Expecting The Unexpected - Business Guardian
Connect with us

Policy&Politics

Expecting The Unexpected

Published

on

Over the years, financial markets have grown used to expecting the unexpected. Almost any passage of time in the history of financial markets is replete with events which have taken market participants by surprise. However, it would be fair to say that 2020s have just taken this to an altogether different level. In a lighter vein, one could wonder how the first quarter of last few years has made it a habit of making a mockery of beginningof-year forecasts. While 2020 was a year which began under the looming threat of geo-political tensions between US and Iran; by the end of the first quarter, the thing that had turned the world upside down was, after all, a virus. At the start of 2022, while all eyes were on the spread of Omicron; by the end of the first quarter, the event that actually shook everyone was a geopolitical one (Russia-Ukraine war). Indeed, one would want to turn back the clock or rather, the calendar, to the beginning of this year with a hope that diplomacy and good sense prevailed and the world avoided this human tragedy, still unfolding in Ukraine. While turning time back and forth can only be wishful thinking, it certainly does happen twice a year – in some countries. Yes, indeed, I am referring to ‘daylight saving time’, which basically involves the practice of setting ahead clock by an hour at the beginning of summer and setting it back by an hour at the beginning of winter in most western countries.

Interestingly, while this idea was floated in the early twentieth century, it only took off during World War I as countries scrambled to save energy by making better use of daylight. This wasn’t the only new idea to take off in the aftermath of a war. For instance, widespread manufacturing of antibiotics, like penicillin in US, took off only during World War II. Stainless steel rose to prominence during World War I as the British military sought an alternative to other metals, which were prone to damage from heat and friction. While different forms of computers are used across all industries today, the world’s first large scale electronic computer was built during World War II. Rapid progress in radar technology during World War I paved the path for civil aviation industry to take off. This list goes on and on and includes wristwatches, synthetic rubber, pilates etc. In fact, it is not just the military conflicts that have triggered innovations.

The competitive spirit during the Cold War too led to rapid development of space technology which had a lasting impact on the world. Indeed, while wars do reflect the worst in humanity, the desperate circumstances surrounding them have historically triggered or kick-started many path-breaking innovations/ developments, arising from ingenuity of the human mind. As the war drags on in Ukraine, there are jitters being felt across all walks of life. Scourge of inflation means that Central Banks have had to tighten monetary policies, even as global growth outlook is clouded by geo-political uncertainties. However, what’s worth remembering is that if one goes by history, the world will not only find a way to tide over this crisis but would also come up with game-changing ideas along the way. Looking back at Covid and its repercussions, as things stand, next few years could actually define the course of history for a prolonged period of time.

First few months of this ongoing conflict have already shown that going forward there could be less reliance on physical warfare and more on the economic one. This, in turn, could result in formation of newer economic blocs and change the course of globalisation as we know it. Supply chains disrupted due to the pandemic have been further strained owing to the conflict and countries around the world are increasingly averse to the idea of economic dependence on countries with divergent security interests and differing ideologies. In this regard, India stands out as one of the natural alternatives to fill the void left on the front of food security, by Russia and Ukraine, and in manufacturing, by the post-pandemic China+1 tilt. Apart from the threat to food security, another major fallout from the war has been the threat to energy security. The sharp spike in energy prices has had a crippling effect on many economies. Consequently, this could compel everyone to rethink how energy is produced and consumed; and more importantly, lay emphasis on reduction of dependence on fossil fuels.

This, in turn, could accelerate tailwinds for renewable energy at a time when concern over climate change is already making the world sweat. Goes without saying that this change will not happen overnight as the immediate focus will be on energy security instead of clean energy. For instance, the recent power crisis has made India turn once again to coal. Notwithstanding the recent softening of commodity prices; years of underinvestment may keep prices structurally elevated. Higher commodity prices, energy transition, supply chain realignment, along with the political desire for higher defence spending, by almost every country, could trigger a significant capex push. In a side story of sorts, the fate of US dollar has become the cynosure of all eyes in the world of finance. Recent turn of events, coupled with the US’s declining share in global trade and changing geo-political equations have raised apprehension about dollar’s hegemony.

However, the US dollar has benefitted from the apparent lack of alternative at this point in time. The relative preference of most countries to politically align with US, instead of an alternative like China, along with relative ease of access to American capital markets and a hawkish US Fed have aided the dollar’s cause. All said and done, one may have to “reserve” one’s judgement on the world’s reserve currency for now. India’s sizeable forex reserves should help stave off significant threat to rupee stability. While India won’t remain insulated from global developments, India continues to remain better positioned as compared to other emerging markets at this point. Rapid digitalisation, strong tax buoyancy (growth in tax collections nearly double that of Nominal GDP growth for FY22), Services exports at record high (FY22), healthy balance sheets of corporates and banking sector, policy reforms, formalisation of economy and push for privatisation and capex hold India in good stead. On the flipside, key risks to watch out for happen to be the spike in commodity prices (particularly oil), impact of tightening global liquidity and increase in food and fertiliser subsidy bill.

For Indian equities, strong retail participation (63 per cent increase in demat accounts in FY22) and robust Mutual Fund flows have cushioned the downside from recent FPI selling spree. However, it’s equally noteworthy how last couple of years have been a baptism by fire for investors, as sharp gyrations in financial markets and numerous unforeseen events have kept investors on toes.

Considering rapidly evolving geo-political landscape, change in course of globalisation; and with Central Banks retreating into their role of reining in inflationary expectations instead of doing ‘whatever it takes’ to support asset markets, volatility is likely to remain elevated. Investors’ equanimity and patience will continue to be tested in the foreseeable future but don’t we know from history that the formula for wealth creation equates sound investment + time + patience. In a world where new geo-political alliances are being formed and existing ones are being tested; sound financial plan and prudent asset allocation still continue to remain the best allies for investors to counter the formidable foe of volatility in financial markets.  

(The author is the MD & CEO of HDFC Asset Management Company)

The Daily Guardian is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@thedailyguardian) and stay updated with the latest headlines.

For the latest news Download The Daily Guardian App.

Policy&Politics

Govt extends date for submission of R&D proposals

Published

on

The Government has extended the deadline for submission of proposals related to R&D scheme under the National Green Hydrogen Mission. The R&D scheme seeks to make the production, storage, transportation and utilisation of green hydrogen more affordable. It also aims to improve the efficiency, safety and reliability of the relevant processes and technologies involved in the green hydrogen value chain. Subsequent to the issue of the guidelines, the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy issued a call for proposals on 16 March, 2024.

While the Call for Proposals is receiving encouraging response, some stakeholders have requested more time for submission of R&D proposals. In view of such requests and to allow sufficient time to the institutions for submitting good-quality proposals, the Ministry has extended the deadline for submission of proposals to 27th April, 2024.

The scheme also aims to foster partnerships among industry, academia and government in order to establish an innovation ecosystem for green hydrogen technologies. The scheme will also help the scaling up and commercialisation of green hydrogen technologies by providing the necessary policy and regulatory support.

The R&D scheme will be implemented with a total budgetary outlay of Rs 400 crore till the financial year 2025-26. The support under the R&D programme includes all components of the green hydrogen value chain, namely, production, storage, compression, transportation, and utilisation.

The R&D projects supported under the mission will be goal-oriented, time bound, and suitable to be scaled up. In addition to industrial and institutional research, innovative MSMEs and start-ups working on indigenous technology development will also be encouraged under the Scheme.

Continue Reading

Policy&Politics

India, Brazil, South Africa to press for labour & social issues, sustainability

Published

on

The Indian delegation also comprises Rupesh Kumar Thakur, Joint Secretary, and Rakesh Gaur, Deputy Director from the Ministry of Labour & Employment.

India, on Thursday, joined the G20’s two-day 2nd Employment Working Group (EWG) meeting under the Brazilian Presidency which is all set to address labour, employment and social issues for strong, sustainable, balanced and job-rich growth for all. India is co-chairing the 2nd EWG meeting, along with Brazil and South Africa, and is represented by Sumita Dawra, Secretary, Labour & Employment.

The Indian delegation also comprises Rupesh Kumar Thakur, Joint Secretary, and Rakesh Gaur, Deputy Director from the Ministry of Labour & Employment. India has pointed out that the priority areas of the 2nd EWG at Brasilia align with the priority areas and outcomes of previous G20 presidencies including Indian presidency, and commended the continuity in the multi-year agenda to create lasting positive change in the world of work. This not only sustains but also elevates the work initiated by the EWG during the Indian Presidency.

The focus areas for the 2nd EWG meeting are — creating quality employment and promoting decent labour, addressing a just transition amidst digital and energy transformations, leveraging technologies to enhance the quality of life for al and the emphasis on gender equity and promoting diversity in the world of employment for inclusivity, driving innovation and growth. On the first day of the meeting, deliberations were held on the over-arching theme of promotion of gender equality and promoting diversity in the workplace.

The Indian delegation emphasized the need for creating inclusive environments by ensuring equal representation and empowerment for all, irrespective of race, gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic background. To increase female labour force participation, India has enacted occupational safety health and working conditions code, 2020 which entitles women to be employed in all establishments for all types of work with their consent at night time. This provision has already been implemented in underground mines.

In 2017, the Government amended the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, which increased the ‘maternity leave with pay protection’ from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for all women working in establishments employing 10 or more workers. This is expected to reduce the motherhood pay gap among the working mothers. To aid migrant workers, India’s innovative policy ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ allows migrants to access their entitled food grains from anywhere in the Public Distribution System network in the country.

A landmark step in fostering inclusion in the workforce is the e-Shram portal, launched to create a national database of unorganized workers, especially migrant and construction workers. This initiative, providing the e-Shram card, enables access to benefits under various social security schemes.

The portal allows an unorganized worker to register himself or herself on the portal on self-declaration basis, under 400 occupations in 30 broad occupation sectors. More than 290 million unorganized workers have been registered on this portal so far.

Continue Reading

Policy&Politics

India to spend USD 3.7 billion to fence Myanmar border

Published

on

India plans to spend nearly $3.7 billion to fence its 1,610-km (1,000-mile) porous border with Myanmar within about a decade, said a source with direct knowledge of the matter, to prevent smuggling and other illegal activities. New Delhi said earlier this year it would fence the border and end a decades-old visa-free movement policy with coup-hit Myanmar for border citizens for reasons of national security and to maintain the demographic structure of its northeastern region.

A government committee earlier this month approved the cost for the fencing, which needs to be approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, said the source who declined to be named as they were not authorised to talk to the media. The prime minister’s office and the ministries of home, finance, foreign affairs and information and broadcasting did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Myanmar has so far not commented on India’s fencing plans. Since a military coup in Myanmar in 2021, thousands of civilians and hundreds of troops have fled from there to Indian states where people on both sides share ethnic and familial ties. This has worried New Delhi because of risk of communal tensions spreading to India. Some members of the Indian government have also blamed the porous border for abetting the tense situation in the restive north-eastern Indian state of Manipur, abutting Myanmar.

For nearly a year, Manipur has been engulfed by a civil war-like situation between two ethnic groups, one of which shares lineage with Myanmar’s Chin tribe. The committee of senior Indian officials also agreed to build parallel roads along the fence and 1,700 km (1,050 miles) of feeder roads connecting military bases to the border, the source said.

The fence and the adjoining road will cost nearly 125 million rupees per km, more than double that of the 55 million per km cost for the border fence with Bangladesh built in 2020, the source said, because of the difficult hilly terrain and the use of technology to prevent intrusion and corrosion.

Continue Reading

Policy&Politics

ONLY 2-3% RECOVERED FROM $2-3 TN ANNUAL ILLEGAL TRADE THROUGH BANKING: INTERPOL

Published

on

However, Stock highlighted the enormity of the challenge, noting that between 40% and 70% of criminal profits are reinvested, perpetuating the cycle of illicit financial activity.

In a press briefing held on Wednesday, Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock unveiled alarming statistics regarding the extent of undetected money laundering and illegal trade transactions plaguing the global banking network. Stock revealed that over 96% of the money transacted through this network remains undetected, with only 2-3% of the estimated USD 2-3 trillion from illegal trade being tracked and returned to victims.

Interpol, working in conjunction with law enforcement agencies and private financial sectors across its 196 member countries, is committed to combating the rising tide of fraud perpetrated by illicit traders. These criminal activities encompass a wide spectrum, including drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms dealing, and the illicit movement of financial assets.

Stock emphasized the urgent need to establish mechanisms for monitoring transactions within the global banking network. Currently, efforts are underway to engage banking associations worldwide in setting up such a framework. However, Stock highlighted the enormity of the challenge, noting that between 40% and 70% of criminal profits are reinvested, perpetuating the cycle of illicit financial activity. The lack of real-time information sharing poses a significant obstacle to law enforcement agencies in their efforts to combat money laundering and illegal trade.

Stock underscored the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in exacerbating this problem, citing its use in voice cloning and other fraudulent activities. Criminal organizations are leveraging AI technologies to expand their operations and evade detection on a global scale. Stock emphasized the importance of enhanced cooperation between law enforcement agencies and private sector banking groups. Realtime information sharing is crucial in the fight against illegal wealth accumulation.

Drawing inspiration from initiatives such as the “Singapore Anti-Scam Centre,” Stock called for the adoption of similar models in other countries to strengthen the collective response to financial crimes. In conclusion, Stock’s revelations underscore the pressing need for concerted action to combat global financial crimes. Enhanced cooperation between public and private sectors, coupled with innovative strategies for monitoring and combating illicit transactions, is essential to safeguarding the integrity of the global financial system.

Continue Reading

Policy&Politics

FM defends Atal Pension Scheme, highlights guaranteed returns

Published

on

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman defended the Atal Pension Yojana (APY) against Congress criticism, asserting its design based on choice architecture and a guaranteed minimum 8% return. She emphasized the scheme’s opt-out feature, facilitating automatic premium continuation unless subscribers choose otherwise, promoting retirement savings. Sitharaman countered Congress allegations of coercion, stating the APY’s guaranteed returns irrespective of market conditions, supplemented by government subsidies.

Responding to Congress’s claim of scheme misuse, Sitharaman highlighted its intended beneficiaries – the lower-income groups. She criticized Congress for its alleged elitist mindset and emphasized the scheme’s success in targeting the needy. Sitharaman accused Congress of exploiting vote bank politics and coercive tactics, contrasting it with the APY’s transparent framework. The exchange underscores the political debate surrounding social welfare schemes, with the government defending its approach while opposition parties raise concerns about implementation and efficacy.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s robust defense of the Atal Pension Yojana (APY) against Congress criticism highlights the ongoing debate over social welfare schemes in India. Sitharaman’s assertion of the APY’s design principles, including its opt-out feature and guaranteed minimum return, underscores the government’s commitment to promoting retirement savings among lower-income groups. The Atal Pension Yojana, named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was launched in 2015 to provide pension benefits to workers in the unorganized sector. It aims to address the significant gap in pension coverage among India’s workforce, particularly those employed in informal and low-income sectors. The scheme offers subscribers fixed pension amounts ranging from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 5,000 per month, depending on their contribution and age at entry, after attaining the age of 60. Sitharaman’s response comes after Congress criticism alleging the APY’s inefficacy and coercive tactics in enrolment.

Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh described the scheme as poorly designed, citing instances of subscribers dropping out due to unauthorized account openings. However, Sitharaman refuted these claims, emphasizing the APY’s transparent and beneficiary-oriented approach. The finance minister’s defense focuses on three key aspects of the APY: Choice Architecture: Sitharaman highlights the opt-out feature of the APY, which automatically continues premium payments unless subscribers choose to discontinue.

This design element aims to encourage long-term participation and ensure consistent retirement savings among subscribers. By simplifying the decision-making process, the scheme seeks to overcome inertia and promote financial discipline among participants. Guaranteed Minimum Return: Sitharaman underscores the APY’s guarantee of a minimum 8% return, irrespective of prevailing interest rates. This assurance provides subscribers with confidence in the scheme’s financial viability and incentivizes long-term savings.

The government’s commitment to subsidizing any shortfall in actual returns further strengthens the attractiveness of the APY as a retirement planning tool. Targeting the Needy: Sitharaman defends the predominance of pension accounts in lower income slabs, arguing that it reflects the scheme’s successful targeting of its intended beneficiaries – the poor and lower-middle class. She criticizes Congress for its alleged elitist mindset and suggests that the party’s opposition to welfare schemes like the APY stems from a disconnect with the needs of marginalized communities. Sitharaman’s rebuttal also addresses broader political narratives surrounding social welfare policies in India.

She accuses Congress of exploiting vote bank politics and coercive tactics, contrasting it with the transparent and inclusive framework of the APY. The exchange underscores the ideological differences between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress, with each side advocating for their vision of social welfare and economic development. In addition to defending the APY, Sitharaman’s remarks shed light on the broader challenges and opportunities facing India’s pension sector.

Despite significant progress in expanding pension coverage through schemes like the APY, the country still grapples with issues such as financial literacy, informal employment, and pension portability. Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach involving government intervention, private sector participation, and civil society engagement.

As India strives to achieve its vision of inclusive and sustainable development, initiatives like the APY play a crucial role in promoting economic security and social equity. Sitharaman’s defense of the scheme underscores the government’s commitment to addressing the needs of vulnerable populations and ensuring their financial well-being in the long run.

Continue Reading

Economic

Regulatory steps will make financial sector strong, but raise cost of capital

Published

on

India’s financial system regulator, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), is demonstrating a serious commitment to improving governance and transparency at finance companies and banks, with the RBI’s recent measures aimed at curtailing lenders’ overexuberance, enhancing compliance culture and safeguarding customers.

While the global ratings firm has appreciated the RBI’s “diminishing tolerance for non-compliance, customer complaints, data privacy, governance, know-your-customer (KYC), and anti-money laundering issues”, it has cautioned that increased regulatory risk could impede growth and raise the cost of capital for financial institutions. “Governance and transparency are key weaknesses for the Indian financial sector and weigh on our analysis. The RBI’s new measures are creating a more robust and transparent financial system,” says S&P Global Credit Analyst, Geeta Chugh. “India’s regulator has underscored its commitment to strengthening the financial sector. The drawback will be higher capital costs for institutions,” Chugh cautions.

The RBI measures include restraining IIFL Finance and JM Financial Products from disbursing gold loan and loans against shares respectively and asking Paytm Payments Bank (PPBL) to stop onboarding of new customers. Earlier in December 2020, the RBI suspended HDFC Bank from sourcing new credit card customers after repeated technological outages. These actions are a departure from the historically nominal financial penalties imposed for breaches, S&P Global notes.

Besides, as the global agency points out, the RBI has decided to publicly disclose the key issues that lead to suspensions or other strict actions against concerned entities and become more vocal in calling out conduct that it deems detrimental to the interests of customers and investors. “We believe that increased transparency will create additional pressure on the entire financial sector to enhance compliance and governance practices,” adds Chugh. The global agency has also lauded the RBI’s recent actions demonstrating scant tolerance for any potential window-dressing of accounts.

These actions include the provisioning requirement on alternative investment funds that lend to the same borrower as the bank finance company. Amidst the possibility of some retail loans, such as personal loans, loans against property, and gold loans getting diverted to invest in stock markets and difficulty of ascertaining the end-use of money in these products, S&P Global underlines the faith of market participants that the RBI and market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, want to protect small investors by scrutinizing these activities more cautiously.

On the flip side, at a time of tight liquidity, the RBI’s new measures are likely to limit credit growth in fiscal 2025 (year ending March 2025). “We expect loan growth to decline to 14 per cent in fiscal 2025 from 16 per cent in fiscal 2024, reflecting the cumulative impact of all these actions,” says Chugh. The other side of the story is that stricter rules may disrupt affected entities and increase caution among fintechs and other regulated entities and the RBI’s decision to raise risk weights on unsecured personal loans and credit cards may constrain growth. Household debt to GDP in India (excluding agriculture and small and midsize enterprises) increased to an estimated 24 per cent in March 2024 from 19 per cent in March 2019. Growth in unsecured loans has also been excessive and now forms close to 10 per cent of total banking sector loans.

Continue Reading

Trending