products to often poor people in amounts as small as Rs. 2 a day. The company is a household name in India through its lead sponsorship of the national cricket team.

"Banks take eight years to pay what I get from Sahara in five years," Chaudhary, 40, said in Khalilabad, a town in Sant Kabir Nagar district in Uttar Pradesh. Like several Sahara customers interviewed nearly two weeks afterwards, he had not heard of the court ruling.

Spending power

Critics, including activist groups, say Sahara's investment products are designed to evade oversight by financial regulators and that it lacks transparency on the source and use of its funds, selling products to investors who do not understand the risks and ploughing the proceeds into real estate projects.

Under the scheme rejected by the Supreme Court, two firms owned by Sahara had offered bonds to small investors, promising, in some cases, to return three times the face value after 10 years.The court ruling that it raised money by "dubious" means follows another rebuke in 2008, when the RBI ordered a Sahara company to stop taking deposits from the public.

In a country where "black money", or undeclared wealth, is rampant, Sahara's size and spending power have long fuelled speculation over how the company operates.Sahara, headed by Subrata Roy Sahara, its chairman and self-described "managing worker", says it helps small investors outside the banking system and that it has never defaulted on them.

"Sahara agents motivate people who would otherwise spend the money on liquor, gambling, etc," said Guddu Pandey, a school teacher and Sahara agent in Uttar Pradesh, echoing an argument made by Sahara after the court verdict.The company did not respond to several attempts by Reuters to get answers to written questions. Roy was not immediately available to be interviewed, Sahara said.Sahara has not said how it will refund the money to investors, although it has said it is healthy and investors need not worry.

All in the family

The company's full name is Sahara India Pariwar, or family. Roy, 64, refers to himself as the guardian of the world's largest family, and espouses a philosophy of "collective materialism".At its headquarters in Lucknow, staff greet visitors by putting their right hand to their chest and saying "Sahara Pranam". Pranam is a respectful version of hello.

Roy, often photographed wearing a black necktie and vest over a white shirt, is based nearby at the showpiece Sahara Shaher, a sprawling gated complex of low white buildings and lawns where he lives and where the group holds an annual mass wedding for 101 couples who could otherwise not afford it.

Starting with capital of Rs. 2,000 in the late 1970s, Roy built Sahara into a giant that, according to its website, had assets of more than $21 billion as of April 2011.Roy is often described as a billionaire but he is not on the Forbes list of rich Indians. Sahara's website says no dividend has been paid for 34 years and no profit has been taken out of the company.From its north India base, Sahara has become a cashed-up global investor in hotels, sports and entertainment.

Last year, Roy teamed up with liquor baron Vijay Mallya of Kingfisher beer fame, paying $100 million for 42.5 per cent of his Force India Formula One auto racing team. It paid $370 million for a franchise in cricket's Indian Premier League.

In 2010, Sahara considered buying English Premier League soccer club Liverpool and held talks to buy the debt of film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Neither deal happened.Still, Roy is not typically bracketed with a corporate elite led by Indian families such as the Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis.

"If you look at the orthodox business community, they have kept him at arm's length," said Ashok Prasad, a physician, lawyer and academic who taught overseas before returning to Gorakhpur, the city where Roy started out.Instead, Roy is associated with Bollywood celebrities and, like many tycoons, is seen as having good political connections.

Last year, K.M. Abraham, then a SEBI board member, which had ordered that the bonds be refunded in the case that ultimately went to the Supreme Court, wrote to the prime minister alleging "undue pressure" from the then-finance minister and his office to deal leniently with high-profile cases, including Sahara's.The Finance Ministry and the regulator denied the allegations.

Sahara-sized

Sahara says its land holdings in India are more than 33,600 acres. Although not all is majority-owned, it amounts to more than any listed Indian developer.The group has two small listed units, Sahara One Media and Entertainment Ltd and Sahara Housingfina Corp Ltd, whose combined market capitalisation is $48 million.

In 2009 another group company, property developer Sahara Prime City Ltd, filed a draft prospectus for an IPO to raise up to Rs. 3,450 crore. The deal never took place but it came back to haunt Sahara when the prospectus attracted the attention of the securities regulator to the fund-raising scheme ultimately banned by the Supreme Court.

While an IPO of that size in India would typically see top-tier investment banks scrambling for a piece of the action, it was managed by four local brokers and Japan's Daiwa Securities SMBC, a small player in India. Several bankers at global institutions said they would not work with Sahara given concerns about governance and transparency.

"Their business model is not transparent. There are some grey areas," said the CEO of a large Indian bank, who like many people interviewed for this story declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the matter.
"Sahara has a lot of cash but we don't know where all this cash is coming from."Not that it seems to need bankers. Unlike many big, acquisitive groups, Sahara's in-built funding sources mean it does not rely on bank loans."Have you ever seen Sahara's balance sheet? Nobody has seen it," said a senior executive at another major Indian lender.

The people

Among many poorer residents of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, Sahara has substance. Its sponsorship of the Indian cricket team in a country mad about the sport adds to its credibility in small towns.
"Sahara bank? That way," an elderly tea stall operator in Harraiya said when asked for the location of the Sahara branch office, erroneously referring to it as a bank.

The branch itself, up a flight of stairs in a nondescript grey concrete building, was bustling on a recent day.Sahara customers interviewed in Uttar Pradesh said they trusted the company, which has been around more than 30 years. Some had reinvested in Sahara products when they matured.Sahara operates through nearly a million agents, who sign up clients and collect payments, sometimes on a daily basis.

"I have never been to a Sahara office. The agent comes, does all the paperwork, and collects the money," said Anil Tripathi, a travel agent who said he had doubled his money with Sahara.Sahara has built a large niche in a country where 90 percent of the workforce is informally employed, half of households do not have bank accounts and loan-sharking is rife."The smallest of the small, the poorest of the poor—the banking industry is not able to cater to them," said Arvind Mohan, a Lucknow University economist.

The ruling

The issue with Sahara is transparency and regulation, critics and regulators say.For example, it does not always publicise its investment plan terms. A newer scheme, Q Shop Plan H, which is built around the group's new initiative to sell household goods directly to consumers, promises returns of about 135 per cent after 6 years, according to a term sheet that does not mention Sahara.Some agents said they were asked to try and convert holders of the outlawed bonds to the new plan.

Asked if the details of the scheme banned by the court were explained to customers, a long-time Sahara employee in Uttar Pradesh said: "We don't have to explain all that. The depositor only wants to know how much he would be paying and how much he will get back on maturity."The court ordered the money be repaid within 90 days, with 15 per cent annual interest, prompting speculation over how Sahara will scrape that kind of money together.

Sahara responded with a rambling, full-page newspaper ad assuring investors their money was safe. It also condemned any suggestion it had raised any so-called "black money" or sought any undue favour from any authority."People cannot accept Sahara's super-fast growth. All along we have been getting beatings and beatings from all authorities, whereas we should be appreciated," it said.

Country's first private airport to come up in Kerala

KGS Aranmula International Airport Ltd, which is developing India's first private airport at Aranmula, Pathanamthitta district, has received clearance for the project from the Airports Authority of India (AAI), according to the executive director of the developer.


"A team from the AAI visited the site of the airport and gave full clearance for the project. The Rs.2,000-crore airport project is expected to offer a significant development boost not only to Aranmula and Pathanamthitta district, but also to the entire region," said P.T. Nandakumar, Executive Director of KGS.

This airport, once complete, will facilitate the pilgrimage to the Sabarimala temple, as the airport will come up near the temple.

A statement from the developer on Wednesday said recent reports of protests against the airport were based on rumours.


"There was a local shutdown to protest the inclusion of KGS Aranmula Airport project in the recent Emerging Kerala meet. The project was not included in the Emerging Kerala investment meet," the statement said.

Mr Nandakumar said that the KGS Group was committed to preserving Aranmula, which has been identified as a heritage village by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for the implementation of the Endogenous Tourism Project.

"The airport project does not involve displacement of families. Land for the project has already been acquired. Fears on these grounds are completely unfounded," said Mr Nandakumar.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Power reforms: Bailout for state boards.

The cost of power is all set to rise as the Cabinet approves a restructuring package for state electricity boards across the country.


One of the major riders for availing the restructuring package is that state electricity boards will have to revise the tariffs for consumers annually, and cut down on their transmission and distribution losses by 25 per cent.

Years of populism, corruption and mismanagement have driven the power distributors, most of them state-owned, deep into the red. They had accumulated Rs. 1.9 lakh crore in losses by the end of the 2010-11 financial year, according to government data.

The country's mostly state-owned distribution utilities are drowning in losses and were blamed for triggering probably the worst blackout in history in July, when power was cut for two consecutive days in a massive area home to 67 crore people.

A lifeline for power distributors would free up cash and help them buy more power to supply factories and homes that resort to expensive diesel generators and solar panels to plug their energy gaps.

Under political pressure to sell below cost and losing more than a quarter of power supply to theft and decrepit networks, distribution companies have been borrowing for years to fund their losses. Just seven of the country's 28 states—Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh—have between them accumulated short-term debt of Rs. 1.9 lakh crore from power distribution.

Last week, the government cut subsidies on diesel and opened up the country's vast retail sector as well as aviation to foreign investment to win back investor confidence and attack the country's ballooning fiscal deficit.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, defending the measures, said "money does not grow on trees" and that failure to bridge the gap between government spending and income would stoke inflation and lead to further loss of confidence in the economy.

Half measures

But analysts said the bailout plan did not address the country's long-term energy problems and may only drag government lenders deeper into the red.

"The debt restructuring, as it stands, appears largely a breather as it is not accompanied by any concrete reform measures," said Kameswara Rao, a partner at consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers.

With loans to power distributors accounting for 4-7 per cent of their respective books, Indian Bank, Union Bank of India, Bank of India, Oriental Bank of Commerce and Canara Bank are among those with the highest exposures, according to a report by Bank of America-Merril Lynch.

The country's largest lender, State Bank of India, and leading private banks have no exposure to the distributors, according to the report.

"The restructuring could worsen their (banks') asset liability mismatch," Rao warned. That is because banks will have to wait longer to be paid back, hampering their ability to repay short-term liabilities.

Oracle paid CEO Larry Ellison a cool $96 million last year

Larry Ellison, the founder and CEO of Oracle Corp. and one of the wealthiest people in the world, saw his pay jump to $96.2 million last year.


The pay, disclosed in a corporate filing, was up 24 percent from the previous year's total of $77.6 million. Most of Ellison's pay came from stock options that were valued at $90.7 million when they were granted in June 2011.

Those options, to buy 7 million shares at $32.43 a share, have value only if the stock is trading above that price. The options have been under water for most of the time since they were granted. But on Friday, Oracle stock rose 21 cents to close at $32.47.

The company cut Ellison's performance-based bonus to $3.9 million, down from $13.3 million a year earlier. Other senior executives endured similar cuts. That was because Oracle's profit growth for the year came in below its goals, according to the yearly filing it made Friday.

Oracle's net income rose 17 percent to $9.98 billion for the year that ended May 31. Revenue rose 4 percent to $37.12 billion.

The company said compensation was $51.7 million for both Safra A. Catz, its president and chief financial officer, and Mark Hurd, its president. Nearly all their pay was also in stock options that had little value as of Friday.

Oracle said its compensation committee recognizes that Ellison, 68, already "has a significant equity interest in Oracle, but believes he should still be eligible for an annual compensation package because of his active and vital role in our operations, strategy and growth."

Ellison's salary was only $1 for the year that ended May 31, 2012, unchanged from the previous year.

Forbes this week estimated Ellison's net worth at $41 billion. That ranked him as the sixth-richest person in the world and the third-richest in the United States, behind Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffett, head of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

The Associated Press' calculation isolates the value the company's board placed on the executive's total compensation package in the last fiscal year. It includes salary, bonus, performance-related bonuses, perks, above-market returns on deferred compensation and the estimated value of stock options and awards granted.

The calculation doesn't include changes in the present value of pension benefits. And they sometimes differ from the totals that companies list in the summary compensation table of proxy statements filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The statements to the SEC reflect accounting charges taken for the executive's compensation in the previous fiscal year.

iPhone 5 opening weekend sales top 5 million, 100 million+ devices on iOS 6

Apple released the iPhone 5 opening weekend sales numbers on Monday, and while the numbers are strong, they aren't as "blowout" as some were expecting.


Apple confirmed that it sold over 5 million iPhone 5 units across the 9 countries the phone went on sale Friday. The numbers are a modest 25% gain over the 4 million sales that the iPhone 4S recorded over its opening weekend.

Additionally, Apple confirmed that over 100 million iOS devices have already upgraded to the newly released iOS 6. Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed at the iPhone 5 launch event that, as of June this year, there are over 400 million iOS devices out in the wild. That means a staggering 25% of iOS users have upgraded to the latest version of iOS barely 5 days after its release.

As a contrast, as per Google's own estimates, even 3+ months after its launch, the latest version of Android (Jelly Bean) was being used by only 1.2% of Android users.

Back to the iPhone 5. While those expecting between 6-10 million opening weekend iPhone 5 sales may term the numbers as disappointing, Apple CEO Tim Cook suggested, they couldn't have done any better.

"Demand for iPhone 5 has been incredible and we are working hard to get an iPhone 5 into the hands of every customer who wants one as quickly as possible," said Tim Cook, Apple's CEO. "While we have sold out of our initial supply, stores continue to receive iPhone 5 shipments regularly and customers can continue to order online and receive an estimated delivery date. We appreciate everyone's patience and are working hard to build enough iPhone 5s for everyone."

iPhone 5 sales should receive a further boost when the phone goes on sale in another 22 countries this Friday.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Full speech: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's address to the nation

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today addressed the nation, defending the economic reforms which were introduced last week.


Here is the full text of Dr Singh's speech:

My dear brothers and sisters,

No government likes to impose burdens on the common man. Our Government has been voted to office twice to protect the interests of the aam admi.

At the same time, it is the responsibility of the government to defend the national interest, and protect the long term future of our people. This means that we must ensure that the economy grows rapidly, and that this generates enough productive jobs for the youth of our country. Rapid growth is also necessary to raise the revenues we need to finance our programmes in education, health care, housing and rural employment.

The challenge is that we have to do this at a time when the world economy is experiencing great difficulty. The United States and Europe are struggling to deal with an economic slowdown and financial crisis. Even China is slowing down.

We too have been affected, though I believe we have been able to limit the effect of the global crisis.

We are at a point where we can reverse the slowdown in our growth. We need a revival in investor confidence domestically and globally. The decisions we have taken recently are necessary for this purpose.

Let me begin with the rise in diesel prices and the cap on LPG cylinders.

We import almost 80% of our oil, and oil prices in the world market have increased sharply in the past four years. We did not pass on most of this price rise to you, so that we could protect you from hardship to the maximum extent possible.

As a result, the subsidy on petroleum products has grown enormously. It was Rs. 1 lakh 40 thousand crores last year. If we had not acted, it would have been over Rs. 200,000 crores this year.

Where would the money for this have come from? Money does not grow on trees. If we had not acted, it would have meant a higher fiscal deficit, that is, an unsustainable increase in government expenditure vis-a-vis government income. If unchecked, this would lead to a further steep rise in prices and a loss of confidence in our economy. The prices of essential commodities would rise faster. Both domestic as well as foreign investors would be reluctant to invest in our economy. Interest rates would rise. Our companies would not be able to borrow abroad. Unemployment would increase.

The last time we faced this problem was in 1991. Nobody was willing to lend us even small amounts of money then. We came out of that crisis by taking strong, resolute steps. You can see the positive results of those steps. We are not in that situation today, but we must act before people lose confidence in our economy.

I know what happened in 1991 and I would be failing in my duty as Prime Minister of this great country if I did not take strong preventive action.

The world is not kind to those who do not tackle their own problems. Many European countries are in this position today. They cannot pay their bills and are looking to others for help. They are having to cut wages or pensions to satisfy potential lenders.

I am determined to see that India will not be pushed into that situation. But I can succeed only if I can persuade you to understand why we had to act.

We raised the price of diesel by just Rs. 5 per litre instead of the Rs. 17 that was needed to cut all losses on diesel. Much of diesel is used by big cars and SUVs owned by the rich and by factories and businesses. Should government run large fiscal deficits to subsidise them?

We reduced taxes on petrol by Rs. 5 per litre to prevent a rise in petrol prices. We did this so that the crores of middle class people who drive scooters and motorcycles are not hit further.

On LPG, we put a cap of 6 subsidised cylinders per year. Almost half of our people, who need our help the most, actually use only 6 cylinders or less. We have ensured they are not affected. Others will still get 6 subsidised cylinders, but they must pay a higher price for more.

We did not touch the price of kerosene which is consumed by the poor.

My Dear Brothers and Sisters,

You should know that even after the price increase, the prices of diesel and LPG in India are lower than those in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

The total subsidy on petroleum products will still be Rs. 160 thousand crores. This is more than what we spend on Health and Education together. We held back from raising prices further because I hoped that oil prices would decline.

Let me now turn to the decision to allow foreign investment in retail trade. Some think it will hurt small traders. This is not true.

Organised, modern retailing is already present in our country and is growing. All our major cities have large retail chains. Our national capital, Delhi, has many new shopping centres. But it has also seen a three-fold increase in small shops in recent years.

In a growing economy, there is enough space for big and small to grow. The fear that small retailers will be wiped out is completely baseless.

We should also remember that the opening of organised retail to foreign investment will benefit our farmers. According to the regulations we have introduced, those who bring FDI have to invest 50% of their money in building new warehouses, cold-storages, and modern transport systems. This will help to ensure that a third of our fruits and vegetables, which at present are wasted because of storage and transit losses, actually reach the consumer. Wastage will go down; prices paid to farmers will go up; and prices paid by consumers will go down.

The growth of organised retail will also create millions of good quality new jobs.

We recognise that some political parties are opposed to this step. That is why State governments have been allowed to decide whether foreign investment in retail can come into their state. But one state should not stop another state from seeking a better life for its farmers, for its youth and for its consumers.

In 1991, when we opened India to foreign investment in manufacturing, many were worried.

But today, Indian companies are competing effectively both at home and abroad, and they are investing around the world. More importantly, foreign companies are creating jobs for our youth -- in Information Technology, in steel, and in the auto industry. I am sure this will happen in retail trade as well.

My Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The UPA Government is the government of the aam aadmi.

In the past 8 years our economy has grown at a record annual rate of 8.2 per cent. We have ensured that poverty has declined much faster, agriculture has grown faster, and rural consumption per person has also grown faster.

We need to do more, and we will do more. But to achieve inclusiveness we need more growth. And we must avoid high fiscal deficits which cause a loss of confidence in our economy.

I promise you that I will do everything necessary to put our country back on the path of high and inclusive growth. But I need your support. Please do not be misled by those who want to confuse you by spreading fear and false information. The same tactics were adopted in 1991. They did not succeed then. They will not succeed now. I have full faith in the wisdom of the people of India.

We have much to do to protect the interests of our nation, and we must do it now. At times, we need to say "No" to the easy option and say "Yes" to the more difficult one. This happens to be one such occasion. The time has come for hard decisions. For this I need your trust, your understanding, and your cooperation.

As Prime Minister of this great country, I appeal to each one of you to strengthen my hands so that we can take our country forward and build a better and more prosperous future for ourselves and for the generations to come.

Jai Hind.

Apple is becoming a victim of its success: Analysts

The new iPhone 5 is on its way to unprecedented commercial success, but the world's most iconic smartphone is facing tougher competition from rivals out-innovating Apple, analysts say.


Apple's newest iPhone launched Friday has a host of design and technology improvements: it is lighter, slimmer, faster and more powerful, and has improved battery life and a bigger display likely to please its loyal customer base.

Yet some analysts say Apple is becoming a victim of its success -- and is limiting any major changes that could alienate its devoted fans.

"Apple is caught in a typical problem when you create a popular technology platform," said technology analyst and consultant Rob Enderle.

"You don't want to change it very much because some of your user base moves off to something else."

Some of the problems from changes arose with the release of Apple's glitch-prone maps program in its new operating system, prompting many complaints, as did Apple's new connector plug, which may require users to buy an adaptor.

Enderle said Apple has been "leapfrogged" in terms of mobile software by Microsoft's new Windows Phone system, and in hardware by rivals such as Samsung that offer bigger, bolder displays.

"The folks pushing the envelope on technology are Samsung, Nokia and even HTC," he said, naming the companies that have introduced new smartphones in recent months.

Apple, said Enderle, is limited by a single-product strategy that curtails its ability to make any major innovation.

"There is no way to get one product to address everyone's needs," he said. "Apple will eventually have to come up with a multi-product strategy. Their resistance for this on the iPhone is showing its weakness."

Enderle said the new iPhone is "the most elegant smartphone" on the market, but that its design targets only segments of the market. That contrasts with Samsung, which offers a range of devices from entry-level to high-end.

For Apple to have just a single iPhone, Enderle, said "is as if General Motors said every car needs to be a Cadillac."

The iPhone 5, with a bigger screen and slimmer body, was quickly branded by analysts as a sure hit. Some say Apple could sell 10 million units in the opening days and 50 million before the end of 2012.

But Tony Costa of Forrester Research says Apple is facing a much more competitive smartphone market that in past years.

"For the second year in a row, Apple has put forth significantly improved but underwhelming iPhones," said Costa.

"Apple's failure to continually bring new device innovations to the market allows competitors to catch up and threaten its iOS platform.

"Today, Apple's iOS platform and ecosystem seem invincible. But all empires eventually crumble, and unless Apple ups its device innovation game, we may be seeing Apple's iOS empire approaching its zenith."

Apple has fierce customer loyalty and has been gaining users, but has failed to keep pace with smartphones powered by Google's Android operating system.

Research firm IDC says Apple has 16.9 percent of the global smartphone market, with 68 percent of the market held by makers of Android phones, led by Samsung.

Ramon Llamas, mobile analyst at IDC, agreed that Apple is "just catching up to the trend" in many areas, but is not ready to bet against the Cupertino, California firm.

"Apple is still the reigning champion," Llamas said, noting that Apple has kept its customer base with a broad "ecosystem" that includes its huge app store and iTunes platform.

"Apple does a really good job of taking a feature and marketing it and wrapping it up in so much hype, that it makes it them seem that they are the ones that invented it," he said.

Long range strategic missile Agni-IV successfully test-fired

India on Wednesday successfully test-fired its nuclear-capable strategic missile Agni-IV with a strike range of about 4000 km from a test range off Odisha coast.


It was test launched with the help of a mobile launcher from launch complex-4 of ITR at Wheeler Island, about 100 km from Balasore, at about 1145 hours, Defence sources said.

A high performance on-board computer with distributed avionics architecture and high speed reliable communication bus and a full Digital Control System were used to control and guide the missile to the target.

"It is equipped with modern and compact avionics to provide high level of reliability," a DRDO official said.

"The state-of-the-art Ring Laser Gyros based high accuracy INS (RINS) and Micro Navigation System (MINGS) complementing each other in redundant mode have been incorporated into the missile system in guidance mode," the sources said.

The sophisticated missile is lighter in weight and has two stages of solid propulsion. The payload with a re-entry heat shield can withstand temperature of more than 3000 degree Celsius, a Defence scientist said.

The missile is undergoing developmental trials by country's premier Defence Research and Development Organisation.

The last trial of the missile, carried out on November 15, 2011 from the same base was successful.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

India plans fastest supercomputer by 2017

The government has drawn a blueprint for developing the next generation of supercomputers that could be 61 times faster than existing machines.


Telecom and IT Minister Kapil Sibal is understood to have written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sharing the roadmap to develop "petaflop and exaflop range of supercomputers" at an estimated cost of Rs. 4,700 crore over 5 years.

"In his (Sibal) letter, he has said that C-DAC has developed a proposal with a roadmap to develop a petaflop and exaflop range of supercomputers in the country with an outlay of Rs. 4,700 crore," a government official said.

A petaflop is a measure of a computer s processing speed and can be expressed as a thousand trillion floating point operations per second. Exaflop is one quintillion computer operations per second. Simply put, one exaflop is thousand times faster than one petaflop.

The fastest supercomputer in the world, Sequoia, has registered a top computing speed of 16.32 petaflops which is equivalent of computing of power from over 7.8 lakhs high-end laptops put together. If the Indian government approves building exaflop supercomputers, these will be at least 61 times faster than Sequoia, officials said.

India's top supercomputer at present ranks 58th globally in terms of computing speed. Sibal has cited the past record of Center for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) which was set up in 1987 by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi after technologically advanced nations denied supply of supercomputer to India in mid-1980s.

"The Minister has written that C-DAC developed first supercomputers in the country, the PARAM series. Presently Param Yuva with 54 teraflop computing power is serving many researchers through Garuda Computing Grid," the official said.

Sibal has proposed that Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DEITY) should be given tasks to coordinate overall supercomputing activities in the country as it has been done in the past.

The proposal made in the letter says that DEITY should be given tasks to set up a National Apex Committee to oversee the implementation of the proposed Supercomputing Mission and C-DAC should establish peta and exascale supercomputing facilities and development activities.

Lewis Hamilton scorches Mumbai streets.

Lewis Hamilton scorched the streets of Mumbai on Sunday. The F1 star was in the city to participate in an event organized by a mobile phone company titled 'Vodafone Speed Fest'.


Mumbai experienced its first street racing event on Sunday evening and thousands of fans arrived to witness Hamilton display his skills. They were not disappointed as as he sped down the track.

As Hamilton raced down the streets of the city's swanky new commercial hub - Bandra-Kurla Complex - the screaming fans greeted the star with a lot of enthusiasm. The slight drizzle towards the start of the event failed to dampen spirits. Hamilton did multiple laps with screaming fans egging him on.

The race was flagged off by Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan in the presence of Public Works Department and Tourism Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, among other dignitaries.

Lewis Hamilton, fresh from his win at the Italian Grand Prix last week, told NDTV that he loved the fans in India. He also admitted that he needed to learn more Hindi, adding that he was looking forward to the Indian Grand Prix later this year.

Just a week ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix night race, Hamilton showcased his skills as he drove his MP4-27 Vodafone McLaren Mercedes car, leaving the audience spellbound.

As Hamilton's drive came to an end, he greeted fans who had lined up all along the track. He also took a few fans, who had won a contest, for a spin. They described the event as 'unforgettable'.

Speaking to NDTV earlier in the day, Hamilton said which team he will race for in the next season is still undecided. He also added that while the season has turned out as he expected, there was considerable scope of bridging the gap between him and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.

As India prepares for another season of F1 action, Mumbai will not forget this amazing experience in a rush.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Prime Minister's statement at the Planning Commission meeting

I welcome you to this meeting to consider the draft Twelfth Five Year Plan.


The full text of my remarks is being distributed separately, so I will be brief.

We ended the Eleventh Plan with some notable achievements. The economy grew at an average annual rate of 7.9 percent. This is commendable for a period which saw two global crises - one in 2008 and another in 2011.

Poverty declined twice as fast between 2004-05 and 2009-10 than it did in the previous ten years.


Agriculture grew at 3.3 per cent per year in the Eleventh Plan, much faster than the 2.4 per cent observed in the Tenth Plan.

These are positive features. However, we must also recognise that the Twelfth Plan is starting in a year when the world economy is experiencing difficulties and our economy has also slowed down.

These short term problems present a challenge, but they should not lead to undue pessimism about our medium term prospects.

The economy has gained many strengths. Our immediate priority must be to orchestrate a rebound in the second half of the current year. We should then try to accelerate growth to reach around 9 per cent by the end of the Plan period.

This will yield a target growth rate of around 8.2 percent over the Twelfth Plan. This is lower than the 9 percent originally projected, but some downward revision is realistic given the state of the world.

As the Plan document points out, our objective is not just growth of GDP, but growth that is inclusive and also sustainable. The SC/STs, OBCs, and the minorities must all participate fully in the growth process. The Plan has many elements designed to ensure this.

The most important area for immediate action is to speed up the pace of implementation of infrastructure projects. This is critical for removing supply bottlenecks which constrain growth in other sectors. It will also boost investor sentiment to raise the overall rate of investment.

The infrastructure ministries must set ambitious goals for their sectors over the Twelfth Plan. We need close to a trillion dollars of investment in infrastructure and we have to work hard to achieve this.

I will personally review the performance of the infrastructure Ministries compared with targets at the end of the first six months. I hope that out of this review we can define an agenda for improved implementation.

Turning to the longer term policy agenda, the Plan can be seen as consisting of three broad components.

One is the set of Government programmes aimed at achieving specific sectoral objectives.

The Plan contains ambitious programmes in health, education, water resource management, infrastructure development, and a number of programmes aimed at inclusiveness, most notably the MGNREGA, the PMGSY, the IWDP and the National Rural Livelihoods Mission.

Considerable resources are being allocated for these programmes. We need to pay much greater attention to making sure that these programmes are also delivering results on the ground, especially for the SCs/STs and the weaker sections. Some of the changes in the Centrally Sponsored Schemes suggested by the Chaturvedi Committee will help to improve effectiveness.

The second component relates to macro economic balance. To achieve the target of 8.2 percent growth we need to revive investment in the economy. The investment environment is therefore critical.

Our fiscal deficit is too high and is attracting adverse comment from analysts. It must be brought down over the medium term to release domestic resources for productive deployment in the economy.

Because export prospects are weak, the Plan projects a current account deficit of 2.9 per cent of GDP. This must be financed mainly through FDI and FII flows, so that reliance on external debt is limited. I believe we can attract the financing we need provided our fiscal deficit is seen to be coming under control and the growth momentum is regained.

The third key component of the Plan is the set of policies which can improve performance in individual sectors. Let me mention a few key sector priorities.

•Health, education, and skill development are key sectors which enhance human capability and can contribute hugely to the objective of inclusive growth. They have been given high priority in the Twelfth Plan.

•Agricultural growth must be accelerated to about 4 percent.

•Manufacturing must grow much faster than it has, to generate the employment growth we need.

•Infrastructure development is vital. It needs a combination of public investment and PPP.

•Energy is a difficult area where our policy needs a comprehensive review. We are energy deficient and import dependence is increasing. It is vital for our energy security that we increase domestic production and also increase energy efficiency. Rational energy pricing is therefore critical. Our energy prices are out of line with world prices. The recent increase in diesel prices is an important step in the right direction.

•Water is another area where problems of scarcity and the challenges of effective resource management are likely to expand in the years ahead.

•Urbanisation is a new challenge which we must address.

The central message of the Plan is that we can achieve our objective provided we put in place policies that will take care of our weaknesses. The Plan for the first time introduces alternative scenarios.

Scenario one is called "Strong Inclusive growth". It presents what is possible if the policy actions outlined in the Plan are substantially implemented. One can expect a number of virtuous cycles to start operating, leading to positive results on both growth and inclusion. This is the scenario we should aim for.

Scenario two is called "insufficient action". It describes a state of partial action with weak implementation. The virtuous cycles that reinforce growth in Scenario I, will not kick in, and growth can easily slow down to 6 to 6.5 percent. Inclusiveness will also suffer. This is where we will end up if we make only half-hearted efforts and slip in implementation. It is my sincere hope that we do not do so.

Scenario three is called "policy logjam". It reflects a situation where for one reason or another, most of the policies needed to achieve Scenario 1 are not taken. If this continues for any length of time, vicious cycles begin to set in and growth could easily collapse to about 5 percent per year, with very poor outcomes on inclusion. I urge everyone interested in the country's future to understand fully the implications of this scenario. They will quickly come to an agreement that the people of India deserve better than this.

I believe we can make Scenario I possible. It will take courage and some risks but it should be our endeavour to ensure that it materialises. The country deserves no less.

Let me now invite the Finance Minister to give us his perspectives, after which I will request others to join.

Thank you.

FDI will help reduce debt burden; inclusive growth important: PM

A day after he signalled the end of policy paralysis with some big-ticket reforms, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used a meeting of the Planning Commission to underscore his government's achievement, also highlighting yesterday's measures as designed to improve the investment climate and bring in foreign investment to reduce debt. Full speech


The PM, who chaired a meeting of the Planning Commission to discuss India's 12th Five-Year Plan, also said that the hike in diesel prices effected on Thursday was a step in the right direction, saying rational energy pricing was critical.

India's fuel prices, he pointed out, were out of line with the world. Petrol has been deregulated, but the government still subsidizes diesel, cooking gas and kerosene, incurring huge losses. Allies and the opposition have kept political pressure up on the government not to reduce these subsidies and have demanded a rollback of the latest hike.

The Prime Minister also warned that that a prolonged policy logjam could slow economic growth to 5 per cent. "If this continues for any length of time, vicious cycles begin to set in and growth could easily collapse to about 5 percent per annum with poor outcomes on inclusion," he said.

Mamata Banerjee has put the government on notice, issuing a 72-hour deadline for the fuel price hike and a move to allow foreign direct investment, or FDI, in multi-brand retail to be rolled back. If that is not done, she says, her Trinamool Congress might withdraw support.

Today, a little after the PM spoke, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati too slammed the Congress-led government for taking "decisions against the common man". The BSP leader, who has provided support to the Centre at critical moments, said: "We condemn the implementation of FDI (in multi-brand retail)... We had opposed it earlier and we will oppose it now as well...we will decide on October 10 whether we will support the UPA from outside or not."

The PM, as he justified the government's reform measures today, did not seem in rollback mode. Fiscal deficit was too high and had to be reined in, the Prime Minister said, adding that FDI was important to reduce debt.

Pressing for "not just GDP growth, but sustainable, inclusive growth", Dr Singh said the government was targeting an 8.2 per cent growth in the 12th Plan period, lower than originally projected, but that some realistic downgrade was expected given the global economic situation. To reach growth targets, he said, infrastructure development was critical; the government, he said, was aiming at $1 trillion investment in the core sector. He added that he would personally review the performance of infrastructure ministries.

The Prime Minister steered clear of announcing any spending cuts for the 2013 fiscal year.

The economy grew at 7.9 per cent despite the global economic turbulence in 2008 and 2011. The PM said that was commendable given that there were two global economic crises in those five years. Poverty declined, while agriculture grew by 3.3 per cent during the 11th Plan period, he pointed out.

The short-term problems of the economy would persist, he said, but added that it would not affect the medium-term prospects of the economy.

Yesterday, the government decided to allow 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail, the controversial move that has Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati saying that they are reviewing support to the UPA government. It also relaxed FDI ruled in the aviation sector allowing international airlines to invest in domestic carriers.

The government also approved foreign investment of up to 49 per cent in the power trading exchanges in the country, and also hiked the cap on foreign investment in the broadcast sector to 74 per cent.

While opposition parties have expectedly attacked the government on its reform measures, industry, which had been worried and severely critical of the UPA's unwillingness to push policy, has cheered the wake-up.

T.V. Mohandas Pai, formerly head of human resources at IT firm Infosys, said “dil mange more” after the government relaxed FDI norms, while Anand Mahindra, chairman and managing director of automobile maker Mahindra and Mahindra, said “the government has moved from a famine on reforms to a feast”.

The markets also cheered the government’s move, with the BSE Sensex jumping 443 points or 2.5 per cent to close at 18,441, while the broader Nifty advanced 142 points to 5,578.

Gold prices also touched new all-time high of Rs. 32,900 per 10 grams, while the rupee vaulted 113 paise to close at a two and half month high of 54.30.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Relaxing FDI norms in aviation: Pros and cons

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs on Friday relaxed norms for foreign direct investment in the aviation sector, allowing international airlines to invest in domestic peers.


Today’s decision means that global airlines can now invest up to 49 per cent in the aviation sector.

Here is how the move will affect various stakeholders.

Airlines:

1.The move is expected to provide much-needed cash flow to private airlines.

2.It is likely to result in an improvement in technology, both in terms of ground handling and flight operations.

3.It will bring in the best international management practices.

4.The aviation industry is divided. More successful players such as Jet Airways and IndiGo have expressed their reservation in the past. There are also fears that bigger carriers may resort to cartelization. Loss-making airlines, of course, see FDI as the knight in shining armour.

5.There are also fears that this may lead to a takeover of Indian carriers.

Government:

1.Implementing the proposal will mean likely political opposition from the Trinamool Congress.

2.Security is another concern. The government will have to keep a tab on dubious investors entering India through this route.

Passengers:

1.Fares may become competitive

2.Quality of service may go up due to competition

3.Better international connectivity

Retail reforms: Ikea gets a helping hand

The government on Friday eased the sourcing requirements for foreign retail chains looking to invest in the country, removing one of the key barriers that had hobbled the entry of new investment.


Foreign retail chains investing more than a 51 per cent via foreign direct investment (FDI) in the single-brand sector must still source 30 per cent of their products from India, Trade Minister Anand Sharma said on Friday. But the sourcing no longer has to be from small- and medium-sized industries, he said.

The requirement to source from small industries had proved an obstacle for companies such as furniture giant IKEA, which is looking to invest in Asia's third-largest economy.

India had earlier rebuffed a request by Ikea to relax rules on buying goods locally. Ikea, famous for its self-build flat-packs and huge stores, said last month it would invest Rs. 10,500 crore and open 25 outlets, throwing a lifeline to the government in India where economic growth has slowed sharply.

However, the Swedish company sought a 10-year window to comply with rules that foreign retailers source 30 per cent from local small and medium-sized firms, a requirement which overseas companies say discourages investment.

When contacted by Reuters, Ikea said a short delay in its formal application to enter the Indian market would not affect its decision to open stores, and hoped to start operations soon.

India offers Ikea a huge new market while the government is battling heavy criticism over its management of Asia's third-largest economy where growth has slipped to its weakest pace in nine years.

Government clears disinvestment in four PSUs to raise Rs. 15,000 crore

The government on Friday approved sale of its minority stakes in four public sector firms -- Hindustan Copper, Oil India, MMTC and Nalco-- to raise up to Rs. 15,000 crore.


The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has, however, not taken any decision on disinvestment of Neyveli Lignite despite it being also on agenda.

The government has approved the proposal to sell 10 per cent stake in Oil India Ltd and another 9.59 per cent disinvestment in Hindustan Copper Ltd, sources said.

Further, the CCEA also cleared the proposal of 12.15 per cent stake sale of Nalco and 9.33 per cent in MMTC through Offer for Sale (OFS) route.

However, the five per cent stake sale of Neyveli Lignite was not taken up by the CCEA, sources added.

Finance Minister P Chidambaram had last month asked officials to expedite the process of disinvestment so that state-owned companies could hit stock markets in time and help the government achieve the target of Rs. 30,000 crore in the current fiscal.

Although five months have passed in the current fiscal, the government has not been able to come out with a single public issue.

Raising adequate funds from disinvestment was necessary to keep in check the fiscal deficit which is facing pressure due to rising food, fuel and fertiliser subsidy bills.

The government earlier deferred the initial public offer (IPO) of Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd (RINL) due to weak stock market conditions. The Rs. 2,500-crore RINL issue was originally proposed to hit the markets in July.

Due to uncertain market conditions, the government in the last fiscal could raise only Rs. 14,000 crore from disinvestment against the target of Rs. 40,000 crore.

India backs foreign investment in retail sector

After years of intense debate, India's government agreed on Friday to open the country's retail sector to global behemoths like Wal-Mart and Ikea, pushing for a profound shift in India's economic and political direction.


India is still mostly a nation of small shopkeepers and farmers, and its economy is heavily controlled by the government, a legacy from decades of socialist policies. But a sharp slowdown in economic growth and a sense of impending political collapse prompted the government to finally act on long-pending proposals to loosen market restrictions in hopes of luring more foreign investment and expertise.

"The time for big-bang reforms has come," the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said, "and if we go down, we will go down fighting."

Mr. Singh is widely credited with helping bring about India's first great bout of economic changes in 1991, when he was finance minister and India's economy was in a crisis. But his reputation ebbed in recent months as the government's economic agenda stalled and a growing chorus of critics described him as feckless, and worse.


A recent coal corruption scandal has also tainted Mr. Singh and led the country's leading opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, to shut down Parliament in recent weeks with calls for his resignation.

"The cabinet has taken many decisions today to bolster economic growth and make India a more attractive destination for foreign investment," Mr. Singh said in a statement. "I believe these steps will strengthen our growth process and generate employment in these difficult times."

But the plans will continue to stir controversy, and it was not clear whether the government's shaky coalition would hold together long enough to carry them out.

Balbir Punj, a spokesman for the Bharatiya Janata Party, told a TV news channel that the measures passed Friday by the governing United Progressive Alliance were "a very cheap attempt by the U.P.A. to divert attention from the 'coal-gate' scam."

"We are totally opposed to it and we are going to fight it tooth and nail," Mr. Punj said of the economic measures, despite the fact that his party had proposed some of them itself when it was in power a decade ago.

Chandrajit Banerjee, the director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, welcomed Friday's policy changes as well as a measure announced Thursday to reduce government subsidies for diesel fuel. He said the government's policy paralysis had led to despondency among many business leaders, but Friday's announcement was "a tremendous boost not only to the sectors in question, but is a huge mood lifter."

India's retail sector is dominated by small shops, and its wholesale distribution networks are disastrously inefficient. More than a third of the fruit and vegetables grown in India rot or perish between farms and stores, increasing hunger and impoverishing farmers.

Anand Sharma, India's commerce minister, said in a news conference that foreign retailers would bring vital investments in such areas as refrigerated trucks and modern sorting and processing facilities. The measures require foreign retailers entering the Indian market to put at least half of their investments during the first three years of operations into processing and other back-end facilities. In another compromise aimed at deflecting domestic opposition, only cities with populations of at least one million - there are 53, census records show - will be eligible for the stores.

Given the continuing constraints the new policy places on major retailers, it was still unclear how aggressively they would seek to enter India. The policy also allows state governments to block major retailers from setting up operations, and includes a requirement that retailers buy 30 percent of their supplies in India, which could prove difficult for some.

Still, the plan was widely welcomed by most economists and big-business executives, who have been urging the government to open the economy further to competition and consolidation. "These measures are clearly positive and if not rolled back bode well for all asset classes," Rohini Malkani, an economist at Citibank India, wrote in an analysis.

Mr. Singh is taking a big political risk with the economic proposals, which could end up breaking up his governing coalition. Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal and a crucial partner in the coalition, has announced that she is opposed to allowing major foreign retailers to operate in India.

"We are totally against these decisions," Kunal Ghosh, a spokesman for Ms. Banerjee, said Friday. "We were not consulted by the government."

Asked whether Ms. Banerjee would leave the coalition and effectively topple the government as a result of Friday's measures, Mr. Ghosh refused to answer. "If we withdraw support, the main problem will not be solved," he said.

Ms. Banerjee will hold a party conference in Calcutta on Tuesday to consider her next course.

The measures announced Friday would also allow foreigners to own up to 49 percent of the value of domestic airlines, a policy that is considered a sop to Kingfisher Airlines, which has been struggling financially.

"Denial of access to foreign capital could result in the collapse of many of our domestic airlines, creating a systemic risk for financial institutions and a vital gap in the country's infrastructure," a government statement said.

Foreigners would be allowed to own up to 49 percent of exchanges for trading electric power, and foreigners would be allowed to own up to 74 percent of broadcast services like TV channels under the new policies.

The government also announced that it would sell 10 percent of its stake in Oil India, 12.5 percent of its stake in the aluminium maker Nalco, 9.59 percent of its stake in Hindustan Copper and 9.33 percent of the Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation of India, a crucial source of foreign exchange in India.

Apple forced to push back some iPhone 5 orders due to heavy demand

With a flood of orders coming for the new iPhone 5, Apple pushed back delivery times for the new device on its website Friday.


Apple's US website said that for those ordering the new smartphone, shipping would be in two weeks, a week later than promised.

The new iPhone may be available at Apple retail outlets and third party sellers starting September 21.

According to specialized websites, Apple exhausted its initial supply within 60 minutes of opening pre-orders on its website.

"One hour after pre-orders went live tonight, Apple.com shifted shipping expectations from one to two weeks due to the overwhelming demand," the website TechCrunch said.

That compared with 22 hours for the iPhone 4S and 20 hours for the iPhone 4, the website said, adding that the deluge of orders caused technical problems for Apple's site that those of some carriers.

The website Cnet said some European carriers saw problems keeping up with demand but that Apple's online stores in Britain, Germany, and France "responded smoothly to preorder requests."

The smartphone is being sold initially in nine countries, and will be in 100 by the end of the year, according to Apple.

Some analysts say Apple could sell 10 million in the opening days and 50 million before the end of the year.

The new iPhone has a rich four-inch (10-centimeter) display prime for the red-hot smartphone market, in which screen size is a key factor for buyers.

Apple's iPhone 5 compare against the competition


Apple has taken the wraps off its iPhone 5 and it will be available in seven countries starting September 21. By now everybody knows that it in indeed taller and faster than its predecessor but how does it match up to its arch rivals.


Recently, all major smartphone makers had launched their flagship smartphones. Samsung has been betting big with its Galaxy S III, which is a successor to its popular Galaxy S II smartphone. On the other hand, HTC has introduced HTC One X. Sony and Nokia too have warmed up to the smartphone race with Sony Xperia T and Nokia Lumia 920. Nokia Lumia 920 will be the first Nokia smartphone to run on Windows Phone 8 and offer wireless charging.

We have pitted all these smartphones against each other for specs by specs comparison. It's noteworthy, that as of now only Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X are available in the Indian market while the rest are expected to make their way soon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Apple takes wraps off 4G-ready iPhone 5

Apple Inc on Wednesday took the wraps off the iPhone 5, the thinnest-ever version of a smartphone that yields the majority of its profit and helped it become the world's most valuable corporation.


CEO Tim Cook, who took over from the company's late co-founder Steve Jobs last year, faces pressure to introduce a gadget that can help Apple remain at the forefront of the industry. The iPhone 5 sports a larger 4-inch "retina" display, ability to surf a high-speed 4G LTE network, and is 20 percent lighter than the previous iPhone 4S.

The latest iPhone comes as Apple tries to fend off competition that has reached fever-pitch. Google Inc's Android has become the most-used mobile operating system in the world, while key supplier and rival Samsung Electronics has taken the lead in smartphone sales.

Now, Microsoft Corp is pushing its Windows Phone 8 operating system as a third alternative to Apple and Google's.

Rivals have been first to market with phones that have bigger displays or run on faster wireless networks. Apple will try to close that gap with the unveiling of the newest iPhone, widely reported to offer 4G LTE for the first time and a 4-inch display, up from 3.5 inches.

More apps

Cook began Wednesday's event by saying the company's notebooks now rank tops in U.S. sales, leading in market share in the past three months.

But it is the iPhone that carries the weight of Apple's future on its slim frame, especially with the company continuing to play its cards close to the vest about future growth drivers, including an oft-rumored TV device.

Apple has sold more than 243 million iPhones since its 2007 arrival, after which the device proceeded to upend the industry and helped usher in the current applications ecosystem.

Cook told the audience at the Yerba Buena Centre in San Francisco that its apps store now has more than 700,000 on tap the industry's largest library.

Apple also is making a lot of headway in a corporate market that has been dominated by struggling Canadian smartphone maker Research in Motion. Cook said almost every Fortune 500 companies was testing or using its iPhones and iPads.

Globally, Samsung leads the smartphone market with a 32.6 percent share followed by Apple with 17 percent, according to market research firm IDC. Both saw shipments rise compared to a year ago, with Samsung riding its flagship Galaxy S III phone.

500 million Android devices activated till date

Android boss Andy Rubin revealed the latest figures on the number of Android devices activated globally so far via his Twitter account. As tweeted by Rubin, the figure stands at 500 million android activations to date.


The announcement comes with just hours to go for Apple's iPhone event. It also follows Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt's announcement at a Motorola press event where he revealed that 1.3 million Android devices are being activated each day. He also stated that 70,000 of these devices.
  Back in June this year, Rubin took to Twitter to reveal that the number of Android device activations on a daily basis stood at 900,000, which was up by 50,000 as announced at the Mobile World Congress.

In the same month, Google at its annual I/O Developer Conference revealed that it is now activating a million new Android devices every day, which indicated a whopping 150% increase from 400,000 activations in 2011. It further stated that there are over 400 million Android devices in consumer hands right now. This figure was just around 100 million in 2011. Going by the calculation, Google is activating 12 new devices every second, every single day.

Since its inception in 2007, the Android OS has seen a steady growth in the number of users. Within 5 years of its release, it has become the leading smartphone platform universally with a 68.1% market share of all smartphones shipped during the last quarter as reported by International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker,

Timeline (Daily Android device activations)

September 12, 2012: 1,300,000 devices
June 27, 2012: 1,000,000 devices
Feb 27, 2012: 850,000 devices
Dec21, 2011: 700,000 devices
July 15, 2011: 550,000 devices
June 28, 2011: 500,000 devices
May 10, 2011: 400,000 devices
Feb 24, 2011: 350,000 devices
Dec 9, 2010: 300,000 devices
Aug 4, 2010: 200,000 devices

Facebook is now "a mobile company", says Zuckerberg.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said Tuesday the social network giant is focused on mobile devices and should be seen as a smart bet despite a "disappointing" stock market debut.


"It is really clear from the stats and my own personal intuition that a lot of energy in the ecosystem is going to mobile, not desktop (computers)," Zuckerberg said during an on-stage interview at a TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco.

"That is the future," he continued. "We are going to be doing killer stuff there."

Zuckerberg was adamant that the company was being underestimated and was on track to make "more money on mobile than we make on desktop."

His appearance at the conference marked his first public interview since the massive public offering on May 18 that was hotly anticipated -- but ended up being a flop.

Facebook shares have lost around half their value since the IPO at $38 a share.

"The performance of the stock has obviously been disappointing," Zuckerberg acknowledged.

Facebook has made a priority of following its more than 900 million members onto smartphones and tablet computers, tailoring services and money-making ads for mobile devices.

The shares gained 3.30 percent on Wall Street on Tuesday to close at $19.43. In after-hours trading following Zuckerberg's remarks, the stock gained 3.45 percent to $20.10.

Zuckerberg rejected criticism that the company is ill-prepared for a shift to mobile devices, where Facebook has only begun to get ad revenues.

"Now, we are a mobile company," he said.

The company would pursue its "mission" of making the world more social and connected, cranking profit for shareholders, he added.

"Building a mission and building a business go hand in hand," Zuckerberg said. "From the beginning we've had this understanding we've had to do both."

Zuckerberg has stated repeatedly, even in pre-IPO paperwork with US regulators, that Facebook did not build great services to make money but rather made money to build great services.

When pressed on the point, in the context of the California-based company losing more than $50 billion in value based on the stock price drop, Zuckerberg was quick to add that making money was a component of its broader mission.

Zuckerberg conceded that the stock price plummet has dimmed morale of workers compensated with shares but that Facebook staff are accustomed to criticism and "have a pretty good compass" pointing to better days.

Stock compensation for Facebook employees is made based on cash value of shares, meaning that workers are awarded more shares at lower prices, according to the chief executive.

"I actually think it is a great time for people to join and a great time for people to stay and double-down," Zuckerberg said of the Facebook team. "We are seeing that."

Zuckerberg rejected suggestions that Facebook would make its own smartphone, adamant that the company had no intention of stepping into the fiercely competitive handset hardware arena.

"Apple, Google, everyone builds phones -- we are going in the opposite direction," Zuckerberg said.

"We want to build a system deeply integrated in every device people want to use."

Zuckerberg's strategy to have Facebook on every smartphone instead of making a "Facebook phone" makes sense, according to technology analyst Jeff Kagan.

Zuckerberg said Facebook did not plan to take on Google in the online search market but that the social network already handles one billion queries daily from people looking up friends, apps, brand pages and more.

"Facebook is uniquely positioned to answer a lot of questions people have," he said, giving examples such as finding restaurants friends have enjoyed or checking to see who has connections at particular companies for jobs.

"At some point we will do it," he continued. "We have a team working on search."

Zuckerberg, who holds a controlling interest in Facebook, said that the company has repeatedly seen public opinion swing from unreasonably bright to overly dark.

"I would rather be in the cycle where people underestimate us," Zuckerberg said. "It gives us good latitude to go out and make big bets. I think a bunch of people are underestimating us."

Kagan said Zuckerberg's comments rekindled Facebook pre-IPO excitement but did not make up for the fact that the company's stock has been a loser and it remained unclear how profitable it would become.

"Bottom line, Zuckerberg sounded good," Kagan said. "However this does not solve the investment problem the company still faces every day."

Saturday, September 8, 2012

ISRO launches 100th mission; Prime Minister witnesses historic event


The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) made history as it launched its 100th indigenous mission today. The space agency's old warhorse, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), successfully blasted off into space at 9:53 am with two foreign satellites from the spaceport of Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. (In Pics)

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was present at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota to witness the landmark event. "On behalf of all Indians, I congratulate the Department of Space and all members of the Indian Space Research Organisation for the successful launch," the PM said.

The launch, initially scheduled for 9:51 am was delayed by two minutes as scientists waited for space debris to clear out. In its 22nd launch, the 230-tonne rocket onboard the PSLV, which is as tall as a 15-storey building, was its third fully-commercial launch. The PSLV has an enviable record with just one failure.

"Reaching a hundred is an important milestone like in cricket, but this ISRO's century is unique as each mission is unique...there have been failures and successes but overall, the future is very bright," K Kasturirangan, former chief and a member of ISRO, said before the launch.

During the 51-hour countdown that began at 6:51 am on September 7, mandatory checks on the launch vehicle and spacecraft were carried out and charging of batteries and pressurisation of propellant tanks on board the satellite were performed, ISRO had said.

As part of the mission, 720-kg SPOT-6 remote sensing satellite from France (built by ASTRIUM SAS) and a 15-kg Japanese spacecraft PROITERES would be placed in orbit by ISRO's PSLV C-21. The launch of the foreign satellites is also indicative of the rapid strides made by ISRO in furthering the nation's space programme - today's launch, a purely commercial one, has firmly placed the country in a select club of rocket-makers on which private utilities can bank upon to launch their operational satellites in a cost-effective and reliable manner.

"In this 100th launch, there is a reversal of roles where an Indian launcher is carrying a French satellite," Francois Richier, French Ambassador to India, said on the major milestone.

India, indeed, has come a long way since it launched its first satellite, Aryabhatta, in 1975. So far, the government has spent around $12 billion on ISRO, a miniscule amount compared to the US' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) which has an annual budget of $17 billion. Despite that, the space agency has, to its credit, some major achievements.

So far, ISRO has launched 63 Indian-made satellites and 36 indigenous rockets. The country's first unmanned moon mission in October 2008, Chandrayaan-1, was a huge success. The space agency has also pioneered satellite television in the country and also catalysed the telecom boom. "Almost every family in India has benefitted from one or the other spin offs from the space agency...touching lives and adding value to the aam admi has been the hallmark of the Indian space programme," K Radhakrishnan, Chairman of ISRO, told NDTV.

But the successes have also been interrupted by some massive failures. ISRO has failed to master the bigger rocket, the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), what with several mid-air rocket explosions. More recently, the controversial Antrix-Devas deal involving commercial satellites have clouded the agency. It has also been unable to meet the demands for more transponders for satellite television.

If all goes as per plan, India plans to launch, in 2013, its maiden mission to Mars. Called Mangalyaan, it will be an unmanned orbiting mission to study the atmosphere of the Red Planet. Dr Radhakrishnan says "work is going on at a feverish pace for this mission that will reinforce India's national pride".

In the next five years, ISRO is also scheduled to have nearly 60 more missions.

The expected journey of Americans to Asia for jobs


The Republican and the Democratic parties in the last two weeks of National Convention had corporate theatrics at its best. Republican party brought this nation to the brink of economic collapse by 8 years of Bush rule in 2008. In 2010 when they got the control of the congress they instead of putting nation first pursued party first and blocked every initiative by Obama administration to take the country forward. In 2012 the country is back in the brink of an economic collapse and both parties are still playing politics and theatrics. Hope that good sense prevails in the next few months and adequate measures are taken to avoid the economic collapse.


American as an immigrant (half-of-the-world population lived in Asia)--with long-term prospects for freedom and economic opportunity back home so sparse, maybe it's time to begin thinking in this new direction: INTERNATIONALLY.

This time is not different. American may have to travel out of the country for better jobs like to ASIA.

...The mayhem of 2008 illu...strates a dream job is like the reflection of the moon on the water – just an illusion.

For the first time ever, a new generation of Americans faces a bleaker economic future than their parents.

This shocking reality may be new for the US, but it's an old song for most of the world. Countries rise to prosper, and countries decline. It is the natural order of things.

As the waves of migrant workers and business owners can attest, there is always something you can do to combat domestic economic challenges.

The current slump in the US and Europe could easily lead to a similar wave of Diaspora-- economic refugees who find better opportunity abroad, even those who send remittances back home.

In the US, real median incomes have not grown since 2007. Those on the lower rungs of the income ladder have fallen backwards.

Net household wealth remains some 37% below its peak. All gains since 1992 have been wiped out.

Whenever there is a great upheaval, ambitious, productive people leave their homelands and put down roots where they can find safety and better opportunities for themselves, their families, and future generations.

Perhaps back to the future? Not long ago in 1947, one out of every three Americans lived in poverty.

The US and the rest of the world should facilitate the peaceful decline of the american power by letting the UN take over the vaccum through strengthening of the security council by adding more permanent members like India, Japan, Australia, Brasil and South Africa.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Putin: Asia can count on Russia for energy supply

President Vladimir Putin promised Asia and Pacific leaders meeting in the seaport of Vladivostok on Friday that they could count on Russia to be a reliable energy supplier and provide a bridge to Europe that can help revitalize regional trade.


Russia is boosting its exports of oil and gas to Asia after years of focusing almost entirely on supplying Europe. Moscow also has ambitious plans to develop its railroads, roads, seaports and airports in the east of the country with the aim of providing a reliable transportation link between Asia and Europe.

"The first and main thing we're going to do is develop transport infrastructure," Putin told regional business leaders.

He played up Russia's common economic space with neighbors Kazakhstan and Belarus as opening "a direct route to Europe for business in the Pacific region."

Faltering vital signs in China and elsewhere make pushing ahead with more and freer trade an urgent priority for the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, whose leaders are gathered in the Russian Far East port of Vladivostok for their annual summit.

APEC aims to foster growth by dismantling barriers and bottlenecks that slow trade and business, while nurturing closer economic ties.

Given its status as an organization governed by consensus, APEC is not known for major policy breakthroughs. Election-year politics and territorial spats make this year particularly challenging.

From the Kuril islands to the northeast of Vladivostok all the way to the Spratlys in the South China Sea, various neighbors are squabbling over territories at a time when they most need to be focused on promoting growth.

South Korea is feuding with Japan, Japan with China and Russia, China with many of its Southeast Asian neighbors. With elections due soon in South Korea and Japan, and a once-in-a-decade change in the Communist Party leadership pending in China, lame-duck leaders facing nationalist pressures at home have little room for amicably resolving the disputes.

"It's bad luck that it happens just before all these transitions. Everybody is looking around and saying, 'these people won't be at the table in three months,'" said William Overholt, an Asia expert at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

The sharp decline in growth in trade this year — from 12 percent in December to 4.6 percent in May — underscores the importance of pushing ahead with trade initiatives, the APEC Policy Support Unit, an independent data analysis and research unit, said in a report issued Friday.

As hosts, Russian leaders are showcasing their country's recent entry into the rules-setting World Trade Organization — a key step in traditionally Europe-centric Moscow's effort to build trade and investment ties with its neighbors in the Far East.

"What I'd expect from the meeting is Russia trying to show itself to be a global power, and certainly my view and that of many others is that is not true anymore," said Xenia Dormandy, an expert at the London-based think-tank Chatham House.

President Barack Obama's decision to skip this year's gathering — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is attending in his place — allows Russia greater leeway to shape its agenda, said Peter Drysdale, a professor emeritus at Australia National University who helped set up APEC in 1989.

"After a long time sitting on the sidelines, the Russians have thrown considerable diplomatic firepower into working up a strong APEC agenda," Drysdale said in a commentary on the website East Asia Forum.

Since last year's summit in Honolulu, Canada and Mexico have gotten the go-ahead to join nine other nations involved in talks on forming a U.S.-backed free trade bloc known as the "Trans-Pacific Partnership." But participants have yet to reach their goal of setting a legal framework this year for the initiative, and Japan, its leaders preoccupied with tax reforms and domestic politics, has so far been unable to join the negotiations.

Such difficulties are inevitable given the high standards set out for the arrangement, said New Zealand's prime minister, John Key.

"All governments involved will have to take some tough decisions if we are to get there. But I am convinced that the high quality TPP is not only achievable but critical for growth in the region," Key told a conference on the sidelines of the APEC summit.

China, which some economists say is on course to overtake the U.S. as the world's biggest economy this decade, appears wary of backing a U.S.-led initiative, and it has commitments to rival free trade blocs in East and Southeast Asia.

TPP talks resumed Thursday near Washington, and officials attending APEC were discussing it in their own meetings. But without China or Japan, the world's No. 3 economy, the initiative would have little traction.

Meeting the rigorous standards for open and free trade, and for protection of trademarks and patents, for example, also would be arduous for former centrally-planned economies such as China and Russia.

But Andrei Belousov, Russia's economy minister, said his country was keen to join.

Meanwhile, keen to leaven its European-dominated trade and balance its growing reliance on dealing with China, Russia is also pursuing a customs union that is meant to evolve into a "Eurasian Economic Union" that would stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

With Europe still mired in its debt crisis, Asia remains the biggest driver of global growth, despite a decline in powerhouse China's economic growth to a three-year low of 7.6 percent in the second quarter — and signs Japan's own export-led recovery is sputtering.

In its latest forecast, the Manila-based Asian Development Bank predicted the region's economies will expand by 6.6 percent this year.

"Russia is looking to Asia. It's not growing as fast as it was two years ago but it's still the bright spot in the global economy," said Tony Nash, managing director at IHS Global Insight in Singapore. "It's still where the action is."