Pranab asks CMs to crack down on hoarders

New Delhi: Under attack for the inability to control surging food prices, especially onions, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has written a letter to state chief ministers (CMs) asking them to crack down on hoarders to ensure increase in supply of essential items, reports PTI.

"The finance minister has written a letter to all state CMs to crack down on hoarders for removing supply bottlenecks and has sought their help in controlling inflation," a key source said here.

Yesterday, Mr Mukherjee had said the state governments need to ensure that all bottlenecks in the supply chain are removed so that food prices can be brought down quickly.

Food inflation climbed nearly to a year's high of 18.32% on 25th December, due to spurt in prices of onions among other vegetables besides milk.

The wholesale food inflation jumped by 3.88 percentage points from 14.44% in the previous week ending 18 December 2010, taking the government by surprise.

The extent of high food inflation could be gauged from the fact that the rate of price rise last year at this point of time was almost 20%.

It means that food inflation now is 18.32% over 20% last year.

The damage to onion crops in parts of Maharashtra due to unseasonal rains had led to short supply, as its prices skyrocketed to Rs75-Rs80 a kg in retail shops in various parts of the country.

However, the Centre's move to ban onion exports and remove customs and countervailing duties on the vegetable led to some cooling of prices later.

Prices are now ruling at around Rs45-Rs50 a kg.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has refused to export onions to India, which may blunt the impact of removing customs and countervailing duties by the government here.

The further easing of onion prices depends on its imports from other countries as well as crackdown on hoarders, analysts said.

Chief economic advisor Kaushik Basu recently blamed cartels among traders for high onion prices.

He had said the movement of onions should be expedited to cool down its prices.

In fact, home minister P Chidambaram wondered recently if the government has all the tools to calm down food prices.

This implies that the Centre has to rely on cooperation of states to bring down prices of essential commodities.

The rising food prices have given more teeth to the opposition to corner the government.

BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said yesterday that the Congress-led government was not doing enough to tackle the crisis and it stood "exposed" in front of the people.

Meanwhile, a finance ministry statement said Mr Mukherjee in his letter asked state governments to ensure that all bottlenecks in the supply chain are removed at the earliest and the availability of the food items causing inflation is improved so that their prices can be brought down quickly.

He requested the chief ministers to urgently look into the supply management of items that are driving the current round of food inflation in the economy.

Mr Mukherjee asked them to particularly look into the local factors that are widening the gap between the wholesale and retail prices.

The finance minister said much of the food inflation, which stood at 18.32%, has been due to significant increase in the prices of a few primary items (those found in the raw form) like fruits and vegetables, milk, meat, poultry, eggs and fish.

He also mentioned in his letter that the inflation data shows that three-fourth of food inflation is due to rising prices of vegetables.

On the other hand, nearly one-fourth of cereals and pulses prices have declined sharply and continue to do so even in the recent weeks when food inflation started rising.

There are some weather-induced supply constraints on some of the items currently exhibiting high inflation, which goes against the seasonal decline in prices normally seen at this time of the year, the letter said.

However, a larger part of price rise is due to the widening gap between the wholesale and retail prices and the growing demand for these products due to rising income levels, Mr Mukherjee said.

The finance minister said that from a high of nearly 21% for the week ended 21 April 2010, food inflation declined to 8.60% for the week ended 20th November due to "our collective efforts".

This trend has reversed since then, he added.

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SEBI begins finalising bourses’ ownership, governance rules

New Delhi: Market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has begun the process of finalising its guidelines on the way bourses are owned and do business, based on the feedback received on recommendations made by a committee set up by the regulator on this matter, reports PTI.

In addition to the comments received by SEBI from various stakeholders such as exchanges, market participants and investors, the regulator would also take into account views expressed by eminent personalities in media and on public forums, a senior official said.

A synopsis of the feedback on the recommendations is likely to be placed before the SEBI board in its next meeting, but a final decision is not likely soon because of varied reaction generated by the proposals, he added.

The government's view on the matter will also be taken into account through its nominees on the board, he said.

SEBI had put forth the recommendations made by the Bimal Jalan committee for review of ownership and governance norms for market infrastructure institutions on 23 November 2010 and had invited public comments on the same till 31st December.

The committee suggested sweeping changes in the way stock exchanges are owned and function and its proposals include capping their profitability and not allowing them to get listed to safeguard their front-line regulatory role.

The proposals generated intense debate in the media and on public forums, while at least three surveys were also conducted by different organisations on its various proposals.

These surveys are on top of one conducted by the Jalan committee itself, wherein it had put forth a questionnaire for public comments to decide on its recommendations.

These surveys, conducted by research firm IMRB, economic think-tank and financial data provider CMIE and stock market website EquityMaster.Com were apparently aimed to gauge the opinion of stakeholders and investors on the issue.

Out of these, IMRB survey was commissioned by MCX Stock Exchange, a stakeholder in the issue and among those to be affected maximum by the recommendations. The bourse, which is currently allowed to trade in currency futures only, has opposed vehemently the committee's various proposals.

The IMRB and the Jalan committee surveys were based on responses from stakeholders in the exchange space.

However, IMRB claimed to have approached a total of 101 respondents for the survey, as against 29 respondents in the Jalan committee survey.

The results of IMRB survey apparently indicated a stiff opposition to the committee's proposals.

The CMIE survey claimed to have posed five questions about the issue to as many as 5,392 people, including retail investors.

The Jalan committee recommendations, incidentally, are limited to market infrastructure institutions-stock exchanges, depositories and clearing corporations, and not aimed at retail investors.

The EquityMaster.com survey also sought to gauge the opinion of retail investors on the issue.

The proposals have faced severe criticism from various quarters, including industry chambers and market participants, including the country's oldest bourse Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and MCX-SX.

The various options now likely to be considered by SEBI include making listing optional for bourses and separating their regulatory and business roles.

The regulator may also consider whether bourses can be asked to put in place 'Chinese Walls' between their regulatory and corporate functions.

The move is aimed at keeping the front-line regulatory role of the bourses unaffected by their profit-making and other business interests after they become publicly held companies following their listing.

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Oil, metals, banks and auto expected to lead December quarter growth

Oil & gas, metals, banks and auto sectors will drive earnings; cement and telecom are expected to lag behind; low base effect may be over for the Sensex from this quarter, according to a brokerage house

An important factor to keep in mind when looking at the October-December 2010 quarter results, says Motilal Oswal (MOSL), is that the low base effect is almost over. At an aggregate level, the Sensex PAT growth was 23% in 3QFY10 and the brokerage expects it to be 23% for 3QFY11. Oil & gas, metals, banks (especially private banks) and auto sectors are expected to perform well, while cement and telecom will probably be laggards. The pharmaceutical sector is also expected to do well.



MOSL states in its December quarter earnings preview report, "Nine of the top 10 earnings growth companies in the Sensex are expected to be from autos (Tata Motors, M&M), commodities (Tata Steel, ONGC, Hindalco, Reliance Industries, Sterlite), and private banks (HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank). Telecom is the biggest drag on Sensex PAT growth with Reliance Communications' PAT expected to be down 67% year-on-year and Bharti's PAT (may be) down 23%."



With reference to the auto sector, MOSL expects volumes to be strong. An increase in end prices may cushion margins somewhat, but overall EBITDA levels are expected to come off a bit due to higher raw material prices.

Going forward, the auto sector is expected to face headwinds in the form of higher interest rates, steeper fuel prices, and higher product prices. This could be a trend across consumer-driven sectors in India, which is why MOSL says that export-driven sectors could perform better than domestic ones.

The report says, "We believe near-term challenges will impact performance of several sectors, particularly those dependent on domestic markets. We expect rising input costs, fuel prices and interest rates to impact discretionary consumption spends including (the) auto (sector). In this backdrop, global commodities and export-oriented sectors like technology and pharma would continue to outperform."

For the December quarter, in banking, MOSL expects credit growth to remain strong, but deposit growth to lag, putting pressure on net interest margins. Further clarity is expected on pension and gratuity related liabilities. Margins seem to have peaked for this sector, the brokerage believes.

Cement demand momentum is muted with volume growth of 7.3% year-on-year, but down almost 10% quarter-on-quarter. Domestic prices are about 7% higher quarter-on-quarter and 4.5% year-on-year.

Overall EBITDA margins may improve quite a bit quarter-on-quarter, but they are still down almost 800 basis points year-on-year. MOSL believes prices have bottomed out and that utilisation will improve from here.

The construction sector is expected to benefit from order flows from the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the building segment after a sluggish first half. Construction costs and interest rates will rise, but MOSL expects "EBITDA and net profit margins to stabilise with growing composition of higher margin contracts in the order book."

Growth in the FMCG sector is expected to be volume-led, as very few have taken price increases. Although input costs have risen, players haven't passed all of them on. But this may not impact margins yet because of cost cuts.

The information technology (IT) sector is expected to see 5%-7% topline growth; commentary on near-term prospects is expected to be bullish; and rupee appreciation will hurt margins.

In metals, domestic steel demand and pricing was sluggish and only picked up towards December. "The shutdown of Ispat Industries in November helped in a supply-side correction. Improved price sentiment globally helped in recovery of prices in the domestic market." Margins may be under pressure due to higher iron ore prices. Zinc and aluminium prices have been strong and may reflect in earnings.

Inventory gain is seen for oil & gas companies, as crude gained $10 per barrel this quarter. It also expects strong GRMs (gross refining margins), led by naphtha cracks. Polyester margins were strong but polymer margins were weak. Despite a number of new launches, real-estate sales momentum could have been impacted due to sharp rise in prices and higher interest rates, says the brokerage.

In telecom, MOSL expects a revival of revenue and operating profit growth after a sluggish September quarter, "driven by a seasonal volume uptick and relatively stable pricing environment." For utilities, imported coal prices were higher and merchant prices continued to be lower.

(This article is based on secondary research. The report is for information only. None of the stock information, data and company information presented herein constitutes a recommendation or solicitation of any offer to buy or sell any securities. Investors must do their own research and due diligence before acting on any security. Some of the opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and may not necessarily represent those of Moneylife.)

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