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Covid grips China again
Also in today’s edition: Nickel’s price surge; Churches draw battle lines; Restaurants vs food aggregators; Early retirement is boring
Good morning! Bloomberg reports that Mumbai is now the first South Asian city to announce a 2050 goal for carbon neutrality. Maharashtra environment minister Aditya Thackeray outlined a Climate Action Plan for housing, public transport, and sanitation, among others. Better late than never, since the island city is threatened by rising sea levels. If only the powers that be had such judiciousness before greenlighting potentially-catastrophic coastal road projects.
The Russia-Ukraine war now has the church involved! For the main story, we talk about nickel prices skyrocketing, and supplies shrinking. It is sad news for electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers. Find out how it affects EV makers in this episode of The Signal Daily!
The Market Signal
Stocks: Benchmark indices rose for the fifth straight day, as fresh Ukraine-Russia talks raised hopes of ceasefire. Oil prices brought some respite too. Jubilant FoodWorks shares plunged on news of a top-level shuffle.
Nickel Nicks EV Dreams?
The American five-cent coin is now worth 16 cents. Nickel's price rise by about 250% spurred the London Metal Exchange to stop trading after it surged to $100,000 on March 8, 2022. All thanks to Chinese tycoon Xiang Guangda.
Bet gone wrong: Last week, Guangda bet that nickel prices will fall. He was mistaken. Struggling to pay back, he's in talks with JPMorgan for loans to cover his losses. Beijing could also step in to rescue Guangda’s Tsingshan.
Elsewhere: Deals are falling through. Australian base metal producer IGO was all set to take over a nickel miner for $800 million. It is now on hold after the London Metal Exchange suspended nickel trading last week.
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Russian Orthodox Church Undergoes Baptism By Fire
The Russia-Ukraine crisis is roosting at the doorsteps of the Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC) and Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Bartholomew I, EOC’s Istanbul-based spiritual head, condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But Moscow-based Patriarch Kirill, the ROC’s highest authority, sides with Vladimir Putin.
Result: European ROC parishes critical of Putin are challenging Kirill and defecting to the EOC.
Background: The EOC is one of Christianity’s oldest denominations and the ROC, its most powerful self-governing arm. Tensions between both peaked after Russia annexed Crimea. Istanbul—which is to Orthodox Christians what the Vatican is to Roman Catholics—granted independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, earlier under Moscow’s control. Thereafter, the ROC cut ties with the EOC.
What now? Orthodox Christianity’s 300 million adherents are torn between two spiritual heads. By challenging Kirill, international ROC parishes are aligning with Pope Francis, who criticised the ongoing war. A big deal, since Catholicism and Orthodoxy have rarely seen eye to eye.
Food Fight in Mumbai
Hotels and restaurants in Mumbai are ready to roast food aggregators.
Their trade body, the Indian Hotel And Restaurant Association (AHAR), has gone to court against food tech companies such as Zomato, Dunzo and Swiggy delivering food cooked in cloud kitchens.
The grouse: Food delivery companies are violating municipal laws by sourcing food from eating houses that operate without licence, AHAR alleges. It says that even the vehicles used by delivery personnel are registered for non-commercial use. AHAR wants fuel retailers to sanction them by cutting off LPG supply to what they allege are illegal vendors and restaurants.
Much before Zomato and Swiggy were even seeded, Mumbai’s dabbawalas pioneered the food delivery business, even becoming a Harvard case study. For decades they have delivered food to office-goers, both from customers’ homes, caterers, and even from their own kitchens. The maximum city had space for all—restaurants, street vendors and even informal food businesses.
The arrival of tech-enabled aggregators brought some churn in the market but it was not a big deal for India’s biggest metro. The pandemic, however, was a debilitating shock. Many eateries that catered to the lower middle and working-class of Mumbai shut shop. Thousands of migrants who fled the city during the pandemic have not returned. Yet others are earning much less than they used to earlier. As a result the market has shrunk. At the same time expenses have skyrocketed. It’s creating new fissures in an industry struggling to recover.
Early Retirement Still Comes With Existential Crises
Out of sight could mean out of mind at the workplace. Turns out that the hybrid work model is a career impediment, particularly for women. According to researchers, working from home, which is largely favoured by caretakers, could hurt wages and long-term career prospects.
Retire those rose-tinted glasses: Early retirement isn't rosy either. Quitting without a job brings with it an identity crisis, and a loss of income and purpose, say early retirees. Consider this 42-year-old, who firmly believed in the FIRE strategy; he's back working full time.
Interns needed: If the trend is anything to go by, apprenticeships could become a norm. According to a report in The Economic Times, engineering has the highest activity in this context. Earlier this month, the government simplified apprenticeship training to make things easier for India Inc. In related news, India’s employment index is sliding.
China Locks Down, Grapples With Tech Rout and Geopolitics
Apple supplier Foxconn is among dozens of businesses that suspended operations in Shenzhen after the city announced a lockdown to battle its worst-ever Covid-19 outbreak.
While many countries have adjusted to living with the virus, the ‘zero tolerance’ policy of Chinese authorities could trigger a supply chain disruption.
Panic selling: The Covid-19 outbreak in mainland China, combined with the Russia-Ukraine war, has led to the biggest fall of Chinese stocks since the 2008 financial crisis. The tech rout has erased $2.1 trillion in stock value. Beleaguered giants Tencent and Alibaba are also reportedly preparing for mass layoffs.
Pressure: The world is watching China for any mobilisation against Taiwan. Apart from US president Joe Biden being open to defending Taiwan in the face of expansionism, the country’s national security advisor threatened “consequences” against Beijing, following reports that Russia approached China for military assistance.
In other news, Foxconn is looking to the Middle East.
Double duty: Tata Sons honcho N Chandrasekaran is the new chairman of Air India. The airline is still on the lookout for a CEO following its controversial (and now dropped) appointment of former Turkish Airlines head Ilker Ayci.
Pink slip: Social commerce platform Trell is laying off nearly half its workforce. The move coincides with an ongoing audit of the company’s financial irregularities.
Jailed: A CBI Court has remanded former NSE CEO Chitra Ramkrishna to 14 days’ judicial custody. No home food allowed.
Tough noodle: Nestle is reportedly hiking the price of Maggi by 9%-16%. The Swiss conglomerate will also raise milk and coffee prices.
Goodwill: Russia is extending its crude oil among other commodities at a discount. India may just accept the offer.
Bagged: Reliance Industries has acquired assets of cobalt-free lithium battery technology company Lithium Werks for $61 million.
Pitcher imperfect: One of Japan’s Big Four breweries is pivoting, and how. Kirin Brewery, which competes with Asahi, Suntory, and Sapporo for Japan’s beer market, is earmarking $870 million for healthcare and pharmaceuticals following setbacks to its core business. Its chief Yoshinori Isozaki is optimistic about using Kirin’s fermentation expertise in biotech ventures. Analysts, however, aren’t.
Flippin’ burgers: Would you spend £250-£639 ($326-$834) on a McDonald’s? That’s the price Russians are willing to pay after the fast-food giant temporarily shuttered operations in Russia. Russian classifieds site Avito and Reddit forums point to a black market for McDonald’s burgers and meals. The running joke is this is a long-term investment since McDonald’s products never rot.
Gone a (half) million: When Tom Brady—widely considered American football’s GOAT—announced his retirement in February 2022, a collector bid over $500,000 for the NFL ball with which Brady scored his final touchdown. It was a historic purchase… until Brady came out of retirement. The ball now has little value, because touchdown machine Brady is playing for another season.
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