India opens door for foreign universities under new education policy

By Ritu

India on Wednesday approved a plan to allow foreign universities to open campuses in the country as part of efforts to boost education to strengthen the economy as it struggles with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Politicians affiliated with the left as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party have opposed several attempts by previous administrations to open up the sector to overseas institutions.

But many government officials have been pushing the move as more than 750,000 Indian students study abroad, spending billions of dollars outside the country every year.

The government will allow “entry of top world ranked universities to open campuses in our country”, a government statement said after a cabinet meeting chaired by Modi.

Critics said it remained to be seen whether top-rated universities would open campuses, considering a regulatory framework that will also cap fees charged by educational institutions.

The change comes as part of a policy to increase public spending on education to nearly 6% of gross domestic product from around 4% now.

Education is among sectors Modi is aiming to reform in an effort to bolster the economy in the wake of the pandemic.

The government is seeking to expand access to higher education to 50% of high school students by 2035, aiming to add about 35 million new places for students, and achieve universal adult literacy before that date, Higher Education Secretary Amit Khare told reporters.

The reforms would also include directives such as making school education compulsory from the age of three and encouraging the study of Sanskrit and other Indian languages as well as the use of technology.

Nearly half of the 248 million Indian students studied in private schools in 2019, according to government estimates, as teaching standards in the majority of state-run schools remain low amid a shortage of teachers, poor regulation and inadequate funding.

India suspends 39 import licenses for refined palm oil

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

India has suspended 39 licences to import 452,303 tonnes of refined palm oil after a surge in duty-free purchases from neighbors such as Nepal and Bangladesh which are not key producers, government and trade sources.

The suspension could reduce India’s palm oil imports in the next few months and pressure Malaysian palm oil futures, but could lift shipments of soyoil and sunflower oil.

“All these 39 licences for import of refined palm oil will be immediately put under suspension,” the government said in circular seen by Reuters on Monday.

India, the world’s biggest importer of edible oil, put refined palm oil and palmolein on a list of restricted items on Jan. 8, although New Delhi later issued licences to import refined palmolein.

Palm oil imports from Nepal jumped 314% to 189,078 tonnes in the fiscal year ending on March 31, while purchases from Bangladesh jumped 500%, the government said in the circular.

The shipments did not attract import tax as both nations are signatories, along with India, of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement  that created a free-trade zone in the region.

A rising flow of duty-free edible oils was disrupting trade in India and undermining government efforts to boost oilseed prices with higher import taxes, said Atul Chaturvedi, president of trade body the Solvent Extractors Association of India .

Of the suspended licences, 37 were issued to source the commodity from Bangladesh and Nepal, while two were issued for Indonesian origin, the government added.

Palm oil accounts for nearly two-thirds of India’s total imports of edible oil, mainly sourced from Indonesia and Malaysia.

Indian refiners have long opposed imports of refined palm oil, saying they hurt domestic refiners and oilseed growers.

The suspension is unlikely to cause a shortage of palm oil in Indian markets as consumption has fallen as much as 40% after a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, said Sudhakar Desai, president of the Indian Vegetable Oil Producers’ Association.

India’s palm oil imports fell 46% in April from a year ago, provisional data from the SEA shows.

Indian start-ups get creative as coronavirus crisis fuels funding crunch

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

Samik Sarkar was managing to eke a profit out of his online apparel store before the coronavirus crisis hit India, forcing the 36-year old to reinvent his business overnight.

The rapid global economic slowdown, India’s coronavirus lockdown of 1.3 billion people and an exodus of venture capital are testing a start-up community that has quickly become one of the world’s biggest, raising a record $14.9 billion last year.

The success of Indian e-tailer Flipkart, sold for $16 billion to Walmart in 2018, helped draw in billions of dollars in funding from global venture capital firms, while U.S. and Chinese tech giants stalked promising prospects.

But in just a few months much of that cash has vanished, with venture capital and private equity investment in India expected to fall by 45%-60% this year, EY estimates.

A group of the top venture firms, including U.S. groups Sequoia and Accel, warned start-ups this month that it will be “very difficult” to raise financing anytime soon.

Five venture capitalists told Reuters that only a few of the best companies from their existing portfolios would be able to get further funding, while most new ventures will likely be locked out for the foreseeable future.

This rapid turnaround has left scores of Indian start-ups which had been plotting expansion and fundraising considering anything and everything to keep themselves from going under.

Data from Tracxn, which monitors start-up investments and financials, shows there were 1,406 funded start-ups in India in 2019, compared with 351 in 2008.

The funding freeze has been compounded by India’s move in April to step up scrutiny of investments from overseas, a move seen by some analysts as a thinly disguised deterrent to takeovers by Chinese companies, which have been big investors in India’s tech industry.

India’s fuel demand growth could return to normal by mid-May

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

India’s fuel demand growth could return to normal levels by mid-May as the nation takes steps to end a lockdown aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19, oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan said, helping refiners hit by severe inventory losses.

Fuel demand growth in India, the world’s third-biggest oil importer and consumer, plunged to historic lows in April, provisional data shows, as the country’s eight-week long lockdown hit economic and industrial activity.

“Since last two week there is a gradual increase in the demand, very slow … but we are confident by middle of May we will be moving towards the normal position. That’s our calculation,” Pradhan told IHS Markit’s CERAWeek conversations.

Falling fuel demand has reduced crude processing by refiners, who are facing storage constraints at a time when lower cracks in overseas markets have made exports unattractive.

Pradhan said the slump in global oil prices, together with with falling fuel demand, would lead to inventory losses for refiners. Refiners had to defer some oil cargoes due to the fall in local demand, he added.

“Our refiners are facing severe inventory loss because all of our purchases from February, March, and April, prices are not what they are today. So we have to pay the whole price. It’s a double burden. There’s a market loss and an inventory loss for our oil companies,” he said.

Reliance Industries Ltd , operator of the world’s biggest refining complex, suffered its worst profit in 11 years in the March quarter due to tumbling oil prices.

Indian refiners would report inventory losses of more than 250 billion rupees ($3.3 billion) in the January-March quarter after the 70% fall in oil prices, Crisil Rating, a unit of Standard and Poor’s, said in a recent report.

India has announced a series of steps to help industries facing low demand and liquidity problems.

“More thing will come up in near future and looking at all such things I am expecting a demand growth,” Pradhan said. “We will not face major problems to maintain our targets that we had decided in the beginning of the financial year 2020-21.”

India to send nearly 1,000 tonnes of paracetamol raw material to Europe

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

India will supply Europe with about 1,000 tonnes of the active pharmaceutical ingredient for common pain reliever paracetamol, a top exports body said, easing export controls on over-the counter medicines used to cope with COVID-19 symptoms.

The Indian government in March put a hold on exports of several drugs including paracetamol to secure supplies for its people after the coronavirus outbreak disrupted the industry’s supply chain globally. COVID-19 is the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Europe has sought up to 800 tonnes of paracetamol APIs every month, said Dinesh Dua, chairman of the Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India.

“We have been under immense pressure from the European Union for the last 10 days,” Dua said.

The European Union delegation in India did not immediately reply to an email from Reuters requesting comment on the planned shipment.

Indian authorities have asked drugmakers to ensure the country is adequately stocked for up to four months of domestic requirements, Dua said.

India, the world’s main supplier of generic drugs, has shipped 1.9 million tablets and other forms of paracetamol to 31 countries, the foreign ministry said late last month, adding that consignments of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol were being sent to 87 countries on a commercial basis.

Europe is India’s biggest buyer of paracetamol APIs and imports around 12,000 tonnes annually, according to Pharmexcil estimates. The common pain reliever is also sold as acetaminophen.

The novel coronavirus outbreak has killed more than a quarter of a million people and Europe has accounted for 57% of the global death toll.

India has so far reported more than 49,000 cases of COVID-19. The outbreak has not shown any signs of slowing despite a severe lockdown that has confined its population of 1.3 billion to their homes since late March.

Britain outpaces Italy with Europe’s highest official coronavirus death toll

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

Britain has overtaken Italy to report the highest official death toll from coronavirus in Europe with more than 32,000 deaths, figures released on Tuesday showed.

The high death toll could increase political pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who waited longer than other European leaders to order a lockdown to curb the spread of the virus in March.

Weekly figures from Britain’s national statistics office added more than 7,000 deaths in England and Wales, raising the total for the United Kingdom to 32,313.

The figure is one of several methods for calculating deaths and difficult to compare with other countries, but it offers the clearest sign yet that Britain could emerge as the worst-hit country in Europe, despite being hit later than other countries.

Opposition parties have raised questions about Johnson’s initial decision to delay a lockdown at a time when hospitals in Italy were already being overrun.

They also say his government was too slow to introduce mass testing and provide enough protective equipment to hospitals.

The true figure for deaths from coronavirus may be even higher. The Office of National Statistics said 33,593 more people had died than average up to April 24 in England and Wales, compared to 27,365 cases in which coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificates.

Australian PM says no evidence coronavirus originated in China laboratory, urges inquiry

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has angered Beijing by calling for a global inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak, said he had no evidence to suggest the disease originated in a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was confident the coronavirus may have originated in a Chinese virology lab, but declined to describe the evidence he said he had seen.

Morrison said on Friday that Australia had no information to support that theory, and said the confusion supported his push for an inquiry to understand how the outbreak started and then spread rapidly around the world.

“What we have before us doesn’t suggest that that is the likely source,” Morrison told a news conference in Canberra when asked about Trump’s comments.

“There’s nothing we have that would indicate that was the likely source, though you can’t rule anything out in these environments,” he said.

“We know it started in China, we know it started in Wuhan, the most likely scenario that has been canvassed relates to wildlife wet markets, but that’s a matter that would have to be thoroughly assessed.”

The Wuhan Institute of Virology , based in the city where the disease was first identified, has rejected suggestions the coronavirus came from its laboratory.

Most scientists now say the virus originated in wildlife, with bats and pangolins identified as possible host species.

Relations between Australia and China have been strained since the government began canvassing support in mid-April for an international inquiry into the outbreak.

Beijing sees the inquiry call as part of U.S.-led propaganda against China, while Morrison says the world needs to understand exactly what happened to prevent a repeat of an outbreak that has so far killed more than 200,000 people and shut down much of the global economy.

India’s scrap gold supplies seen at record high on price rally, coronavirus

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

Scrap gold supplies in India are likely to hit an all-time high in 2020 as consumers sell jewellery to reap record high prices and cope with the financial crunch from the coronavirus lockdown, the World Gold Council said on Thursday.

Rising scrap supplies amid a fall in demand could dent the world’s second-biggest bullion consumer’s imports and cap a rally in global prices, which hit a more than seven-year high earlier this month.

Falling bullion imports, however, could help reduce India’s trade deficit and support the ailing rupee.

“Definitely it (scrap supplies) will be much higher than last year,” he told Reuters.

Scrap supplies in India jumped 37% in 2019 from a year ago to a record 119.5 tonnes, the WGC said, driven by rising prices.

Local gold prices surged 25% in 2019 and have risen another 16% so far in the year.

Millions of Indians have lost their jobs or taken a pay cut after India extended a nationwide lockdown on its 1.3 billion people until at least 3 May.

Moody’s Investors Service earlier this week slashed India’s growth forecast for calendar 2020 to 0.2 percent, the lowest in decades, as coronavirus cases exceeded 33,000.

India’s gold consumption in the March quarter fell 36% to 101.9 tonnes, the lowest since the first quarter of 2009, on a sharp drop in jewellery and investment demand, the WGC said in a report on Thursday.

Consumption typically jumps in the June quarter due to weddings and key festivals such as Akshaya Tritiya, when buying gold is considered auspicious.

However, June quarter demand this year could fall below the March quarter as jewellery stores were closed during the crucial buying season, Somasundaram said.

Weak first half demand would bring full-year consumption in 2020 below last year’s 690.4 tonnes, he said, without giving an estimate.

At the start of the year, the WGC had expected gold demand in 2020 to improve to 700-800 tonnes.

An Indian trade body earlier this month said India’s gold consumption could fall to 350 tonnes to 400 tonnes, the lowest since 1991.

Indian shares hit six-week high, HDFC surge lifts banks

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

Indian shares rose more than 1% on Wednesday to their highest in over six weeks, tracking an improved global mood due to the easing of some coronavirus lockdowns, while a surge in HDFC pulled financial stocks higher.

While India’s own stringent restrictions remain largely in place, signs of easing in Europe and the United States and a return to business in Asia, have bolstered stock markets globally this week.

India’s two main stock indexes were on course for their third straight session of gains, with investors also expecting the government to deliver a long-awaited stimulus package to kick-start the economy.

The NSE Nifty 50 index was up 1.11% at 9,485.4 as of 0612 GMT, while the benchmark S&P BSE Sensex rose 1.06% to 32,451.97.

The Nifty Bank Index rose to its highest in more than a week, buoyed by a 2.8% rise in top private-sector lender HDFC Bank Ltd as well as the Reserve Bank of India’s move to ease the liquidity strain in the mutual funds industry.

Gains, however, were capped by a 6.5% drop in smaller rival Axis Bank Ltd after the lender reported a surprise $182.6 million loss for the fourth quarter due to COVID-19 related provisions, and provided a grim outlook.

“The current stock market direction is a result largely of coordinated moves that we are seeing across the world due to easing restrictions,” said Umesh Mehta, head of research at Samco Securities in Mumbai.

“RBI’s move to assuage the liquidity concerns in mutual funds earlier this week is still supporting banking stocks.”

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan, which rose 0.9%, while oil prices jumped on hopes that demand will pick up.

Investors also awaited for any moves from the U.S. Federal Reserve, which is due to issue a policy statement at the close of its two-day meeting on Wednesday. The European Central Bank meets on Thursday.

Global economy already in recession on coronavirus devastation

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

The global economy is already in a recession as the hit to economic activity from the coronavirus pandemic has become more widespread, according to economists polled by Reuters amid a raft of central bank stimulus actions this week.

The spread of the disease caused by the virus, COVID-19, has sent financial markets into a tailspin despite some of the biggest emergency stimulus measures since the global financial crisis announced by dozens of central banks across Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australia.

The panic was clear in stocks, bonds, gold and commodity prices, underlining expectations of severe economic damage from the outbreak.

More than three-quarters of economists based in the Americas and Europe polled this week, 31 of 41, said the current global economic expansion had already ended, in response to a question about whether the global economy was already in recession.

“Last week we concluded that the COVID-19 shock would produce a global recession as nearly all of the world contracts over the three months between February and April,” noted Bruce Kasman, head of global economic research at JP Morgan.

“There is no longer doubt that the longest global expansion on record will end this quarter. The key outlook issue now is gauging the depth and the duration of the 2020 recession.”

Economists have repeatedly cut their growth outlook over the past month and have increased their forecast probabilities for recession in most major economies.

The worst-case views on growth taken just weeks ago in some cases have already into the central scenario for private sector economists in Reuters polls.

“The evolving news on COVID-19 has triggered ‘forecast leap frogging,’ with economists and strategists repeatedly lowering their forecasts. Among the big three economies, the U.S. and the euro area will see negative growth, while Chinese growth is expected to come in at a paltry 1.5%,” said Ethan Harris, head of global economics at BofA.