Rupee hurtles to new low at 46.67
Sensex bids farewell to Samvat 2056 on a firm note
Reliance ahead in race for Enron’s oil stake
ITC second-quarter net up 22% at Rs 252 crore
Rs 25 crore ACC loss in first half
Lifeline for comatose Bengal projects
Escorts, two others bag village phone contracts
Bengal SEB to reach out to more consumers
Ice creams for a dream
Foreign Exchange, Bullion, Stock Indices

Mumbai, Oct 25: 
The rupee was clobbered to 46.64/67 against the dollar, its lowest close ever, as the Diwali excitement was overshadowed by growing concerns over firm crude prices, a weak euro and a low tide in forex inflows. Dealers say today’s slide was not all, and the currency could hurtle lower if dollar supplies do not improve next week.

“We may see the rupee recovering slightly next week if more dollars pour in. But, considering the way other currencies, particularly the euro, have lost ground to the greenback, another plunge is possible,” a dealer with a foreign banks said.

The rupee was down a whopping 21 paise over its previous close of 46.43/44 on Tuesday. It has fallen 6.5 per cent over levels at the beginning of the current financial year. However, since October 13, when it plumbed 46.45 on on fears of rising crude prices, the rupee did remain steady for some time.

The rupee opened at a record low of 46.46/47 amid signs that it would hit the 46.50-mark after a dash for dollars by banks. With limited dollar supplies, largely on account of the Diwali ahead, the sentiment always looked weak for the rupee.

The slide became a plunge after State Bank of India (SBI) started buying dollars, dragging down the rupee below the psychological level of 46.50. “Till then, the currency was trading in a range of 46.46/48. But, as soon the SBI stepped in, the freefall started,” a dealing room official of a nationalised bank said.

The currency nose-dived to 46.60 and touched the record intra-day low of 46.64/67 twice during the session. Market circles believe the SBI was buying dollars either for its corporate clients, or on behalf of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

Meanwhile, global crude oil prices shot up again on Tuesday after a report by the American Petroleum Institute showed US oil stockpiles at record lows. Reflecting the nervousness arising from the report, the US crude oil futures for December rose to $ 33.65 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

According to unconfirmed reports, the central bank wants the rupee to rest at a point that reflects its fair value. Analysts point out that while other currencies such as euro have fallen more than 10 per cent against the dollar, the rupee’s decline is more modest.

Another buzz is that the RBI wants rupee to weaken till funds from SBI’s Millennium India Deposit (MID) flow in.

This, dealers say, will help the central bank lower its exchange risk on the scheme. SBI is sharing with the RBI the foreign exchange risk on these deposits, which are expected to mop up close to $ 5 billion

Analysts say the foreign exchange inflows from MIDs could lift the sentiment, and help the rupee recover much of the ground it has lost at a time when even the normally buoyant foreign institutional investors (FIIs) have turned net sellers.

Figures available point out that they were net sellers of $ 12.5 million on Monday, bringing their cumulative net sales for the month to $ 56.6 million.    

Mumbai, Oct 25: 
Samvat 2056, a tempestuous year for investors and traders alike, that saw the new economy stocks being humbled on the bourses after touching dizzy heights, ended on a remarkably firm note today.

The markets closed early today, with leading pivotals overcoming the early resistance to stage a smart rally during the second half of the session.

Today’s turnaround, dubbed a ‘relief rally’ saw the benchmark index gain about 92 points, on fresh buying support from speculators and forced partially by selective purchases by foreign institutional investors (FIIs).

Old economy stocks also contributed to the rally. Reliance, which saw a lean phase in the past few days saw its share price gaining 3 per cent. Besides, a host of old economy shares including Gujarat Ambuja, HLL, ICICI, M&M, ITC, Telco and Tisco, gained today.

Speculators, who have been a disappointed lot after the Securities and Exchange Board of India, (Sebi) announced its decision to introduce rolling settlement in group A, have been steadily unloading their positions. They also made fresh commitments, taking heart from the reportedly good purchases made by FIIs in select infotech shares like Infosys, Satyam, Digital Equipment, Wipro, SSI and a few others.

In fact, the FIIs, who were net sellers not so long ago, returned with a vengeance today, boosting investor morale and compelling bears to cover their short positions on the last day of the current settlement.

The sensex opened marginally down at 3644.11 but later made a turnaround, rising sharply to the day’s high of 3748.96. It closed at 3743.61, as against yesterday’s close of 3651.99, showing an impressive net rise of 91.62 points.    

New Delhi, Oct 25: 
Reliance Industries (RIL) may ultimately emerge the winner in the race to pick up Enron’s equity stake in the Panna, Mukta and Tapti oil and gas fields.

Though the bidding process has not yet begun, both Reliance and ONGC have pre-emption rights by virtue of being the partners of the consortium that operate these fields. This right can be exercised only if either of them matches the highest bidder. Since the payment to Enron has to be made in dollars, a successful local bidder will have to secure the approval of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

The US energy giant has announced its intention to pull out of these fields as part of its global strategy. Enron and Reliance hold 30 per cent each in these fields while the remaining 40 per cent is with ONGC. These fields were among the first to be privatised as part of a World Bank-inspired liberalisation programme. Enron was designated the operator, and ONGC practically remained a silent partner.

The ONGC management is extremely keen to buy out Enron’s stake, but does not look confident of succeeding. The government had been blamed for selling the field for a song.

Now, if ONGC quotes a winning price, it will be accused of paying a high price for a property which originally belonged to it. Enron is selling its stake at a time when oil prices are soaring. Any offer for Enron’s stake will have to reflect the current level of oil prices.

If ONGC fails to buy out Enron’s stake, it will be blamed for not being aggressive enough even as its subsidiary, ONGC-Videsh, has been looking for oil equity overseas.

Reliance can resist ONGC’s move on the ground that stakes of private firms should not be bought over by a PSU. There is a feeling among senior executives of ONGC that the ministry of petroleum and natural gas might support Reliance.

The Ambanis played a crucial role in getting the fields for the consortium led by Enron. Later, they fell out, and Reliance has had differences with the US major on the way the fields are operated. At one stage, Reliance gave the impression that it was trying to replace Enron as the operator of the field.

Both Enron and Reliance have been claiming that these fields have higher reserves than what was estimated by ONGC. Enron now maintains the blocks containing these fields have tremendous exploration potential. This is seen by ONGC as to deliberate move to inflate the value of these fields.

Panna and Mukta had a recoverable reserves of 20 million tonnes in 1995. This has now declined to 13.4 million tonnes. The recoverable gas reserves, estimated at 18.5 billion cubic metres, now stands at 14.16 billion cubic metres. Tapti gas fields have established a production potential of 14 million cubic metres of gas daily.

Enron had taken Reliance and ONGC to the arbitration court for failing to pay up their share of expenditure when called to make their contributions. They refused to honour the cash calls on the ground that Enron’s estimates were inflated.    

Oct 25: 
ITC Ltd today reported a 21.72 per cent rise in net profit for the second quarter of the current financial year ended September 30 at Rs 251.65 crore compared with Rs 206.74 crore in the corresponding quarter of 1999-2000.

The cumulative net profit during the first half of 2000-01 increased by 23.36 per cent to Rs 493.83 crore against Rs 400.32 crore last year.

Net income during the second quarter increased to Rs 1041.47 crore from Rs 944.48 crore and to Rs 2065.19 crore in the first half against Rs 1886.12 crore in the previous corresponding period.

Expenditure was brought down to Rs 575.20 crore during the second quarter from Rs 587.95 crore a year ago.

Better cash management yielded savings in interest charges, which came down to Rs 24.06 crore from Rs 32.73 crore in the previous comparable quarter.

Gross profit jumped to Rs 442.21 crore during the quarter and to Rs 875.74 crore during the first half, as against Rs 359.61 crore and Rs 689.56 crore respectively in the previous year.

Provision for depreciation increased marginally to Rs 29.08 crore from Rs 26.16 crore a year ago.

ITC noted in a release that the company continued its conservative approach to tax provisioning, relating to the levy of luxury tax in certain states which have been stayed by various appropriate courts. The company provided Rs 315.02 crore towards taxes during the first half of the current fiscal, as against Rs 233 crore during the same period last year.

Commenting on the results, CSE brokers said the results were more or less on expected lines. “We thought that profitability of the company might witness a decline, considering the slowdown in the economy as a whole, but things turned out to be a little better,” they said.

The ITC counter came in for enthusiastic trading during the day with the scrip gaining Rs 17 during the midsession. Opening lower at Rs 755 from the previous closing level of Rs 749.40, ITC moved up to Rs 776 before profit taking pushed it down to Rs 764 at the close.

Meanwhile, ITC today announced that the Delhi-based real estate company, Landbase India Ltd has been brought under its fold as a subsidiary.

“Landbase India, along with its eight subsidiaries, became a subsidiary of ITC Ltd effective from September 9, 2000, following purchase of 70 per cent of the share capital of that company,” senior company officials said.

ITC, which held a minority stake in the real estate company earlier, consolidated its position with acquisition of further shares last month, though details of the investment involved were not available.

Industry sources said that if a company like ITC has gone in for another acquisition despite its bad experiences in the past like ITC Classic Financial Services and ITC Agrotech, which later had to be hived off, it must have done so with a lot of thought.

MRPL reduces loss

Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (MRPL) has reduced its net loss by 23.86 per cent to Rs 63.65 crore in the second quarter of 2000-01, from Rs 83.59 crore in the same period of the previous year. The company’s sales for the quarter stood at Rs 948.04 crore, up 31.58 per cent from Rs 720.53 crore a year earlier.

Its net loss for the first half of the year was Rs 162.66 crore, down 20.99 per cent from Rs 205.87 crore a year ago. Sales for the six months stood at Rs 1,832 crore, up 38.68 per cent from Rs 1,321 crore in the corresponding period of the previous year.    

Mumbai, Oct 25: 
ACC Ltd, the cement major, has reported an 8 per cent increase in total income to Rs 1,473.53 crore for the first half of the financial year 2000-2001 as against Rs 1,362.41 crore in the corresponding previous period.

However, the company posted a loss of Rs 25.03 crore for the first half compared with a profit of Rs 8.69 crore during the first half of the last fiscal.

For the second quarter, the operating profit before interest and depreciation for the quarter ended September 30, 2000 increased to Rs 82.34 crore compared with Rs 67.74 crore in the corresponding previous quarter.

ACC said the improved profit has reversed the unfavourable trend of incurring consecutive losses in the previous three quarters immediately preceding this quarter.

The company has maintained the trend of reduction in its costs due to the various initiatives undertaken. Overall cost of production per tonne of cement for the second quarter was lower by 5.2 per cent as compared to the previous period, despite the inflationary impact on input prices.

ACC said it will continue to pursue relentless cost cutting initiatives. It is expected that these efforts will help to achieve improved results.

M&M Q2 net skids

Tractor major Mahindra and Mahindra’s net profit plunged 78.18 per cent in the second quarter of 2000-01 to touch Rs 13.17 crore from Rs 60.37 crore a year ago.

Net sales rose marginally by 1.67 per cent to Rs 839.94 crore from Rs 826.15 crore in the same period last year. The company’s net profit for the first half of the year stood at Rs 47.45 crore, down 57.50 per cent from Rs 111.63 crore in the same period last year. Its sales for the six months were Rs 1,688.43 crore, marginally down by 0.86 per cent from Rs 1,703.03 crore in the corresponding period last year.    

Calcutta, Oct 25: 
Bengal deputy chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya will monitor the progress of six infrastructure projects that were conceived by I-win almost two years ago but remained entangled in red tape, raising hopes that the plans may take off.

Bhattacharya reviewed the status of these state government projects with I-win managing director D. Sengupta at a meeting last Friday. It was attended by chief secretary Manish Gupta, principal secretary to the chief minister, Amit Kiran Deb, and principal secretaries of finance, industry, transport and information technology departments.

Bhattacharya’s case-to-case review — which will be done every Saturday— is the first-ever initiative taken by the government to speed up the projects. The secretaries have been asked to submit their first report to the chief secretary on October 27, and will do so every Friday henceforth.

The projects that will be monitored by Bhattacharya every week are the following: 30MGD water supply project in Haldia, (Rs 200 crore), fibre optic cable based information highway (Rs 230 crore), floriculture infrastructure complex in north Bengal (Rs 30 crore), North Canal reclamation project (Rs 80 crore), approach road to Mitsubishi Chemicals in Haldia (Rs 20 crore) and Parkomats in Calcutta (cost undecided).

According to sources, the review follows a meeting between I-win chairman Ashok Ganguly, chief minister Jyoti Basu and his deputy, last month. Ganguly had urged them to clear the projects and assured them that ICICI would fund them entirely.

“Even I-win will take a comfort equity of five to ten per cent in the projects,” sources said. I-win is a joint venture in which West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) holds a 24 per cent stake while ICICI controls 76 per cent.

According to sources, ICICI chairman K. V. Kamath had assured the state chief secretary in August 1998 that his institution was ready to finance all 15 projects conceived by I-win. He even committed an investment of Rs 1,200 crore. However, the projects were lost in the bureaucratic labyrinth.

For example, the 30 MGD water project was held up in the urban development and finance departments, even though nine international companies had bid for a contract in it. Other projects lost their way in the land reform department.

“Even after the standing committee of the Cabinet committee on industries approved the six infrastructure projects on June 1, there was little progress. So anxious were the WBIDC chairman Somnath Chatterjee and the chief secretary about the fate of the projects that they sought Jyoti Basu’s intervention. The chief minister, after a meeting with I-Win chief Ganguly, asked his deputy to monitor the progress personally,” sources in the government said.

At last Friday’s meeting, Bhattacharya directed the secretaries to approve the projects promptly. “A week’s time has been given to them to clear it. He directed that a committee be formed to finalise the fibre optic cable-based information highway project. A government notification was issued on Monday saying the committee has been formed, and recommend the equity structure within 15 days,” the sources added.

Apart from this long-standing six projects, the deputy CM had also asked I-win to go ahead with another three projects - Rs 25 crore Amtala Bypass (PWD to work with I-win), Rs 60 crore Ballygunje tram depot flyover (project lying with finance secretary) and Rs 170 crore Baguihati flyover (PWD to work with I-win).    

New Delhi, Oct 25: 
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited today selected three companies for the procurement of Wireless in Local Loop (WiLL) equipment, bids for which were deferred amid allegations that cost of products were unusually high.

The bids, which were supposed to be opened in September, were stalled after Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu shot off a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office, seeking a review of the technology for village public telephones.

The three companies are Escorts in association with LG, ITI-Lucent and Hyundai-Himachal Futuristic Communications Limited.

The cost for six lakh lines has been pegged at Rs 35,000 each as against Rs 60,000 per line quoted in the earlier tenders.

Initial bids for two lakh lines were opened just a day after communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan announced that code division multiple access (CDMA) based WiLL technology would be used for village public telephones.

The Escorts-LG team bags the major part of the contract with the lowest bid of Rs 2,100 crore per line followed by ITI-Lucent with Rs 2,500 crore per line and Hyundai-HFCL bagging the third place with Rs 2,600 crore per line.

“All three companies will get orders. We will soon issue the order letters,” sources in BSNL said.

The department of telecommunications (DoT) delayed the award of six lakh WiLL equipment tenders amid allegations that WiLL equipment was costlier than those based on Global System of Mobile Communications (GSM) technology.

A committee headed by DoT advisor (technical) had favoured the CDMA-WiLL equipment.

Later, another panel was appointed by Shyamal Ghosh, DoT secretary, to examine the suggestions made a group headed by minister of state for communications, Tapan Sikdar, on the technology to be used for village public telephones.

The need for review arose due to objections raised by Chandra Babu Naidu over the cost of the technology recommended by the Sikdar committee.

“The CDMA-WiLL technology offers better techno-economic solutions to install phones in non-feasible areas and remote locations. CDMA-WiLL, with mobile handsets, has been found to be popular and the services could be offered at tariffs that could lie between wireline and cellular services,” the review report submitted by advisor (technical) in Telecom Commission.

“The delay in awarding tenders has slowed the progress made in setting up village public telephones,” the report added.

Paswan has set a target to give all villages a public telephone by 2002. The department of telecommunications has installed about 49 lakh direct exchange lines (DELs) up to March 2000 against the target of 45 lakh DELs for 1999-2000.    

Calcutta, Oct. 25: 
The West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB) plans to set up 22 new substations and upgrade nine at an investment of Rs 430 crore. These substations are in the order of 132 kv, 220 kv and 400 kv.

The project will be funded by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

Confirming the move, WBSEB chairman G D Gautama said the project would help the organisation to expand its network in order to connect more consumers.

The board currently has a little over 38 lakh consumers. It has decided to connect at least 4 lakh new connections during the current year. Gautama said the project would be implemented shortly.

WBSEB has planned to bring its entire transmission and distribution network under continuous energy audit by 100 per cent metering at an investment of Rs 718 crore.

This is the first ever move by any state electricity board to go for 100 per cent metering at all levels to check power pilferage.

According to sources, the ever-rising pilferage of power has raised the transmission and distribution losses of the ailing WBSEB to over 27 per cent.

Gautama said the project, once approved, would be completed in two phases by December 31, 2001.

The first phase of the project, which will be completed by March 2001, will bring transmission, sub-transmission and distribution system down to 11 kv feeders under this audit system.

“The first phase of the project, which does not include the consumers directly, will cost only Rs 42 crore. The major expenditure, will be incurred in the second phase when all the 38 lakh consumers will be metered,” Gautama said.

There are 326 number of 33 kv substations and 65,858 number of 11 kv feeders which will be metered in the first phase.

The WBSEB chairman said the energy audit was required to increase operational efficiency which would provide access to funds for any future investment.

The state electricity board has failed to service its huge borrowing due to lack of efficient system.

The energy audit, Gautama said, would help the board to ward off this problem and become a profit making organisation. A proposal has been submitted to the Power Finance Corporation for the required fund.

PFC, which is yet to give a formal clearance, is expected to sanction the loan at 9 per cent interest against its regular interest of 13.50 per cent.

“If the unauthorised hooking and tapping can be checked and an appropriate tariff is implemented, there is no reason why we can’t make profits,” said Gautama.

WBSEB has commenced the preliminary work so that the project can be implemented as soon as the fund is available from the PFC. The board has carried out a pilot project in Howrah.    

New Delhi, Oct 25: 
Vanilla from Madagascar, pistachios from Italy, chocolate and caramel from Switzerland...sounds like a recipe for a dream. And dream it is. For the ice cream whipped up from the above ingredients may well remain a dream for many.

After all, Movenpick ice creams are certainly not known to be for the plebs.

The premium Swiss ice cream brand which has been available in top-end retail outlets for about a month, formally launched its products in the Indian market here today. However, the ice creams, ranging from Rs 200-400 a litre, may remain a fantasy for many.

Chris White, CEO, Movenpick Foods said, “For both coffee and ice-cream, we do not aim at market dominance by volume, rather we aspire to leadership of the premium segment of the market.”

White estimates that 5 per cent of the Rs 850 crore ice cream market belongs to the premium category.

The company also launched various blends of its coffee.

The Switzerland-based Movenpick group which has been around for more than half a century now, has interests in foods, hotels and resorts. The group’s sales exceeded $ 1 billion last year. Movenpick, which imports its ice creams to India directly from its factories in Europe has ruled out the possibility of manufacturing them locally for now.

Being rolled out in Delhi through a local distributor, it will soon be available in Mumbai and Bangalore. It is expected to make its way to eastern India by April next year, with Calcutta as the base for the region.

Chris said that the metros particularly Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore, form a large chunk of its product market.

Movenpick is aiming at a sales target of Rs 18-20 crore in the first year, estimating as much as 67 million potential consumers for its niche products.

The company intends to sell 10 tonnes of coffee beans next year at the rate of Rs 1600 for a kg.

Movenpick ice creams and coffee bags will be available through five-star hotels, airlines and in-store retailing in upmarket departmental stores. In the second phase of operations, the product intends to enter satellite towns.

Further, the company intends to open its own ice cream boutiques, which will also serve its coffee. Take-away joints are also on the anvil. The first boutique is slated to open in Delhi in February next year.    


Foreign Exchange

US $1	Rs. 46.67	HK $1	Rs. 5.90*
UK £1	Rs. 67.31	SW Fr 1	Rs. 25.55*
Euro	Rs. 38.77	Sing $1	Rs. 26.20*
Yen 100	Rs. 43.19	Aus $1	Rs. 24.15*
*SBI TC buying rates; others are forex market closing rates


Calcutta	Bombay

Gold Std (10gm)	Rs. 4570	Gold Std (10 gm	4540
Gold 22 carat	Rs. 4315	Gold 22 carat	4200
Silver bar (Kg)	Rs.7950	Silver (Kg)	8045
Silver portion	Rs. 8050	Silver portion	8050

Stock Indices

Sensex	3743.61		+91.62
BSE-100	1910.99		+55.63
S&P CNX Nifty	1183.90		+31.45
Calcutta	103.77		+2.82
Skindia GDRNA	572.62		+10.97

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