The downgrade reflects the rating agency's opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan which Congress and the administration recently agreed to falls short of what would be necessary to stabilise the government's medium-term debt dynamics
Washington: In an unprecedented move, Standard & Poor's (S&P) downgraded the US government's 'AAA' sovereign credit rating-a development which raises concerns that investors will lose confidence in its economy, reports PTI.
"We have lowered our long-term sovereign credit rating on the US to 'AA+' from 'AAA' and affirmed the 'A-1+' short-term rating.
"We have also removed both the short- and long-term ratings from CreditWatch negative," the credit rating agency said in a statement.
The downgrade, it said, reflects its opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan which Congress and the administration recently agreed to "falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics."
"More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on 18th April 2011," the agency said.
"Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics any time soon."
Other prominent credit rating agencies-Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings-affirmed their AAA credit ratings even as president Barack Obama signed a bill that ended the debt-ceiling impasse that pushed the Treasury to the edge of default. Moody's and Fitch also said that downgrades were possible if lawmakers fail to enact debt reduction measures and the economy weakens.
S & P said: "The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. We could lower the long-term rating to 'AA' within the next two years if we see that less reduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or new fiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general government debt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case."
"When comparing the US to sovereigns with 'AAA' long-term ratings that we view as relevant peers-Canada, France, Germany, and the UK-we also observe, based on our base case scenarios for each, that the trajectory of the US' net public debt is diverging from the others," it said.
Including the US, S&P estimates that these five sovereigns will have net general government debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratios this year ranging from 34% (Canada) to 80% (Britain), with the US debt burden at 74%.
By 2015, S&P projects that their net public debt to GDP ratios will range between 30% (lowest, Canada) and 83% (highest, France), with the US debt burden at 79%.
"However, in contrast with the US, we project that the net public debt burdens of these other sovereigns will begin to decline, either before or by 2015," it said.
On Monday, S&P will issue separate releases concerning affected ratings in the funds, government-related entities, financial institutions, insurance, public finance, and structured finance sectors, the statement added.
With more than half the companies declaring their results so far, the performance of the corporate sector has been along expected lines
The Indian equity markets have experienced huge volatility in July-August which has seen the Sensex decline from above 19,000 levels to below the 17,000 mark on concerns of rising interest rates, slower global growth, sticky high inflation and high oil prices along with a policy paralysis on the part of the government. However, while events and sentiment affect markets in the short-term, it is earnings growth that is important over the medium- and long-term. So where do Indian companies stand on this score?
Some 559 companies from Moneylife’s data base of 1,300 companies have reported results for the April-June 2011 quarter. On an aggregate, these companies have registered sales growth of 29%, while operating profit growth has been just 14% from that in the corresponding year-ago period. This is an indicator of the impact of rising costs.
One of the top performers among the mega-caps has been Essar Oil which recorded a 42% rise in revenues and 118% rise in operating profits. Mangalore Refinery & Petrochemicals witnessed a 70% rise in revenues to Rs13,371.61 crore, while operating profit soared 141% to Rs226.11 crore from the year-ago period. The company's phase III expansion project is progressing well. The refinery is set to commission additional 3 MMPTA by January or February 2012 which will increase output.
Dr Reddy's Laboratories is another company that has turned in a great performance. Its revenues and operating profit have soared 33% and 94% respectively over the year-ago period. Oil India recorded a 50% rise in sales growth and 80% rise in operating profits. Titan Industries net sales surged 61% to Rs2020.60 crore and operating profit soared 66% to Rs184.55 crore for the quarter. JSW reported sales growth of 52% and operating profit growth of 40% over the corresponding quater of the last year.
Among the banking companies, Indusind Bank stood out with a 48% jump in total income to Rs1,379.98 crore and a 35% surge in operating profit to Rs311.72 crore. The bank's core fee income during the period grew by 44% to Rs187.07 crore, compared to Rs129.58 crore in the previous April-June period. The increase in core income was on the back of a rise in the bank's third-party product income such as insurance and mutual funds, trade and remittances, foreign exchange and investment banking.
Several mega-cap companies turned in a sour performance during the quarter. Zee Entertainment Enterprises was among the worst-performing large companies as revenues grew by just 17% while operating profit tanked 54% from that in the corresponding quarter last year. Bharat Electronics also put up a very poor show, with revenues growing by 2% and profit declining by 44%. Meanwhile, Lupin’s revenues grew by 10%, but operating profit plummeted by 44%.
Also in the list of poor performers among mega-caps is Sesa Goa, JSW Energy, Canara Bank, Exide Industries and Cadila Healthcare. Coal mining and power generation company Neyveli Lignite Corporation managed a revenue growth of only 1%, while profit tanked by 26% over the year-ago period.
Among the large-caps, cigarette maker Godfrey Phillips India posted a nearly two-fold increase in operating profit in the first quarter with a growth of 146% to Rs 99.47 crore, from Rs 40.49 crore in the corresponding quarter last fiscal. The company reported sales growth of 19% for the period. Indian Overseas Bank reported good sales growth of 50% and a net profit growth of 110% for the period. Glenmark Pharmaceuticals reported sales of Rs327.09 crore, a 27% growth year-on-year.
Religare reported one of its worst results with a revenue growth of 63%, but it suffered an operating loss of Rs20.88 crore in the quarter to June 2011, which was higher than the Rs3.41 crore loss in the year-ago period. Religare Enterprises said Religare Capital Markets, its investment banking and institutional equities arm, expanded its South African capability through the acquisition of a controlling stake in local brokerage Noah Financial Innovation (Proprietary) Ltd. Alstom Projects also registered a poor performance, with a 20% fall in revenue and a decline in profit by 90%. Some of the other large-cap poor performers were Nava Bharat Ventures, Welspun Corp, Blue Star, Trent, and Sterlite Technologies.
Among mid-cap companies, Orient Paper & Industries was one of the good performers, registering a phenomenal rise in gross profit for the June 2011 quarter. Profits rose by 47% to Rs116.47 crore from Rs79.40 crore in the corresponding period last year. Net sales increased by 22% to Rs546.97 crore. JK Cement net sales grew by 16% year-on-year. Revenue growth was led primarily by a 10.1% year-on-year increase and 5.5% quarter-on-quarter increase in blended cement realisations. Operating profit grew by 41%.
Supreme Petrochem chalked out an investment plan of Rs175 crore, spread over two years, for expanding its business by enhancing its capacity and entering new markets. The company has used a part of the funds for increasing the capacity of special polystyrene to 30,000 tonnes per annum. The company has also commenced trial runs on its expandable polystyrene project with a total capacity of 44,400 tonnes per annum at the existing site in Amdoshi in Maharashtra. Its operating profit grew by 35% to Rs37.43 crore and sales surged by 11% for the first quarter of 2011-2012 over the corresponding quarter of the previous year.
Operating profit of Century Plyboards (India) rose by 31% to Rs34.97 crore for the quarter ended 30 June 2011, over the same period in the previous fiscal. Net sales rose by 35% to Rs271.87 crore compared to Rs201.47 crore in the previous corresponding period. The worst performers among the mid-caps were Aptech, Indo Rama Synthetics and NIIT.
Instead of intelligently reviewing the existing mechanism of customer services, the Damodaran Committee only wants to add to it
The release of the Damodaran Committee report has to be among the strangest in recent times. After 13 months of deliberation, the report was released without M Damodaran (former Chairman of the Securities & Exchange Board of India, SEBI) being anywhere in the picture. As Moneylife has reported, he did not even provide the transmittal letter for the report.
This dissonance, which is probably the result of a disinterested chairman, is reflected in the report itself, which is major letdown. The report makes all the right noises and is correctly and overtly pro-investor. But what was expected from the committee was "a review of the existing system", including the many pointless circulars issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) seeking many layers of committees and meetings, starting at the branch level and extending to the board. Instead of reviewing the existing mechanism, the Damodaran Committee only wants to add to it. For instance, it wants each bank to have its own Ombudsman, over and above the Banking Ombudsman system, which works reasonably well.
Interestingly, after the Talwar Committee of 1975, the Goiporia Committee of 1990 and the Tarapore Committee of 2004, the Damodaran Committee on customer services was supposed to take us to the next level of review and recommendations to improve service delivery to bank customers. But that hasn't really happened, mainly because there is no indication of a thorough review of the existing customer-protection mechanism. The committee claims to have met a broad swathe of stakeholders from bankers to customers, NGOs, micro-financers and pensioners. Yet, it has few concrete solutions to offer. In fact, large chunks of the report that cover issues such as pass books, KYC (Know Your Customer) norms, inoperative accounts and issues with TDS (Tax Deduction at Source) certificates (especially banks' refusal to rectify faulty TDS certificates) and remittances could easily have been set right by the RBI's own customer services department without waiting for a customer services committee to make recommendations. Some recommendations are downright amusing. For instance, the committee says, "Branches should be provided with dedicated phones/computers with Internet connection so that customers can avail themselves of the facilities such as Call Centre, Internet Banking and Phone Banking in the branch itself." Surely, customers can avail of all banking services at a branch and Internet and phone banking is provided, precisely to enable to them to access their account from remote locations?
One of the biggest omissions is the absence of a detailed discussion on the rampant mis-selling of financial products-including insurance, mutual funds and derivatives or structured products by target-driven Relationship Managers and Wealth Managers. For instance, Osian Art Fund, the collective investment scheme, which SEBI failed to regulate, was hard-sold by wealth managers of a foreign bank. Importantly, the high attrition rates among this category of officers ensure that they never carry the can when their false promises and fake guarantees come to light.
Let's look at a few areas where we expected concrete proposals. Consider the simple example of bank lockers. The committee merely notes the views of banks and customers and calls for the RBI to revisit guidelines "to ensure that the activity itself is not dis-incentivised and the customers continue to have availability of lockers at an affordable charge." In fact, Moneylife alone had done better. In February this year, we polled 458 persons and flagged many more issues. The overwhelming feedback was that people wanted more lockers and they weren't available. Surely, the Damodaran Committee could have explored the issue of locker rentals in more detail to come up with a specific workable recommendation?
The same goes for recommendations on bank service charges. While reporting customers' desires with regard to service quality, it ought to have been weighed against cost and feasibility. After all, as a customer, I too desire the service standards of a foreign bank's priority customer while paying what nationalised banks charge! We would have liked the report to consider banks' perspectives on these, instead of making unilateral recommendations that will be debated and negotiated by the IBA (Indian Banks' Association) until RBI closes the debate by issuing an order. This applies to many of its recommendations regarding electronic payments as well as account number portability.
Another half-way recommendation is that insurance cover for deposits should be expanded to Rs5 lakh in order to "encourage individuals to keep all their deposits in a bank". It also wants to explore the possibility of full insurance cover for bank deposits. This is a seemingly good suggestion. But consider this. A deposit insurance cover is unnecessary for nationalised banks; even large private banks are most unlikely to be allowed to fail. The global financial crisis of 2008 has plenty of evidence of governments bailing out the banking system. In India, RBI didn't allow Global Trust Bank (GTB) to fail because it exposed its own failed supervision. The increased cover makes sense only for politically-manipulated cooperative banks or tiny private banks. Couldn't the committee have spoken to the Deposit Insurance & Credit Guarantee Corporation (DICGI), which is an RBI affiliate and headed by an RBI Deputy Governor, to come up with a more reasoned recommendation based on the actual payouts over the last decade?
In fact, if most of the payouts under insurance guarantee are made on account of cooperative banks (as we suspect they are), then we must strongly oppose the move to enhance insurance cover and press for better supervision of these banks instead. In fact, Moneylife Foundation's financial literacy initiatives make a big effort to educate savers about the dangers of faulty supervision of (largely) politically-controlled cooperative banks.
Given that the report is largely a bunch of general statements, a great opportunity to create the right approach for customer services has been lost.