A number of bureaucrats in New Delhi have done away with their beacons or red lights on their official vehicles. The reason: every person arrested or hauled up for any sort of corruption-related activity—including the babu involved in the NALCO scandal—has been found in or around a car with a beacon or red light
"Music in the Park" is a come-as-you-are event, held in the mosquito-free environs of Nehru Park, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, entry and parking free. No tickets, passes, nothing.
Everybody sits together, unobtrusive security, and great music. Today it is Bombay Jayshree followed by Pandit Debu Choudhari as I type this, in the dark, by the light of the LCD monitor. And great music.
Out there in the VIP parking lot, are a large number of Delhi's finest drivers of various white Ambassador cars. Lounging around, some have made it to the open space at the back of the concert area, while others lounge around smoking bidis and playing cards. But there is a big difference today.
Barring one car, which is obviously from the Fire Department, not a single sarkari car has a red light or beacon. Yes, the fire engine, police patrol cars, ambulance and garbage disposal trucks have their beacons, so does the truck which is linked to the portable toilets.
But a large number of babus, at least the sort who have come to listen to Bombay Jayshree and Debu Choudhari, have apparently dispensed with their red lights and flashing beacons.
The marks where once stood the symbol of whatever on white, are now visible, like tan lines.
Once inside, I spot a friend from the tribe otherwise known as "civil servant", senior enough to have the organisers hovering around.
Spotting me, he joins us in the back, where the bad boys are hanging around smoking when they should not be doing so. Lighting up, I ask him about this latest phenomenon, this rapid removal of red lights and beacons from sarkari cars...
Background: Satyendra Garg, bossman of the Delhi Traffic Police and a legendary cop in his own right, has been trying hard for months now to bring some discipline into drivers who inhabit the vast wild jungle that that is Delhi's roads. One of the wildest creatures here is the laal battee vaallee gaadee. So wild that even the President, Prime Minister and Home Minister do not choose to have a red light on their official cars.
So what has all this got to do personal finance, then?
Just this-every person arrested or hauled up for any sort of scam, bribe, corruption-related activity or similar, just name them, has been found in or around a car with a beacon or red light.
The latest being the chairman of NALCO and his wife-they did even better, by using their red light beacon equipped car to enter the high security environs of the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) Building on Shah Jahan Road, with its four-layer security.
And despite all this paraphernalia, the CBI still caught them red-beaconed, so to say. So, rapidly coming off on a babu gaadee near you somewhere, are a whole lot of red beacons.
Still, the mood is upbeat, with that variety of government babus who were straightforward in the first instance, the sort who would come to a music programme like this in their own personal cars. And if there is one symbol that some sort of change is in the offing, then it is in the vast reduction in the number of siren-hooting red beacon flashing cars speeding past.
After all, nobody wants to attract the attention of the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), do they? Least of all those driving around with kilos of gold or suitcases full of money.
Note: The UPSC Building in Delhi is where pretty much every civil servant started her or his career. The security there is impressive indeed. For anybody to be stupid enough to walk into the UPSC branch of the Bank of Maharashtra within, and expect not to be caught, is a living example of how easy it is to make money if you had a red light on your car.
After finding the involvement of the company promoters in price-rigging, SEBI banned them from trading. However, questions are still being asked about Murli Industries’ accounting practices, where without taking on any fresh debt, its interest costs have doubled in the third quarter
Murli Industries Ltd (MIL) was in the news a few months back, for the promoters' involvement in price-rigging as unearthed in an investigation conducted by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). Now analysts are questioning the company's accounting practices. The recently announced results for the December quarter also raises doubts about the quality of its accounting.
MIL has diversified businesses in power, cement, paper and paperboard, and it also operates a solvent extraction refinery. The company reported a loss of around Rs97.20 crore for the December 2010 quarter.
The interest cost for the third quarter stood at Rs52.48 crore-almost double as compared to a quarter earlier, where it was at Rs25.68 crore. According to industry sources, the company has not taken on any new debt in this quarter.
Still, there is a two-fold rise in interest cost. Not just the interest calculation, the company's depreciation also shows a strange deviation. The depreciation for the third quarter came down heavily to Rs6.21 crore, from Rs21.09 crore a quarter ago.
Since then, no businesses have been hived off-this does looks strange.
The revenue from the cement segment stood at around Rs15.13 crore. The company claims that its cement capacity is 3 million tonnes (MT). But with Rs15 crore in revenues, a ballpark estimate would indicate that its production should be only around 40,000 tonnes.
MIL made an ambitious foray into cement, but was weighed down by the debt that it ostensibly used to build up its production capacity. Now that it is selling off its cement business, the company will be able to concentrate more on its core businesses-solvent extraction, paper and power.
In November last year, there were various media reports which indicated that MIL was close to offloading its cement division to Mexico's Cemex, which is the world's third-largest cement maker.
While the paper industry as a whole is making decent profits, the revenues from MIL's paper segment have fallen drastically.
For the third quarter of the current fiscal, MIL reported losses (before tax and interest) of Rs18.99 crore. In the previous quarter, the company's paper segment booked a profit (before tax and interest) of Rs14.85 crore. The percentage of profit before interest and tax, to the net sales of its paper segment, has fallen by 48%.
On the other hand, other paper companies have grown with decent operating margins. For the December quarter, the operating margin of Tamil Nadu Newsprint & Papers Ltd stood at 26%, for Seshasayee Paper & Boards Ltd it was 16%, while it was at 24% for West Coast Paper Mills Ltd.
MIL's other financial provisions are also strange. For instance, the other expenditures of the company for the third quarter stood at Rs13.15 crore. It was Rs5.59 crore a quarter earlier, an increase of 135%. Such unexplainable surge in the expenses surely attracts suspicion.
A few months back, SEBI had imposed a ban on the company and its promoter from trading in its own shares and the shares of group companies. MIL was one of the four companies where promoters had colluded with speculators to ramp up prices. The others were Ackruti City, Welspun Gujarat Stahl Rohren and Brushman India.
According to the SEBI order, preliminary investigations showed a "well laid down strategy planned by promoters of the company (Murli Industries) along with Sanjay Dangi to manipulate the share price of the company before the issuance of the foreign currency convertible bonds (FCCBs)."
SEBI has also barred Mr Dangi and his group firms from dealing in any kind of security. This ban has been imposed on charges of share price manipulation.
Till the time of writing this story, MIL has still not responded to an email sent by Moneylife on Thursday, 24th February.
There is a flood of global investment rushing to Brazil, but the market has not really gone up in the past year; and the country’s new middle class is on a credit binge that’s larger than Russia, India and China. But the warnings signs are being studiously ignored
How do you know when a particular market is experiencing a credit bubble? One way is to look at two very different aspects of society, the top and the bottom. Certainly the indications in Brazil are beginning to signal a situation where credit is out of control.
One sure indication is when investment banks, hedge funds, private equity firms enter a market in epidemic proportions. Local hedge funds in Brazil have increased their assets under management by 23% since 2009. Two large US investment firms, Blackstone and JPMorgan Chase, have taken large stakes in local Brazilian firms. The competition is becoming intense and a Brazilian private equity firm complains about the “armies” of global investment firms flooding into the country. This wall of new investment money is pushing up demand and valuations for many local firms. The lure of a country, which is the largest exporter of commodities like sugar, coffee and meat, seems irresistible when those commodities are reaching record highs.
The other indication has to do with those on the bottom rung of the social hierarchy. The Financial Times reported on one. This particular individual worked as a maid. Although she lived in one of São Paulo’s most dangerous favelas, or slums, she was able to afford liposuction. The procedure was only possible, because the surgeon gave her credit. But it does not end there. The poor maid was able to finance not just elective surgery, but everything else, including clothes, sandals and school supplies for her daughter.
Certainly, Brazil seems to be the right place to invest money. While most developed countries were subjected to a decline of 2.7% of their GDP as a result of the crash, Brazil in fact grew almost 5% in 2008-2009 and 7.5% in 2010. Financial analysts resorting to historical averages, point out that Brazilian shares trade at only twice their book value, far below the five times book that the Japanese achieved before their market plummeted in 1989, or the seven times book value that dotcom shares reached in 2000.
But this analysis doesn’t exactly explain why the Brazilian market, the BOVESPA, has not really increased over the past year and has declined 6% in the past month. In contrast, the US market has increased 17%. They are committing the usual sin of assuming that financial yardsticks developed for mature markets can be exported to emerging markets.
Private equity firms, investment bankers and hedge funds only see the illusion of size and liquidity. The Brazilian exchange is now the fourth largest in the world by market value. It offers a playground for complicated financial strategies and an easy IPO exit for private equity.
But the Brazilian market, like other emerging markets, is quite different. While developed markets offer thousands of companies and diversification, Brazil’s market is limited. Only eight companies account for more than 50% of Brazil’s market capitalisation. Also, other mechanisms are not in place. Shorting stock is difficult and expensive. Accurate, timely and complete information may not be available from family or government-owned firms like the oil giant Petrobras. Watchdogs may be ineffective in a country that ranks 69th out of 178 countries in Transparency International’s annual ranking of perceived corruption.
But it is not just the equity market. Brazil’s new middle class has been on a five-year credit binge that has exceeded even the expansion in other emerging markets. Brazil’s credit has expanded 2.4 times the GDP compared with 2, 1.6 and 1.2 times for Russia, India and China, respectively.
The growth of credit in Brazil is all the more surprising because the interest rates are so high. The average rate for commercial loan is 29%. Consumer rates can be much higher, often in excess of 30%. Yet, despite interest that is punitively expensive, if not usurious, the lending goes on. According to bank Itaú-Unibanco, Brazil’s largest private sector bank, lending could surge as much as 20% this year. Like China, much of this lending is from the state bank BNDES.
Like in the US, the debt service burden for consumers has risen to unsustainable levels. It is now 24% of disposable income. The US consumer debt pyramid collapsed after it reached only 14% of disposable income. Can you say “subprime”?
While the warning signs are there, they are being studiously ignored. Bank Itaú dismissed the idea of a problem. A former central banker, Arminio Fraga, agrees that there might be some issues, but felt that it was not enough to evoke concern. “We may have traces of subprime in the system…I don’t think it has gone that far.” It reminds one of US Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, who in 2007 said “that the impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime market seems likely to be contained.” Not thinking about it does not make it go away.