Saturday, February 21, 2009

India economy stock market - what is the future

What should a person look for when to invest in the stock market ? The stock market is always said to be a reflection of the economic future of the country, and in the view of many experts, seen to be an indicator of the next 6 months to 1 year. So what does the future say for the country ? You need to be cautious, monitor the sectors of the economy that are not so affected by the company, look at market value of companies as opposed to their book values, look at their future potential, and so on.
Well, the last few months have been a major shakeout. The world economy is projected to have an overall negative growth or zero growth with most developed economies contracting (in fact, China and India are supposed to be among the few countries that are still growing). Scratch the details, and you see how things are pretty bad. The United States is going through a recession not like what it has seen for decades, with consumer sentiment way down. Jobs are being shed on a huge scale, industries are down, and major corporations are reporting losses or sharply reduced profits. Obama is pushing huge packages in order to try and turn around sectors such as finance, housing, auto, etc, but the economy is very slow to respond.
The slow-down in these developed economies has had a ripple effect on economies that are export led, such as China, East Asia, and even India. Sectors such as textiles, IT, gems, etc have been impacted pretty badly. At the same time, the overall sentiment is badly negative, and this has impacted growth in sectors such as Finance, Realty, Construction, Auto, name it, and the sectors are impacted. Industry is looking at getting good encouragement from the Government, but in an election year, populism is the key. At the same time, since inflation is down below 4%, one can expect some key monetary steps such as reduction of interest rates to try and boost the economy. One needs to evaluate companies that are well run, fundamentally sound, and does not indulge in unsound practices.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:23 PM    

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Global warming much higher than stated in the past

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had warned that the rate of climate change was reaching epic proportions, and the effects were generally under-estimated. It had predicted that the rate of warming would increase and damage would be far more than thought. Well, a recent research indicated that the actual bad effects of global warming are going to be far more severe than thought. Research shows that the atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases increased far more than thought, and this is just the beginning:

The severity of global warming over the next century will be much worse than previously believed, a leading climate scientist has warned. Professor Chris Field, an author of a 2007 landmark report on climate change, said future temperatures "will be beyond anything" predicted.
Speaking at the American Science conference in Chicago, Prof Field said fresh data showed greenhouse gas emissions between 2000 and 2007 increased far more rapidly than expected. "We are basically looking now at a future climate that is beyond anything that we've considered seriously in climate policy," he said. Prof Field said the 2007 report, which predicted temperature rises between 1.1C and 6.4C over the next century, seriously underestimated the scale of the problem.

As has been stated in the past, global warming will have disastrous effects on global weather, such as increased ferocity of storms, skewing of weather patterns (which will make dry regions drier), the sinking of coastal regions, and so on. It will not discriminate between developed and developing countries; developed countries have more people staying near the water (which affects them due to both water fronts during storm and higher sea levels), developing countries will be increasingly affected due to climate changes, and affect of increasing water levels on coastal regions (severely affecting many regions such as Maldives, Fiji, Bangladesh, etc).
However, the focus on global warming that was there just a couple of years ago is gone, with the worries about the global economic recession having wiped out all other worries. No more is there a focus on the increasing ill-effects of global warming (even though a slow down in the economy is not going to lead to a decrease or cut-down in the emission levels and there is no current way that the ongoing increase in global warming can happen). It is pessimistic, but there is almost no current push to reduce or cap emissions in a way that will have beneficial effect.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 7:57 AM    

Thursday, February 12, 2009

CBI acting under the influence

In earlier cases such as the case dealing with Quattrochi and Bofors, or the murder case against Shibu Soren, it was pretty evident that the Congress Government at the Center was quite familiar with the idea of not treating everybody as equal before the law. If a person was needed by the Government or was close to it, it was pretty evident that the case would be weakened, or allowed to die a slow death by not fighting it as strongly as the Government would fight a case where the person facing the case was opposed to the Government. And this is not something that Governments shirk from doing, earlier Governments and State Governments also do the same thing, but they rollback when faced with pressure from the media or from the courts.
However, in the above cases and in many other cases, it was like the Government was willing to brazen out the outcry and continue with its actions; and in cases, you will see how they have succeeded. In the Bofors case, all the outcry eventually fizzled out, in the Shibu Soren case, the case was so badly weakened that the High Court let him go.
And now you have this case about the disproportionate assets of Mulayam Singh and his family. The case seems to have followed the graph of the closeness of the politician to the Congress Government. When Mulayam was distant from the Congress, the CBI followed the case as per a complaint from a Congress worker. However, when the Congress needed Mulayam to provide critical support at the time of the nuclear deal, it was pretty clear that the CBI case would start to weaken, and so it happened; the Government suddenly decided that it has re-evaluated the case and has decided not to proceed. However, the Supreme Court is not amused, and has castigated the Government and the CBI on its flip-flop:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up CBI for "acting at the behest" of the Centre in the disproportionate assets case against former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. "You (CBI) are acting at the behest of Central Government and the Law Ministry. You are not acting on your own," a Bench comprising Justice Altmas Kabir and Justice Cyriac Joseph said.
Amid allegations of Centre trying to bail out the former UP CM, the investigating agency replaced Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium with Parasaran to represent it. The decision to replace Subramanium with Parasaran had also surprised the Bench which made it clear that it will not allow any last minute changes in counsel. However, the investigating agency during the hearing on January 6 was criticised by the Bench which had said it would not like the agency to become an instrument of the government.

This is perfect; however, when the Government of the day is not interested, then even the Supreme Court cannot ensure that the investigation is carried out properly and as per law. As a result, it becomes more difficult for other parties to believe the intentions of the Government and hurts the overall judicial and law environment in the country. It may soon come to pass that the CBI is made more distant from the control of the Government.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:12 AM    

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Huge discounts on clothes - how true ?

Nowadays, there are a number of shops (primarily in the area of apparel and clothing) that seek to attract customers through offering huge discounts. So you have brands such as Priknit offering 80% sale on their jackets, Cantabil offering 80% discount on all clothes, Pepe Jeans branding a sale logo of Buy 2, get 2 free, Kouton's offering 50% + 50% and so on. I have been shopping in many of these, and realize that there is a huge amount of anti-consumer intent behind many of these. A lot of the numbers are inflated, and actual good quality is scarce. So let's take some specific examples, and see what goes on:

- Pepe Jeans: The store had this huge sales sign outside proclaiming that if you buy 2, then you get 2 free (and of course they had the '*', means that some conditions will apply). However, if you thought that this was a great bargain for getting 2 Pepe jeans, then think again. The offer was only for Pepe T-shirts, something that they forgot to put in the huge sign.

- Priknit: I was looking for some discounted jackets for the next season, and Priknit with it's 80% offer seemed fishy, but why not give it a try. So off I went to the Shipra Mall in Indirapuram in the NCR region, and entered the store over there. I looked at a jacket when inside, and speculated that such a jacket should not cost more than Rs. 2,000 at the most, and it looked impressive, and with 80% discount, could be considered for buying. Imagine the shock when the list price of the jacket was listed at Rs. 4,000, and on a closer look, some of the threads on the jacket seemed to be awry. And there were some better jackets that were listed at Rs. 6,000 - you could have knocked me down with a feather.

- Cantabil was the next one - Here also there was a 80% discount. Well, guess what, more of the same. Shirts (and nothing spectacular) were listed at Rs. 1600. I am pretty sure that people would not have even looked at the store again if these shirts were retailed at their full list price; I made a quick exit from the store. If I wanted to buy such shirts, would rather go to a much better place.

- Kouton was the first such brand that was offering these 75% kind of discounts on clothes, and I remember buying some pretty great looking shirts from at discounted prices of Rs. 400, and those shirts looked great, but when I had gone there recently, the quality and designs had degraded.

Final realization: What looks like a bargain may not be a bargain (there is this psychological thing where you end up buying something if it seems to be a great bargain, and you have to spend some effort in order to prevent yourself from falling under this spell), and a lot of these retailers are indulging in some pretty ugly anti-consumer practices. Please add more such issues you know about in comments.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:15 AM    

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The struggle in the Election Commission

The current Chief Election Commissioner (the CEC, Mr Gopalaswami) set the cat among the pigeons by recommending recently that an Election Commissioner, Mr. Navin Chawla be removed. This recommendation was made on January 16, 2009, but became public news on the 29th of January, 2009 when it got published as headline news. And it set off a political fire-storm with political parties, constitutional experts, prominent lawyers, all jumping into the arena.
The BJP has made no secret about its displeasure with the Election Commissioner Navin Chawla, accusing him of being very close to the Congress (he was closely associated with the Congress during the excesses of the emergency, he took funds from Congress MP's for a charity promoted by him, etc). They have filed petitions against him for quite some time now, and this action by the CEC is a fallout of those protests.
There were questions raised about the timing of the move by the CEC, but it was soon revealed that the timing was dictated by the reply from EC Chawla (which finally came in December after many months of delay). This handles the issue about the timing of the recommendation.
The Law Minister Mr. Bhardwarj made some rather rotten comments about the conduct of the CEC, but that is understandable given that Mr. Chawla is a favorite of the Congress. Conversely it is alleged that Mr. Gopalaswami is close to the BJP, but one does not have too much knowledge or proof of that. What is true that if the CEC has made numerous allegations about the bias that he has seen in Navin Chawla, then it only just that these are investigated.
The question about whether the CEC has the power in the Constitution to recommend the removal of an Election Commissioner is something that is not for the Government ot decide, and given the multiple opinions by constitutional experts and leading lawyers, this is a question to be decided by the Supreme Court of India.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:36 AM    

Friday, February 06, 2009

Misuse of dowry laws

The prevalence of dowry in today's society is an open fact; most people see it in operation either in their own marriage, or in the marriage of their family members; or you see it on operation in the case of acquaintances. So as an example, I have seen dowry in operation in the case of a family friend where her in-laws insisted on a car as a part of the marriage (and even specified the type of car that was requested). They had accepted that this was a price to be paid for getting their daughter married (and one should fault them equally for being so desperate to get their daughter married). Of course, in all cases of dowry, the boy's side is always evaluating the value they can get for their boy and have no qualms in demanding the same.
A lot of this dowry expectation is now baked into society, and there do no seem to be any easy solutions (people giving dowry expect that this is the price they need to pay to get their daughter married, and those demanding dowry do not care that such expectations are illegal in law). To make the scale more even, the Government of India has introduced a number of laws that seek to even the scales, and empower women. However, in trying to even the scale, the laws give a lot of power to women, and in some cases, there has been misuse. There have been many reported cases where the threat of usage of such laws (and consequent police action) is used as a level to force settlements; it has been pointed out in court cases and by many pro-male organizations. And when the Chief Justice of India points this out, you can be sure that this is a deep matter of concern:

Dealing a blow to women's rights activists who have been stringently defending the Section 498A provision of the Indian Penal Code, Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan on Saturday said that in some cases this section — that deals with matrimonial cruelty — was being `grossly misused'. Elaborating on false cases being filed in recent times, the CJI said that relatives not involved with a matrimonial dispute were unfairly implicated. "In some cases, 498A is grossly misused,'' he said. Balakrishnan was speaking at a seminar, `Marriage laws -- issues and challenges', organised by the National Commission for Women.
The IPC section allows for immediate arrest of the husband and in-laws by the police on the basis of a woman's complaint and has been controversial.

The various laws that were supposed to empower women, even though trying to balance the scales, do not maintain the old adage of all people being equal before the law, and that everyone is presumed innocent until proved guilty. Unless the law allows for a better investigation and penalties for misuse, misuse will continue.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:59 AM