Companies & Sectors
Oil marketing companies likely to post subdued earnings for the fiscal 2012-13

Financial health of companies in the oil and gas sector is under a cloud. Will the government help out, asks Nomura

Nomura Equity Research, in its fourth quarter earnings preview for the Indian oil & gas sector believes that upstream public sector units (PSUs) are expected to report weak numbers while oil marketing companies (OMCs) are likely to post subdued earnings for the fiscal 2012-13 ending March 2013.

To be in profit for FY13F, OMCs need at least 100% compensation from the government, as per Nomura's thinking. They need further support of Rs612 billion (Rs366 billion for 4QFY13F + unpaid Rs246 billion for the nine-month period of April-December 2012). On the other hand, upstream PSUs hope their share in the compensation to OMCs would remain at Rs151 billion. Thus, the Government of India (GoI) needs to pay Rs461 billion for FY13F, but nothing is left from FY13 budget. As in previous years, GoI is likely to tap into next year's budget (Rs618 billion allocated for FY14). But if a large amount is brought forward, next year's fiscal targets would be at risk, feels Nomura.

For 4QFY13F, Nomura assumes that OMCs may receive Rs151 billion from upstream and Rs461 billion from the GoI. But, the risk is high that GoI support will be far less, the brokerage added. If government support is only Rs250 billion (similar to that in the December quarter), the upstream burden may be far higher at Rs362 billion, and upstream PSUs may report losses. If OMCs receive less than 100% support, they could report full-year losses for the first time, as per Nomura's analysts.

Nomura expects Reliance Industries' (RIL) refining margins to improve to $10 per barrel (bbl), but refining EBIT may fall by 5% due to maintenance shut down. It expects further recovery in the company's petrochemicals business, and further declines in exploration and production (E&P).  The brokerage sees the decline in oil/ gas production from KG-D6 block to decline.

For Cairn India, oil production and prices are largely flat q-o-q. Nomura expects flat EBITDA, but around $50 million drywell write-off could impact Cairns profit after tax (PAT). Nomura estimates Cairn's EBITDA at Rs33.9 billion (up 14% y-o-y, 3% q-o-q).

Nomura Equity Research expects a 14% q-o-q decline in 4Q PAT with downside risks. At upstream subsidy share of Rs151 billion, it expects GAIL's subsidy share at Rs7 billion (similar to the past three quarters). But, there is a risk of higher upstream subsidy burden and GAIL's share of subsidy. In such a case, GAIL could report losses in the fourth quarter, according to the brokerage.

Nomura also believes the decline in GAIL's transmission volume would continue. It expects PLNG's utilisation to fall to 105% due to high LNG prices affecting demand in January-February.

For Petronet LNG, Nomura expects 4Q PAT at Rs2.7 billion (up 10% y-o-y, down 15% q-o-q). It expects PLNG's utilisation to decline to 105% due to high LNG prices impacting demand in Jan-Feb. It assumes gross margins to moderate q-o-q despite 5% increase in re-gasification tariff from 1 January.

For Gujarat State Petronet, the brokerage estimates 19% y-o-y and 12% q-q decline in 4Q PAT. GSPL would provide for zonal tariff order and SUG charges from February 2013 (Rs166 million as estimated by Nomura).

Indraprastha Gas is expected to report 4Q PAT at Rs841 million (up 5% q-o-q, down 3% y-o-y), as per Nomura Equity Research. Volume growth is likely to remain muted in 4Q in both CNG and industrial segment. The brokerage expects EBITDA/standard cubic metre (scm) to moderate due to increasing share of LNG and firmed up LNG prices.

With rising share of LNG and high volatility in LNG prices and currency, but not-so-frequent price changes (only once a quarter), Gujarat Gas's margins have been quite volatile. It expects gross margins at Rs5.5/scm, down 3% q-o-q.

Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) is expected to report PAT of Rs142.4 million for the 4Q, up 1% y-o-y and 12%-q-o-q. EBITDA is likely at Rs182.9 million.

Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL) is expected to see PAT at Rs49 million for the 4Q, up 24% y-o-y and 198% q-o-q. EBITDA is expected at Rs68.5 million.

Nomura believes that Hindustan Petroleum Corporation (HPCL) remains in a precarious situation (compared to other OMCs) and even 100% of under-recoveries compensation would not suffice for HPCL to remain in the black for FY13F. The company is expected to see PAT of 61.6 million and EBITDA of Rs62.6 million for the fourth quarter.

ONGC's PAT is estimated at Rs52.5 million, down 7% y-o-y and 8% q-o-q. EBITDA is expected to come in at Rs112.2 million. Nomura Equity Research further states that the reported numbers would depend on the government decision on subsidy sharing, where there remains no pending clarity, it assumes upstream to share Rs151 billion in 4Q (similar to the past three quarters).

Oil India's PAT is expected at Rs8.5 million for the fourth quarter, up 91% y-o-y and down 10% q-o-q. Nomura estimates EBITDA at Rs10.1 million for the last quarter.


Voter information wars: Will the GOP team up with Wal-Mart’s data specialist?

The 2012 Obama campaign set the bar for the use of voter data. The Republicans aren't interested in being beaten again

The Republicans have admitted it: They need to get serious about collecting and analyzing voter data.

Well, you can't get much more serious than talking to Teradata, the "data warehousing" company that helps Wal-Mart, Apple and eBay store massive amounts of information about the behavior of their customers.

Teradata is just one of the major data outfits with which leading Republican strategists are talking in their declared effort to match Barack Obama's big data campaign tactics, according to one person with knowledge of the strategy discussions.

The Republican National Committee would neither confirm nor deny talking with Teradata, but was emphatic that no deal is in place. Teradata also declined to comment. There's unlikely to be any final deals until the RNC appoints a chief technology officer, which it has pledged to do by May 1.

But if Republican strategists are still shopping for formal partners, their goal is clear: a new, more open database that will make it easier for Republican candidates to share what they're learning about voters — and for the party to share voter information with technology developers in order to build apps for use in coming campaigns.

"At lots of levels, for lots of reasons, there's a lot of people that we're talking to," Mike Shields, the RNC's new chief of staff, told ProPublica.

Both Republicans and Democrats already have databases of basic information about every voter in the United States. But Obama's campaign made big strides in connecting data from different sources, like campaign donation records, consumer data and volunteer lists, in order to produce more detailed profiles of individual voters.

The Democratic National Committee has also streamlined the way information flows between local volunteers and the national party, so that data about voters collected by many different campaigns — such as a Minnesota voter's stance on gay marriage or whom a Virginia voter supported in a state senate race — all ends up in the same database in D.C.

Republicans want to match these innovations — especially the flashy ones, like the Obama campaign's ability to link people's Facebook profiles to their official voting records. They also want to use data to make predictions about individual voters, not only about how to influence their vote, but about how to maximize their potential political donations.

This is where Teradata could certainly be useful. The company is not a data broker, an outfit that strictly sells information about consumers. (So, for instance, the GOP wouldn't be getting any of Apple or Wal-Mart's data.) Instead, Teradata helps companies organize their own data, so that they can pick out unexpected trends — for instance, that Wal-Mart shoppers stocking up for a hurricane often buy strawberry Pop-Tarts.

When working with Isle of Capri Casinos, Teradata built a system to combine information about customer gambling habits with data from the company's hotels. The new system sends an automatic alert to casino hosts whenever a "high-value guest" arrives at a hotel. It also tracks how different customers respond to coupons, emails, and special offers.

This kind of detailed tracking has become ever more central to data-driven political campaigns. Almost every day, Obama's re-election campaign tested 12 to 18 different email variations, before sending out the best-performing fundraising email to its entire list — a testing strategy that sometimes earned the campaign an extra million dollars, or more.

The campaign also tracked individual responses to email blasts — storing information on whether someone had, for instance, signed a card wishing Michelle Obama a Happy Mother's Day, and using that information when asking the same people to sign a birthday card for Barack.

Obama's data team also generated individualized predictions about voters. The team calculated, among other things, which people were most likely to be persuaded to support Obama based on a conversation about a certain policy issue — information that then allowed field organizers to be more strategic about the houses they visited and the phone calls they made.

Working with a company like Teradata would only be a first step toward this kind of sophisticated data program. Obama's 2012 campaign considered using Teradata, but ended up going with Vertica, a Teradata competitor, paired with open-source software Hadoop, to organize and search through their huge quantities of data. But, as former Obama staffers point out, having masses of information doesn't do anything on its own: You have to use the data to ask the right questions.

Wal-Mart famously used its database to ask what products customers tended to buy before hurricanes. The Obama campaign used its data to ask whether the voters it wanted to reach were watching the evening news — or other kinds of television shows altogether. The campaign used the television-watching data it acquired to figure out exactly what shows the voters they wanted to reach were watching, all of which made for more cost-effective ad placements.

The result? The Obama campaign bought more targeted ads, while spending less per television spot than the Romney campaign, according to data collected by Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group.

The campaign also constantly adjusted its predictions — and checked on the big picture of the campaign — by connecting voter information with detailed polling data.

Shields, the RNC's new chief of staff, called the data developments "a space race" between the RNC and the Democratic National Committee.

"They put up Sputnik, but there's no reason that we can't put a man on the moon, and leave them behind," he said.

As well as hiring in-house data analysts, the RNC plans to make it easy for outside software developers to access the party's national database. The goal, Shields said, is to create a "vibrant marketplace" of digital tools and applications that developers can sell to Republican candidates — all based on the party's own voter data. Think about the apps that connect to your Facebook profile — but for politics.

If the plan takes off, some of the GOP's closely-guarded voter data will soon be available in new ways. Obama's 2012 canvassing app, which anyone could download, included a map of the user's current location that displayed the first names, addresses, ages and genders of nearby Democrats.

The RNC will still get to control which developers are allowed to access its data. But its plans for a more open data platform will require that the Republican establishment confront technical, legal and cultural hurdles.

"[The RNC] is an organization that is trying to figure out where they sit with technology in general. They're going to have to make an investment in a big way, if they're going to go on with open development," Harper Reed, the Obama campaign's chief technology officer, told ProPublica.

The hard part about opening up your data is trusting the users, Reed said — including the users you don't like. What happens if some Republican developers want to use Republican data to build a pro-choice app?

"This would be a challenge for any organization, not just a political one," he said. "It sounds interesting. It sounds innovative. It's a challenge."



Differentiating fake NRIs from the real ones

By ushering the end of the special status, the normally resident Indians, masquerading as pseudo NRIs should be stopped from holding accounts in tax havens

Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has just  put out an exposé on international money laundering,  with the names of as many as India’s 612 top industrialists, professionals, politicians (including two MPs) and others. At a subsequent news conference finance minister P Chidambaram said: “Yes. We have taken note of the names and inquiries have been put in motion in respect of the names that have been exposed.”


News reports also mention that among the names listed are some NRIs who make use of tax havens while others have denied having accounts abroad.  


Some overly rich NRIs, included in the listing, have been found to grossly abuse the special tax and foreign exchange status granted under Indian statutes. It is this misuse that needs to be curbed effectively by revisiting the facilities, more particularly in the light of the currently prevailing favourable circumstances in India that justify the changes.


It needs to be pointed out here that the term “Non-resident Indian,” (NRI), nowhere finds a place in Indian legal lexicon. It is not explicitly defined inasmuch as it is inclusively indicated both in the Indian Income Tax (I-T) Act, 1962 and the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA).


Section 6 of the I-T Act considers any “a person as resident in India” as one who has a stay in India for more than 182 days. Section 2(v) of the FEMA, lays down “a person resident in India means a person residing in India for more than 182 days... but does not include any person who has gone out of India or who stays outside India, in either case for taking up employment outside India, or for carrying on outside India a business or vocation or for any other purpose, in such circumstances as would indicate his intention to stay outside India for an uncertain period.” The same criteria conversely apply for anyone who has come to and stays in India.


It must be pointed that initially, the tax and exchange benefits were primarily extended to encourage homeward the monies earned by the millions of Indian workers, professionals, salary earners—comprising Indian Diaspora spread far and wide across the globe. More particularly at a time when India was facing very acute shortage of valuable foreign exchange to pay for essential imports to bridge the large forex gaps.


The NRIs had then all along preferred to park their funds with the banks abroad as they considered the banking system in America, Europe and Gulf countries to be far safer than that those in India, even when these banks paid relatively lesser rate of interest and charged them for maintaining the accounts. Banks in the Gulf insisted on maintaining large minimum balances in savings accounts and made it imperative for small time depositors to remit most of their earnings through exchange companies to their families back home.


Then came the financial meltdown with a collapse of banks, big and small, in the US and its cascading effect in the Eurozone, particularly Iceland and Cyprus, the end of the oil boom in the Middle East, wars in Kuwait and Iraq and collapse of the Dubai real estate boom. This has made parking funds in overseas banks a very risky proposition for NRIs/ PIOs. The public sector banks in India are backed by a tacit sovereign state guarantee and subjected to strict oversight by its banking regulator – the Reserve Bank of India. 


Over the last decade the Indian foreign exchange situation has improved considerably with the rupee heavily insulated. Our robust banking system has fortunately been able to withstand the crashes that occurred in Mexico, Argentina and Korea, which had economies almost similar to India.


Today, e-banking in India has facilitated operating bank accounts from any remote corner of the world with a click of a mouse without having to physically visit the bank. This has prompted people of Indian origin all over the world to repatriate their funds from their countries to park them back home, into dollar denominated accounts as well, in India.


In the light of the changed conditions here, there is a need to initiate a wider public debate on a rethink on the framework to withdraw the special facilities to NRIs by differentiating between the fake or bogus that exploit and abuse the system while at the same time protecting the genuine.


First of all, the concept of the period of stay either here or there has to be done away with. Anyone born and brought up in India, is purely of Indian origin, with a family in India, residences, villas and farm houses in many cities besides owning substantial business interests, director/chairmanships in India should be expressly denied the special status.


Practically all business tycoons own private Lear jets enabling them to fly in and out of India at will. They bend their stay period to enable them to circumvent the law. This should be prevented by deleting in toto from both the I-T/DTC and FEMA the relevant clauses relating to their stays in and out of the country, mentioned above.


Even when required to include and offer for tax in the US their world income, the PIOs there who had not declared substantial interest tax-free earned on their NRE and FCNR accounts with Indian banks have been nabbed by the US IRS. Possibly this is happening in other countries too. Being NRIs they do not also pay Indian taxes. Getting the best of both worlds should not be permitted. They can pay tax in either country to benefit from the Double Taxation Avoidance Treaties that India has signed with most countries that permit them to set off taxes paid in any one country.


By ushering the end of the special status, the normally resident Indians masquerading as pseudo NRIs should be stopped from holding accounts in tax havens that can any way be made use by genuine NRIs abroad.


With the meltdown in the West and the reverse brain drain arising out of gradual return of our people, the term NRI now assumes a new connotation of Now Returning Indian from the once sarcastic Not Required Indian or Not Reliable Indian!


(Nagesh Kini is a Mumbai-based chartered accountant now turned activist.)


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