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India in an aloo-pyaaz pickle
Also in today’s edition: Office personality tests are a thing now; FAME II may live in infamy; Govt’s DigiLocker push; Another crypto banking jolt
Good morning! Think of the worst boss you’ve had and multiply that times infinity. That’s Elon Musk. We’ve desisted from writing about him, but are making an exception today because the man tasked one—just one—site reliability engineer with overseeing Twitter’s new, paid API. The Platformer reports that the poor (and probably overworked) engineer made a change that broke links, images, and third-party clients such as TweetDeck. Twitter, which has only 550 engineers working full-time now, were left scrambling to restore services. Meanwhile, Musk indulged in an ugly back-and-forth with a now-former employee who hadn’t even been informed that he was laid off. We dk about you, but we’d rather have an empathetic fool for a boss over an inhumane “genius”.
🎧 YouTubers look at dubbing to get some extra 💰. Also in today's edition: blunders continue at Twitter under Elon Musk. Listen to The Signal Daily on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Today’s edition also features pieces by Jaideep Vaidya, Dinesh Narayanan, and Srijonee Bhattacharjee.
A programming note: We are taking a break on March 8 and March 9 on account of Holi. There will be no editions of The Signal, The Playbook, and The Signal Daily podcast on March 9 and March 10.
The Market Signal*
Stocks & economy: US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell is turning out to be the party pooper just when foreign investors are returning to emerging market equities. The SGX Nifty was down 1.11% in early trade, hinting Indian shares may open low today on Powell’s informing the Congress that the Fed may return to steep rate hikes to rein in stubbornly high inflation.
The Nikkei 225, however, turned upwards soon after opening in the red. US shares tanked whereas yield on the 2-year bond (most sensitive to rate changes) rose to 5% for the first time since July 2007.
Oil prices fell 3% on fears of dampened demand as the likelihood of a 50-bps rate hike in March grew. In an indication of how investor thinking is changing, Morgan Stanley switched loyalty from Tesla to Ferrari shares.
US employment figures for February due this Friday would decide markets’ course next week.
TOP Crashes To The Bottom
As one analyst says, there’s a “bloodbath on the farm”. Spiralling TOP (tomato, onion, and potato) prices are pushing farmers to destroy their produce. They’ve been forced to sell onions and potatoes at ₹1 ($0.012) per kg (in Maharashtra) and ₹2.5-₹3.5 per kg (in Punjab and Haryana), respectively. Unable to recover input and transport costs, they’re setting everything ablaze.
Government agencies are stepping in.
Why the price crash?: TOP prices fluctuate because despite skyrocketing production and per capita consumption, 30-40% of output is wasted due to poor storage and processing facilities.
TOP also has low price elasticity of demand: while a minuscule shortfall in supply causes significant price hikes, the reverse happens when supply is bountiful.
Acreage in this year’s kharif season has increased too. The potato crop across northwest India matured early due to an unusual rise in temperatures.
Are You An Executor? Or An ENFJ?
I’m (Jaideep) a Cubicle Cat, according to an office personality test devised by The New York Times. Employers are increasingly using such tests—a $2 billion industry, btw—in the era of hybrid work to understand how employees think. But this also means tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, CliftonStrengths, and PrinciplesYou need to be updated to keep up with post-Covid workplace shifts. It’s no longer just about career development and hiring. Companies need help making costly decisions, such as how much office space to keep.
Meanwhile, some companies are using office water coolers as a return-to-office benchmark.
Tring tring: The work phone is back. US telcos have witnessed strong growth among corporate customers, who are concerned about data security and unauthorised communication via social media apps and personal email.
All work and no play: Weekend work is becoming more common in layoff-hit sectors such as tech and media (surprise, surprise).
Bye Bye Benefits
India may discontinue Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles or FAME II, its ₹10,000 crore ($1.2 billion) EV subsidy scheme. Instead, it wants to support EV makers via production-linked incentive programmes (PLIs). The likes of Ola are also part of the PLI for auto and auto-parts manufacturers.
The government is holding back subsidies worth ₹1,100 crore while it investigates alleged misappropriation by TVS Motors, Ather Energy, Ola Electric, and others. It may move unspent FAME II funds to electric buses during this investigation.
Hurting: EV makers have been asking the government to extend FAME II, claiming they’ll suffer a working capital crunch and plummeting sales without the <40% discounts that subsidies allow.
EV makers rely on FAME II to make electric scooters cheaper than their conventional counterparts. The government, on its part, says it doubled FAME II allocation for the coming fiscal year; but EV makers contest this, saying it is simply the amount leftover from the initial ₹10,000 crore outlay.
Supporting the industry through a PLI helps the government save money. Instead of paying eligible manufacturers cash on production, it will only need to pay incentives when an EV maker’s net sales increase annually. If sales do fall, PLI payouts will also decrease. Besides, it will be harder to dupe a PLI scheme; under FAME II, EV makers were allegedly lying about how many of their components were locally-made so that they could qualify for subsidies.
The Indian government is developing a “one-stop solution” for citizens to update their details using just Aadhaar. Caveat: the provision is only for users of DigiLocker, the government-operated platform for storing, sharing, and verifying documents. The crux is that DigiLocker users updating Aadhaar details will have the option to auto-update information across voter ID cards, driving licences, ration cards, etc. in one go.
The platform is being developed even as the Centre is yet to implement its Digital Personal Data Protection Bill and the National Cyber Security Strategy. Thirty-eight million DigiLocker accounts were compromised in 2020.
Elsewhere: China is creating a national data bureau to oversee the A-Z of data regulation in the country.
TikTok is leading charm offensives in the US and UK to convince lawmakers that their citizens’ data is safe with the company.
Meta has bowed to EU demands to make WhatsApp’s terms of service clearer to users.
One Gate Closes, Another To Open
London-based BCB Group is hoping to slide into the space vacated by cryptocurrency bank Silvergate Capital.
The fall: After the highs of carving out a niche as a nimble banker to crypto traders and investors who could instantaneously transfer dollars through the Silvergate Exchange Network, which it closed last week, the bank is nearing complete shutdown. The FTX collapse triggered a run on the bank. Bloomberg columnist Paul J. Davies remarked it was the first time a bank had collapsed because of bad deposits and not loans.
BCB, which does the same business with European currencies, is planning to step into Silvergate’s shoes, offering what is known as a dollar-to-crypto rail.
Silvergate will likely be the first domino to fall in the wake of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX.
Mask up, again: Former AIIMS chief Randeep Guleria has warned that the H3N2 influenza strain could mutate like Covid-19 this time of the year. His pro-tip: put those masks to use.
Good books: The Adani Group has settled share-backed loans worth ₹7,369 crore ($901 million) as it looks to allay investor concerns.
Rein in: The Delhi High Court has observed the need to regulate content, including the use of vulgar language, on social media and OTT platforms.
On a leash: Germany may ban 5G network components made by Chinese companies such as Huawei Technologies and ZTE. The US has already placed sanctions on Huawei.
Callback: Hyderabad-based drug giant Dr Reddy's Laboratories is recalling 4,320 bottles of Tacrolimus Capsules due to a packaging mistake.
More pink slips: Meta Platforms will axe thousands of employees starting this week, in its second round of layoffs. In November 2022, the tech giant laid off 11,000 workers.
Idle youth: A survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office in mid-2021 showed ~30% of youth aged between 15 and 24 years were not studying, training or working.
THE DAILY DIGIT
Amazon’s ad revenue in 2022. That’s more than its Prime subscriptions revenue (~$35 billion) and the ad revenue of the global newspaper industry. (Benedict Evans)
On the rocks: Tossing a couple of old-fashioned ice cubes into your glass is… old school. Trust kids (and TikTokers) to turn ice into an aesthetic. Rectangular, hexagonal, and floral sphere-shaped cubes are all the rage. Some companies, such as LG and General Electric, have jumped on the bandwagon to make money with their custom ice-makers. Sounds like peak excess to us, but who's to say no to indulgence on a budget?
Jesus wept: The holy oil to be used for the coronation of King Charles will be animal-cruelty free. The altered formula will use olive oil and orange blossom blended with sesame, rose, jasmine, cinnamon, and neroli essential oils. 👀 Holy oils of yore used animal-derived civet oil and ambergris (whale vomit). Truth be told, there’s nothing holy about any of this.
Rat race: It is a rat's world in Tenby, Wales. There are concerns that cat-sized rodents are eroding the cliffs in the seaside town, giving the tourist hotspot a bad rep. Visitors have been asked to stop feeding birds until the situation is under control. Officials will gather later this week to tackle the waste issue. Where is the Pied Piper of Hamelin when you need him?