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Today's Hot Stories - April 15, 2010

10 Headlines for Today

(1) IPL Dispute: MoS for external affairs S. Tharoor defends himself before Congress top brass.
(2) India has more mobile telephones than toilets: UN report
(3) 7.1 tremor flattens China town, kills 589 and injuring more than 10,000 people.
(4) Coal India selects 3 merchant bankers to acquire overseas assets
(5) France-based hospitality chain Louvre Hotels, announced plans to invest $ 200 million in India
(6) Oil rises above $86 amid global demand
(7) IPL: 3 – Royal Challengers Bangalore beat Rajasthan Royals by 5 wickets
(8) Indian Davis Cupper Somdev Devvarman rose to a career-best 110th in the ATP Ranking
(9) Golf – American golfer Phil Mickelson wrapped up victory at the US Masters.
(10) ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) all set to launch GSLV-D3 today

5 Stories for Today

(1) Indian P.M. Manmohan Singh arrives in Brazil for IBSA, BRIC summits
(2) US, Argentine sign agreement to prevent nuclear smuggling
(3) Indian Government asks SEBI, IRDA to move court on ULIP issue
(4) China's economy surges 11.9 per cent in first quarter
(5) Mining and metals shine in Indian Merger and Acquisition (M&As) market.

(1) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives in Brazil for IBSA, BRIC summits

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived here on Thursday on a two—day visit during which he will attend the Brazil—Russia—India—China (BRIC) and India—Brazil— South Africa (IBSA) Summits and hold bilateral meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Dr. Singh, accompanied by his wife Gursharan Kaur, was accorded a red—carpet welcome at the Brazilian Air Force Base with the presentation of ceremonial Guard of Honor and 21—gun salute. He was received warmly by Brazilian Defence Minister Nelson Jobin as the military band played national anthems of the host country and India, one by one.

The two Summits will discuss global economic crisis besides ways to enhance cooperation among the member countries of the two groupings. At the 2nd BRIC Summit, Iran’s nuclear issue and the controversy surrounding it will also be discussed under the grouping’s format by Singh, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Brazilian President Lula da Silva. This will be the first time that Iran will be part of focused agenda of the grouping.

BRIC is a significant grouping comprising two of the world’s leading energy producers —— Russia and China and top energy consumers —— India and China, which officials say forms the basis for natural synergy. The BRIC countries, representing 40 per cent of the global population, are among the largest and fastest growing economies with rich human and material resources. They represent the future of the global economic landscape.

With a similarity of views on several issues like climate change and reform of global institutions, including the UN, the four countries have been fine—tuning their collective approaches to these issues.

In the IBSA format too, India, Brazil and South Africa, the three fastest growing economies of three continents, have been evolving common and coordinated approaches to the challenges like global economic crisis and climate change besides pushing efforts to enhance cooperation among them. After the IBSA Summit on Friday, India, Brazil and South Africa are expected to sign two trilateral MoUs. These are in the areas of solar energy and science and technology.

“These groupings reflect the growing role of emerging economies in shaping the global economic order,” the Prime Minister of India had said in a statement before leaving on his two—nation tour. He said the IBSA process has come of age as it today encompasses a wide range of activities which supplement the excellent bilateral relations that India enjoys with each of these countries. “Our coordination on important international issues has expanded, and our trilateral cooperation is beginning to bear fruit in many sectors,” the Prime Minister had said.

(2) US, Argentine sign agreement to prevent nuclear smuggling

p>The United States and Argentine on Wednesday agreed to begin a cooperative effort to detect, deter and interdict illicit smuggling of nuclear and other radioactive material.

An agreement in this regard was signed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit that concluded on Wednesday.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was also present.

The agreement paves the way for the US Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration to work with Argentine

Customs to install radiation detection equipment and associated infrastructure at the Port of Buenos Aires.

In a statement, the State Department said, the Megaports Agreement solidifies the United State's and Argentina's joint commitment to the safety and security of the two countries.As part of NNSA's Second Line of Defence Programme's Megaports Initiative, this agreement will help NNSA meet its goal of equipping 100 ports with radiation detection equipment, it said.

The Megaports Initiative provides radiation detection equipment, training and technical support to key international seaports to scan cargo containers for nuclear and other radioactive materials.

The installation of radiation detection systems in Argentina represents a significant step forward for the Megaports Initiative, which is now operational at 30 ports around the world.

Work is underway at additional ports in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, the US State Department said.

(3) Indian Government asks SEBI, IRDA to move court at once on ULIP issue

Concerned over the ongoing public spat between the two regulators, Government on Wednesday asked SEBI and IRDA to move court immediately on the contentious issue of who will regulate unit-linked insurance products.

At the same time, Finance Secretary Ashok Chawla did not find anything amiss in SEBI's yesterday's order asking insurers not to issue any fresh ULIPs, which some analysts felt was against the status quo ante directed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Monday.

"We want them to go to the court at the soonest. Finance Minister has mentioned status quo ante, which means that whatever prevailed before the date of the SEBI order will continue unhindered... that is what SEBI has said," Chawla told reporters.

When the fight between the regulators became public on Friday last following SEBI ordering a ban on 14 insurers from raising fresh equity through ULIP, a move challenged by IRDA Chairman J Hari Narayan, Chawla had said that it was for the two to settle between them.

"The larger issue on who has the regulatory oversight authority (over ULIPs) ...will be decided by the court. We want them to go to the court at the soonest," Chawla said.

SEBI yesterday came out with a second order on the ULIP issues while keeping in abeyance its earlier ban on existing ULIP schemes of 14 life insurance companies, which included those promoted by SBI, ICICI Bank and Reliance Anil Ambani Group.

The market regulator, however, added a new twist to the controversy by asking insurers not to issue any fresh unit linked insurance plans after April 9, 2010 without SEBI registration.

(4) China's economy surges 11.9 per cent in first quarter

China's economy grew about 11.9% in the first quarter from a year earlier, topping expectations and the fastest annual pace in nearly three years, according to two market sources. Consumer price inflation in March was roughly 2.4% year-on-year , below forecasts and a deceleration from February’s 2.7% rate, one of the sources said. China is scheduled to publish its first-quarter GDP growth rate and a suite of economic data for March on Thursday.

Despite the economy’s rapid growth — an annual rate of 11.9% would be the fastest since the second quarter of 2007 — the government on Wednesday struck a note of caution. “The economy’s fast-paced growth is the result of policy stimulus to a relatively big degree and it is also because of the low base effect compared with last year,” the State Council, or cabinet, said in its quarterly assessment of economic performance. But, in a sign of its gradual shift towards policy tightening, the government omitted a stock phrase used in its assessments last year that the economic recovery was not yet on a solid footing.

Instead, it said that the economy still faced a range of problems, taking direct aim at the property sector. “Some factors that are pushing up prices have appeared, strengthening inflationary expectations. In particular, the overly fast increase of housing prices in some cities is quite a prominent problem,” the cabinet statement said. “We will unswervingly curb excessively fast housing price increases,” it said, adding that it would also work to stabilize the overall prices level.

Property inflation quickened to 11.7% in the year to March from February’s 10.7% reading, according to the government’s official gauge, which likely understates the extent of price rises. The cabinet pledged to maintain the appropriately loose monetary policy and active fiscal policy first implemented at the height of the global financial crisis in late 2008. Although the official description of policy has not been changed, Beijing has, in practice, reined in its ultra-loose , pro-growth measures. In its clearest move to normalize policy, it has guided the country’s banks to lend less.

Banks issued 2.6 trillion Yuan in net new local-currency loans in the first quarter, 40% percent less than in the same period last year. The focus of the appropriately loose monetary policy has shifted to “appropriately” from “loose” , Hu Xiaolian, a central bank vice governor, said last month. The cabinet also noted that potential financial risks should not be overlooked, vowing to strengthen its management over local government financing. Economists have pointed to debt incurred by local governments as a growing risk to Chinese public finances. Estimates of the amount of their debt vary, with most centring around 6 trillion yuan, roughly 20% of GDP.

(5) Mining and metals shine in Indian Merger and Acquisitions (M&As) market.

Even as merger and acquisition (M&A) activity in mining and metals slowed down globally, it picked up in India during the downturn. India completed 16 deals worth $981 million (about Rs 4,500 crore) — up 45 per cent in deal count and 173 per cent in value. Globally, the number of deals increased 16 per cent but deal value fell 58 per cent.

While globally companies had a conservative outlook towards cash in the wake of the recession, more deals meant greater consolidation among smaller firms. With 1,859 deals, the number of small deals (below Rs 1,125 crore) was significantly higher than that recorded in the previous three years (1,572 in 2008, 1,644 in 2007). In contrast, high value deals nose-dived to the lowest ever in four years.

“In 2009, mining was a story of consolidation of small players, China’s continual thrust to seek assets offshore and a combination of distressed assets being sold and a level of caution by players who have historically been acquisitive,” said Tim Goldsmith, global mining leader, PriceWaterHouseCooper.

Though India performed better than most countries, with Sesa Goa’s Rs 1,700-crore acquisition of Dempo the biggest during the year, there were not many overseas acquisitions and cash-rich public sector undertakings like SAIL, Coal India Limited and NMDC continued to be dormant.

“A trend to watch for will be whether these companies make outbound acquisitions this year,” said Navin Vohra, partner and national leader, metals and mining, Ernst & Young. “2010 could be the year of Indian mining PSUs becoming multinational.”

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