Friday, November 26, 2010

When Ireland rocks the world

Ireland, which accounts for 0.3% of the world GDP, has been sending shock waves through the world economy. Earlier, it was Ireland and Greece. How do contain disruptions of this sort emanating from relatively small economies? I touch upon this in my ET column, Small economies, big headaches.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ratan Tata is angry

About a week ago, I may have been forgiven for getting the impression that the Tatas could not start an airline some years ago because they didn't want to bribe the minister concerned. That is the impression I got from newspaper headlines.

I now learn that it wasn't anything like that. A businessman told Tata that he would be stupid to pass up an chance to start an airline just because it meant paying some minister R 15 crore. Here are the details that I came across at a site on the Internet (and I hope they have reproduced Tata's clarification correctly):

I ( Ratan Tata) happened to be on a flight once, a fellow industrialist sitting on a seat next to me & he said you know I don’t understand, you people are very stupid. You know that the minister wants 15 crore of rupees, why don’t you just pay, you want the airlines. I said you will never understand this; I just want to go to bed at night knowing that I haven’t got the airline by paying for it.”

The company then included a clarification on the following three points, which India Real Time is reproducing verbatim:

–No minister ever asked Mr. Tata for a bribe

–The fellow industrialist expressed his personal view point that some minister (sic) were asking for a bribe

–Mr. Tata in no way was in agreement to the fact that he was asked for bribe by any minister
Business Standard wrote an edit saying that instead of 'whining' about the issue, Tata should name and shame the minister. Tata has written an angry letter to the paper roughly making the same points as above.

Which raises the question: how did so many papers report the news inaccurately?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Vedanta university - and land grabs of private colleges

The Vedanta group's ambitious plans for a world-class university has suffered a huge setback - and perhaps won't happen now- with the Orissa High Court's adverse ruling in the case related to acquisition of land for the project. FT reports:

The Orissa High Court has ruled that the Orissa government’s acquisition of about 6,500 acres of land – including 500 acres from Puri’s famous Jagannath temple – and the land’s subsequent transfer to Mr Agarwal’s eponymous foundation to build Vedanta University was illegal.

The court has ordered that the land be returned to its original owners. The judgment – in response to a clutch of public interest lawsuits challenging the land acquisition – will bring a formal end to the long-stalled plans for the university, which Vedanta had already concluded was unlikely to ever get off the ground in Orissa.

The ruling has brought to the fore the question of land being acquired for setting up of private universities and colleges. BS has an interesting feature on the subject today. The article notes that the Anil Ambani group has recently been alloted 110 acres by the MP government for its foray into education while ISB got 70 acres of land in Mohali. The land allotment is disproportionate to the requirement in many cases. Where it is made over to private parties, the suspicion of a land grab is bound to be there.

BS notes that a good engineering institute can be set up on 10 acres and a management institute on 5. So why are private institutions asking for and getting so much land? It also notes that Infosys' Mysore training facility is on a 337 acre campus. This is not even a degree-granting facility, it is strictly for a private company. Interestingly, Shiv Nadar and Aziz Premji are acquiring and pay for the land they need for their educational ventures instead of seeking concessional land from the government.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Microfinance myths

Now that recoveries of microfinance institutions in AP have virtually ground to a halt, what happens to bank exposure to MFIs of some Rs 27,000 crore? I am surprised that the question has not been posed thus far. Under the agreement between the financial services secretary and MFIs, not only MFIs cap their interest rate at 24%, they will now only have monthly repayment with repayments to be made at an approved panchayat council office. The slightest hint of harassment means the recovery agent could end up in jail.

What sort of recovery is possible in these conditions? Certainly not the 100% claimed by MFIs thus far. I would be very surprised if banks did not end up taking a substantial hit. This should prompt some introspection among banks. How did they fall over each other to lend to entitities that were mostly one-person affairs and whose governance left much to be desired? Did they keep track of cumulative bank exposure to a given MFI?

On a broader note, the MFI model itself will have to be revisited. MFIs should now be brought under stringent regulation, of course, but also on-lending of bank funds through MFIs cannot continue as before. Let MFIs garner their own funds either as equity or as deposits (with deposits being linked to net worth). More on this in my ET column, Five myths about microfinance.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

G 20: putting the pressure on China won't help

The US seems to believe that a revaluation of the yuan holds the key to global imbalances. Of course, the Chinese need to revalue. But they will be more willing to do so when the see the US economy picking up smartly and continuing to generate demand for their exports. That means US has to pep up domestic demand. It's fast becoming apparent that monetary policy alone won't do the trick for the US.

Quantitative easing-II has led to funds flooding into emerging markets and triggering competitive devaluations. It hasn't done much to revive the US economy. Fiscal policy, discredited since the Greek crisis, may have to play its role. More in my ET column, G 20 accord needs US policy shift.