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Against the rising son
Also in today’s edition: India’s Pixel moment; Welcome to Hotel Gorakhpur; Where the rubber meets the (Belt and) Road; Barnes & Noble reads the room
Good morning! Election season is around the corner, and political parties are blow-harding their way through it. Topping the list currently is the Indian National Congress. Reuters reports that the party’s manifesto for Madhya Pradesh elections includes a promise to bring an IPL team to the state. How or why… is something that the party isn’t keen on explaining. Can’t wait to see how other parties one-up the Congress.
Roshni Nair and Adarsh Singh also contributed to today’s edition.
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The Market Signal
Stocks & Economy: Asian shares began the day deep in red territory as investors shared the gloomy sentiment prevailing in the US and Europe. Oil prices rose above $90 a barrel as West Asia remained tense. Haven gold was up as well.
US Fed chief Jerome Powell on Thursday toed the line his colleagues have been taking that the Fed will keep its hands off if markets are pushing up interest rates. Powell’s comments suggested what markets knew: the regulator will hold rates at the next meeting but will not hesitate to raise them later.
Early trades in GIFT Nifty indicated a selloff in Indian equities. Moneycontrol reported that SoftBank could sell half of its 2.2% stake in Zomato in a block deal today.
Hindustan Unilever boss Rohit Jawa, meanwhile, said that demand for FMCG products was low in July-September and his company lost market share to regional rivals.
A Matter Of Experience
It’s a minor irritant, but a pair of proxy advisory firms calling 28-year-old Anant Ambani “too inexperienced” to be on Reliance Industries (RIL) board does not augur well for the Ambani scion’s future in India’s most valuable company.
Anant’s billionaire father Mukesh Ambani had brought him into the green energy business in 2015.
The proxy advisors, Institutional Shareholder Services and Institutional Investor Advisor Services (IiAS), believe that Anant is not old enough to be on the RIL board. They haven’t objected to board seats for the 31-year-old Ambani twins, Isha and Akash.
Chequered history: Interestingly, two years ago, IiAS had voted against appointing 31-year-old Rama Kirloskar to the board of pump manufacturer Kirloskar Brothers (KBL) citing inexperience. KBL chairman and Rama’s father Sanjay Kirloskar had then called IiAS’ behaviour inconsistent because it had earlier recommended much younger individuals to similar positions in bigger promoter-led firms.
🎧 Will Mukesh Ambani’s youngest son get his place in the sun? Also in today’s edition: Netflix’s bumper quarter. Listen to The Signal Daily on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
For Google, India Is Pixel Perfect
Come 2024, the Pixel 8 lineup—and hopefully, future iterations of Google’s flagship smartphone—will be shipped from India to the world. This and other announcements headlined the company’s annual India event yesterday.
The development is an official confirmation of reports doing the rounds since June. Bloomberg had claimed that Google, like Apple, was diversifying manufacturing beyond China, and that it was in talks with Foxconn, Dixon, and Lava to assemble phones in India.
The Mountain View-headquartered company is also entering the retail loan business, partnering with Axis Bank, HDFC, ICICI, etc. to enable consumer and merchant credit via Google Pay (GP).
Indians’ appetite for unsecured personal loans, including on UPI, is burgeoning to the point that even the RBI governor is worried. Tapping into this market could reap significant dividends for GP, which is India’s second-largest UPI app by number of transactions.
Atithi Devo Bhava
What’s common between the owners of a pharma company, a private school franchise, and a publishing house? They’re waiting to welcome you to their hotels.
Indian small-city entrepreneurs are pumping cash into fancy hotels in an attempt to diversify from their core businesses. It’s a win-win situation: global hotel chains such as Marriott and Westin are using the opportunity to open properties in growing markets such as Bareilly, Siliguri, and Ayodhya.
Boom time: The investments are well-timed, because Indians are splurging on travel. A report estimates Indian travellers will spend $410 billion by 2030 as middle class incomes grow. A significant part of this growth will come from travellers booking ‘alternative accommodation’ such as tents, villas, even houseboats, often for weekend getaways. These holiday stays, along with hotels, are opening more rooms even as India becomes the world’s fastest growing aviation market.
Call it the impact of the ‘octopus class’. A wealthy class of nearly one million people, many from India’s smaller towns, are driving a post-pandemic boom in travel, leisure, and other discretionary spends. Small-town owners of (often) traditional businesses are making so much money that wealth managers are flying in to pitch their services.
Now the cycle of wealth is reinforcing itself. Wealthy business families are deploying their wealth in the travel and hospitality sector, which is largely growing on the back of their personal spending.
President Xi Jinping is building on “real projects” on the ground in the 10 years of his signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to cement China’s position as the leader of the Global South.
It helps that China’s economy is rebounding from a long slump, though its property sector is all but flattened. Beijing intends to pour money, specifically yuan, and expertise to bolster the BRI, now focussed on issues such as climate change, AI, and digital finance.
Projects worth ~$100 billion were inked at the Belt and Road Forum summit on Wednesday, which was attended by representatives from 130 countries, including 23 heads of state. For perspective, the United Nations has 193 member nations. Some such as Afghanistan, abandoned by the US and its allies, are gravitating into China’s orbit.
Meanwhile, the European Union will host its own BRI rival, Global Gateway Forum, next week.
Unity In Diversity
That seems to be the strategy for Barnes & Noble’s revival. According to The New York Times, the company is prioritising store autonomy as a crucial aspect of its makeover. Meaning store managers get a say in designing floor plans, displaying books, and even the name! A Barnes and Noble store in Florida goes by the name of B. Dalton Bookseller store—named after a local chain it’d acquired in 1987.
The inconsistency, counterintuitive to industry practice, is a deliberate push by its new CEO, James Daunt. He wants the company to act more like indie stores, providing unique offerings tailormade for local tastes.
Meanwhile: Increasing consolidation is pushing the industry to favour proven authors or celebrity memoirs at the expense of unknown (and therefore riskier) writers. This trend has exacerbated following KKR’s acquisition of Simon & Schuster.
Botched deal: Beleaguered edtech startup BYJU’S is reportedly in talks with private equity firms Bain Capital and KKR to sell its controlling stake in test-prep firm Aakash Educational Services.
Hunting the hunter: The Financial Action Task Force, the global body which monitors money laundering and terror financing, is investigating whether India misuses laws to stifle local operations of nonprofits such as Amnesty and Greenpeace.
💰💰💰: The Tata Group may pump in $1 billion into Tata Digital, which manages its supper app, Tata Neu. Tata Motors has bought a ~27% stake in digital logistics startup Freight Tiger for ₹150 crore (~$18 million).
Tit for tat: China may block Broadcom’s $69 billion acquisition of cloud software provider VMware in retaliation against the US curbing its access to high-end chips.
Cutbacks: Finnish MNC Nokia is slashing up to 14,000 jobs to reduce costs after reporting a 20% drop in third quarter sales.
Toeing the line?: The New York Times reports that talk show host Jon Stewart’s show on Apple TV+ is “abruptly” ending due to creative differences with company executives over topics such as China and AI.
Get it cheap: India will allow unfettered import of laptops and tablets starting next month, reversing a previous decision to place restrictions on imports.
THE DAILY DIGIT
₹1.36 lakh crore
Or ~$16.3 billion. Tax evasion spotted between April and September this year, according to the Directorate General of Goods and Service Tax Intelligence. (Business Standard)
Purr-fect!: This might brighten your day. Bella, a 14-year-old cat, has broken the Guinness World Record for the loudest purr, registering an impressive 54.6 decibels—equivalent to the sound of a boiling kettle. It's worth noting that these records are taken seriously, with an official adjudicator and an acoustic engineer on-site to eliminate external noise. Bella surpassed the required 50-decibel threshold with ease to secure her purr-cious achievement.
Prodigy alert: South Korea's latest musical sensation isn't another K-Pop group, but a 19-year-old pianist. Yunchan Lim, the boy wonder, achieved fame as the youngest winner of the prestigious Van Cliburn Piano Competition in Texas. His concert videos on YouTube have amassed millions of views. Following a competitive bidding process, UK's Decca Records secured an exclusive contract with him, hailing Lim as "the most thrilling emerging classical artist worldwide".
Chemicals are forever: Especially if it’s per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The carcinogenic substances, found in firefighting foam and non-stick pans, have earned the moniker of "forever chemicals" because they don’t dissolve in the environment. These chemicals have permeated into soil, water, rainfall, animals, and even humans! But fear not, scientists are actively working on this issue. Solutions include a filtration system designed to capture a wide range of PFAS and using "deep UV" to break PFAS down under ambient conditions without producing secondary waste. Science FTW!