Shalom Haryana, Namaste Israel
Also in today’s edition: News Adani can use; More substandard Indian drugs; Creators fret over longer TikTok videos; Smugglers’ faves
Good morning! If you’re one of those people who binge on true crime podcasts and documentaries like they’re The Lion King, then you might feel at home in the UK. The Guardian reports that the country is witnessing a surge of true crime board games during the holiday season. These games provide ‘evidence’ to review and require teamwork to solve cases that have gone cold. Analysts reckon that the cost of living crisis could have been a key factor behind its popularity. But we all know the actual reason is to don our deerstalkers and say, “Elementary, my dear Watson!”
Dinesh Narayanan and Adarsh Singh also contributed to today’s edition.
The Market Signal
Stocks & Economy: The Israel-Hamas conflict has spread into the Red Sea, with merchant ships passing through the trade route becoming targets for Yemen-based Houthis. It could temporarily push up freight rates unless Israel stops bombing Gaza.
Asian shares were swimming in red in morning trade. The Bank of Japan is expected to reveal its thinking on interest rates on Tuesday. It is widely expected to indicate that it will begin raising interest rates soon.
The State Bank of India is hoping the Reserve Bank of India will start cutting rates by the middle of the next year, around the same time that the Federal Reserve in the US is expected to begin reducing interest rates.
Foreign portfolio investors have bought Indian equities worth ₹1.5 lakh crore (~$18 billion) in 2023 so far. The GIFT Nifty is indicating a positive opening for benchmark indices today.
Haryanvi → Hebrew
Haryana has found opportunity in war-torn Israel. The state has called for applications from skilled workers, including carpenters, masons and steel benders, for jobs in that country with a monthly pay of ₹1.34 lakh (~$1,600).
Labour enclave shut out: Israeli cities employed Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in large numbers. After it went to war with Hamas, Israel cancelled the work permits of over 90,000 Palestinians, following which the Israel Builders’ Association turned to India for help.
Unemployment in Haryana has zoomed 315% in the past nine years.
Flipside: Haryana plans to send a total of 10,000 workers, and one of the prerequisites is they should know how to read construction plans. It may cause a skill drain in Gurugram and adjoining areas as most applicants are likely to come from the building sites of the region.
Adani Snags The News For A Song
Gautam Adani is shopping news. After acquiring NDTV and reviving business channel NDTV Profit, he has bought a controlling stake in news wire service IANS for just over ₹5 lakh (~$6,000).
Bad biz: IANS, founded in 1986, collects news dispatches from across the country much like its bigger, more influential counterpart ANI. It also publishes magazines and periodicals for paying clients. But it’s also racking up significant losses. In FY22, the company made ₹9.4 crore in revenue with ₹1.26 crore in losses, similar to the previous year. The company has negative net worth and over ₹17 crore (~$2.05 million) in liabilities, per company filings. That might explain the small price tag.
Clout chase: So why bother buying it at all? A controlling stake in a wire service can be useful to a billionaire: IANS’ wire copies are widely syndicated by all leading publications and media outlets.
A Pox On Cancer Treatment
First there were the tainted cough syrups that killed at least 141 children across Gambia, Uzbekistan, and Cameroon. Then the Chennai- and Gujarat-made eye drops recalled by the US and Sri Lanka due to contamination. Now a third pharma controversy is eroding India’s already-battered reputation as a generics powerhouse: that of tainted methotrexate, a drug used to treat cancers such as leukaemia.
A Bloomberg Businessweek investigation links Mumbai-headquartered Naprod Life Sciences and sister concern Mac-Chem Products to methotrexate that was either contaminated by Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria, or contained just 40-70% of the active ingredient instead of a 100%, meaning the drug was essentially worthless. These batches were shipped to Ethiopia, Colombia, and Thailand. Despite recalls by the last two, European inspectors finding “severe” violations at its facilities, and the state of Gujarat stopping the purchase of another cancer drug by the company, Naprod—whose buyers include Dr Reddy’s, Cipla, and Abbott—never intimated Maharashtra regulators (as required). It’s yet to face serious consequences.
The revelation is dire because it also includes testimonials from employees, who allege that sterility tests were hurried, documents were backdated, and unsafe practices ignored—all code-red breaches in the manufacturing of a drug used to treat terminally-ill patients.
Naprod denies the contamination occurred at its facilities. The takeaway here is the issue with the quality of chemo medicines shipped to low-income countries with less stringent regulations—especially alarming when you consider that India will now play a critical role in setting global drug quality standards.
🎧 This cancer drug gives Indian pharma a bad name. Also in today’s edition: Indians are obsessing over ‘dream baby’ apps. Listen to The Signal Daily on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
The Long And Short Of It
TikTok and long videos? Yes, it’s happening. The pioneer that launched a thousand short video apps is incentivising its creators to make videos longer than a minute. Existing creators are worried TikTok is abandoning its secret sauce. ̆But TikTok thinks longform content will keep users hooked longer and bring more profits.
Show me the money: TikTok is so confident of its strategy, it is asking advertisers to hike ad spends by 50-150% next year. For US clients alone, that would mean committing over $500 million next year. If the gambit pays off, it could cross $30 billion in annual revenue next year.
Stealth edit: A number of high-profile US lawsuits are alleging TikTok harms children. But the app has quietly amended its terms of service to shield itself from lawsuits. US complainants now need to file a case in either of two California courts.
All That Shines And Slips Through
Two items—oil and gold—account for the biggest tilt in India’s trade balance. India is one of the biggest importers of oil and the largest buyer of gold in the world. It imposes heavy taxes on both to keep a lid on consumption. That also makes both the commodities a favourite of smugglers.
International carriers are offloading diesel illegally onto fishing boats with modified holds. The nighttime smuggling on the high seas off the Mumbai coast is said to be 30,000-60,000 litres of the fuel per boat and sold at a heavy discount to fisherfolk.
Yellow metal: Meanwhile, Mumbai has also pipped Kerala as the gold smuggling capital of the country. Smugglers are finding innovative ways—even in paste form—to bring in Indians’ favourite metal whose price has set new records. The number of cases has risen 20% and to a total quantity of close to four tonnes.
Bold move: Cash-strapped SpiceJet has expressed interest in buying the bankrupt and grounded airline GoFirst. Two other entities have also shown interest, long after the deadline for bids has passed.
#MeToo?: The Mumbai Police registered a first information report against industrialist Sajjan Jindal on charges of rape, molestation, and criminal intimidation. Jindal denied these allegations terming them “false” and “baseless”.
Tragic: More than 61 migrants, including women and children, died after a vessel drowned off Libya following a shipwreck. The vessel, carrying 86 people, had departed from Libya’s Zwara.
Clock ticking: Sasha Mirchandani and Vivek Mehra, the two independent directors on Zee Entertainment’s board, failed to secure reappointment. The development comes before the December 21 deadline for the completion of Zee’s merger with Sony.
Crackdown: Chinese state companies and government departments in eight provinces have expanded a ban on employees using iPhones while instructing them to use local brands.
Twin openings: Indian PM Narendra Modi inaugurated the Surat Diamond Bourse, the world's largest office building, and the new “integrated” terminal of the city’s airport, which will soon start serving international passengers.
Pay up: Apple will pay $25 million to settle a 2019 class-action lawsuit over its Family Sharing feature. Game developer Activision Blizzard will shell out $50+ million to settle a 2021 workplace discrimination lawsuit, relating to women employees.
THE DAILY DIGIT
The number of Rotarians in India, as of 2023. Rotary International membership in India has more than doubled since 2005, when it stood at 80,400. India also has over 275,000 Lions Club members. (Bloomberg)
Fight on: Japan’s hold over pop culture is increasing and how. Its latest offering is Sukeban, a women’s wrestling league. Popular in its home country, the league is now expanding to the US. It’s similar to WWE in some aspects: the fighting is fake-ish and involves lots of drama. What differentiates it from WWE though is its emphasis on fashion and well-known designers. The wrestlers wear beautifully colourful dresses and ornate make-up that reflect each individual’s personality. Sounds fun!
Humans FTW!: AI this, AI that. Everywhere you look, companies are lining up to implement AI. One of the industries most enthusiastic about it are fast food companies in the US. Struggling to get workers, many started using AI in drive-thrus across the country. Most such drive-thrus are powered by Presto Automation Inc., a company that counts Sam Altman as its investor. In a recent filing though, Presto revealed that it uses humans or “off-site agents” to “enter, review, validate and correct orders”. Which begs the question: what’s more artificial here, AI or Presto’s business model?
On the rocks: That’s one of the solutions suggested to combat climate change. No, it doesn’t mean to drink until you forget about the impending crisis. What it does mean though, is to heat up carbon rocks/bricks close to 1,600º Celsius through Cowper stoves. These hot rocks currently store ten times as much energy as lithium ion around the world. A tower of stacked carbon bricks can provide 100 megawatts of heat energy for about 20 minutes, 24 times a day for 30 years. With COP28 turning out the way it did, we clearly need all the help in the world.