Those pills will cost you
Also in today’s edition: Slim pickings for TCS, Infy; Norwegian blunder; Prime Video ads are a-comin’; More jobs lost to AI
Good morning! The list of this year’s world’s most powerful passports is out and it has a bunch of surprises. As per CNN, an unprecedented six countries are tied at the top with France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and Spain sharing the honours. Moreover, Asian countries no longer dominate the list and are being replaced by their European peers; the UAE remains the biggest improver and visa-free destinations have increased from 58 in 2006 to 111 in 2024. Time to channel our inner Imtiaz Ali and get going!
🎧 Bitcoin’s gone mainstream. Also in today’s edition: Norway wants to plumb the depths of the ocean, and USA’s UFO mania. Listen to The Signal Daily on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Soumya Gupta and Adarsh Singh also contributed to today’s edition.
The Market Signal
Stocks & Economy: US inflation inched up in December as consumers paid more rent and auto insurance, which was one of the factors that led a Fed official to comment that March might be too early for rate cuts. US stocks ended mixed on Thursday.
Argentina, which devalued its currency, the peso, last month, is reprising the economic conditions of the 1990s with annual inflation surging past 211% in 2023. December inflation was 25.5%.
Conflict intensified in West Asia as Iran seized an oil tanker off the Oman coast and the US and UK attacked Yemen, chasing Houthi targets. It resulted in oil prices rising 1%. India’s finance ministry will reportedly assume a price tag of $85 a barrel when preparing its interim budget.
Indian equities are expected to start flat or slightly positive, as indicated by GIFT Nifty movements. Asian shares were awash with green in morning trade.
Practice Is Good But It’ll Cost More
Medicines could become expensive and not always available if the industry is forced to embrace good practices prescribed by the government to curb risks and maintain quality, executives told The Economic Times.
After several countries alleged that cough syrups made in India were responsible for scores of children’s deaths, the health ministry reviewed and updated what is known as Schedule M, which are best practice rules. It also made it mandatory for small and medium enterprises, which are complaining that the one year allowed to become compliant was too short.
Bad timing: If shortages occur now, they will coincide with rising cases of Covid-19. The highly contagious JN.1 variant has infected 923 people so far.
Incidentally, it is sweeping through the US too, though largely undetected because of scant testing. World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Covid claimed over 10,000 lives in December.
India’s largest IT services company, TCS, weathered the typical third-quarter ennui to post a 2% year-on-year rise in net profit while the second-largest sector player, Infosys, ended with a 7% drop in earnings.
The twin performances show the sector is still navigating doldrums and might warrant more resilience and course correction. The slowdown is bad news for workers.
Back and unhappy: Indian techies laid off in the US aren’t finding well-paying jobs back home. Employers fob them off, citing their lack of local experience or ask them to take steep pay cuts. The number of tech workers laid off in the US and India tots up to about 110,000. TCS and Infosys also reported slowing attrition rates, meaning staff are staying put longer.
Neighbour’s envy: IITs may not declare top packages in campus placement reports anymore as they are putting students under pressure.
No Way, Norway
Last year, we wrote about the UN-affiliated International Seabed Authority (ISA) having few checks and balances for deep-sea mining. Scientists have warned that the practice will worsen noise pollution, spread radioactive materials, and wipe out entire species. Yet, countries such as China, Norway, South Korea, and Russia support deep-sea mining.
The ISA is to pass a final vote on deep-sea mining in 2025, but Norway didn’t want to wait that long. It’s become the first country to greenlight it.
More bad news: Liquified natural gas (LNG) production is being ramped up like never before. Per one estimate, there will be more than $55 billion worth of investments in this so-called transitional fuel between 2024 and 2025 and over 300 million tonnes of new capacity by 2030. Nvm that the main ingredient is the major greenhouse gas methane, and that empirical data shows natural gas affects climate more adversely than believed.
The argument for deep-sea mining is that a greener future isn’t possible without extracting nickel, cobalt, etc. especially since terrestrial mining in conflict-ridden zones such as Congo is controversial.
The argument against deep-sea mining is more convincing. Seabed research is still in its infancy, and not enough has been done to recycle and reuse terrestrially mined minerals. It’s telling that other EU nations and Norwegian experts have pushed back against Norway’s climate infamy.
Reducing fossil fuel dependency is possible only with less consumption, but no one wants to go there.
Watch Out: Here Come The Ads
Amazon is about to switch on ads for every Prime Video subscriber starting this month. It’s betting most existing users will make peace with the ads instead of paying another $3/month. Good news: streaming companies make more money from ad-tier users than premium subscribers.
Big $: Amazon may have a massive lead over competitors. Netflix’s ad tier now has over 23 million monthly active users, up from 15 million just two months ago. If even half of its over 200 million Amazon Prime users watch video, the platform will surpass this number. The payoff? $3 billion in ad revenue.
Big bid: As cable declines and streaming struggles for profits, Skydance Media is making a bid for Paramount Global. CEO David Ellison is scrounging up cash for a complex deal even as Paramount owner Shari Redstone fields offers from Warner Brothers and other rivals.
AI is threatening white collar jobs in India, and the latest victims are 125 employees of adtech company InMobi, The Economic Times reports. InMobi is undertaking “workforce realignment” with an AI-first approach that will automate processes across customer interaction, sales, and communications. Paytm has also adopted a similar strategy.
Google, which is introducing generative AI capabilities to its virtual assistant, also laid off hundreds of staffers in the Voice Assistant, Augmented Reality, Fitbit, Nest, and Pixel teams.
Employees at Microsoft’s advanced AI research centre in Beijing may also be staring at an unknown future; the company, which has pumped billions into OpenAI, is internally debating what to do with the lab as the US and China face off over emerging tech.
OG/analogue photography pioneers Canon, Sony, and Nikon are ironically well-placed in this crucial time; the trio is developing authentication technologies to differentiate AI-generated images from the real stuff.
Vanilla unicorn: The world’s biggest asset manager, BlackRock, has slashed the valuation of Indian edtech firm BYJU’S to $1 billion, a 95% write down from its peak of $22 billion.
💰💰💰: India collected ₹14.7 lakh crore (~$180 billion) in net direct taxes as of January 11, up 19% year on year. This is 81% of this year’s tax collection target.
Stop the music: TikTok parent ByteDance is shutting down its music streaming service Resso in India. It went behind paywall last May in an attempt to boost revenue.
We’re back: After a long funding winter, Japanese VC SoftBank will begin signing deals to fund startups in India, country head Sumer Juneja said.
Meet me at the hotel: India’s top hotel chains including Marriott and IHCL are planning to add thousands of hotel rooms this year, potentially surpassing last year’s record.
Sky-high devotion: Air fares to Ayodhya are skyrocketing as devotees flock to the city in time for the new Ram Mandir inauguration on January 22; one-way tickets from Bengaluru are selling for as much as ₹24,000 (~$290).
It’s a sign: Reuters reports that Hellman & Friedman and Bain Capital are competing to acquire DocuSign, the eSignature service valued at about $12.5 billion.
THE DAILY DIGIT
The total amount users spent on apps globally in 2023, up only 3% year on year. Total app downloads remained flat. (TechCrunch)
Too hot to handle: That was the response from the UK government to a Calvin Klein ad starring FKA Twigs. In the ad, the singer is seen draping just a denim shirt across her body. The sensual ad, part of Calvin Klein’s 2023 spring collection, has been banned in the country by its Advertising Standards Authority. As per its official release, the ad’s focus is on the singer’s “physical features rather than the clothing, to the extent that it presented her as a stereotypical sexual object.” Pretty bold claims, especially when the singer herself doesn’t agree with that.
Jargon alert: Corporates love their jargon, so much so that they keep inventing new stuff just to stand out. Keeping up with that spirit, we’ve a new one called “software-defined vehicle” or SDV. The phrase is used to describe the ongoing shift in automobiles where the focus is on turning them into smartphones-on-wheels. However, it does not mean simply adding screens in cars. A SDV is also defined by a unified architecture for making the car as well, which enables carmakers to provide certain facilities on subscription - like autopilot. Going by this, a subscription fee just to start your car isn't far away.
Click of a tongue: CES is known for displaying some of the wildest innovations in tech. Of course, not everything on display comes to fruition but we kinda hope this one does. Meet MouthPad^, a device that can help you scroll your touchscreen through the movement of your tongue. Primarily targeted for those living with disabilities, MouthPad^ works by installing it on the roof of the mouth. Once installed, users can scroll, as well as type and make calls with a swipe or a click of their tongue. Tbh, it sounds pretty interesting but they really need to change the name.