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Today's Hot Stories - July 23, 2009

10 Headlines for Today

(1) Gammon India responsible for Delhi Metro crane mishap: Panel
(2) 105 child malnutrition deaths from April-June in Melghat
(3) Obama set for landmark meeting with Iraq PM today
(4) Spice Communication posts a net loss of Rs 35 crore for June quarter
(5) India Cements profit rises to Rs 144 crore in Q1
(6) Apollo Tyres mulls Rs 1000 crore investment for IT park in Kerala
(7) Pietersen out of remaining Ashes Tests
(8) Luxemburg rider Frank Schleck won the 17th stage of the Tour de France while Alberto Contador retained the overall leader's yellow jersey
(9) Former captain Shoaib Malik hit an unbeaten 106 to put Pakistan in the commendable position of 300-5 in the third and final Test against Sri Lanka
(10) 322 swine flu cases reported in India: Health Minister

5 Stories for Today

(1) Liberhan panel report to be placed in Parliament with ATR: Chidambaram
(2) US announces another $165 million humanitarian aid to Pakistan
(3) Coca-Cola 2nd-quarter profit rises 43%
(4) Binani's $125 million capex is to expand production capacity in China
(5) HDFC Q1 net profit up 21% at Rs 565 crore

(1) Liberhan panel report to be placed in Parliament with ATR: Chidambaram

Government on Wednesday said it would place the report of Liberhan Commission, probing the 1992 demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, along with the Action Taken Report before Parliament well before the statutory period of six months.

"I have read the four volumes of Liberhan Commission report. It will be placed in the house with the Action Taken Report earlier than the statutory limit," Home Minister P Chidambaram told the Lok Sabha.

The report of the commission of enquiry, which was set up 17 years ago to probe the Ramjanambhoomi-Babri Masjid incident, was submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by Retd Justice M S Liberhan in the presence of Chidambaram on June 30.

Commission was set up within 10 days of the demolition of the historic mosque on December 6, 1992, which triggered widespread communal violence leading to heavy loss of lives; the panel has become the country's longest serving commission of enquiry.

The commission was mandated to inquire into the circumstances leading to the demolition of the Babri mosque.

(2) US announces another $165 million humanitarian aid to Pakistan

The US announced another $165 million in humanitarian aid to Pakistan, taking the total American assistance to nearly half a million ever since its army launched a massive anti-Taliban operation in the country's restive northwest.

The announcement was made by the Special US Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke at a press conference in Islamabad.

The military action has displaced over two million people in the country, prompting Pakistan and the US to launch appeals for international humanitarian assistance.

The Obama administration has already given over $320 million to Pakistan for the Swat refugees.

In a fact sheet, the State Department said the $165 million will be channeled both to meet the ongoing needs of displaced persons, in camps and in host communities, and also to address their needs as they return to rebuild their homes in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan.

Of these $45 million will be provided by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to support locally driven rehabilitation of basic infrastructure, including water systems, health facilities, schools, roads and bridges maximizing the use of local labour and resources.

(3) Coca-Cola 2nd-quarter profit rises 43%

Coca-Cola, the world's largest beverage maker, posted a 43% increase in second-quarter profit, beating expectations as rapid overseas growth helped offset a sales decline caused by the stronger dollar.

International sales volume rose 5 percent in the quarter, while domestic sales volume fell 1%, reflecting the trend of North American consumers cutting back on their spending.

The bulk of the Atlanta-based maker of Coke, Sprite and Vitamin Water's sales are made abroad. That's an area the company has been focusing on expanding as its domestic business softens. Overall sales volume rose 4 percent.

"Our international operations remained significant contributors to our solid performance," CEO Muhtar Kent told analysts in a conference call.

Profit in the quarter rose mostly because last year's quarter was dragged down by big restructuring charges and asset write-downs.

Coca-Cola said it earned $2.04 billion, or 88 cents per share, in the three months ending July 3. That's up from $1.42 billion, or 61 cents per share, a year earlier.

The company recorded significant one-time charges a year earlier that dragged down comparable profit by 40 cents per share, compared with 4 cents per share in charges in the most recent quarter.

The company recorded significant one-time charges a year earlier that dragged down comparable profit by 40 cents per share, compared with 4 cents per share in charges in the most recent quarter.

Excluding restructuring charges, write-downs and other items, Coca-Cola earned 92 cents per share in the most recent quarter. Analysts expected 89 cents per share.

Sales fell 9 percent to $8.27 billion, mostly hurt by the strong dollar. Wall Street's revenue estimate was $8.66 billion. Companies that do significant international business are hurt by a stronger dollar as revenue is translated from local currencies into fewer dollars.

The company estimated the drag of foreign currencies would hurt operating income by 12 percent to 14 percent in the third quarter and by the low single digits in the fourth quarter.

Deutsche-Bank North America analyst Marc Greenberg noted that those expectations for currency drag were worse than he had expected. He told clients in a note there should be a "muted'' share reaction to the earnings.

The company's currency woes and potentially negative country mix, as areas like Europe show slight gains, while North America shows a slight volume drop and Japan is weak, "somewhat offset another gritty volume result by Coke in a difficult operating environment," he said.

Shares of Coca-Cola fell 42 cents to $50.61 in midday trading on Tuesday.

Total case volume, the amount of the company's beverages, sold worldwide rose 4 percent, with international case volume up 5 percent. That figure includes 33 percent growth in India and 14 percent in China. The company said it saw weakness in Spain and Eastern Europe, two areas hit hard by economic woes.

In North America, case volume fell 1 percent but Coca-Cola gained slightly in its share of sales volume. Sales volume of Coke Zero grew 24 percent. Consumers have cut back spending on soft drinks, partly motivated by wanting to save money and by health, as they opt to switch to juices and teas. Coca-Cola said its unit case volume for soda fell 2 percent in North America in the quarter, while its volume of still beverages, like teas and juices, rose 1 percent.

The company said it saw strong sales in food service and hospitality, with overall volume up 7 percent there, while retail unit case volume dropped 4 percent.

The company is on track to save $500 million a year by 2011 through restructuring, Kent said, adding more than half of the savings would be achieved by the end of the year.

(4) Binani's $125 million capex is to expand production capacity in China

Binani Cement Ltd (BCL) plans to invest USD 125-million for expansion of its cement manufacturing capacity from 0.50-million MT to 3-million MT at its Chinese subsidiary Shandong Binani Rong'An Cement Co Ltd, a top company official said here.

"We have undertaken expansion of cement manufacturing capacity from 0.50-million MT to 3-million MT at an estimated project cost of USD 125-million (Rs 600-crore) at our Chinese subsidiary, Shandong Binani Rong'An Cement Co Ltd," Braj Binani Group's MD, Vinod Juneja, told reporters here.

The land acquisition and project design and engineering works are in progress. The plant is expected to go into production by Q1 FY 11, Juneja said.

"We have got good limestone reserves in China and our Binani brand cement is well accepted locally. We are looking at selling 50 per cent clinker/cement in the domestic market and 50 per cent exports," Juneja said.

The company has also taken up expansion of its unit in the UAE and setting up the first cement unit in Mauritius.

The expansion of capacity of the grinding unit of Binani Cement Factory LLC, UAE, from 1.2-million MT to 2- million MT is expected to start trial-run by the end of this month, Juneja said, adding that it is also setting up first cement unit in Mauritius for which it has received all clearances from the local authorities.

BCL has capex plans of Rs 1700-crore to be spent over the next 2-3 years which includes Greenfield expansion in Gujarat, grinding unit in Mauritius, expansion in China & mine development in Nimbri Chandawatan, Rajasthan, Juneja said.

BCL has cement manufacturing capacity of 8.5-MTPA. During Q1 FY 10, the company has registered a 61 per cent growth in net sales at Rs 524-crore as compared to Rs 326-crore in Q1 FY 09. Profit before tax of Q1 FY 10 stood at Rs 129-crore as compared to Rs 60-crore in Q1 FY 09, registering an increase of 113 per cent. The net profit stood at Rs 107-crore in Q1 FY 10 as compared to Rs 53-crore in Q1 FY 09, registering an increase of 100 per cent.

During the current period, the profitability of the company has improved primarily due to higher sales volume, better price realisation and reduced cost of fuel,Juneja said.

After expansion, the company will have flexibility for optimizing its product mix and increasing the existing cement capacity from 6 MTPA to 6.25 MTPA. Approval for mines for the proposed Greenfield project in Gujarat having 2.5-million tonne clinker/cement production capacity is awaited from the Government of Gujarat.

Land acquisition and development work is in progress for the lignite project at Nimbri Chandawatan, Rajasthan, at a total project cost of Rs 100-crore. Production from the mines is expected by Q3 FY 10.

(5) HDFC Q1 net profit up 21% at Rs 565 crore

Housing Development Finance Corporation Ltd on Wednesday reported 20.68 per cent growth in net profit at Rs 564.92 crore for the first quarter ended June 30, 2009.

The bank had a net profit of Rs 468.11 crore in the June quarter of the last fiscal, HDFC Ltd said in a filing to the Bombay Stock Exchange.

Total income rose 23 per cent to Rs 2849.07 crore during the June quarter, from Rs 2318.62 crore in the corresponding period a year-ago.

Shares of HDFC were trading at Rs 2428 on the BSE, down 3.72 per cent over the previous close. The government plans to upgrade and modernise 500 post offices across the country with an investment of Rs 65 crore, said a senior Official in the ministry.

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