The ghosts of 2008 are haunting banks again
Also in today’s edition: Rural India loves the internet; Why Disney+ Hotstar booted HBO originals; India’s manufacturing circle jerk; Biden’s way or the highway
Good morning! The internet is getting overly ironic, and we’re all for that. But sometimes, wholesomeness—and Boomers—on our timelines is all it takes to make our days. TechCrunch reports that a group created by 60-year-old Scott Kominkiewicz is injecting new life in Facebook (our words, not theirs). That group is ‘Cheese Toast Love’, and it’s got over 390,000 members. The member count skyrocketed after Kominkiewicz’s (presumably Gen Z/millennial) daughter posted about her father’s group on another FB gathering that cackles at older folks using the internet. But everyone flocked to Cheese Toast Love in earnest. As the name suggests, the group literally celebrates cheese toast. We’re off to grab ourselves some of that cheesy indulgence. Maybe you should, too.
Today’s edition also features pieces by Roshni P. Nair and Srijonee Bhattacharjee.
The Market Signal*
Stocks & economy: Indian share indices may climb as they nurse wounds suffered in the sell-off of five consecutive sessions till Wednesday.
After losing 1,000 points in five sessions, Nifty is being perceived as "oversold" over a short tenure, earning investors a good bargain at lower levels. Both indices ended a tad higher on Thursday.
Investors worked up an appetite for risk as worries over the ongoing banking crisis eased with various institutions—regulators and banks—throwing in liquidity floats to struggling lenders. This evoked a turn-around in global equities that were bleeding otherwise. The MSCI world equity index rose around 1.3%.
Despite repercussions of steep monetary policy tightening showing up, the European Central Bank raised rates by 50 bps while the US Fed may hike by 25 bps next week.
How Many Indians Are Online?
Seven hundred million or more as of December 2022, according to market research firm Nielsen’s India Internet Report 2023.
Long answer: The above number of active internet users is less than half of India’s population of 1.4 billion (and counting). Rural India has 44% more registered internet users; that’s unsurprising, considering an estimated 65% of Indians live in non-urban regions. Urban Indians are ahead in daily internet use: 93% of city and town dwellers go online every day, versus 86% of rural dwellers.
Rural and urban India witnessed a 30% and 10% growth in internet use, respectively. Faster internet growth, especially in the hinterland, may have something to do with India becoming aspirational in its smartphone buying habits. Per Counterpoint Research, Samsung (20% market share) pipped Xiaomi (18%) as the country’s largest smartphone maker despite its portfolio of more ‘premium’ devices. Easy financing has everything to do with it.
THE SIGNAL DAILY
India has opened its doors to foreign lawyers and law firms. Meanwhile, in the fast-paced world of smartphones, Samsung has overtaken Xiaomi to claim the top spot in India, as the Chinese brand struggles to keep up with evolving consumer trends. And in other news, the French Bulldog has captured American hearts and become the US’ favourite dog breed. To catch all the details of these stories, tune in to The Signal Daily.
Disney’s HBOne of Contention
While Disney+ Hotstar reels from social media outrage over viewers’ inability to watch Succession on the streaming platform after March 31, a Mint report hints at why. Disney Star and HBO parent Warner Bros. Discovery reportedly couldn’t agree on a $10 million-a-year deal for HBO Originals for the next five years.
Not adding up: If you believe an anonymous company executive quoted by Mint, a mere 480,000 Disney+ Hotstar subscribers in India watched HBO content. Which means lower annual revenue than the $10 million the platform would splurge on licensing this content. But as we told you, Hotstar is strategically pivoting, in line with Disney CEO Bob Iger’s relentless pursuit of profitability.
This brings us to: Iger, who, as per the Financial Times, is in a $40 billion bind over the future of Disney’s bright spots: Hulu and ESPN.
The latest casualty after Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank is Credit Suisse (CS), whose shares are bleeding again. The bank said in its annual report that there may have been “material weaknesses” in its financial reporting of late. Then, its biggest backer, Saudi National Bank, said it can’t infuse more equity because sovereign regulations prevent it from holding 10% or more in CS. The Swiss bank’s shares are down more than 70% over the past year.
Scandals…: …don’t seem to end for CS, ranging from the implosion of Archegos Capital to allegations of government kickbacks. Years of scandals have shaken the confidence of depositors, who are steadily withdrawing their money.
Banks and regulators are wary of a repeat of 2008. CS’ dismal market run is also hurting other global banks’ shares. It may borrow up to $54 billion from the Swiss central bank—the first time a major bank has got such a lifeline since 2008. Fears of a banking meltdown are putting the US Federal Reserve in a tight spot. Should they continue hiking rates to control inflation? Or will the (intended) economic slowdown from these hikes lead to another global recession?
That said, SVB and CS’ troubles weren’t just due to rate hikes. SVB was felled by duration and other risks, and CS prioritised crappy clients and investments.
CS is a marginal player in India’s banking system, but analysts are monitoring the situation because it has “a major presence” in the derivatives market here.
What Vocal For Local?
The government may potentially scrap its $1.2 billion Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME II) subsidy scheme in favour of Production-Linked Incentives (PLIs) for clean mobility. In case you missed it, we’d explained the why here. It’s also investigating the likes of Ather Energy, TVS Motors, and Ola Electric—whose flagship S1 Pro is the stuff of nightmares, btw—for allegedly falsifying localisation information.
Now that we’ve established the context, here’s a development on PLIs for EVs: even as three-wheeler EVs coax the government into increasing FAME II subsidies, the Centre is considering easing PLI localisation mandates for automobiles and auto components. If this goes through, automakers won’t have to submit sourcing details beyond tier-1 subcontractors and suppliers ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
In other news: The government has earmarked a bulk of the electronics manufacturing PLI for Apple contractor Wistron.
Biden Throws TikTok A Challenge
The US government has a clear message for TikTok-parent ByteDance: sell your stake or prepare to get banned.
Timing: Armed with fresh powers, US President Joe Biden’s increasingly-hawkish posturing on TikTok comes a week before company CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies at Capitol Hill. TikTok has been undergoing a national security review since 2019, and the Cifus (Committee of Foreign Investment in the US) task force has been leaning towards forcing a sale. Chew, however, feels that a divestment would not address the US’ national security concerns.
Joe’s dilemma: With no IPO in sight, a sale or a ban could be a body blow to US venture capital and private equity firms, who’ve pumped roughly $8 billion into the company. Also, Biden may have to pay a small political cost with the Gen Z/millennial Dems.
At last: The US Senate confirmed former Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti as the country’s next ambassador to India. Garcetti’s confirmation was stalled for 26 months over his handling of a sexual harassment case involving his aide.
Cold start: Chinese search engine giant Baidu debuted its AI-powered chatbot, Ernie. Touted as China’s answer to ChatGPT, investor reactions were underwhelming as founder Robin Li presented a pre-recorded video of the chatbot. Microsoft has expanded AI tools to its professional networking platform LinkedIn.
Going green: In a first, Malaysian energy giant Petronas is exploring a 20% stake in state-owned NTPC's green energy arm for $460 million.
In the works?: Zee may repay $10 million to its lender IndusInd Bank in an effort to seal its merger with Sony. The bank, meanwhile, may retract its insolvency proceedings against Zee.
Change of guard: IT major Tata Consultancy Services has appointed K Krithivasan as its CEO-designate following the resignation of his predecessor Rajesh Gopinathan.
Drop it like it’s hot: Private equity firm Everstone Capital is reportedly exploring a 40.9% stake sale in Restaurant Brands, which runs fast food chain Burger King India.
Rescue act: California lender First Republic may receive close to $30 billion from a handful of the US's biggest banks.
THE DAILY DIGIT
The (hyper)inflation rate in Argentina, its highest since 1991. (The Guardian)
Top dog: For the first time in 31 years, America has a favourite dog breed that's not the Labrador Retriever. The French bulldog has snatched the title from the Lab, according to the American Kennel Club. The Frenchie has fans in Leonardo DiCaprio, Megan Thee Stallion, and Lady Gaga, which could have some bearing on its popularity. The breed is also considered the perfect city dog since it’s low-maintenance, has a smaller form factor, and is as friendly as the Lab. That said, Frenchies are notorious for their health issues. Fwiw, The Economist predicts that interest in Frenchies may be short-lived. Our two cents: adopt, don't shop.
In search of the perfect title: There's a lot riding on movie titles. A lot of heft is given to the story, cast, and marketing budgets, but turns out box office revenues also hinge on movie names. Something’s Wrong With Rose was changed to Smile, and marketing campaigns focused on unsettling posters based on said title. Also on the anvil are SEO compulsions, which explains subtitles (read Avatar: The Way of Water). Song titles are finding takers as well. Cue: Pretty Woman, Om Shanti Om, Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani. Tl;dr: It's an absurdly high-stakes game that involves both skill and luck.
Sww-eat slumber: We've all been there. You're tucked into bed, only for your stomach to growl in the middle of the night. Now, marketing executives in the US have invented a new meal: a fourth, after dinner. Cereal giant Post Consumer Brands is one of many companies trying to make late-night eating a thing and marketing their wares as ‘sleep enhancers’. It's easy to see why cereal companies are making the push: it’s no longer a go-to breakfast option. Ah well, anything for a quick buck.