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Meter down for public transport
Also in today’s edition: Kotak's new boss; Not enough tourists for this trap; Moderation mayhem; Apple embraces the big screen
Good morning! The tables have turned in Himachal Pradesh. Decode reports that several police officers are being investigated for duping colleagues through a fraudulent cryptocurrency scheme. They allegedly lured their colleagues with the promise of quick returns. As the scam expanded, even people in their social networks were ensnared, amassing a total investment of ₹400 crore ($48 million). The gravity of the situation prompted discussions in the state assembly, leading to the establishment of a special team to investigate the matter. Colour us shocked!
Dinesh Narayanan, Soumya Gupta, and Adarsh Singh also contributed to today’s edition.
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The Market Signal
Stocks & Economy: The US and European markets ended the last week on a pessimistic note. Nothing changed in the world over the weekend to lift investor sentiment in Asia and Monday began with a sell-off across markets.
The GIFT Nifty was, however, indicating a strong opening for Indian shares, which had closed the last week in the red. Markets are closed on Tuesday for Dussehra. Investors are pinning their hopes on a pickup in demand during the festival season to boost the economy.
The delay in Israel’s ground offensive into Gaza eased oil and gold prices but likely not for long. The West Asian conflict has overshadowed the earnings season as well.
In crisis-ridden Argentina, populist economy minister Sergio Massa has an edge in the presidential contest against libertarian rival Javier Milei, who proposes to replace the peso with the US dollar if voted to power.
Behind The Scenes Of The Bajaj Auto Show
India’s second-largest two-wheeler company reported a 20% year-on-year increase in net profit for the September quarter. If you chalk this to bikes and scooters, you’re wrong. Bajaj Auto’s (BA’s) two-wheeler sales decreased by 13.5%—a trend that’s affected the big three (Hero, Bajaj, Honda) for a while. What drove the growth was autorickshaw sales.
Mint deduces that this points to India’s doddering public transport system. Kolkata is the only major city where public transport accounts for 50% of transit. Rickshaws and kaali-peeli cabs are intermediate public transport, and they’re doing the heavy lifting in places where buses and suburban train systems are cold-shouldered in favour of, say, coastal road projects.
This tracks with poor urban governance. A report by the nonprofit Janaagraha revealed that lack of administrative autonomy at the local level hampers reforms that could help give public transport a shot in the arm. Even e-bus companies are fed up.
At Home But Not Home Ground
Ashok Vaswani, a 62-year-old banker with stints at Barclays and Citibank who now heads Israeli fintech Pagaya Technologies, will take over the reins of Kotak Mahindra Bank (KMB) this New Year. KMB founder Uday Kotak will stay on the board as a non-executive director.
The challenge: Vaswani will have to steer KMB through an intensely competitive and digitising phase of the financial services industry in an unfavourable interest-rate environment. KMB will race banks, deep-pocketed shadow banks such as Jio Financial Services, Bajaj Finance, and new-age fintechs for a cohort of young, credit-savvy consumers.
KMB’s Q2 profit, for instance, grew 24% year-on-year to ₹3,191 crore (~$383 million). Although not strictly comparable but for perspective, non-banking finance company Bajaj Finance posted a 28% rise in profit at ₹3,550 crore (~$426 million) for the same period.
Atithi, Tum Kab Aaoge?
October marks the beginning of peak tourist season in India. But the global economic slowdown, two ongoing wars, and a diplomatic standoff between India and Canada mean that the number of international tourists visiting the country is bound to take a hit.
The Economic Times reports that charter flights, which used to bring up to 250,000 foreign tourists to India from October to April pre-Covid, are expected to register only 30-40% of that figure this season. The number of charter flights from Russia has dropped from 5-6 a day to 5-6 per week, while hopes of welcoming 5,000 Israeli tourists over the next six months are all but gone.
This isn’t just a rich people problem. Regular tourists are expected to be affected, too. India welcomed 5.5 million foreign tourists from October 2022 to April 2023, up from 1.9 million in the same period the previous year. While Russia and Israel aren’t in the top 10 source countries of foreign tourists to India, Canada is in the top five. More than 277,000 Canadians travelled to India last year.
This isn’t good news for India’s economy, with travel and tourism expected to contribute ₹16.5 lakh crore ($198 billion) to it this year. The sector contributed to ~$17 billion in foreign exchange earnings last year. Tourism also has one of the highest job-creating potentials across all sectors: in 2021, for every ₹10 lakh ($12,000) of investment, tourism generated 78 jobs, compared with 45 in manufacturing.
Theory Of Relativity
When the machine learning system underpinning automatic filters starts hallucinating, final moderation calls fall on humans. But even that isn’t failsafe, as Meta is learning. Policy teams in Tel Aviv and Dubai are disagreeing over its approach to moderating content from Israel and Palestine.
Details: Meta hides content if there’s an 80% chance it violates rules. The Wall Street Journal reports that it has reduced that threshold to 25% for Palestinian territories versus 40% for Israel and the rest of West Asia. The company reasons this is because of the high incidence of hostile speech from Palestine, but this approach has led to some Instagrammers being falsely labelled as “terrorists” in their bios.
Meta’s automated system for Instagram and Facebook isn’t trained to understand variations in Arabic dialects. Its hostile speech classifier for the Hebrew language is also unused because it doesn’t “have enough data for the system to function adequately”.
How Do You Like Them Apples?
Call it Oscar magic. After CODA swept the Oscars last year, Apple TV+ is shifting its film strategy. Its upcoming Killers Of The Flower Moon, directed by Martin Scorcese, will release in theatres first and on streaming only 45 days later. Apple will do the same for its next three films. CODA went direct-to-streaming, but Apple released it in theatres after its Oscars sweep.
Hit wicket: Another reason Disney wants to ditch Star—this one’s worth nearly half a billion dollars. Disney Star’s sports business reported $444 million in operating losses for the nine months ending July 1, even as sister concern ESPN made $1.8 billion in operating profit.
Hands, steady: After abruptly halting talks two weeks ago, Hollywood studios are ready to talk with the actors union, SAG-AFTRA. Both sides are too far apart on certain key demands, including how much in residuals actors should get for streaming content.
🚀🚀🚀: ISRO successfully completed a crucial test for its crewed spaceflight Mission Gaganyaan last week, after halting it for an unspecified reason.
In the crosshairs: Chinese officials have begun an investigation into iPhone maker Foxconn’s tax payments and land use, among other undisclosed things.
Who else but…: Adani Power has emerged as the successful bidder for bankrupt power producer Coastal Energen for ₹3,440 crore (~$413 billion).
Can’t open yet: India will start visa services for Canadian visitors only when Indian diplomats feel safe to go to work, according to foreign minister S Jaishankar.
Second time lucky? Israeli chipmaker Tower Semiconductor may reapply for government incentives to set up a fab unit in India, The Indian Express reports.
Inedible: The US rejected 3,925 food shipments from India in the past four years, a quarter of them for being “filthy”, the US Food and Drug Administration data showed.
Back in play: Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan with sights set on becoming PM once again, even as he tries to shake off a 14-year prison sentence for graft.
THE DAILY DIGIT
The global sum lost to scams between August 2022 and August 2023, according to a joint study by the Global Anti-Scam Alliance and ScamAdviser. Singapore tops the victims’ list. (The Straits Times)
Life imitates art: In a scene reminiscent of Hrithik Roshan from Dhoom 2, a man in Poland robbed a jewellery store by posing as a mannequin. He then proceeded to eat from a closed bar nearby, presumably replenishing all those lost calories by standing for too long. Inventors of the Dunning-Kruger effect, David Dunning and Justin Kruger, used this incident as a “told you so” to drive home their point: individuals with low competence tend to overestimate their abilities. Unlike Hrithik, though, the man was arrested.
Foodie’s choice: The eternal battle between taste and health is jeopardising India's soft power aspirations. The Indian government declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets, extolling its climate resilience and health benefits. The Prime Minister even wrote a song about millets and showcased it at G-20 meetings. However, public reception remains tepid; many find millets tasteless and compensate by using excessive ghee, which defeats the purpose. But FMCG companies like HUL and Tata think there’s still hope for the humble millet and are promoting it as a healthy snack.
Night at the museum: Researchers at the Western Australian Museum have made a ‘light’-ning discovery. They found fluorescence in the 125 species they analysed, representing over half of all existing mammal families. This challenges the prevailing notion that mammal fluorescence is an occasional quirk and suggests it's a common trait. However, its evolutionary purpose and whether mammals can perceive these ‘glows’ remain uncertain. But hey, this means that Edward Cullen sparkling in Twilight wasn’t totally weird…