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Updated: 56 min 2 sec ago

Covid-19 impact: Drugs essential, ancillaries not so, means supplies take a hit

56 min 2 sec ago
MUMBAI: The Indian pharmaceutical industry is facing major challenges in transporting ancillary supplies such as bottles and caps since they don’t fall under the essential services category exempted from the ongoing nationwide lockdown, industry experts said.National chemists and druggists association and industry lobby groups have urged the government to put all ancillary goods required for medicine production in the essential services category as they fear major supply disruptions in the days to come.“What do you do without the bottles or caps? These goods are as important as the medicines,” a pharma company executive told ET.A member from chemist and druggist association said if the ancillary supplies logistics issues are not sorted, parts of the country will start facing medical supply disruptions very soon.PD Vaghela, secretary in the pharmaceuticals department, said the department is trying to facilitate smooth transportation of ancillary goods like bottles, caps and cardboard across the country.“We are working round the clock with the pharma and medical devices industry and trying to ease up transportation issues,” he said, adding that the issue is being resolved in a case by case basis.People associated with pharma industry also said many transporters and courier services are not operating, resulting in supply disruptions.States where the problem is acute include Assam and Telangana, one of the sources said.75038479Eastern UP, western UP, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, too, are impacted, the person said.Some of the industry experts alleged that district administrations are not cooperating and not issuing necessary permits.For example, an industry insider said on condition of anonymity, a company is unable to lift its pharma ancillary material lying in a plant in Roorkee since there is no transport available.There are several challenges that the pharma companies and chemists are facing, ranging from disruption in supply chain and manpower issues to police restricting distributors from moving goods around, industry insiders said.Suspension of public transportation in most places is making it difficult for labourers to reach manufacturing plants, they said.Printers that manufacture packaging for medicines are shut, vehicles of suppliers of packaging materials for medicines are getting detained, trucks carrying coal for powering a manufacturing site of pharma company are not allowed to pass through, and suspension of flights has led to goods being stuck in different parts of the country, industry insiders said.While things are getting better in metros, problems and supply disruptions can be seen in districts, an industry expert said.“Delhi and other metros have got better as far as the transportation issues are concerned, but the issue remains at the district level.For example, transportation issues are seen at places like Rohtak and Bhiwani,” he said.
Categories: Business News

Covid is pushing world economy to the brink. Is India immune?

6 hours 58 min ago
The coronavirus and lockdown-induced recession have fueled huge distress in India. A third connected problem has been the crash in stock markets. A fourth misfortune, an extension of the third, is now threatened by loan defaults by developing countries that could snowball into a further panicky exit of dollars from all emerging markets, including India.The Sensex is already down from almost 40,000 to 27,000. Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) today are the biggest shareholders of many Sensex companies. HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank are owned mainly by FPIs, even though they are called Indian banks. But in March alone, FPIs were net sellers of $16.5 billion of shares, against $9 billion in the entire 2008 crisis.Is the crisis about to peak, and will we soon return on the path to normality? Wall Street analysts predict a sharp economic recovery from the current recession in the second half of 2020. Indian optimists hope that FPIs will soon come back and the Sensex will boom again. The optimists argue that bond yields are close to zero in advanced countries. So global money will have to come back to countries like India, which promise higher yields since they will grow faster than the advanced countries.Maybe, but those days may be a long way off. Markets yo-yo with alternate bouts of greed and fear. Some FPI money will doubtless come back for bottom-fishing. But the big risk is another round of massive FPI outflows as part of a panicky exit from all emerging markets induced by a series of defaults. Lebanon has just defaulted for the first time ever. In the 1950s, it seemed the brightest economic star in Asia, but was then devastated by a civil war that still continues in a sort of equilibrium. Despite that, Lebanon never defaulted on its foreign debt -- until now. Covid-19 has finally done what even civil war could not.Argentina has defaulted too, on dollar debt subject to adjudication within the country. It has massive debts running into billions of dollars under international judicial jurisdiction, which presumably will suffer default too. Argentina enjoyed a spell of fast growth in the 2000s that enabled it to look so creditworthy that in 2017 it could actually sell 100-year dollar bonds to global buyers. Today, it is comprehensively bust.Venezuela cannot pay its debts, but is a special case since it has been the target of US sanctions. Ecuador is also on the verge of default. Venezuela and Ecuador are oil exporters, and the collapse of the price of oil from $65 a barrel a few months ago to under $30 a barrel today means their main source of tax revenue and foreign exchange has evaporated. The same story is going to be repeated in other oil-exporting countries, and can devastate smaller exporters in Africa. Mexico, a major oil exporter, has seen its currency sink 20% this year.The world is in a deep recession and could take over a year to revive to pre-crisis levels. The virus has hit Asian countries whose exports depend on global value chains and have suffered from China‘s lockdowns. But a bigger problem has been a fall in all commodity prices, which are the staple exports of many developing countries. These are suffering a double whammy of a crash in exports even as dollars are yanked out of their economies by panicky FPIs. India and China are net commodity importers, and will gain from declining prices. But most developing countries will suffer. Just a few years ago, BRICS -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- were touted as the next major global powers. They even set up a BRICS Bank to finance global projects. Of the five members, three -- Brazil, Russia and South Africa --have seen their currencies sink 20% in recent weeks. They will want to burrow rather than lend through the BRICS Bank.Defaults by emerging markets are set to snowball. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) has just come out with a report saying developing countries urgently need debt cancellation of $1 trillion this year; another clean gift of $1 trillion through a new issue of special drawing rights by the International Monetary Fund (IMF); and an additional $500 million from rich countries as a new sort of Marshall Aid. Alas, even the richest countries are focusing on reviving their own stricken economies.India is in a relatively good position to withstanding the hurricane about to strike defaulting and other emerging markets. Its current account deficit is very low and may go to zero because of the crash in oil prices (which may, however, be offset partly by a decline in remittances from the Gulf). Inflation is under control, save for vegetable prices. The fiscal deficit is going to shoot up, but that is happening across the world and is not causing inflation.RBI will monetise most of the fiscal deficit, so interest rates will not shoot up and the financial sector should have enough liquidity. But not even all this will give India immunity. Prepare for stormy days ahead.
Categories: Business News

Virus throws a wrench into divestment plans

6 hours 58 min ago
NEW DELHI: With the stock markets volatile, India has put disinvestment plans – both strategic and non-strategic – on the back-burner.Strategic divestment in Shipping Corporation of India and Container Corporation of India has been put on hold in the wake of the global outbreak of Covid-19 even as the government evaluates plans to reduce its stake in state-owned entities to 51%.Deadlines for submitting bids for Air India and Bharat Petroleum have already been extended by more than a month to April 30 and June 13, respectively. The deadlines could be extended if potential bidders seek more time, said a government official.“There is a world shutdown. Only minimalistic economics are functioning in terms of essential supplies… in such a scenario, timings (of strategic sales) will have to be rescheduled,” the official said.On the non-strategic side, where stakes were to be sold to lower the government holding to below 51%, officials said the timing would not be right now as the correct asset values can’t be derived during the current market fluctuations. 75035598“Given that the markets are volatile, this is not the right time to go in this direction… the share price of several entities is getting affected,” a second official said.The administrative ministries of these companies and the entities themselves will now have to take a call on the stake sales.“It has to be decided whether the shareholding can indeed be brought down to below 51% in select PSUs because the Cabinet decision was only in-principle, not generalised,” said another government official, adding that it would be for the PSUs to convey to the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management whether they can take this route.Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced in the budget in July last year that the government will consider lowering its stake in non-financial public-sector companies below 51%.“The government will undertake strategic sale of PSUs. The government will also continue to do consolidation of PSUs in the non-financial space as well,” Sitharaman had said.“Given the present state of the economy, disinvestment proceedings may not prove to be a success story, given the reluctance of bidders to commit such massive capital contributions... as well as the possibility of poor valuation of the PSUs proposed to be disinvested given their poor financial condition," said Atul Pandey, a partner at Khaitan & Co.The government-set target of Rs 2.01 lakh crore from disinvestment in the current financial year is more than three times the revised target of Rs 65,000 crore in FY20.The benchmark BSE Sensex came off an all-time high of 42,273.87 in January to a low of 25,638.9 in March. The index climbed 9% to 30,067.21 on Tuesday.
Categories: Business News

Covid-19: Centre to provide insurance for truckers soon

6 hours 58 min ago
NEW DELHI: The Centre is likely to roll out a short-term insurance cover for nearly eight lakh truck drivers and assistants who transport essential goods across the country.Centre’s empowered groups set up to fight the pandemic and the Life Insurance Corporation of India are working out modalities on a transport ministry proposal to reassure truckers of their safety. The insurance scheme is likely to be announced in a few days.Of the estimated over 50 lakh trucks, only about 4 lakh ply daily with essential goods and medicines at the moment. The plan is to cover the 4 lakh truck drivers and 4 lakh assistants under the special insurance. The Centre had recently announced a `50 lakh medical insurance cover for healthcare personnel and sanitation workers.The scheme for truckers will be for three months, and cover Covid-19 along with accident and death cover, a top government official told ET. The insurance will be extended if the lockdown or Covid-19 scare continues for a longer period.The variables makes the insurance package tricky. It may be an expensive proposition given the several uncertainties and unknown factors associated with extending insurance packages to truck drivers, considered a high-risk group by most insurers. ET gathers that the Centre will pay the premium for the beneficiaries from the national disaster relief fund and packages of the health and consumer affairs ministries.“We will start with an insurance package for drivers and assistants on the road through this lockdown period as a gesture of goodwill and reassure them as there is fear among those returning to work. We hope the industry will also take a cue and work on building similar packages,” a senior official told ET.
Categories: Business News

Covid-19 relief: Lenders want SBI to include NBFCs under moratorium

6 hours 58 min ago
MUMBAI: Several lenders are trying to convince the trade big daddy State Bank of India (SBI) to cover non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) under the moratorium announced by the regulator as part of the COVID-19 relief package.The moratorium allows deferral of loan interest servicing and repayment for three months. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) notification and the subsequent FAQ from the industry lobby IBA does not specifically exclude NBFCs from the moratorium. However, an internal SBI circular says that currently financial intermediaries, NBFCs, housing finance companies and micro-finance institutions will not be covered, a senior banker told ET.In the past few days, large banks, including some of the state-owned as well as private sector lenders, have reached out to SBI to put across the point that in the absence of a moratorium some of the small and medium NBFCs could run into serious cash-flow problem.Responding to ET’s query on the subject, SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar said, “This is for the RBI to clarify.”According to banking circles, it’s possible that SBI’s stance is based on discussions with the central bank and the ministry. “The LTRO announced by RBI covers a large part of the installments of NBFCs due over next three months… if the banks give such a facility to non-bank lenders their own liquidity could come under pressure,” said a government official. (The long-term repo auction (LTRO) is long term loan that RBI gives to banks at the policy repo rate)However, given the state of the money market and the wide risk-aversion, bankers fear that only top-notch would be in a position to raise funds and rollover their liabilities.The banking industry’s loan outstanding to NBFCs is about Rs 12 lakh crore (about 12 % of the total loans). “A large part lies in the books of SBI. It will not make sense to extend the moratorium to NBFCs without SBI’s participation.. we have been in touch with SBI. We are waiting for SBI’s response,” said the chairman of a large public sector bank.Besides bank loans, NBFCs’ sources of funds are capital market instruments like non-convertible debentures (NCDs) and more recently external commercial borrowings. “There is no moratorium on traded securities NCDs while offshore lenders extending ECBs are unwilling to give any relief. If they have no collections from loans, some of them will need special liquidity lines..This facility was offered during the 2008-09 financial crisis though it was never used,” said a banker.According to a PTI story dated 4th April, industry body Ficci has requested the government to open a special liquidity line to NBFCs from banks as well as allot a sizeable part from the RBI’sLTRO auction amounts to the sector which lends to MSMEs, infrastructure and real estate sectors that have been severely impacted by Covid-19 outbreak.
Categories: Business News

Covid has shown India a new growth engine

April 7, 2020 - 10:24pm
By Andy MukherjeeEven before the coronavirus, India was at a crossroads. At roughly $2,000 a year, per capita income in 2018 was half of what the country needed to become an upper-middle-income economy. Catching up with advanced nations posed a more daunting challenge.Should India strive to break free of the middle-income trap by becoming a factory to the world, taking over from China? Or would it be better off prioritizing the domestic economy, expanding its rather narrow base of mass consumption? The answer in the post-pandemic world may support the second strategy, with health infrastructure as its centerpiece.JPMorgan Chase & Co. economist Jahangir Aziz stirred up a debate late last year when — taking his cue perhaps from the U.S-China trade tensions — he said that the “game is over” for emerging markets that were “addicted to globalization.” India, he argued, refuses to accept that it’s just another developing economy that grew on the back of globalization.The coronavirus outbreak has only deepened India’s vulnerability. Trade in goods has slowed the world over. Movement of people has halted. Even the dollar, the lingua franca of global commerce, is finding it hard to go where it’s needed. India’s edge in software services will be blunted if swathes of Western industrial capacity get rescued by taxpayers, who will demand that firms stop outsourcing and create jobs at home. Indian startups will struggle to raise money from global private equity firms, which are busy angling for a public bailout of their portfolio companies, as my colleague Shuli Ren has noted. 75022404Then there’s geopolitics. The mistrust between Washington and Beijing has gone up several notches because of the blame game around the pandemic. To the extent the East Asian model of export-led growth requires a wealthy core economy buying cheap widgets from a periphery it hopes to be able to control, it has run its course. There won’t be a next China.So how should New Delhi navigate this scared new world? In dealing with the virus and its aftermath, the Indian government is bound to shed fiscal restraints, and rely on the central bank to fund its spending.Once it’s on the gravy train of deficit monetization, neither India nor the rest of the world will want to get off. This won’t matter as long as India can demonstrate that public spending is boosting productive capacity. One way to do that, as a senior financial services executive put to me, was to make public health the engine of a state-funded investment drive. 75022415A highly contagious outbreak can overwhelm even the most sophisticated of medical systems, but as Fitch Solutions says, with 8.5 hospital beds and 8 physicians per 10,000 people, India’s healthcare industry is particularly at risk. By comparison, Japan and South Korea have 120 to 130 beds for 10,000 people. That explains the severity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 21-day shutdown, which has caused enormous hardship for the urban poor and migrant workers.Modi’s “Make in India” slogan rings hollow when doctors have to don raincoats and helmets in the absence of protective equipment. To say that even the U.S. is short of gear and tests only proves that the flawed American healthcare model need not be followed. The World Bank has fast-tracked a $1 billion loan for India to speed up coronavirus detection and treatment. But the bulk of the future investment in new hospitals and emergency rooms must come from the state. Expensive private medical education paid for with hefty student loans must give way to scaled-up subsidized training. Just reversing the 1:2 ratio of government versus out-of-pocket health spending will unleash purchasing power. 75022423Two decades ago, when India was shaking off the vestiges of its socialist past, 31% of medicine in inpatient treatments was available for free in public hospitals. Now, when market forces rule, the share of free drugs is down to less than 9%. Imagine the anxiety it breeds among the poor who are one mishap away from destitution.It’s unclear whether the current crisis will prompt the U.S. to drop its deep resistance to a single-payer health system. India, which has no qualms about being a welfare state, could emulate the Korean or Taiwanese model in which a single national insurer, funded by budgetary support as well as taxes on workers and employers, pays service providers and drug companies.Even Korea took 12 years to achieve 100% coverage. A much larger country like India will need stepped-up public investment to take its fledgling universal healthcare program to all.As for the rest of the economy, emphasizing domestic demand doesn’t mean import substitution. Nor does it imply unwarranted export pessimism. A long hiatus in globalization won’t preclude opportunities for India to boost its share of world exports.With a health-centered investment agenda, India can supply doctors, nurses, paramedics, technicians and other medical professionals to the world. It can also supply valuable data and analytics. Even with the country busy fighting the coronavirus, planners need to start thinking of tomorrow’s battles. In India’s case, one of its biggest weaknesses could also be its growth plan.
Categories: Business News

The sky is falling for India's aviation sector

April 7, 2020 - 10:24pm
The magnitude of the unfolding trauma for India's airlines is now too severe to ignore.The "Covid-19 & the State of the Indian Aviation Industry" report, released by Capa India recently, reveals that local air travel in the country will likely crash from 14 crore in 2019-20 to around 8-9 crore in the next financial year (2020-21).It is worth noting that 8-9 crore was the level seen in 2015-16. A ToI report, citing data from Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), puts the the number of domestic air travellers in the country at 8.1 crore in 2015 and 9.9 crore in 2016.So, the findings essentially means the unfolding novel coronavirus crisis is all set to take India's aviation sector back by at least four to five years.The Capa India report had some more dire predictions to make. The most significant ones among them include:(a) The Indian aviation sector is likely to shrink significantly, even if some of the vulnerable airlines manage to survive.(b) For India to return to a pre-Covid operational fleet of 650 aircraft is likely to take up to 12 months from the time that restrictions are lifted, and this may be conservative.(c) As per current estimates, there could be 200-250 surplus aircraft for the next 6-12 months.(d) International traffic is expected to fall from approximately 70 million in FY 2020 to 35-40 million in FY 2021, and possibly lower.Capa India added that these were only initial estimates and that they would be continually revised as the situation becomes more clear.This comes amid blanket flight cancellations — a time when airlines are faced with the spectre of massive cash burn in the wake of having to refund sold but unused tickets.A latest Bloomberg report outlined how the fight to survive the ongoing crisis has pitted airlines companies against grounded flyers the world over. Normal-time refund rules are not being followed now as rampant lockdowns have wrecked schedules for weeks, forcing airlines to park their fleets and guard their cash as revenue withers, said the report.Some airlines, such as IndiGo, have opted for the credit shell strategy instead of refunds. India's biggest airline is creating credit notes for every cancelled ticket, which flyers can redeem later any time up to a year.Air India won't levy no-show charges till the end of this month. It means passengers can use the fare to book a future flight even if they don’t pro-actively cancel tickets.Go Air is offering passengers of a cancelled flight the option to even change destinations at a future date. Passengers, however, will have to pay the fare difference, if any.
Categories: Business News

Govt may need Rs 5L cr more to support economy: Garg

April 7, 2020 - 10:24pm
NEW DELHI: The Centre may need to borrow 2-2.5 per cent of GDP or about Rs 4-5 lakh crore additionally for supporting people and businesses hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak and nationwide lockdown, according to former finance secretary Subhash Chandra Garg."It seems necessary and advisable that the Government of India borrow this directly from the RBI instead of borrowing from the market. The FRBM (Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management) Act should be amended to enable this," he said.For the current fiscal, the government plans to borrow Rs 7.8 lakh crore from the market and contain fiscal deficit at 3.5 per cent of the GDP. Of this, the government decided to borrow Rs 4.88 lakh crore during the first half itself.Observing that the unconventional solutions are needed for the unprecedented times, Garg said, the government should make a departure from the past to help the businesses, especially the small and own-account businesses that are likely to fold up if not helped with grant support."The government should support the small and self-employed businesses by an estimated amount of Rs 2 lakh crore. If the phasing out of the lockdown continues to make some of these businesses inoperative, the fiscal package should build in an additional provision to cover that up as well," he said in a blog.He also suggested that the economic lockdown should be phased out by lifting it up from the vast rural areas and the cities which have no incidence of COVID-19 spread to undertake all economic activities regulating their interactions with outsiders under a safe protocol and subject to taking up certain additional precautions to eliminate the risk of spread.Several low-risk industries like mining, construction, manufacturing, etc should also be opened up with these precautions, he said, adding, hot spots and other areas can be opened up only when there is no more incidence of COVID-19.Services industries would require to readjust their business models to eliminate the risk of passive transmission, Garg, who is currently adviser to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, said.With regard to fiscal support to the poor and vulnerable section of the society, Garg said, the fiscal relief package of (Rs 1.7 lakh crore but actually a lot less) announced on March 26 does not address the loss being suffered by these workers. A new fiscal support package of about a Rs 60,000 crore for these workers suffering on account of economic lockdown is most urgently needed."At least 10 crore workers of the mining, construction, manufacturing and services sectors have been rendered jobless on account of economic lockdown ordered to contain the COVID-19 spread risk and they need an immediate fiscal support of Rs 2000 per month for three months, he added.Barring farm sector, essential goods and services and e-commerce businesses where it was feasible to work from home, the rest of the economy is totally shut, he said, adding, 21-day of shutdown of approximately 70 per cent of the economy would cause about Rs 8 lakh crore of loss of value addition/ GDP to businesses.Besides, he said, the Centre should release the held-up amount of approximately Rs 30,000 crore of GST compensation as revenue of states have suffered massively. "The Government of India should also release the instalment of Rs 56000 crores of the states' share in central taxes on due date i.e. 15th April. The states should be provided additional borrowing limits to cover up the shortfall in their tax revenues for the year 2020-21," he said.With regards to liquidity in the system, he said. banks have been provided considerable liquidity by the RBI of about Rs 5 lakh crore."The banks are, however, unlikely to lend these funds to businesses, except to some high investment grade credits. The banks might actually use this liquidity to invest in Government of India and state government's bonds if the Government of India chooses not to borrow directly from the RBI," he said.It is time the RBI starts assuming some risk and buying corporate bonds and the mortgage backed assets in India, he said, adding, this will help credit flow to the businesses.
Categories: Business News

Andhra to procure 3 lakh rapid testing kits, set up 13 Covid hospitals

April 7, 2020 - 10:24pm
HYDERABAD: Andhra Pradesh, which has been seeing a sharp spike in number of Covid-19 positives linked to Tablighi Jamaat prayers at Nizamuddin recently, has announced placing an order for 3 lakh rapid testing kits for Covid-19.Learning from the experience of other countries with respect to the need of Covid exclusive hospitals, the government has identified and designated 13 hospital in 13 district as Covid hospitals. No other patients will be treated in these hospitals to avoid further transmission, said the government.In a statement on Tuesday, the AP government said authorities will undertake extensive testing in containment zones established across the state where positive cases have been reported.Once the ordered equipment was delivered, AP will also undertake the exercise of randomly testing 8,000 samples from across the state to better understand the extent of the spread.The government said it was also conducting a survey to identify symptomatic cases irrespective of travel history, vulnerable class such as those aged above 60 or those suffering from other comorbidities, healthcare workers who might have been exposed and others. A total of approximately 5,000 people have already been traced and the testing process for all these people has started.The Andhra government also said equipment used for testing of Tuberculosis was tried and 5 positive patients and 5 negative patients were tested. Finding that the results were accurate, the government has decided on a two-step testing process from hereon in some cases.Suspects will be tested using the Tuberculosis equipment and if the result was negative there will be no further process but if the results end up being positive, just to confirm once again, a PCR test will also be conducted. This, the government said, helps increase its testing capabilities immensely.Meanwhile, the government said 280 out of the 304 positive cases reported in the state by far were due to attendees of the Delhi congregation.
Categories: Business News

Skoda to fund dealers’ April-June fixed cost, new launches on schedule

April 7, 2020 - 10:24pm
Mumbai: Czech carmaker Skoda Auto will provide financial support to its dealers in India to cover their fixed cost for the April-June quarter, as their outlets are shut due to the nationwide lockdown and the future remains uncertain.This financial support will be to pay salaries and meet other fixed cost at the company’s 80 dealer outlets in the country, Skoda said on Tuesday. It may be releasing Rs 50-60 crore this quarter to meet the obligations on behalf of dealers.Skoda is in a phase of building up its network as it renews its India strategy, and it wants to protect the channel partners in these difficult times, said the company.The company needs to make sure that the core dealer network is intact and ready before it rolls out its India 2.0 strategy, Skoda Auto India director of sales, service and marketing Zac Hollis told ET.“We are not only taking care of the immediate cash flow needs of the dealers, but are assuring them of full support for the next three months. Their health and safety is critical in our future growth and we are using this time well to maintain the network is good health,” Hollis added.The company is working on a plan to resume operation — dealer-to-dealer and region-to-region — depending on the lifting of the current lockdown.Other carmakers like Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai, Honda and Toyota have released advance payments to their dealers for March. Since April too is likely to be washed out, the automakers may be compelled to shell out more from their pocket just like Skoda to ensure that their retail chains survived this uncertain period.Meanwhile, despite the lockdown, Skoda is not delaying its new car launches. It will be rolling out the BS-VI version of the Rapid, Karoq, Superb and the Octavia RS as soon as the lockdown is lifted, the company said.Passenger vehicle sales in India almost halved in March and the April sales are likely to be even worse because of the lockdown, which is expected to be lifted only partially in mid-April.Hollis said the sentiment was weak and the passenger vehicle market was likely to remain in the negative zone. Skoda will look at ensuring the BS-VI products are made accessible with attractive prices and finance options to ease the pressure on consumers wallets, he said.
Categories: Business News

Trade setup: Nifty50 likely to extend technical pullback

April 7, 2020 - 10:24pm
On expected lines, Indian equity market staged a strong relief rally on Tuesday. NSE Nifty made a healthy start to the day and continued to add gains as the session progressed. The benchmark index finally settled with a massive gain of 708.40 points or 8.76 per cent at 8,792.20.The market has now started to show initial signs of a short term bottom near the 7,800 level. However, Nifty still needs to confirm it by moving past and sustaining above the 9,050 level. The behaviour of the index against this level would be extremely crucial to watch out for in the coming days.Volatility Index or India VIX cooled down further by 6.33 per cent to 51.80.Wednesday’s session is likely to see a positive start and the extension of the technical pullback. The 8,885 and 9,000 levels will act as resistance, while the support may come in at 8,710 and 8,590.The Relative Strength Index (RSI) on the daily chart stood at 43.44 and marked a fresh 14-period high, which is bullish. The indicator remained neutral, showing no divergence against the price.75034816The daily MACD was bullish and traded above its signal line. A rising window was formed on the candles. This occurs due to a gap and usually results in a continuation of the upmove.As per pattern analysis, after making a low below 7,800, Nifty has attempted to confirm the temporary bottom by marking a higher bottom near 8,050. For the bottom to get confirmed, the index now will have to mark a higher top by moving past the 9,050 level and staying above this zone.Given the technical setup, we would strongly recommend traders to avoid shorts at current levels. While selective purchases can be made, profits should be vigilantly protected near the 9,000-9,050 zone. There are chances that Nifty may test 9,000, but in the same breath, the index may also face some profit booking at higher levels.(Milan Vaishnav, CMT, MSTA, is a Consulting Technical Analyst and founder of Gemstone Equity Research & Advisory Services, Vadodara. He can be reached at milan.vaishnav@equityresearch.asia)
Categories: Business News

Big Opec+ oil output cuts depend on US, others joining

April 7, 2020 - 10:24pm
LONDON/MOSCOW: Saudi Arabia, Russia and allied oil producers will only agree to deep cuts to their crude output at talks this week if the United States and several others join in with curbs to help prop up prices that have been hammered by the coronavirus crisis.Global oil demand has dropped by as much as 30%, or about 30 million barrels per day (bpd), as measures to prevent the virus spreading have slashed demand for jet fuel, gasoline and diesel. France reported on Tuesday a 80% drop in its petrol use.On top of sliding demand, Saudi Arabia has been flooding the market with extra crude after the collapse last month of a three-year-old deal with Russia on limiting supplies between OPEC and their allies, a group known as OPEC+.OPEC+ is due to hold a video conference on Thursday at 1400 GMT, after U.S. President Donald Trump said last week he had brokered a deal between Riyadh and Moscow on cuts amounting to an unprecedented 10 million to 15 million bpd, or about 10% to 15% of global supplies. Nothing has yet been formalised.An OPEC source told Reuters on Tuesday the size of any OPEC+ curbs depended on volumes other producers such as the United States, Canada and Brazil were willing to cut.Other OPEC+ sources have echoed this, saying it hinged on action by the United States, where costly shale oil production has surged with the help of OPEC+ action since 2016 to support prices. "Without the U.S., no deal," said one OPEC+ source."The situation will require active involvement of all market participants," the nergy ministry of non-OPEC Kazakhstan said in a statement.The United States has yet to commit to any cut, while Trump has said U.S. oil production had already fallen.After the OPEC+ talks, Saudi Arabia will host a video conference on Friday for energy ministers from the Group of 20 (G20) major economies "to ensure energy market stability", an internal document seen by Reuters showed.A senior Russian source said efforts to get the United States involved in cuts will be on the agenda for Friday's G20 talks, scheduled for 1200-1420 GMT.Two Russian sources said Russia was ready to cut output substantially without giving precise numbers.BASELINE FOR CUTSRiyadh and Moscow blamed each other for the collapse of the previous OPEC+ deal last month and have since then waged a war for market share, sending oil prices to their lowest in almost two decades. Benchmark Brent was trading at about $33 a barrel on Tuesday, about half its level at the end of 2019.Saudi Arabia, with by far the world's biggest reserve of extra capacity and some of the lowest production costs, said it had raised crude output to 12.3 million barrels per day (bpd) on April 1 and planned to export more than 10 million bpd.Riyadh had insisted it would no longer carry what it considered an unfair burden of output cuts.Russian President Vladimir Putin has said any output cuts should be made from levels in the first quarter, before Saudi Arabia and others hiked production. OPEC sources said Riyadh wanted cuts to be calculated from its current higher level.The OPEC source said there was no consensus between Riyadh and Moscow yet on the baseline for any reductions. Russian TASS news agency said cuts could last 3 months starting from May.Christyan Malek from JP Morgan said Thursday's talks could fail: "We are quite skeptical. The Saudis want to keep pressure on the oil prices in order to gain a larger market share and concessions from Washington".U.S. antitrust laws prohibit oil producers in the United States from taking steps to push up oil prices, but output curbs would be legal if state regulators or the federal government set lower production levels, experts say.The boss of top U.S. oil firm Exxon Mobil, Darren Woods, said on Tuesday he supported "free trade and low tariffs", when asked about the cuts. However, his firm cut investment by a third to $23 billion, mainly in U.S. shale fields.Other oil producers outside the OPEC+ group have already indicated a willingness to help. Canada's Alberta province, home to the world's third-largest oil reserves, said it was open to joining any potential global pact.Norway, the biggest oil and gas producer in Western Europe, said it would join production cuts if there was broad support for such a move. Brazil's Energy Minister said he was ready to attend the G20 call.
Categories: Business News

Bulls are back, but how long will it last?

April 7, 2020 - 7:22pm
Equity benchmarks Sensex and Nifty rallied nearly 9 per cent in Tuesday’s trade, following positive global cues and hope of some easing in the 21-day nationwide lockdown next week.However, market experts believe the rally is unlikely to sustain as uncertainty over the Coronavirus crisis continues across the globe.BSE Sensex surged 2,476 points to 30,067, while Nifty50 gained 702 points to 8,785.“Hopes of some easing of the lockdown from next week, firm global cues coupled with a likely change in foreign institutional investors’ investment strategy lifted market sentiment. However, it is very unlikely that the pullback will sustain as the Coronavirus crisis still not under control,” said Vinod Nair, Head of Research, Geojit Financial Services.Investor wealth increased by Rs 8 lakh crore as market capitalisation of BSE-listed firms increased to around Rs 116 lakh crore from Rs 108 lakh crore on April 3. Markets were closed on Monday on account of Mahavir Jayanti.Sanjeev Hota, Head of Research, Sharekhan by BNP Paribas seconded Nair. “Today’s recovery was led by firm global cues. However, the rally may not sustain as fear of Covid-19 is still not away. I believe market will continue to remain volatile till the time some sense of stability comes in terms of coronavirus cases,” he said.All the 30 components of BSE Sensex settled in the green with IndusInd Bank rallying the most at 25 per cent. It was followed by Axis Bank (up 20 per cent), Hindustan Unilever (up 14 per cent), Mahindra & Mahindra (up 14 per cent) and ICICI Bank (up 13 per cent).Robust buying in financial, energy and auto packs supported the rally. The BSE Bankex, Energy, Auto and Telecom indices gained over 9 per cent each.Abhimanyu Sofat, Head of Research, IIFL Securities, said the rally was driven by positive news on the slowing rates of Corona infections in New York and Spain. “The flattening of the curve would help a risk-on trade. However, one would need some additional positive news on the domestic front with regards to Corona for Nifty to go above the 9,000 level.”Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong stocks settled over 2 per cent higher, in line with gains in mainland China on Beijing's latest economic stimulus and a drop in Coronavirus cases.MSCI's Asia ex-Japan stock index was also up by over 2 per cent, while Japan's Nikkei rose 2.01 per cent.
Categories: Business News

Bhilwara, the clue to India's virus counter

April 7, 2020 - 7:22pm
The Centre may adopt the Bhilwara model as a containment strategy to curb the spread of new coronavirus in areas that have been identified as hotspots.Cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba, in a meeting with chief secreatries on Sunday, acknowledged the Bhilwara model as an effective containment strategy.Bhilwara was the epicentre of the new coronavirus in Rajashthan until aggressive containment measures taken by the district administration limited the spread of the virus.Bhilwara, which has the second highest number of cases in Rajasthan at 27, has reported only one positive case since March 30. The textile town shot to limelight because of spike in number of cases in a short span of time since the first case was reported on March 19. A doctor in a private hospital tested positive and became the source of infection for others within the hospital. Aggressive screeningThe ruthless containment strategy followed by the Bhilwara district administration is a mix of strict imposition of curfew, mass screening,identification of potential clusters and other such measures.Around 2,000 teams carried out a door-to-door campaign screening a population of 28 lakh and enforcing home quarantine on those who showed influenza-like symptoms. “The strategy to combat a cluster spread was three-pronged. The first step was effective implementation of the curfew, sealing the borders of containment zones and ensuring zero vehicular movement,” a Times of India report quoted Rohit Kumar Singh, additional chief secretary (health), as saying.“Second, we set out to identify potential clusters and carry out intensive mapping of contacts, besides isolating high-risk people and collecting samples for tests quickly. The third step was a massive screening exercise covering the entire population to detect influenza-like symptoms,” he added.
Categories: Business News

Roundup: India eases curbs on the drug Trump wants

April 7, 2020 - 7:22pm
India will partially lift the ban on exports of Hydrochloroquine, the anti-malaria drug being thought of as effective for healthcare workers treating Covid-19 patients.Meanwhile, Indian share markets posted their best day since 2009 on signs that the pandemic could be waning in intensity. Sensex snapped its multi-day losing streak to end 2,476 points up.Here are the other big news of the day... COUNT SO FAR30 new cases in Telangana; state tally rises to 3084 more test positive in Ahmednagar, Maha; 3 with ties to Markaz23 new cases reported in Maharashtra, total jumps to 891Four deaths in Indore, toll in city reaches 131 new case in AP, total tally rises to 304One more death reported in AP, toll up to 412 new positive cases reported in Bhopal4 more cases in Himachal Pradesh, total rises to 1924 new cases reported in Rajasthan19 new cases in GujaratTwo more cases in UP's Bulandshahr, both attended Jamaat16 more cases in Uttar Pradesh, including an infant2 more positive cases found in DharaviNew case in Assam, with ties to Tablighi; State total now 27Two women who returned from Tableeghi event test positive in Mansa, Punjab16 Tablighi Jamaat returnees in Mewat test positive12 new cases reported in Karnataka, tally rises to 175One more positive case in Bhubaneswar; Odisha records first deathWorldIndiaGlobal Death Count1,350,8414,42174,870GOVT'S CONTAINMENT STRATEGYCovid Care CentresFor mild cases and suspect casesWill include schools, colleges, hotels converted into quarantine facilitiesWill have one hospital in the vicinity to recommend patients with more severe symptoms to other care facilitiesDedicated Covid Health CentresFor cases showing moderate symptomsFull hospitals or dedicated block in hospital with separate entry/exitEvery bed must have oxygen support systemDedicated Covid HospitalsFor critical cases and ageing patientsFull hospitals or dedicated block in hospital with separate entry/exitEvery bed must have oxygen support systemFully equipped ventilators and ICU facilitiesLIFE UNDER LOCKDOWNWhatsApp to limit sharing of forwarded messages to one chat at a timeAreas with low infection risk may be opened up firstRailways develops disinfectant tunnel to curb COVID-19 spreadSchools/colleges shut till 30 April in Meghalaya; MGNREGA activities to resumeUS repatriates 1,300 Americans from IndiaNorth Western Railway to run special parcel train service from April 7 to 14IB office in Bhubaneswar sealed, employees put under home quarantineRs 50 lakh insurance cover for MP cops, govt staffHEALTH CHECKDelhi govt to conduct over 1 Lakh tests in next few daysGujarat govt ropes in pvt firms to manufacture PPE, N95 masksDelhi's 5T plan- Test, Trace, Treat, Teamwork, Track & monitorAIIMS to provide only five N95 masks to each doctor, nursing officer, other staff for 20 daysRailways takes up production of PPE-type overallsRajasthan to start rapid testing within a week; 10L kits ordered from ChinaECONOMY Sensex hits 30,000, Nifty tops 8,800India lifts restrictions on 24 drug exportsIndia jobless rate swells above 23% amid lockdownHiring activity declines 18% in MarchWORLD VIEWBritish Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved to ICUSaudi imposes 24-hour virus curfew in five citiesG20 energy ministers to hold video conference on FridayUS deaths pass 10,000 milestone; 1,150 deaths in last 24 hrsNumber of new confirmed cases in Germany rises to 99,225China reports no new death for the first timeUS Open postponedDubai extends closure of commercial activities until April 18Russia's daily rise in coronavirus cases tops 1,000 for first timeJapan declares state of emergency
Categories: Business News

COVID-19: Authorised to operate 30 flights to transport essential items within India, says IndiGo

April 7, 2020 - 7:22pm
New Delhi: IndiGo on Tuesday said it has been authorised by the government to operate 30 emergency relief flights at its own cost to carry essential items such as medical equipment across the country. India has imposed a 21-day lockdown from March 25 to curb the coronavirus pandemic. Consequently, all domestic and international commercial passenger flights have been suspended for this time period. However, cargo flights, offshore helicopter operations, medical evacuation flights and special flights permitted by Indian aviation regulator DGCA are allowed to operate during this lockdown. "The airline has been allowed by the government to carry cargo in their planes, to fly food, medicine and medical equipment in the country's battle against the pandemic. "These flights are being operated by the company at its own cost," the low-cost carrier said in its statement. Ronojoy Dutta, Chief Executive Officer, IndiGo, said,"Our 27,000 employees are standing just a little bit taller, knowing that we are able to mobilize our resources to make a small contribution to the health and well-being of our nation. "The employees of IndiGo would also like to salute our colleagues over at Air India, for the heroic work they have been doing in evacuating Indians and other nationals stranded in foreign countries," he added. During the last few weeks, Air India has conducted multiple special flights to bring stranded Indians to the country from virus-affected cities such Wuhan in China and Rome in Italy. The national carrier has also conducted multiple special flights during the last few weeks to take stranded foreigners in India to their respective countries such as Israel and Germany.
Categories: Business News

Insurance cos start offering exclusive COVID-19 policies, partnering with online payment firms

April 7, 2020 - 7:22pm
Kolkata: Seeing business opportunity amid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, insurance companies in the country have started offering policies specific to COVID- 19 and some of them partnered with digital payment service providers to push sales of such plans, officials said on Tuesday. Bharti AXA General Insurance has tied up with Airtel Payments Bank to launch two health insurance plans-one offering a lump sum amount of Rs 25,000 and another with daily benefit starting Rs 500 per day-to provide protection from COVID-19, a company official said. In partnership with Bajaj Allianz General Insurance, digital payment service provider PhonePe, operated by Flipkart Online Services, also launched a coronavirus hospitalisation insurance policy called "Corona Care", another official said. The policy is priced at Rs 156 with an insurance cover of Rs 50,000 for a person aged under 55 years, and the cover is applicable at any hospital offering coronavirus treatment, he said. Star Health Insurance and Edelweiss General Insurance are among others which have also come up with exclusive insurance policies for COVID-19. Most of the insurance companies, which are offering the specific polices, are not asking their potential customers to go for medical check up, but making sure that they do not have coronavirus-like symptoms, an industry expert said. Some of the insurers are also offering products to cover expenses, including treatment during quarantine period, he said, adding that terms of claim settlement by these companies vary and a buyer must read the document carefully before purchasing an insurance plan. However, many industry experts "don't see much value" in buying separate policies to protect from the disease for people who are covered under general health insurance plans. During the dengue outbreak, several insurance companies came up with policies to protect from the vector- borne diseases, they said, adding that there are many existing health insurance plans in the market, which provide protection from the COVID-19 disease. The Insurance Regulatory Development Authority of India has already asked health insurance companies to offer medical coverage for coronavirus infection in the country, an official said. The Life Insurance Council also said the clause of 'force majeure' will not apply in case of COVID-19 death claims, he said. The regulator has also instructed insurance companies to design specific health policies covering the treatment cost of COVID-19, including medical expenses incurred during the quarantine period, and some have already introduced the same. BSM BDC BDC
Categories: Business News

Indian market will see recovery through private banks: Shenoy

April 7, 2020 - 7:22pm
How are you reading into the pharma rally that we are witnessing in trade today? Of course there is the news of the government easing the export of 24 pharma ingredients; most of these stocks are very upbeat in today’s trading session. Are you encouraged by this move?In general, pharma is probably one of the few things that are still operational from a drug perspective all over the world. So yes, of course, it is a good thing but to a large extent, it is difficult to get goods out; the supply chain is a little broken down but these stocks have also been beaten up for like months and years now. So hopefully, we will see a little bit of ease up in foreign regulators clamping down on silly unnecessary FDA issues; so hopefully that attitude will change and this might mean something longer term. But right now, the rally is all about liquidity. We are seeing money come into everything. We are seeing stocks up 20% for no reason at all. So in that context, I do not know whether to attribute this move to a general change in fundamentals or whether it is just the fact that we have gotten so badly down that just getting things back to normal will take all stocks up by a tremendous amount. So I cannot comment on today’s move but hopefully the fundamentals are improving.What is your take on banks because we are seeing quite a bit of encouraging commentary from a lot of these private sector banks. There has been healthy deposit growth in the quarter gone by and you are seeing a lot of these private sector banks regaining some lost ground. Do you believe that the picture in Q4 could look fairly encouraging for most of these banks or you are not buying into this commentary?We have been buying the last few weeks. In fact, we intensified buying in private banks in the last two months and last month or so. I believe that the fact that the world is coming to an end is probably a little bit too much. India will recover whether from the economic or the medical crisis that seems to be upon us and we will do it very fast. India and the whole world is working towards the problem and economically, there will be stimulus. All of this will affect our banking sector positively; it will initially be negative but eventually it will be positive because the way a country like ours recovers is through its banks itself. So I do not see necessarily there being a huge amount of challenge. There may be some temporary issues in some banks but I feel overall, the banking system is safe. I have been saying that about YES Bank also; deposits were safe. So if the banking system does not collapse, the private banking sector will come back in a big way in the next few years. Remember, these banks were highly valued; so they are just coming back to normal valuation metrics. So that makes them a lot easier to buy now versus say two months ago.What kind of an outlook do you have when it comes to these real estate stocks that have been quite badly beaten out of shape?So my view is, there is and there always has been demand for low cost housing. So anything that is Rs 20 lakh, Rs 25 lakhs forever has seen demand. It will continue to see demand. There is a huge amount of demand for these kinds of houses; in Bombay just multiply everything by 2 because people there seem to be richer but everywhere else, the 20-25 lakh price point is actually quite attractive. Deflation in commodity price which may happen will actually encourage the building of such houses. The problem is, all our real estate developers have gone and built expensive housing, which is beyond Rs 1 crore, Rs 75 lakhs, and Rs 1.5 crore and that is where the maximum inventory is. That inventory for the next five years is going to have trouble selling. We are going to have a lot more builders construct houses in the lower end; so there will be a dichotomy that lower-end builders will make money and the lower-end housing loan lenders will benefit. The guys who lend to the rich people or richer housing are going to hurt a lot for a long time. So I am not very positive on expensive real estate although I have made my mistakes in that sector as well.How are you viewing the prospects for the telecom sector because recent brokerages seem to suggest that Bharti is among the top picks and while they are fairly bullish in terms of the company gaining market share vis-à-vis Vodafone Idea, they have cut the revenue as well as the EBITDA quite significantly. So where do you stand when it comes to telecom? Is it a basket that you would approach selectively? Is it something that you would avoid completely?We are quite long in both the big players here; Reliance and Bharti Airtel. I think the reason is very simple. They are a gateway to pretty much everything happening on the tech side of things in terms of internet access, in terms of work from home and they are the biggest players in the industry. Both of them have some layer of content integration into their networks. They also have reach; so if you consider the fact that Bharti is now available at what prices of 2008, 2007 and the debt cost that it has are likely to come down because of lowering of interest rates, there is also likely to be more revenue because of Idea not performing quite as well and because all those customers will migrate to either Airtel or to Jio. I think in the longer term this has a tremendous amount of scope. They need to reduce their data rate and over time that will come down. But if you look at it, they have increased their prices recently and not seen too much damage in terms of subscriber counts. You can also see the quality of their networks even though people are working from home and there must be a lot more pressure on the networks; it does not seem to have given way completely in any meaningful way across the country. We have a lot of scope here and hopefully whenever 5G comes, auctions will be less expensive for them in comparison to what other 4G auctions have been. So I am positive that this is a sector that will do well. What about Bajaj Finance and Bajaj Finserv in particular. Bajaj Finance was once heralded as darlings of the stock market and now of course, it is a grim and cautious outlook that is unwarranted at a time like this. They have clocked in the slowest AUM growth in the last 12 quarters and they have spoken about protecting the balance sheet, which is the top priority as demand has been hit quite severely. What is the sense that you are getting on both of these names? Do you think that right now would be a good time to even nibble in further into these names?Bajaj Finance is the main thing; Bajaj Finserv is just like the holding company of it. So the concall yesterday was quite informative. The company is aware that there are a lot of unknowns right now. We do not know how long the lockdown is going to last. The optimistic projection is that if the lockdown lasts just till April 14, then perhaps by October, they will get back to normalcy. Now if you can forgive two quarters and in the best case three or maybe a little more than that in the worst case, then the company should come out ahead in the longer term. It is valued at a much better rate now; not that it is cheap, it is still expensive. But I believe in the longer term if growth visibility continues and when India comes out of this, they are still going to need credit. If it appears at least that the debt markets continue to price Bajaj Finance debt at a very low price; their short-term debt is trading less than 6%; so there is no credit issue that the debt markets are seeing and debt markets are usually better informed than equity markets in general. So I feel there is no problem if you can wait for a year or two for the stock to recover. If you cannot, then of course, this is not the best time to speculate on the short term for the stock. If you are patient, this is a good time to buy that stock but you should spread your investment across the financial sector; the banks will probably recover earlier, Bajaj Finance will probably recover next and the smaller NBFCs will probably recover last. So I still like it and as a disclosure, we are holding it in the PMS. But I do not think it is for the faint hearted; so I would not do it as a speculation thing. I really like the company and the way they communicate and their operations from a long term perspective.
Categories: Business News

4 in 10 Indians have experienced identity theft: Report

April 7, 2020 - 7:22pm
Pune: NortonLifeLock today released findings from its annual Cyber Safety Insights Report which showed that nearly 4 in 10 respondents in India (39 percent ) have experienced identity theft, with 10 percent impacted in the past year alone. It also found that while 61 percent of respondents feel well-protected against ID theft but 63 percent would have no idea what to do in case of an identity theft, and more than three-quarters (79 percent ) wish they had more information on what to do if it were to happen.The research was conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of NortonLifeLock among 10,063 adults (aged 18+) in 10 countries, including India.It found that identity theft and cybercrime appear to be more common among men than women (44 percent vs 33 percent ID theft, 84 percent vs. 76 percent cybercrime), and among younger adults (18-39 years) compared to older adults (40+ years) (41 percent vs. 22 percent ID theft, 81 percent vs. 73 percent cybercrime). 66 percent respondents said that had experienced a cybercrime in the past 12 months.“Headlines of identity theft, data breaches and online fraud are on the rise and it is crucial that we understand the seriousness of protecting personal information,” said Ritesh Chopra, Country Director, NortonLifeLock, India. “While the report suggests Indian consumers are more concerned about the misuse of personal information, amongst those of other countries, it also reveals that they are complacent about sharing their data if they get something in return.”Growing concern over privacy Over 80 percent Indian respondents reported being more alarmed than ever about their privacy, the highest of all 10 countries surveyed by far (67 percent global average). The key concerns were selling of sensitive personal information to third parties and it being used in decision-making processes without their consent (41 percent ) and their personal information being exposed in a data breach and compromised by cyber criminals (40 percent ). They are also most proactive when it comes to protecting their privacy, with 74 percent having chosen not to download an app or use a service because of its privacy policy. They are also more likely to have opted against purchasing a smart home device over privacy or security concerns (63 percent vs. 37 percent global average). Indian respondents are far more likely than consumers globally to report the following situations are acceptable:A company selling their online search or shopping history to other companies, so they’ll get more relevant advertisements (52 percent vs. 25 percent global average)A technology device company allowing its employees to listen to their voice commands via voice assistants to improve products and services (66 percent vs. 34 percent global average)A social media company using photos or videos they post on social media to help train their artificial intelligence tech to protect their users from seeing violent or inappropriate images (57 percent vs. 35 percent global average)
Categories: Business News

The story behind the drug that put Trump-Modi bonhomie to test

April 7, 2020 - 4:22pm
WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump made a rare appearance in the Situation Room on Sunday as his pandemic task force was meeting, determined to talk about the anti-malaria medicine that he has aggressively promoted lately as a treatment for the coronavirus.Once again, according to a person briefed on the session, the experts warned against overselling a drug yet to be proved a safe remedy, particularly for heart patients. “Yes, the heart stuff,” Trump acknowledged. Then he headed out to the cameras to promote it anyway. “So what do I know?” he conceded to reporters at his daily briefing. “I’m not a doctor. But I have common sense.”Day after day, the salesman turned president has encouraged coronavirus patients to try hydroxychloroquine with all of the enthusiasm of a real estate developer. The passing reference he makes to the possible dangers is usually overwhelmed by the full-throated endorsement. “What do you have to lose?” he asked five times Sunday.Bolstered by his trade adviser, a television doctor, Larry Ellison of Oracle and Rudy Giuliani, a former New York mayor, Trump has seized on the drug as a miracle cure for the virus that has killed thousands and paralyzed American life. Along the way, he has prompted an international debate about a drug that many doctors in New York and elsewhere have been trying in desperation even without conclusive scientific studies.Trump may ultimately be right, and physicians report anecdotal evidence that has provided hope. But it remains far from certain, and the president’s assertiveness in pressing the case over the advice of advisers like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease specialist, has driven a wedge inside his coronavirus task force and has raised questions about his motives.If hydroxychloroquine becomes an accepted treatment, several pharmaceutical companies stand to profit, including shareholders and senior executives with connections to the president. Trump himself has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine.“I certainly understand why the president is pushing it,” said Dr. Joshua Rosenberg, the medical director at Brooklyn Hospital Center. “He’s the president of the United States. He has to project hope. And when you are in a situation without hope, things go very badly. So I’m not faulting him for pushing it even if there isn’t a lot of science behind it, because it is, at this point, the best, most available option for use.”A senior physician at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, where doctors are not providing the drug, however, said the current demand was worrisome for patients on it chronically for rheumatic diseases. At St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, another doctor said his staff was giving it to coronavirus patients but criticized the president and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for “cheerleading” the drug without proof. “False hope can be bad, too,” he said.The professional organization that published a positive French study cited by Trump’s allies changed its mind in recent days. The International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy said, “The article does not meet the society’s expected standard.” Some hospitals in Sweden stopped providing hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus after reports of adverse side effects, according to Swedish news media.But Cuomo told reporters Monday that he would ask Trump to increase the federal supply of hydroxychloroquine to New York pharmacies, allowing the state to lift a limit on purchases. “There has been anecdotal evidence that it is promising,” Cuomo said, while noting the lack of a formal study.Trump first expressed interest in hydroxychloroquine a few weeks ago, telling associates that Ellison, a billionaire and a founder of Oracle, had discussed it with him. At the time, Dr. Mehmet Oz, the host of television’s “The Doctor Oz Show,” was in touch with Trump’s advisers about expediting approval to use the drug for the coronavirus.Giuliani has urged Trump to embrace the drug, based in part on the advice of Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, a self-described simple country doctor who has become a hit on conservative media after administering a cocktail of hydroxychloroquine, the antibiotic azithromycin and zinc sulfate.In an interview Monday, Giuliani denied any financial stake and said he spoke with Trump only after the president had already promoted the drug publicly. Giuliani said he turned to the issue after researching former Vice President Joe Biden in Ukraine, a project that led to the president’s impeachment.“When I finished Biden, I immediately switched to coronavirus and I have been doing an enormous amount of research on it,” he said. As it happened, Zelenko was born in Ukraine, and when they first spoke, Giuliani accidentally called him “Dr. Zelenskiy,” mixing up his name with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.Giuliani said he brought a prosecutor’s experience to his research. “One of the things that a good litigator becomes, is you kind of become an instant expert on stuff, and then you forget about it,” he said. “I don’t claim to be a doctor. I just repeat what they said.”The Food and Drug Administration, which has approved hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for malaria and lupus, issued an emergency order late last month allowing doctors to administer it to coronavirus patients if they saw fit. Trump said the federal government would distribute 29 million doses and that he had called Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India requesting more.Fauci made his concern clear last week. “I think we’ve got to be careful that we don’t make that majestic leap to assume that this is a knockout drug,” he said Friday on Fox News. “We still need to do the kinds of studies that definitively prove whether any intervention, not just this one, any intervention is truly safe and effective.”The same day, Laura Ingraham, a Fox host, visited Trump at the White House with two doctors who had been on her program promoting hydroxychloroquine, one of whom made a presentation on its virtues, according to an official, confirming a Washington Post report.The next day, Peter Navarro, the president’s trade adviser, who has been assigned to expedite production of medical equipment and become an advocate of the drug, upbraided Fauci at a White House task force meeting, according to people informed about the discussion.Navarro arrived at the meeting armed with a thick sheaf of papers recounting research. When the issue was raised, according to a person informed about the meeting, confirming a report by Axios, Navarro picked it up off a chair, dropped it on the table and started handing out copies.Navarro, who earned a doctorate in economics from Harvard, defended his position Monday despite his lack of medical credentials. “Doctors disagree about things all the time. My qualifications in terms of looking at the science is that I’m a social scientist,” he said on CNN. “I have a Ph.D. And I understand how to read statistical studies, whether it’s in medicine, the law, economics or whatever.”Trump made clear Sunday whose side he took in Navarro’s confrontation with Fauci. At his briefing after the meeting, he said it was wrong to wait for the kind of study Fauci wanted. “We don’t have time,” the president said. “We don’t have two hours because there are people dying right now.”Some associates of Trump’s have financial interests in the issue. Sanofi’s largest shareholders include Fisher Asset Management, the mutual fund company run by Ken Fisher, a major donor to Republicans, including Trump. A spokesman for Fisher declined to comment.Another investor in both Sanofi and Mylan, another pharmaceutical firm, is Invesco, the fund previously run by Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary. Ross said in a statement Monday that he “was not aware that Invesco has any investments in companies producing” the drug, “nor do I have any involvement in the decision to explore this as a treatment.”As of last year, Trump reported that his three family trusts each had investments in a Dodge & Cox mutual fund, whose largest holding was in Sanofi.Several generic drugmakers are gearing up to produce hydroxychloroquine pills, including Amneal Pharmaceuticals, whose co-founder Chirag Patel, is a member of Trump National Golf Course Bedminster in New Jersey and has golfed with Trump at least twice since he became president, according to a person who saw them.Patel, whose company is based in Bridgewater, New Jersey, did not respond to a request for comment. Amneal announced last month that it would increase production of the drug and donate millions of pills to New York and other states. Other generic drugmakers are ramping up production, including Mylan and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.Roberto Mignone, a Teva board member, reached out to the team of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, through Nitin Saigal, who used to work for Mignone and is a friend of Kushner’s, according to people informed about the discussions.Kushner’s team referred him to the White House task force and Mignone asked for help getting India to ease export restrictions, which have since been relaxed, allowing Teva to bring more pills into the United States. Mignone, who is also a vice chairman of NYU Langone Health, which is running a clinical study of hydroxychloroquine, confirmed Monday that he has spoken with the administration about getting more medicine into the country.Dr. Daniel H. Sterman, the critical care director at NYU Langone Health, said doctors there are using hydroxychloroquine, but data about its effectiveness remained “weak and unsubstantiated” pending the study. “We do not know whether our patients are benefiting from hydroxychloroquine treatment at the present time,” he said.New York City’s Health and Hospitals Corp., which runs its public hospitals, is advising but not requiring doctors to use hydroxychloroquine based on a trial showing a decreased cough and fever with mild side effects in two patients, Dr. Mitchell Katz, who oversees the hospital system, said by email Monday.Dr. Roy M. Gulick, the chief of infectious diseases at Weill Cornell Medicine, said hydroxychloroquine was given on a case-by-case basis. “We explain the pros and cons and explain that we don’t know if it works or not,” he said.Doctors at Northwell Health and Mount Sinai Health System, are using it as well. At the Mount Sinai South Nassau County branch on Long Island, doctors have employed a regimen of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin “pretty much since day one” with mixed results, said Dr. Adhi Sharma, its chief medical officer.“We’ve been throwing the kitchen sink at these patients,” he said. “I can’t tell whether someone got better on their own or because of the medication.”
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