Mystery buyers corner 5% in ACC
Ford may join race for Maruti
Downturn hits SKF Bearings
Laws ready to safeguard patent wealth
Silent rivalry between Tatas, ITC over ITDC
South Korea keen on city IT talent
Foreign Exchange, Bullion, Stock Indices

Mumbai, Dec 4: 
Mystery buyers hold more than 5 per cent of the equity of Associated Cement Companies (ACC), a company which is bereft of a promoter after the Tatas exited in favour of Gujarat Ambuja Cements (GACL).

The shareholding pattern of ACC made available to The Telegraph shows that 2.72 per cent shares have been dematerialised but not identified in the National Stock Depository.

The Central Depository, which is promoted by the Bombay Stock Exchange, reveals that an aggregate of 2.62 per cent of ACC equity are lying in the clearing members pool account or clearing members� vyaj badla account.

�The buyers are not ready to show their hand yet,� say broking circles. Market mavens are tossing several theories. The first is that they don�t want to fall foul of the Sebi directive that requires buyers to report their holding as soon as it crosses the 5 per cent threshold. By keeping it in the vyaj badla account, they could be trying to hold out for a little longer before showing their hand. Any announcement at this juncture would inflate the share price, they say.

At Cement House � the ACC headquarters � the professionally managed company isn�t viewing the shenanigans on the market as a threat just yet.

�It�s still early days. We are unclear at the present juncture about the figures thrown up by the two depositories�, an ACC spokesperson said.

ACC officials say that though the statement available with this paper is dated November 16, no significant changes in the shareholding pattern are expected as of date.

�The coming weeks could be crucial for the company�, an analyst tracking the sector said.

While ACC officials agreed that the identity of the mystery buyers could be revealed in the next few weeks, they also pointed out that the �unidentified lot� could be the result of rampant speculative activity at the ACC counter.

Last week, a total of 12.2 crore shares, constituting 70 per cent of ACC�s Rs 172-crore equity capital, changed hands on the National and Bombay stock exchanges.

Earlier rumours sparked off at the stock bourses suggested that a French cement giant was eyeing the company.

It is also perceived that FII shareholding in the company has changed considerably. The market is also abuzz with talk about circular trading at the counter between a close circle of brokers. It has also been whispered that a Lucknow-based business house has been cornering the company�s stock.

GACL pulled off a major coup in the domestic cement industry when the Tata group sold half of their 14.4 per cent holding in the cement giant, ACC to a wholly owned subsidiary of the former. The deal was struck at a price of Rs 370 per share amounting to Rs 455.10 crore.

Significantly, the stake sale by the leading industrial group in the cement giant marked their gradual exit from the company.

Market circles aver that recent recommendations by a Sebi nominated committee to identify the buyers at the point of purchase will resolve the present tangle. But till then, the markets will wait with bated breath for information about who the mystery buyers are.    

New Delhi, Dec 4: 
Ford Motor is likely to be one of the bidders to pick up government�s stake in Maruti Udyog Ltd.

�We will review opportunities (to pick up stake in other auto ventures) as and when they arise. But it would be too premature to talk of of such a move now. The issue of stake and other things can be thought about only after we take a decision,� said John Fink, vice-president, marketing, sales and services, Ford India Ltd.

Meanwhile, Ford India Ltd (FIL) has announced a 16 per cent rise in sales of its mid-size car Ikon at 3132 units in November and predicted an increase in sales target for the current year.

The company, a joint venture between US-based auto giant Ford Motor Company and Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M), had sold 2,704 units in October, a top company official said.

�We have sold 20,254 Ikon cars during January-November as against the target of 21,000 units. We are on track to exceed the sales target for the current calendar year,� Fink said.

He said the November sales comprised exports of 2020 units of completely knocked down kits (CKDs) to countries outside Asia.

�Since December 1999 (when the Ikon was launched), we have sold 21,931 units of the car,� Fink said. �We are exceeding our business plan expectations. We have been cash-positive this year and are now cash-neutral,� he said when asked about turnover but declined to quote figures.

�All I can say, we are on track to meet the commitments of the Memorandum of Understanding with the government and the Export Promotion Credit Guarantee (EPCG),� Fink said.

He said the company has done business worth Rs 950 crore in seven years.    

Mumbai, Dec 4: 
SKF Bearings (India) Ltd, the leading ball bearing manufacturer, today announced plans for a significant cut in production at its Pune plant following the general downturn in the automotive-related segments.

In a notice sent to the stock exchanges today, SKF also sounded a profit warning, pointing out that the cut in production would adversely affect results in the current quarter.

It said that due to the general downturn in automotive-related segments and the significant downturn in demand of certain products, it is holding high inventory levels.

Therefore, in order to adjust to a lower level of demand in these segments and to reduce the level of finished goods inventory, SKF said, it has initiated an agreement with its in-house union for a �significant reduction of production levels� at the Pune plant. �This will adversely affect the results of the current quarter,� it added.

At the same time, SKF is initiating further restructuring activities to reduce its overall cost and assets base. As part of this restructuring, it is taking steps towards introducing a new voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) which will affect around 300 people at the Pune plant. This will further reduce its employee strength and costs, said the company.

However, senior SKF officials including managing director Torsten Nordgen were not available to comment on the proposed size of the production cut-back plan.

The company�s restructuring plan initiated last year reduced the employee cost by around 15 per cent following a VRS.

The scheme pruned around 684 employees at the Pune plant and other branch offices. SKF had also lowered down its working capital requirement by Rs 90 crore apart from bringing about a successful reduction in costs.

In the BSE today, the SKF scrip reacted to this announcement. The scrip opened at Rs 351, reached an intra-day high of Rs 383.50 and closed at Rs 375.    

New Delhi, Dec 4: 
Provisions to protect bio-resources and traditional knowledge have been incorporated in the Patent Amendments Bill, 1999.

This was disclosed by Omar Abdullah, minister of state for commerce and industry, while inaugurating a recent seminar on �Protection of India�s Intellectual Wealth in the New Millennium� organised by the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC).

The minister said the disclosures of source and geographical origin of the biological material used in the invention have been made mandatory for companies which apply for patents in India. Rules have also been framed to check wrongful disclosure on the same ground for opposition and revocation of patent, if it has already been granted.

In addition, there are provisions in the Patents (Second Amendment) Bill, 1999 which treat anticipation of invention by available local knowledge (including oral knowledge) as one of the grounds for opposition and revocation of a patent.

Apart from this, Abdullah said the government has initiated an exercise to develop a digital database of traditional knowledge in the field of medicinal plants to avoid patenting of products based on such knowledge.

�Efforts are being made in various inter-governmental fora to create an international system for such protection,� the minister said.

The minister said it was necessary to learn how indigenous inventions can be best protected, not only in India but also abroad. The government had kept this in mind while making these changes in the patent laws.    

New Delhi, Dec 4: 
ITC Hotels and Indian Hotels, part of the Tata group, are locked in a silent tussle over taking control of ITDC hotels, a state-owned concern slotted for selloff.

ITC is keen to bid once the offer opens, but it has indicated that it is interested only in the properties that are commercially viable.

Indian Hotels Company (IHC) also wants hotels that are in good health, and has already opened talks with the government to pick up three of the 26 ITDC properties in return for the 10 per cent stake in the state-owned hotel chain. The company had acquired the holding in the late 1980s.

ITC feels ITDC�s Ashoka and Kanishka hotels in Delhi, and Lalit Mahal in Mysore, are the only ones that are viable, and therefore, worth buying. However, the cigarette-to-hotels major says it will reconsider its decision to bid for what is left of the offer if Indian Hotels snaps up the properties.

IHC and ITC are also bidding for the Hotel Corporation Of India (HCI), which owns the Centaur Hotels in Mumbai, Delhi and Srinagar. The ITC spokesperson confirmed that the company had submitted its bid, and was waiting for its outcome. Indian Hotels has, however, said they will consider HCI properties only after a final decision on ITDC has been made.

ITDC was the second PSU recommended for selloff by the Disinvestment Commission in February 1997, the first being Modern Food industries, which was sold off to Hindustan Lever.

Of the ITDC�s 26 hotels in the country, six are in the luxury category. The government had appointed Lazard India as the global advisor for ITDC�s disinvestment.

Earlier, the government had decided to give the Ashoka hotels in Delhi and Bangalore on management lease, in tune with the recommendations of the Disinvestment Commission.

Indian Hotels, though, is keen on properties other than the three being eyed by ITC, in exchange for its 10 per cent stake in ITDC. The government has said the expression of intention for ITDC hotels will be invited within two weeks� time. It expects around 50 companies, including a few global hospitality majors, to send bids for its holding in ITDC.    

Calcutta, Dec 4: 
After Canada and Germany, South Korea has now set its sights on Indian software professionals, many of whom can be picked up from the city-based information technology institutions.

Seoul�s ambassador to India, Chong-Moo Lee, said here today that his country had a strong computer hardware base, but did not have enough software professionals who to drive the industry.

Korea requires around 70,000 software trained hands every year, and only half of this is available within the country, Lee said. �If Korea�s advanced hardware technology and India�s world-class software expertise could be combined in a mutually beneficial manner, the partnership could make us leaders in the world of information technology,� Lee said at a meeting of members of the eastern region of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Indian software professionals, Lee said, usually prefer to go to the US because of compatibility in language and food traits. However, they could now look to the Korea, which will offer them enough opportunities for rapid career growth and good income, Lee said.

Major Korean companies such as LG Electronics and Samsung, which have set up their India bases in Bangalore, are known to recruit software professionals from South India. �I will do my utmost to persuade Korean companies to look for software professionals from the eastern region of India,� Lee said.

Lee said he would also inform Korean toy manufacturers about the possibilities for investment, technology transfers and joint ventures in the toy industry park planned at Salt Lake. The Korean toy industry, which is the largest in the world, can tap the highly labour-intensive toy industry base in West Bengal and will find it attractive to set up units in the state.

In his meetings with Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, finance minister Asim Dasgupta and WBIDC chairman Somnath Chatterjee, Lee discussed the possibilities of forging joint ventures in information technology and various other manufacturing industries. He told the chief minister about Korea�s interest in importing agro products from the state.

Lee admitted that major Korean companies did not have any knowledge about Bengal and other eastern states, but said he would ensure more official and private trade delegations from his country included Calcutta in their itinerary when they visited India.    


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