The Rupee is in trouble
Also in today’s edition: China courts bots, Meta flubs (again), Russia misses its old self, and Japan wants potatoes.
Good morning! It’s almost the end of the year. The end of the year involves celebrating the year that was and getting drunk and spending a whole host of money on expensive alcohol in the anticipation of what is still to come. Allied Blender, the company that runs Officer’s Choice whiskey, is counting on it and has filed for a $2.5 billion IPO and plans to raise $300 million on the open market.
The Market Signal
Stocks: Taking cues from global markets, Indian indices ended in the green. Bargain hunting investors pushed up select stocks in IT, pharmaceutical, cement, and steel. MapmyIndia’s parent company CE Info Systems shot up 54% on debut but settled finally 33% up at close. Snapdeal has, meanwhile, filed with SEBI for a ₹1,250 crore IPO.
As The Rupee Crumbles
The Indian rupee is reportedly Asia’s worst-performing currency. Foreign funds sold $4.2 billion in Indian stocks. Add to that the country’s trade deficit—which reached $23 billion last month—and you have a tottering currency on hand.
Tell me more: Foreign investors cite Omicron as a threat. Moreover, the US Federal Reserve said it’d hike interest rates in 2022, and the Bank of England hiked rates last week after holding on for three years. A host of European countries are expected to follow suit. Which is why a global selloff is underway.
Damage control: The Reserve Bank of India sold up to $5 billion in spot and futures to stabilise the rupee. The currency is expected to slide more by the end of FY.
The Indian Parliament passed legislation on Monday to link voter identity with the citizens’ unique ID, Aadhaar.
Why the blowback? The worry is that linking voter IDs with Aadhaar numbers could deprive many of voting rights. While the government and Election Commission argue that doing so will weed out fake voters, many doubt that claim. Case in point: the 2018 Telangana elections, where 2.7 million voters with a voter ID-Aadhaar link were removed from voting lists. And in 2019, the data of 78 million with Aadhar-linked voter IDs was found with a company believed to be working for the Telugu Desam Party.
Privacy be damned: Experts point out that the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, is structured in a way that protects the interests of the state more than that of the citizen. Surveillance law reforms also remain untouched, and the government’s will prevails.
China’s Bot Networks Diplomacy
Yesterday, we told you about China’s attempts to silence businesses and tennis stars such as Peng Shuai. Today, we look at how its government turns to fake social media networks, automated posts, and “hard-to-trace online personas” to burnish its international image and extol its agenda, courtesy of an investigation by The New York Times.
Unleash the bot armies: China’s “public opinion management” efforts include Shanghai police hiring private tech contractors “to create hundreds of fake accounts on Twitter, Facebook and other major social media networks.” This involves the use of bot armies and “profiles-for-hire”. The latter have an organic following, but are hired by government officials to create on-demand posts.
No country for critics: China’s internet police is also tracking critics, detaining them, and forcing account deletions. Such crackdowns have now gone beyond the Chinese mainland.
That governments resort to such tactics in the era of "information warfare" is not new. But the extent to which a belligerent China seeks to win the battle of narratives is alarming. The country’s diplomats have been at the forefront of what is known as ‘Wolf Warrior diplomacy’. Its ambassadors and editors of state-owned tabloids often double as Twitter trolls. With China finding itself increasingly isolated from the rest of the western world, it is likely to adopt more of these measures. Until the next takedown, that is.
Startups Take a Big Bite of M&A
Indian startups are driving mergers and acquisitions (M&As) to a near all-time high. Deals worth over $75 million were closed in 2021, and the year is expected to end with 85 M&A deals. Over 80% of these are from first-time buyers.
Startups, including Byju’s, Unacademy, and Flipkart, have made 47 acquisitions to expand into new segments and geographies, and improve overall business.
Shifting priorities: In contrast to 2017-2019, which was the era of mega deals, the past two years witnessed mid-sized M&A activity. Industrial and sectoral disruptions due to Covid-19 made first-time buyers focus on business transformation rather than expansion.
Not just an India trend: M&A activity had an explosive year globally too, with record-breaking deals totalling $5.63 trillion.
Dark Clouds On Meta’s Horizon
In today’s edition of “we told you so”, a woman said she was sexually harassed on Meta’s Horizon Worlds. How Meta can address potential abuse given its abysmal moderation history was a question we’d raised last month.
Onus on women to self-protect? As a virtual reality platform for avatar-based socialising, Horizon Worlds is a mere stepping stone to Meta’s metaverse. That abuse already exists in beta stages is cause for concern. It also doesn’t help that the woman was allegedly told she should’ve used the ‘Safe Zone’ feature to form a “protective bubble” in Horizon Worlds. That despite Meta’s Nick Clegg seemingly implying in his first metaverse interview to Financial Times that the platform developer would be responsible for user safety.
Salt on Meta’s wounds: Defusing the ticking bombs of metaverse-specific abuse and body dysmorphia should be top priority for Meta, whose reputation is now so poor that it’s paying through its nose to hire and retain talent.
A leech called crypto: But Meta isn’t the only tech giant losing face. Google, Amazon, and Netflix are also losing top-tier talent to crypto startups.
What Else Made The Signal?
Omicron watch: The US reported its first Omicron death, with the variant becoming the dominant strain in the country. The US government will now distribute 500 million at-home Covid-19 test kits. Meanwhile, India’s Omicron tally crossed the 200-mark.
Zip Zap Zepto: 10-minute grocery delivery startup Zepto doubled its valuation to more than $570 million after raising $100 million in a funding round. B2B grocery supplier Jumbotail also raised $85 million in a Series C round.
Record slump: The US' population growth has slumped to a record low, growing by a mere 0.1% in the year ending July.
Blocked: The IT Ministry banned 20 YouTube channels and two websites for allegedly running anti-India propaganda from Pakistan.
AirAsia 🤝 Air India: The Tata Group is set to merge low cost carriers AirAsia India and Air India Express. The move will likely consolidate AirAsia India’s domestic routes into the latter’s international network.
Agog for auctions: Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s are enjoying a record-breaking 2021 as millennials and first-time buyers buy billions in art.
Crypto oasis: Cryptocurrency trading platform Binance will assist crypto exchanges and businesses to become licensed in Dubai.
Soviet nostalgia on thin ice: Much to the ire of the western world, Russia’s national ice hockey team donned jerseys emblazoned with ‘CCCP’, which is Russian Cyrillic for ‘USSR’. The throwback was a nod to erstwhile Soviet Russia’s undefeated streak in ice hockey in the ‘60s. But the nostalgia was in vain. Russia lost to Finland in the Euro Hockey Tour’s Channel One Cup.
Small fries only: The global supply chain crisis has come for your fries. If you are in Japan and want Makudo’s (McDonald’s) medium or large fries, we’re afraid that’s off the menu for now. A delay in potato shipments from North America and flooding at a Vancouver port has meant that McDonald’s Japanese unit will now ration fries to customers. This is the second such occurrence in Japan after 2014, which also took place due to… supply chain issues.
OnlyFans goes (cat)fishing: OnlyFans customers who pay for influencers to respond to their fantasies are in for a rude shock. Turns out talent management company Unruly Agency makes employees reply to fan messages that are meant for content creators. And that isn’t its only unruly doing; the agency’s accused of wage theft, staff mistreatment, and posting nude content without creator permissions.
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