Wednesday Closing Report: Hanging there by the skin of its teeth

The Indian market ended with a cut of over a percent, tracking lacklustre global cues. Choppy trade along with broadbased selling sent the indices on a southward journey, but the ending was a tad above the crucial levels and above the day's lows.

The market opened weak on unsupportive global cues. Selling in key heavyweights and nervousness ahead of the futures and options (F&O) expiry, kept the market in the negative terrain. The losses increased as the day progressed, plunging the indices deeper into the red following a dismal opening at the European bourses. However, the indices settled a little above the psychological levels.

The Sensex ended at 20,005, down 216.02 points (1.07%), marginally above the 20,000-mark. The index touched a high of 20,220 and a low of 19,923, mid-session. The Nifty declined 75 points (1.23%) to end at 6,007, slightly above the crucial level of 6,000. The benchmark touched a high of 6,076 and a low of 5,987 in trade today.

The overall market breadth was dismal. The Sensex closed with 22 losers, seven advancing stocks and one returning unchanged. The Nifty ended with 41 in the declining list against nine stocks in the green. Among the broader indices, the BSE Mid-cap index lost 0.29% while the BSE Small-cap index fell 0.31%.

The Sensex gainers included Reliance Communications (RCom) (up 3.66%), Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) (1.63%) and Tata Steel (up 1.48%). The losers were NTPC (down 3.14%), HDFC (down 2.59%) and Maruti Suzuki (down 2.44%).

The sectoral space had only two gainers - BSE Consumer Durables (up 0.44%) and BSE Metal (up 0.28%). The losers were led by BSE Realty (down 2.07%), BSE Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) (down 1.61%), BSE Bankex (down 1.19%), BSE TECk and BSE IT (down 1.04% each).

Asian markets ended lower on concerns that the US Federal Reserve's quantitative easing, to be announced next week, might not be as large as thought. The worries led to a rebound in the dollar, impacting commodity stocks in the region.

The Shanghai Composite tanked 1.46%, Hang Seng tumbled 1.85%, Jakarta Composite was down 0.81%, Straits Times shed 1.21%, Seoul Composite was down 0.51% and Taiwan Weighted sank 0.63%. On the other hand, KLSE Composite gained 0.14% and Nikkei 225 added 0.10% in trade today.

The government is not considering freeing diesel prices yet, as the move will lead to rise in retail rates that will push up the already high inflation rate, oil secretary S Sundareshan said today.

"Diesel price deregulation will mean an increase in prices, which is not fair (under present circumstances)," he said at the Economic Editors Conference here.

 The US markets ended flat on Tuesday as the dollar regained its strength on concerns about the quantum of stimulus that the Federal Reserve will announce in its two-day meeting next week. Investors ignored the higher-than-expected consumer confidence index but pondered over weak earnings reports. The Federal Housing Finance Agency said in a separate report that home prices climbed 0.4% in August, beating analysts' forecasts.

The Dow rose 5.41 points (0.05%) to 11,169. The S&P 500 added 0.02 points to 1,185. The Nasdaq surged 6.44 points (0.26%) to 2,497.

Foreign institutional investors were net buyers of Rs481 crore in the equities segment on Tuesday. Domestic institutional investors offloaded stocks worth Rs708 crore on the same day.

State-owned exploration and production (E&P) major Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) (down 1.80%) today said it has appointed two international auditors to certify its oil and gas reserves, ahead of a planned share sale early next year. The government plans to sell 5% of its shares in the follow-on public offer (FPO) in March 2011.

"We have appointed D&M (DeGolyer and MacNaughton) and Gaffney, Cline and Associates as reserve auditors to value our reserves," ONGC chairman and managing director RS Sharma told reporters in New Delhi.

Biotechnology major Biocon (down 0.29%) has announced a strategic foreign direct investment (FDI) in Malaysia with Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation Sdn Bhd (BiotechCorp). The investment will be made towards establishing a bio-manufacturing and R&D facility in Bio-Xcell, a custom-built biotechnology park and ecosystem in Malaysia.

The project would focus on research, development and production of high-end biosimilars and other biopharmaceuticals products.

Tata Steel (up 1.48%) has said that its Rs 15,000-crore new production line at its Jamshedpur plant will go on stream by July-September 2011, increasing the total annual capacity to 10 million tonnes.

The global steel major is enhancing the production capacity from 6.8 MTPA to 10 MTPA, with an investment of Rs 15,000 crore.

The expansion is part of the steel major's plans to take its annual capacity to 16MT by 2014 at an investment of around Rs40,000 crore. The projects will be funded by a mix of debt and internal accruals.


Star Union Dai-ichi: Will it be the dark horse in the insurance race?

The insurer has been making quiet inroads in the life insurance sector with innovative products, a low-cost operation, focused management and strong support of the bancassurance channel. It also has an insurance veteran at the helm

Kamalji Sahay is not your usual flashy insurance honcho. The CEO of Star Union Dai-ichi has spent long years learning the ropes of the business in Life Insurance Corporation, going on to set up LIC's operation in Nepal.

His mantra for Star Union Dai-ichi has been efficiency in managing costs through which he is targeting an ambitious break-even level within five years. The corporate office is located in Vashi, Navi Mumbai, to keep costs under control. According to some insiders, even costs incurred by the foreign partner Dai-ichi were either trimmed or passed to the parent company's books. This is in sharp contrast to the huge overheads that other insurance companies have with their foreign partners.

According to industry sources, apart from the nuts and bolts of the business, Mr Sahay knows customer needs very well too. Years ago, when he was posted in Haora, West Bengal, a person who had worked with LIC came to meet him. "He wanted to buy insurance at 65 because he wanted to ensure that his cremation expenses were paid by the insurance company," recounted Mr Sahay. "He did not want to be a burden on any family member. Dying is the ultimate truth and one needs to exit with dignity and not leaving liabilities to family members."

Such insights shape Mr Sahay's approach to insurance and the kind of products Star Dai-ichi should be launching. According to him, "A person should be able to pass by Star Union Dai-ichi's office and believe that this insurance company will properly pay the insurance amount to his family in case anything untoward happens to him."

Star Union Dai-ichi has been making quiet inroads in the life insurance sector with innovative products, a low-cost operation, focused management and strong support of the bancassurance channel, since its launch a couple of years ago. According to Mr Sahay, "The cost of operations for the half-year has been just 64% of the premium collection, whereas this is much higher in the case of insurance companies which depend on their own channels. (Our) partnership with Union Bank and Bank of India has helped in this regard."

Bancassurance also gives access to the customer database of various banks, which is a major impetus.
Among its innovative products are its Reverse Mortgage Loan Annuity Plan, Defined Benefit Endowment Plan, a unique micro-term insurance plan (which provides insurance cover to weaker and backward sections of society at a low cost), group gratuity schemes, group leave encashment schemes and group life insurance term plans which cater to the needs of education loan borrowers.

The company also has a pan-India footprint. Mr Sahay says he can do "very good business" in some of the backward areas in north India and in cities and towns like Gorakhpur, Varanasi, Dhanbad, Bokaro and Ranchi. "We have been able to make determined forays into rural areas because of the bancassurance model benefiting from bank branches in these areas," he told Moneylife.

Star Union is the only provider today of the Reverse Mortgage Loan-Annuity Plan, which aims to provide financial security to senior citizens aged 60 years and above. According to Mr Sahay, "Reverse mortgage is an innovative product specially suited to Indian cultural values and ethos. The Sud Life Reverse Mortgage Loan-Annuity Plan aims to provide financial security to senior citizens who have assets but not enough liquidity to lead a life with dignity."

Senior citizens can approach Central Bank of India, which is the partner bank of Star Union Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co Ltd, to avail a reverse mortgage loan against their existing property. The bank will act as a master policyholder for the property and buy the citizens a group annuity from Star Union Dai-ichi Life Insurance. Senior citizens do not have to repay this loan and in case the legal heirs wish to retain the property they need to repay the loan amount to the bank with the accrued interest on it. This plan is also helpful for retired professionals, as they can lead their lives respectfully even after retirement.

There are two options to receive the annuity. Through the first option, senior citizens can receive the stated annuity throughout their lifetime and the amount will cease thereafter. Through the second option, senior citizens will receive comparatively lower annuity, which will be adequately compensated for by the return of the original purchase price to their legal heirs thereafter.
Bank of India and Union Bank of India, two leading public sector banks in India and the Dai-ichi Mutual Life Insurance Company, a leading Japanese company in the life insurance market, have floated the Star Union Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co Ltd for life insurance business in India.


Canara HSBC OBC Life Insurance forays into group business

Canara HSBC Oriental Bank of Commerce Life Insurance, a joint venture between start-run lenders Canara Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce and HSBC Insurance (Asia Pacific) Holdings, said it has started new services to serve group business.

The company said after establishing in the retail business, it has now launched a new channel-group business targeted at the corporate segment. The launch of this business will enable the company to reach out to a larger number of customers, leveraging on the strong corporate relationships of the three partners, it said in a release.

The company will specifically focus on employee benefits for corporates and has launched traditional plan that offers employee retirement benefits, namely gratuity, superannuation/pension, leave encashment and other benefits, to allow trustees and administrators to enhance employee loyalty and manage their organisation's liabilities in an efficient manner.

The company is planning to launch a complete suite of products on the group platform in the coming months, including a unit-linked option and group term insurance for employer-employee groups.


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