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India moonwalks into history
Also in today’s edition: India is having a senior moment; Give pilots a break; Glenmark gets fined; IBM updates Weather forecast
Good morning to everyone except YouTube superstar MrBeast, real name Jimmy Donaldson. If you haven't heard already (we're envious of you), he assembled “one person from every country on Earth” to compete in a series of challenges for “the most extreme version of the Olympics ever created”. Except, there were some misses and lots of booboos, per TechCrunch. The flag of the US state of Georgia was used to represent the country Georgia (!). Afghanistan is represented by a black and white flag used by the Taliban in 2021. MrBeast also included the disputed region of Crimea as a part of Russia. Participants from Taiwan and Tibet were excluded. Yup, the YouTuber has managed to do what few can: unite the internet. We hope the cancel police will follow suit.
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Today’s edition also features pieces by Soumya Gupta, Srijonee Bhattacharjee, Julie Koshy Sam and Jaideep Vaidya.
The Market Signal*
Stocks & economy: Indian equities may rise following a rally in US stocks which took cues from chipmaker Nvidia’s blowout earnings and guidance. But the real deal remains US Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s speech at Jackson Hole on Friday.
Banking stocks, a major constituent of the Nifty, bounced back on Wednesday and foreign funds bought into ongoing public offers of companies. The inflows coupled with the RBI’s active intervention in the forex markets helped the rupee rise the most in two months.
The RBI’s forex management has turned surprisingly aggressive even though the currency is expensive compared to emerging market peers. Importers, as if sensing an imminent fall, are rushing to hedge currency risk.
Banks are seeking liquidity relief from the RBI after its higher reserve requirement sucked out extra cash from the system.
A Country For Old Men
Fewer youngsters are working in India but old hands are much in demand.
An analysis in The Indian Express shows that between FY17 and FY23, the total number of people holding jobs declined by 6.9 million. In the 15-30 age category, the magnitude of the fall was a steep 32.4 million. The number of workers aged above 45 years, meanwhile, increased by 47.2 million. Interestingly, those near the end of a typical working life, aged 55-59, were absorbed into jobs at a faster rate than any other category.
This, when there already was a gender skew in the workforce, with the share of female employment dropping from 26% in 2010 to 9% in 2022.
You could blame the economy if job losses were uniform across age groups. That grey-haired workers are managing to land jobs perhaps indicates the lack of skills and, therefore, unemployability of young workers.
The world’s fastest-growing aviation market is facing a rather grave problem: pilot fatigue.
Hundreds of Indian pilots plan to form an association to challenge flight duty and safety regulations, reported Reuters. This was after a 40-year-old IndiGo pilot collapsed at Nagpur airport last week and died soon after. This wasn’t an isolated incident.
Former pilots have since criticised airlines for allotting long duty hours and erratic flight schedules, including consecutive late-night departures without sufficient rest. While Indian airlines aren’t breaking any rules, the country’s civil aviation regulator doesn’t distinguish between day and night in terms of flight duty time limitations. The new pilot association will push for compliance with international standards.
India’s largest carrier IndiGo recently tweaked its rules after a spate of tail-strike incidents. Here’s hoping the industry responds to the issue of pilot fatigue asap as well.
A Once In A Blue Moon Moment
Almost exactly four years ago, former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief Kailasavadivoo Sivan did what few men are comfortable doing: he wept on national TV. The Chandrayaan-2 mission’s lander had crashed in its attempt to land at the lunar south pole—an unexplored, potential goldmine of a region several countries have unsuccessfully attempted to reach. It had a daunting legacy to live up to: Chandrayaan-1 carried the NASA instrument that first detected water on the moon in 2009.
Neither Sivan’s tears nor Chandrayaan-2’s failure were in vain; ISRO ensured that Chandrayaan-3 was more “rugged”. Compared to Russia’s Luna-25 orbiter, which rushed towards the moon and recently crashed, Chandrayaan-3 took the slow-and-steady approach. It worked. About 7.5 million viewers watched ISRO’s live YouTube feed as India became the first country to soft-land near the moon's south pole. It’s the fourth after the US, Russia (as the former Soviet Union), and China to soft-land on Earth’s closest neighbour.
It’s a resounding victory for ISRO, which in recent years has launched hundreds of foreign satellites into orbit. Additionally, Chandrayaan-3 cost $75 million, a drop in the bucket of what other countries spend on their space programmes.
Over the next two weeks, rover Pragyan and lander Vikram will collect and relay (respectively) potentially game-changing information about lunar minerals, water, and atmosphere.
Can’t Sugarcoat This
So much for “pharmacy of the world”. Indian pharma major Glenmark said it will pay $30 million to the US in a deferred prosecution deal. In 2020, Glenmark was charged with conspiring with Israeli drugmaker Teva to fix prices of pravastatin, a generic drug for high cholesterol.
Teva will pay a hefty $225 million penalty and will also donate $50 million worth of lifesaving drugs, whose prices it also manipulated. Glenmark and Teva are divesting their pravastatin product line.
Lifesaving-threatening: In Uzbekistan, where 65 children died from tainted Indian cough syrup, an Indian national is among the accused. He has been charged with bribing officials just $33,000 to skip testing the syrup made by Noida-based Marion Biotech.
Promises, promises: Indian pharma’s global stars have repeatedly been marred by such scandals. Ten years ago, Ranbaxy had admitted to selling adulterated drugs in the US and lying to regulators about it.
Change Of Weather
IBM will sell its weather unit, which runs The Weather Channel (TWC) app and websites, to private equity firm Francisco Partners.
More than 415 million people on average use TWC every month. It is one of the most trusted media and entertainment brands of 2023, according to business intelligence company Morning Consult (pdf). It is the ninth most trusted brand overall.
Big Blue bought TWC seven years ago for $2 billion and linked it with its Watson cognitive computer, boosting the accuracy of its predictions. IBM will continue to have access to TWC’s data, which it will use to power its AI models for enterprise clients.
Francisco Partners, incidentally an early backer of Israel-based NSO Group—builder of Whatsapp-cracking Pegasus—intends to add consumer-facing health and wellbeing-related tools.
Join the club: Indian PM Narendra Modi called for the creation of a BRICS “space consortium” during a plenary session with fellow bloc members Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa in Johannesburg.
Value pack: Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, Qatar Investment Authority, has picked up a 1% equity stake in Reliance Retail Ventures for about $1 billion, valuing the company at ~$100 billion.
East & West: India’s baby in the sky Akasa is planning to launch flights to Southeast Asian and West Asian destinations.
Another one: Close on the heels of barring rice exports, India may ban sugar exports as cane yields have fallen. This is the first time in seven years that sugar shipments abroad will be stopped.
Big gains: The Government e-Marketplace has crossed the ₹1 lakh crore ($12 billion) milestone in gross merchandise value in a “record” 145 days of the current financial year, according to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
The pain won’t stop: Shares of Peloton Interactive have fallen to an all-time low after the beleaguered fitness company reported a fall in paying subscribers, wider than expected losses, and equipment recall.
It’s a miracle!: Surgeons in the UK have performed the world’s first successful uterus transplant in a 36-year-old woman who was born without a uterus.
THE DAILY DIGIT
The number of Indian space sector companies whose stocks collectively skyrocketed to over $2.5 billion in market cap, ahead of Chandrayaan-3 landing on the moon. (Bloomberg)
‘Tis the season for gifts: Tax season is anxiety-inducing. But not if you're in Japan. Japanese taxpayers have the option to donate $$$ to a city or town they don't reside in. In exchange, they receive gifts ranging from food to toilet paper or the key to a Porsche, albeit only for a quick spin. The experiment is such a wild success that there are blogs dedicated to reviewing these gifts. Takikawa even offers citizens a chance to become a mayor for a day. But most times, taxpayers are (understandably) inclined to donate to cities offering sought-after gifts, leading local governments to compete with each other for tax revenues. Tokyo’s Setagaya introduced gift cards for hotels and premium sweets after it failed to receive enough donations. Not all that bright an idea in hindsight, eh?
It's not you: It's your inflammation. According to scientists at the University of Buffalo, New York, inflammation can spur social media usage. You read that right. The study, which analysed 1,800 college- and middle-aged participants, indicated that more C-reactive protein is produced by the liver as a response to inflammation, leading to a pronounced need for social interaction. In plainspeak, it's that organ’s fault you're wasting your time online. We'd like to believe they spelt boredom wrong.
Coffee for President: Engineers at RMIT University, Australia, have discovered that adding processed coffee grounds to concrete made it stronger by 30% and could be good for the environment. Waste coffee grounds can be turned into biochar, a lightweight residue similar to charcoal. The research team is now in talks with local councils to incorporate the stuff in upcoming infrastructure projects. Incidentally, the researchers stumbled upon the idea over cups of coffee. For now, coffee-1, tea-0.