Friday, October 29, 2010

India economic ties get British PMO priority

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London October 29, 2010

Following Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to India in July, his office is seeking a monthly report on the progress in strengthening the bilateral economic relationship. This is possibly the first time the PM’s office is asking for a monthly progress report on the UK’s business relationship with a particular country.

The report has been sought from UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), a government body that helps British companies trade internationally and assists foreign ones to bring investment here.

Though the details of this report are not available, a good part of it will come from the UK India Business Council, the lead organisation in this regard. UKIBC is financially supported by UKTI.

Confirming this, a spokesperson for UKTI said, “The PM has placed great emphasis on our relationship with India, and the visit in July was only the beginning. He, and the coalition government (here), are clear that this was not a flash in the pan, and that sustained effort and commitment will be needed to build a wide-ranging relationship for the 21st century.”

Adding: “The Prime Minister, therefore, takes a continued interest in the ongoing engagements with India, and we ensure he is fully and appropriately apprised of these. He is very keen to see that this renewed focus and effort translates into real results for UK and Indian businesses.”

India focus
The present coalition government, since it got into power in May, has been stressing on stronger economic ties between Britain and India. In the Queens’s address to the two Houses of Parliament on May 25, India was the only country mentioned in terms of Britain’s bilateral relations. The Queen’s Speech (delivered to the first session of Parliament each year), written by the government, said, “My government looks forward to an enhanced partnership with India.” India was also the first emerging market Cameron visited after becoming PM.

Since September, UKIBC has also got a new CEO, Richard Heald, formerly vice-chairman of Rothschild India, who has pledged to improve economic ties with India.

During the 13-year Labour government that ended in May, the economic relationship with India fell. In the past 10 years, Britain has slipped from being India’s fourth biggest source of imports to the 18th position. Foreign direct investment from Britain into India has fallen steadily in the past five years, though India Inc was aggressively active in Britain during this period.

As part of an effort to boost economic ties, UKIBC has identified six segments to work on. These includes skills & vocations, retail & supply chains, infrastructure, advanced engineering, health & life science and digital control.

Earlier this week, addressing a gathering of business leaders at the CBI annual conference, Cameron reiterated his stance on India. “Last year, the share of UK exports to China and India was just 3.2 per cent. Indeed, the UK exports more to Ireland than to Brazil, Russia, India and China – combined. These are shocking figures,” he said.

Life-saver at Euro airports from Indian innovator

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London October 29, 2010

Kromek, the Durham (UK)-based technology company founded and headed by Kolkata-born Arnab Basu, has received the official European Union certification to provide its colour x-ray liquid detection system to all European airports.

By April 2011, liquid items will be allowed on board if the appropriate security measures are in place at the airports concerned. The results of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC)-led trials prove the technology is ready to allow the 2011 regulatory deadline to be met by the airports. By April 2013, the ban will be lifted completely, allowing the carriage of liquids on flights across Europe.

The company is also in talks with the Indian civil aviation sector and hopes to have the the new product in place at Indian airports by the first quarter of next year. Kromek’s bottle scanner has qualified as a Category-B device (scan every single bottle without opening), that has achieved Type-1 (lower threshold to detecting threats) and Type-2 (higher threshold) 100 per cent capability and been officially tested, verified and authorised by ECAC. As of now, all EU airports are free to buy and implement Kromek’s bottle scanner product. The product, from drawing board to its final version, took a little over two years and was developed by a team of 55 at Kromek. It can handle up to the size of a two-litre Coke bottle and by itself measures three-fourth of a metre by three-fourth of a metre.

Next-gen technology
“It’s a significant milestone for Kromek, as the approved listing is vindication that colour x-ray detection has been proven,” said Arnab Basu, CEO. “The next generation of X-ray technology has arrived, with a market-ready machine that can detect liquid threats.” He said though Kromek was essentially a tech company, it had also rolled out a manufacturing strategy, with the setting up of a 25,000-sq ft production facility at Durham to produce up to 5,000 units of the new bottle scanner. Kromek’s revolutionary technology signals a new era in colour x-ray detection and a market-changing development in aviation security.

“The threat from liquid, aerosol and gel-based explosives became apparent in August 2006, following discovery of a plot to use such devices aboard multiple transatlantic flights. Although Kromek had not set out to produce such equipment, we were quick to realise with our capabilities that we had the versatility to produce a solution for this market need,” said Basu.

Kromek, he says, is planning to soon announce a similar breakthrough in cancer detection technology. “We see ourselves as a life saving and life enhancing technology provider,” he added.

SBI readies for retail push in UK

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London October 28, 2010

Targets the 1.1-million NRI/PIO market, to begin with home mortgages.

Targeting a market of 1.1 million people of Indian origin and non-resident Indians in the UK, the local branch of India’s largest public sector bank, State Bank of India, is preparing for a big push in mortgages (housing loans) within the retail banking segment.

A full rollout of the products will be completed by March 2011 and the UK branch of SBI will be adding three branches over the existing seven to push its retail agenda. With this, SBI will take on local heavyweights in the mortgage segment such as HSBC, Barclays, NatWest, Lloyds and RBS.

Apart from addressing the local mortgage market among NRIs, the bank also proposes to offer a suite of mutual fund (MF) products from its own stable and from other MFs in India.

SBI UK’s CEO and regional head, Rajnish Kumar, said despite the presence of several large Indian banks in the UK, the penetration among NRIs was less than 10 per cent. The estimated net worth of NRIs and people of Indian origin in the UK is £50-60 billion.

Of SBI’s seven branches in the UK, four are in London and one each in Birmingham, Manchester and Leicester. Three new branches at Newham (London), Wolverhampton and Coventry and an additional 30 people will be added to the existing 150 to enable the retail push.

The bank is also hiring a new head of retail to oversee this operation. SBI tested its ability to address the retail market in the UK with savings and fixed deposit accounts and got some 6,000 customers over the past year. Kumar said with fresh push in the retail segment, he hoped to take this to at least 15,000 customers over the next year.

A similar retail push is planned in other foreign branches in the US, Canada and Hong Kong, though the offerings will vary depending on the local demand.

SBI UK has until now focused on wholesale banking, with strong presence in syndicating external commercial borrowings and trade finance for imports from the UK into India. “After investing in core banking technology over the last five years, we are now ready to service a larger customer base in the retail sector in the UK,” Kumar said.

BS People: Dheeraj Hinduja Twin edge

S Kalyana Ramanathan / October 26, 2010

The elevation of Dheeraj Hinduja, 39, as the new chairman marks a new beginning for Ashok Leyland, India's second-oldest and second-largest truck maker. As the third generation Hinduja takes charge, R J Shahaney, who had been with the company for more than three decades, of which he was the chairman for 13, exits. Ashok Leyland has been the runner-up in the Indian truck and bus market for far too long with little sign of closing in on Tata. Insiders believe that HInduja could be the man to change that.

His colleagues say he sticks to his family principle and allows the CEOs of group companies to deal with the day-to-day affairs, but is keen to know what the companies are up to. Based in London, he visits India at least once every six to eight weeks. “He does not believe in surprise visits, but keeps himself updated constantly. His interaction is strictly with the CEOs of the company,” says a Hinduja Group executive.

The next phase in Ashok Leyland will be crucial. For the first time, the company, which has been a leader in the heavy segment, will take on overall market leader Tata Motors with an entry into smaller trucks (3-7 tonnes) with its joint venture with Nissan. An automotive industry lobbyists says Hinduja was Shahaney’s understudy for the last three years as the co-chairman.

He has spent more than a decade and a half at strategic and leadership levels, covering a variety of businesses such as automotive, energy, infrastructure, finance & banking, IT & ITES, media and healthcare. He holds BSc (Hons) from the University College, London, and an MBA from the Imperial College, London. He is married with two children.

David Cameron sends mixed signals on immigration

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London October 26, 2010

UK Prime Minister David Cameron today assured the country’s business leaders that even though his government was committed to bringing immigration to a manageable level, his government’s forthcoming policies would allow smooth flow of talent into the country.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Cameron said: “...let me give you this assurance, as we control our borders and bring immigration to a manageable level, we will not impede you from attracting the best talent from around the world.”

In less than five months into the government, this assurance from the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government comes on the back of a pre-election promise that the new government would set a cap on non-EU immigration into the UK.

In June this year, the coalition government had announced an annual cap on immigration from non-EU countries into the UK that would be limited to 24,100, or five per cent less than last year’s.

It was also assured that this was a temporary policy. Permanent limits on non-EU economic migration routes was then said to be decided and put in place by April 1, 2011. The new government has been in consultation with businesses on the details of how the final limit would be delivered, details of which would be available by the end of the first quarter next year.

Reacting to Cameron’s assurance, CBI Director-General Richard Lambert said: “It was encouraging that he encompassed all parts of the economy, from broadband to ports and from transport to energy. He also made it clear that access to finance and immigration would not be barriers.”

Cameron also reiterated his government’s commitment to partner with India (and China) in developing stronger economic ties. “I believe one of the most important things the government can do is drive trade. Last year, the share of UK exports to China and India was just 3.2 per cent. Indeed, the UK exports more to Ireland than to Brazil, Russia, India and China combined. These are shocking figures.”

“My approach is clear, British business should have no more vocal champion than the British government and that’s why I have put the promotion of British commerce and international trade at the heart of our foreign and economic policy. So, when I went to India this summer, I took the biggest visiting delegation of business leaders and entrepreneurs of any prime minister in recent memory,” Cameron said.

Deal with union saves JLR plant

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London October 16, 2010

Tata to invest £1 bn a year, workers agree to wage settlement

After completing an investment of about £1 billion over the last one year in new technologies and product development, Tata Motors-owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) today said that it would continue to invest an equal amount every year over the next five years.

Improving sales and a return to profitability have also enabled the company to reconsider its plans to close one of its plants in UK’s Midlands. JLR has signed a new deal with its unions that will see pay rise for existing workers by around 5 per cent and also add another 1,500 workers over the next year, taking its total workforce to 17,500 by the end of next year.

“This is a triumph for all concerned,” said JLR Chief Executive Ralf Speth. “The agreement is a great deal for our workers and the company, and we can now really get on with working together to achieve an even more exciting future for the Jaguar and Land Rover brands. This is truly the beginning of a new era for Jaguar Land Rover.”

Nearly a year ago, the company had announced plans to shut one of its plants in the UK and streamline operations without any additional job losses.


# 3 plants, 2 development sites in UK kept until 2010

# Two-year agreement with the workforce on wages

# Annual investment of £1 bn a year for next 5 years

# 4,000 new jobs to be created over the next decade

The present intention to keep all three plants in the UK comes as a surprise. A couple of weeks ago, Tata Motors CEO Carl-Peter Forster had said at the Paris Motor Show that JLR wanted to merge plants. “The most efficient model is one large operation,” he had said.

Dave Osborne, union Unite’s lead negotiator for the car industry, said: “This agreement secures the future of all JLR workers in the UK for the next 10 years and beyond. Just 18 months ago, our members agreed to changes to their terms and conditions, which ultimately helped the company navigate its way through an unprecedented recession. There can be no bigger sign of loyalty to JLR than that.”

Commenting on the new deal, David Bailey of Coventry University Business School and an expert on UK's automotive sector, said: "JLR gets to cut costs, a plant stays open and new workers will get new jobs in the future, albeit on lower starting rates of pay. The latter is especially important as, with an ageing population and workforce, people leaving the firm will be replaced by younger, cheaper workers, giving the firm a competitive boost. But the overwhelmingly good news is that the threat of closure has been lifted from the historic Castle Bromwich plant here in Birmingham."

A JLR spokesperson said that development of a new sports car by Jaguar will continue as proposed earlier, and will be positioned a notch below the current Jaguar XK model. The concept electric hybrid, also under the Jaguar badge, will not be rolled into commercial production anytime soon. "That was a model developed to celebrate Jaguar 75th anniversary, not for production," the spokesperson clarified.

Tata Motors group sales were up by 19 per cent in September. JLR global sales in September were 19,528 vehicles, higher by 16 per cent. Jaguar sales for the month were 4,861, higher by 10 per cent, while Land Rover sales were 14,667, higher by 19 per cent.

Cumulative sales of JLR for the fiscal are 112,287, higher by 40 per cent. Cumulative sales of Jaguar are 29,780, higher by 27 per cent, while cumulative sales of Land Rover are 82,507, higher by 45 per cent.

Cairn Energy shareholders approve Vedanta deal

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London October 8, 2010

Shareholders in oil explorer Cairn Energy Plc today approved plans to sell the bulk of the company's stake in Cairn India to London-listed mining company Vedanta Resources Plc for up to $8.48 billion.

About 99 per cent of all the shareholders unanimously approved the sale of 40 to 51 per cent stake in Cairn India to Vedanta Group, a spokesperson at Cairn Energy said. “We are pleased that Cairn Energy shareholders have approved the proposed transaction with Vedanta. This is an important step in the process towards completion (of the deal),” he said.

But the Cairn-Vedanta deal is far from conclusion. Besides seeking its shareholders’ approval before

October 30, Vedanta Group will have to complete the Indian open offer for the transaction to reach its logical ends.

Vedanta Group is yet to get the Securities and Exchange Board of India's (Sebi’s) nod for making an open offer to minority shareholders of Cairn India, as the market regulator awaits the government to clear the deal first.

While Vedanta is acquiring 40 to 51 per cent stake in Cairn India at Rs 405 per share, Sesa Goa, its subsidiary has applied for approval to make an open offer for an additional 20 per cent in Cairn India at Rs 355 per share.

Meanwhile, petroleum secretary S Sundareshan today said the government would take a call on Cairn Energy’s stake sale to Vedanta Resources by the end of this calendar year.

“The production sharing contracts require detailed examination, so we will into production-sharing contracts carefully and take the view with regard to granting the permission," he said, adding that the decision would come "sooner than later, hopefully within the next couple of months, by the year-end."

The deal would also be subject to Vedanta qualifying as a technically competent company to own and run Cairn India, according to Indian government officials.

“The issue has not been considered by the Indian government till now at all and all the focus has been on the applications given to us by Cairn Energy. One of the grounds for granting the permission is that the new party should have sufficient technical expertise,” Sundareshan said. “This will be examined when we take a final decision. I would like to make it very clear that I have no comment to offer on either the experience or the inexperience of the potential buyer. We have not made up our mind either way.”

Another Indian official said he didn't think ONGC had plans to preempt the stake sale, after ONGC said in September it was "not passive" to the deal and trade minister Anand Sharma said in August the company should have a say in the transaction.

“I don’t think the ONGC board has seriously considered the idea of a counter-offer,” Sundareshan said. “It is the question of money involved, it is a very large investment,” he said while responding to a question whether the ONGC was planning a counter-offer to Cairn Energy.

Senior officials from the oil ministry are visiting London along with oil minister Murli Deora for a curtain raiser event in London for the ninth round of New Exploration and Licensing Policy, which proposes to offer 35 new blocks. Officials said nearly 60 per cent of the blocks offered this time were fresh ones and not recycled ones as it was done in the eighth round.

The eighth round, which saw 70 blocks being offered, managed to sell only half of what was offered. With better seismic data in hand this time, ministry officials hope to find more buyers this time. Apart from the UK, officials will be visiting Russia as well and one of the visiting officials said the offer to Russia came after a gap of two years.

Absolute Radio's loss swells 62%

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London October 07, 2010

Two years after buying Virgin Radio and re-branding it as Absolute Radio in the UK, The Times of India-controlled radio station has reported a 62 per cent rise in pre-tax loss to £4.3 million for calendar year 2009.

The station owners blamed recession and rebranding for this rise in losses and fall in overall revenues by a third under the new management. Revenue fell to £14.8 million from £22 million. In 2008, pre-tax loss was at £2.65 million.

The radio station changed hands in mid-2008, when the India-based publishing conglomerate bought it from the Richard Branson-controlled Virgin Group (Scotish Media Group) for £53.2 million without the “Virgin” brand name. The current owner, TIML, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bennett Coleman & Company Ltd, the ultimate owners of The Times of India and other group publications.

The new owner, however, is bullish about the coming months, and said revenues had started to look up as September revenues were reported to be up by 20 per cent. The station said its growth in revenues came at a time when the national advertising market was down by three per cent.

Commenting on the results, Donnach O’Driscoll, CEO, said, “The heavy lifting is now behind us. We look forward to building on the strong growth shown in the most recent audience figures and we are optimistic about 2011.”

Absolute said costs were down by 22.5 per cent, or £5.6 million, to £19.1 million in 2009. Wages were reduced from £4.76 million in 2008 to £3.4 million in 2009 as a result of the number of staff falling from 105 in 2008 to 90 in 2009.

Cash used in operations was just £1.6 million, reflecting a combination of non-cash items and a strong working capital management performance.

“The past two years have seen Absolute Radio Network reposition itself as it drives towards a digital future, reporting a 33 per cent increase in digital listening and considerable progression in digital online and mobile year on year. It continues to invest consistently in premium audio content to build audiences and drive new revenue streams,” an operational note from the station said.

Ed Miliband is new Labour Party head

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London September 27, 2010

Edward Miliband, 40, has been elected the new leader of Britain’s second largest party, to succeed former Prime Minister and party leader, Gordon Brown.

He won with 50.65 per cent of party-member votes, defeating his elder brother David Miliband (49.65), four years his senior, by a wafer-thin margin. The result was announced late last evening at Manchester.

“I joined the party when I was 17. Never in my wildest imagination did I believe that one day I will lead this party,” he said, while addressing party members and supporters.

In the final run up to the election, five candidates were in the fray. Diane Abbott (first Afro-Caribbean woman to contest for the party leadership), Ed Ball, former education minister, Andy Burnham and the Miliband brothers. The voting took four rounds to decide the the leader, though a knock-out system. It saw Abbott leave the fray first, followed by Burnham, Balls and finally David Miliband.

Ed Miliband’s success was to a large extent made possible by the backing of the unions. He takes over as leader at a difficult time for the Labour party. It is barely recovering from a defeat in this year’s general election, after a 13-year reign under first Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown.

Speaking at the Andrew Marr show on BBC this morning, he said unity and humility were the key to the party’s future and it must blame itself for the defeat in the recent general election, not blame the electorates.

Ed Miliband is the son of Marxist theorist Ralph Miliband (whose father fled from Belgium during the second world war; he was earlier from Warsaw, Poland). He studied in Oxford and the London School of Economics, joining the Labour party when 17. He gradually rose to the position of cabinet minister in October 2008 (he was first elected to Parliament in 2005), when he was appointed minister for the then newly created Department of Energy and Climate Change. He held this charge till the general election defeat.

Accepting the leadership office, he first paid rich tribute to his brother (who was foreign minister till the Brown government stepped down) and said, “David, I love you so much as a brother. And, I have such extraordinary respect for the campaign that you ran. The strength and eloquence that you showed. And, you taught us the most important lesson. Which is, we can be the party that reaches out to the community and we can also be a serious party of government again.”

UK media slams New Delhi

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London September 23, 2010

Popular and intellectual British media today uncharacteristically joined hands in conducting a full frontal attack on the state of preparedness of the upcoming Delhi Commonwealth Games, scheduled to commence in less than two weeks.

Both The Times and The Guardian raised doubts over the games organisers’ ability to meet the deadline set for October 3, when the games will be declared open.

The Guardian carried the picture of the bridge that collapsed near the main venue of CWG – Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium – injuring 27 workers with a provocative title. “Does this look ready to you?”.

The Times carried the story of the fiasco surrounding the games as the only story on page one with a title ‘Games crisis grows as British stars pull out’.

Even Business Secretary Vince Cable’s attacks on banks (which has a far more significant impact on the British economy) at his party’s annual conference was prioritised below the games story, highlighting Britain’s serious concerns over the Game’s preparedness.

The tabloid-styled Daily Mail reported three of England’s top athletes pulling out of the game “as the chaotic £1.5 billion event edged closer to being cancelled”. Earlier, Olympic 400m gold medalist Christine Ohuruogu, world champion triple jumper Philips Idowu and Commonwealth 1,500m champion Lisa Dobriskey said they were pulling out of the games, citing the collapse of the footbridge as the reason for their decision, Daily Mail reported.

UK’s most popular daily tabloid The Sun in a page 9 report dubbed the game as “Commonwealth shames”. Despite attempts by the organisers in fire fighting the media frenzy, the comment from Commonwealth Games Federation President Mike Fannell that it was the “biggest crisis in the Games’ history” helped in fuelling media speculation on the success of the games.

India second-most challenging place for expats: Survey

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London September 18, 2010

It has emerged that India is the second-most difficult posting for expatriate managers to work in, according to a report released by the Economist Intelligence Unit today.

The survey conducted in July this year covered 418 executives who had collectively worked in 77 different countries. It showed that 34 per cent believed working in India would qualify them for a special ‘hardship’ living allowance, next only to Nigeria (37 per cent).

The hardship estimate is based on factors such as political stability, crime levels and quality of housing, health and education, according to the authors of the survey-based report.

The survey also showed that India ranked third in terms of where the number of expatriate executives were coming from (21 per cent) and sixth in terms of where expatriate executives were heading for (16 per cent). More than a third of those polled were working in China (35 per cent).

The survey also showed that a stint in a major emerging market scuh as India boosts careers. Although employers will not explicitly say so, employees believe working in a major market will make a big difference to the career. Around 80 per cent of those polled believe an assignment in a major emerging market will make the difference.

Quoting Yvonne McNulty, Monash University, the report said, “Expatriate assignments used to be very much company-generated. Companies selected individuals. This tradition has now been turned on its head and many assignments are now self-initiated.”

Haroon Lorgat: Mr Clean

S Kalyana Ramanathan / New Delhi September 14, 2010

If formidable challenges help define a person’s real mettle, this is definitely the time for Haroon Lorgat to tell the world he means business. As CEO of International Cricket Council, this accountant-turned-management consultant-turned-PE firm founder has his plate full while the world of sports fans and sports managers wait to see if he will stand up to the big challenge.

That challenge was a scathing report based on a sting operation by weekly tabloid News of the World from Rupert Murdoch’s stable that three Pakistani players were involved in a match fixing scandal during the fourth test match between England and Pakistan at Lords involving £150,000 changing hands.

The ICC under Lorgat’s leadership lost no time in springing into action. Less than a week after this news broke, despite severe criticism by Pakistan Cricket Board and Pakistan High Commission in London, Lorgat along with colleague Ronnie Flanagan of ICC’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit temporarily suspended the three players pending investigation not only by Scotland Yard, but also the ICC itself.

Even before this, just two days into the scandal surfacing Lorgat went public and said, “Make no mistake — once the process is complete, if any players are found to be guilty, the ICC will ensure that the appropriate punishment is handed out. We will not tolerate corruption in this great game.”

Born in South Africa, Haroon completed his BCom from Rhodes University and went to work for one of the Big Four accounting firms, where he trained to become a chartered accountant in 1985. After a brief stint at IBM, he set up his own consulting firm, which he merged into Ernst & Young. In June 2008, he became ICC’s CEO — only the third man to hold this office in the body’s 99-year old history. A cricket all-rounder himself, Logart has played 76 first class matches for his country. However, going by the widening scope of the current cricket scandal, this could prove his toughest innings so far.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Vedanta set to source bauxite from Gujarat

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London September 13, 2010

Even as London-based mining and metals major Vedanta Resources struggles to procure bauxite from Niyamgiri in Orissa for its 1-million tonne capacity alumina project in the state, it has managed to find a new source of a slightly lower grade of bauxite in Gujarat.

According to a senior Vedanta executive, the supply of bauxite from Gujarat should start this week. The Orissa alumina project needs about 3 million tonnes of bauxite to run at full capacity. An estimated 55 per cent of this already comes from Balco in Chhattisgarh and another 25 per cent from Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. The remaining 20 per cent is expected to be met from Gujarat and in part from Maharashtra, said Mukesh Kumar, chief operating officer for Vedanta Aluminium Ltd in Lanjigarh, Orissa.

The additional source of bauxite will cost Vedanta nearly four times that of procuring it from Orissa. The cost of bauxite from Orissa would have been Rs 600 a tonne, while the new source will cost company around Rs 2,400 a tonne. The difference is mainly due to the cost of transportation by sea from the west coast to the east coast and rail freight charges for the last mile by land.

The cost of production, therefore, will escalate, but the company expects this to be only a temporary challenge and hopes to find a new source of bauxite within Orissa.

The company has an agreement with state-owned Orissa Mining Corporation to feed its plant with bauxite ore. “The state is committed to this deal and we hope to resolve it soon,” said Kumar.


Vedanta’s investment proposal in Orissa (Figures in Rs crore)

Power project

(2,400 Mw)


Alumina project

(up to 5 mtpa)


Aluminium smelter


(up to 1.75 mtpa)


Vedanta University

in Puri




(Note: According to Vedanta Resources, successful implementation of its industrial projects would fetch Orissa state additional tax revenue of Rs 2,500 crore annually)

The bauxite from Gujarat is also of lower quality than what it would have been in Orissa. The alumina content in the bauxite in Gujarat is around 42 per cent, while the Niyamgiri ore has 44-47 per cent alumina content. Further, the silica content in the Gujarat ore is 3.5-4.2 per cent, or nearly four times that of the Niyamgiri ore. Every 0.1 per cent of additional silica in the ore means an additional 3-3.5 kg of caustic soda used in processing the bauxite, thus escalating the cost of refining.

It may recalled that the Narendra Modi-led BJP state government had come to the rescue of Tata Motors when the company was unable to build its Nano small car project in Singur in West Bengal. The project was relocated o Sanand in Gujarat in October 2008.

Until recently, the Gujarat government had a stated policy of not allowing bauxite to be shipped outside the state or overseas. This policy was changed two months ago to allow movement of ore within the country. Gujarat Mining Development Corporation floated three tenders in four months, but could not find buyers due to the lower quality of the state’s bauxite.

Vedanta hopes to overcome this problem by mixing the Gujarat bauxite with better quality ores from other sources within the country. “We will blend it with bauxite from Chhattisgarh and Jharkand,” said Kumar.

Like Posco’s steel project India, Vedanta is also a victim of the political tussle between the BJD government in Orissa and the Congress-led coalition at the Centre. The Orissa Mining Corporation, which has sought the Centre’s clearance to extract bauxite in the state, is a state government-owned company, with Vedanta only a buyer of the ore.

Orissa has the largest source of bauxite in the country, with reserves in excess of 2,000 million tonnes. Nearly a third of these deposits are within a 40-km radius of Vedanta’s refinery. In the last 25 years, only 90 million tonnes of ore has been extracted in the state by central government-owned Nalco.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Pak envoy sees Pawar's hand in ICC suspension

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London September 4, 2010

Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK, Wajid Hasan, today criticised International Cricket Council (ICC) Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat and President Sharad Pawar, saying he sensed a “conspiracy” behind the suspension of three Pakistani cricket players facing allegations of spot-fixing.

He told the BBC that ICC intervention at such an early stage of investigation was uncalled for. Hasan said when the result of an investigation by Scotland Yard was pending, ICC had no authority to intervene at this juncture. He said even the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) could not take action or intervene when there is an ongoing inquiry.

Later in the day, addressing a press conference in London, Lorgat dismissed a question that the action had been taken to keep Pakistan out of international cricket.

Late last night, ICC had issued a statement saying that it has charged Pakistani players Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir with offences under its anti-corruption code, relating to allegations of spot-fixing during the fourth test between England and Pakistan at Lord’s last month.

In an interview published today, Hasan also said that the Pakistani cricketers under investigation were pawns in a game of vendetta meted out by Indian bookies in Mumbai, who had a score to settle with Mazhar Majeed, the bookie in London first arrested and later released on bail by the British police.

In an interview to The Daily Telegraph, Hasan claimed, “(Mazhar Majeed) was a bookie involved with Indian bookies in Mumbai. I think it is the Indian bookies that have used the sting operations to settle scores with this Majeed chap... probably because he has not kept his contract with them.”

The spot-fixing scandal first broke early last month after a sting operation conducted by media baron Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid News of the World.

ICC Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat played down the conflict with the PCB, saying that Hasan had a right to his opinion and that ICC would question the players only after it gets a green signal from Scotland Yard. As the charges relate to the commission of a crime, Scotland Yard questions the players involved first.

Lorgat today said, “We will not tolerate corruption in cricket — simple as that. We must be decisive with such matters, and if proven, these offences carry serious penalties up to a life ban. The ICC will do everything possible to keep such conduct out of the game, and we will stop at nothing to protect the sport's integrity. While we believe the problem is not widespread, we must always be vigilant.

“It is important, however, that we do not pre-judge the guilt of these three players. That is for the independent tribunal alone to decide," Lorgat added.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Corus inks draft Teesside sale

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London August 28, 2010

After months of negotiations, Tata Steel-owned Corus has tentatively agreed to sell the beleaguered Teesside Cast Products (TCP) plant to Thailand's Sahaviriya Steel Industries (SSI) for a price of £320 million (Rs 2,325 crore).

However, according to both firms, the deal is far from complete. Corus MD and CEO Kirby Adams said, “This is the first of several steps required to reach a definitive sale agreement in the coming months, which, with the anticipated cooperation of the government, employee representatives and the northeast community, should result in the restart of steelmaking on Teesside in the first half of 2011.”

TCP was partially mothballed in February this year, after a consortium of four buyers pulled out of a 10-year purchase contract with Corus, leading to a loss of nearly 1,500 jobs. The contract had helped Corus sell nearly 80 per cent of the plant's total output, which explains the need for mothballing when the deal was snapped. Between April and December 2009, TCP lost around £150 million due to the terminated contract. Corus said it would continue to pursue legal action against the consortium.

SSI proposes to continue to keep the 700 people in the plant and may hire a “few hundreds” more depending on market conditions. The plant’s capacity is around 3.2 million tonnes annually and SSI hopes to increase it to 3.5 million tonnes in the future.

Until 2008, when the plant was running to full capacity, it fetched Corus an estimated $1.5 billion in revenues.

The assets covered by the sale MoU include the Redcar and South Bank coke ovens, TCP’s power generation facilities and sinter plant, the Redcar blast furnace and the Lackenby steelmaking facilities, Corus said.

A sale agreement would also result in Corus and SSI operating Redcar wharf (TCP’s bulk terminal) as a joint venture, giving Corus the flexibility to use Teesside to serve its other steelmaking operations, while also meeting SSI’s requirements.

Win Viriyaprapaikit, President of SSI, said: “This transaction will enable SSI to fulfil its long-standing objective of becoming a fully integrated steel producer with both primary steelmaking and rolling facilities.”

Corus and SSI will continue their negotiations, as well as hold talks with trade unions and the UK government in coming weeks and months to finalise the terms of a sale agreement.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Essar Energy's half-yearly profit falls 28%

BS Reporters / London/Mumbai August 20, 2010

Lower gains on the value of its fuel inventories and weaker refining profits led London Stock Exchange-listed Essar Energy Plc to post a 28 per cent drop in its half-yearly profits.

Essar, which raised $1.85 billion through its LSE listing this May, said the profit fell to Rs 519.7 crore from Rs 722.2 crore during the first half of 2009-10.

“Inventory gains led to lower profits. However, revenues were up for the six-month period due to increase in volume and higher prices in the refinery business,” CEO Naresh Nayyar told reporters in London.

The company reported an increase of 65.8 per cent in its revenues, at Rs 476.4 crore against Rs 287.2 crore during the first half of 2010-11.

In the next four years, Essar plans to increase its power generation capacity to 11,500 Mw from the present 1,220 Mw. Vice chairman Prashant Ruia said with an exception of one power project, Mahan 1, all its oil and power projects were on track in terms of time and cost. Mahan 1, is facing minor delays in the transmission lines, but it will be sorted without any financial damage he said.

Within a four-year time frame, the company is implementing 16 power and oil projects in the country, with a total capital outlay of around $10 billion, with an estimated $8 billion going into power sector and the balance $2 billion in fresh oil refining capacities. Of the projects, seven are new ones and the others are expansion of existing capacities in both sectors. Expanded capacities will stand at 11,470 Mw of power by 2014 and 18 million tonnes of refining capacity by 2012, against 1220 Mw of power and 14 mt of refining capacity today.

Ruia said that though no definite plans exist for ‘green energy’, the company hopes to get into the sector by setting up wind energy farms, as well as setting up hydel projects in the country.

It will also continue to scout for coal, oil and gas assets within and outside the country. “Talks with Royal Dutch Shell Plc to buy refineries in Europe are ongoing,” Ruia said. Essar has been in talks with Royal Dutch Shell to buy three refineries, two in Germany and one in the UK, for almost a year.

The company will also look for retail oil assets (network of gas stations) outside India, he said. “By next year, we will start exporting oil,” he said. By the end of this financial year, the company hopes to have 1,700 retail outlets and 3,000 by end-March 2012.

The company said that P Sampath, will be joining the company as its new chief financial officer, replacing Gerry Bacon from September this year. Bacon had joined Essar Energy in January this year and said he was leaving the company to pursue academic interests.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Steelmaker Corus to invest Rs 1,355 cr in UK

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London August 17, 2010

Tata Steel-owned Corus today said it will invest £185 million (Rs 1,355 crore) in the No 4 blast furnance at Port Talbot steelworks in Wales, that will increase capacity by 400,000 tonnes a year.

The company said the furnace will undergo a rebuild starting from July 2012. “The project will yield the additional benefit of balancing the iron and steel making capacities at Port Talbot, increasing the capacity of the two blast furnaces by up to 400,000 tonnes per year,” a release from the company said.

Corus’ outgoing MD & CEO of Tata Steel Europe, Kirby Adams said: “This investment is a major step in achieving Tata Steel’s ambition to position Port Talbot as a producer of high-quality strip products on a global scale and an internationally competitive cost base. Our capital expenditure decisions aim to invest in those who invest in themselves. As a result of this project the Port Talbot works and our downstream supply chain will be able, in the coming decades, to continue improving the quality of products and services provided to their UK and overseas strip product customers.”

Corus chief operating officer Karl-Ulrich Köhler who will become the CEO in October this year, said: “This is a major investment designed to provide Port Talbot No 4 with a long new campaign life of 20 years. The furnace’s energy efficiency and productivity will also be improved. Following this project and the rebuilding a few years ago of the No 5 blast furnace, Port Talbot will be equipped with two world-class iron making facilities.”

Corus is Europe’s second largest steel producer with main steelmaking operations in the UK and the Netherlands. Along with Tata Steel, the combined enterprise has an aggregate crude steel capacity of more than 28 million tonnes and approximately 80,000 employees across four continents.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Corus' troubled Teesside site to get new factory

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London August 16, 2010

Tata Steel-owned European giant Corus has unveiled plans to construct a new £31.5-million manufacturing plant in northern England’s Teesside, which would potentially create 220 jobs. The site has been in the news for many months due to Corus’ decision to part-mothball a factory there.

Preliminary engineering work is underway at the Corus Redcar site to develop a new facility to produce steel foundation structures – called monopiles – used to secure offshore wind turbines to the seabed.

Chris Elliot, director of product marketing, said: “The UK government has approved ambitious plans to build thousands of wind turbines at sea over the next 10 years. They are intended to generate 35 gigawatts of electricity – around 15 per cent of the UK’s energy requirements. Similar developments are taking place in other European countries. In the UK alone, we estimate that about six million tonnes of steel will be needed over the next 10 years to make the foundations and tower structures for offshore wind turbines. We are positioning ourselves to take full benefit of these opportunities.”

The intention is to redeploy and re-equip redundant buildings on the company’s 3,000-acre Teesside site for monopile production and shipment of the structures which can weigh as much as 650 tonnes, a company statement said.

Corus MD and CEO Kirby Adams said: “This is one of a wide range of new employment and business opportunities which Corus is working on in Teesside. It also follows recent recruitment at our Hartlepool and Skinningrove plants, as well as at our South Yorkshire and Scottish plants.”

Jon Bolton, Corus’ long products director, said the company was moving to establish its position in this emerging market. “The development of a new plant is dependent on us securing enough orders for monopiles. Our engineers will be carrying out work in Teesside over the coming weeks to give us a head start on creating a new facility.”

The new investment plan is widely seen as a reprive for Teesside after Corus’ decision to part-mothball put nearly 1,700 jobs at risk. The company is currently in talks with Thai steel maker Sahaviriya Steel Industries (SSI). The status of the negotiations is not known. Tata Steel recently said it was waiting to hear from SSI.

Young Indians taking over UK Boardrooms

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London August 15, 2010

More than six decades after the British left India, a new change is sweeping across company boardrooms in the UK.

A new generation of Indian expats top the list of non-British, UK-based company directors under the age of 30, according to a research.

The survey, commissioned by PR firm Eulogy! India and conducted by B2B customer information management company Blue Sheep, shows that Indian directors account for more than one in 10 non-British directors in the UK under the age of 30. The research analysed Companies House database, the UK government register of UK companies, and examined every single company, Eulogy! said. All limited companies in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland are registered at Companies House, an Executive Agency of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. There are more than two million limited companies registered in Great Britain. More than 300,000 new companies are incorporated each year.

The study, however, did not cover the extent to which Indians hold leadership positions.

Adrian Brady, CEO, Eulogy! London, said the study revealed the superior quality of graduates coming out of Indian universities and B-schools, their confidence and business acumen. Interestingly, the US does not figure in the top 10, even though it continues to be the number one investor in the UK. A recent report released by the UK Trade and Investment showed that in 2009-10, of the 1,619 new investments (projects) flowing into the UK, 484 were from the US, creating over 15,000 new jobs. India, with 91 new projects, is the fourth-largest investor in the UK behind the US, Japan and France.

The research also revealed that Indian expats account for eight per cent of directors between the ages of 18 to 25, and 12 per cent of those between 26 and 30, demonstrating that the young Indian entrepreneurial spirit is thriving in the UK.

Indian directors also share top billing with those from Ireland in the 31-35-year bracket, with both accounting for 10 per cent. In total, 69 per cent of Indian company directors in the UK are under the age of 40.

Rohan Srinivasan, director of Eulogy! India, said, “This research shows that there is clearly a new generation of young Indian entrepreneurs having a huge influence overseas.

Following David Cameron’s visit to India recently, this research reinforces why India is now seen as a vital regional and economic partner for the UK. It is one of the great business centres of the world, so it speaks volumes that companies there benefit so much from the ambition and drive of these young directors.”

UK minister hopeful on buyer for Corus unit

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London August 9, 2010

Staff union says politicians and management not concerned enough.

Fresh from his visit to India in the last week of July, Britain’s Business Secretary (minister) said he was hopeful a buyer would be found for Tata Steel-owned Corus’ Teesside Cast Products (TCP) plant in the northeast of this country.

On his first visit to the region since being elected to power, Vince Cable said the company’s talks with Thai company SSI could bear fruit and steelmaking at the site (Redcar) could return to its original scale.

Since TCP was partially mothballed since February, around 1,700 jobs are at risk of being lost, a severe blow to the local economy.

Talking to BBC, he said, “I think potentially there is good news with the acquisition that is proceeding which will potentially re-open the blast furnace.”

He also welcomed an announcement by Corus that the scheme to help workers facing job loss at TCP had been extended for a further three months, until the end of November.

Cable’s visit to TCP, however, did not help in assuaging the local union members, who termed his visit a ‘mystery tour’ and said there was little information about the visit before it went ahead.

Community (union) general secretary Michael Leahy said, “We are extremely disappointed that Vince Cable has not addressed the biggest issue for Teesside – namely, how to restart steelmaking. Despite promising to engage with the workforce during the election campaign, his first visit to Teesside in the three months since the election was unpublicised, to allow the minister to avoid meeting those whose jobs are most at threat.”

He added: “Corus and the government appear to continue to drag their feet, while making little progress towards resuming steel production, which would give the biggest boost to the Teesside economy. The government must do all it can to ensure that TCP has a future. We believe the best chance of a future for Teesside steelmaking is for Corus to sell to somebody, such as SSI, that wants to make steel.”

In the last week of June, Tata Steel vice chairman B Muthuraman, on the sidelines of a CII-LSE conference in London, said the proposal for sale of TCP was under consideration by SSI and Tata Steel was awaiting a response.

According to its latest financial statements announced in May, Tata Steel Europe, reported positive Ebitda (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) of $513 million (Rs 2,303 crore) in the second half of 2009-10, compared to an Ebitda loss in of $813 million (Rs 3,655 crore) in the first half of the same financial year. The company said turnaround had been achieved "primarily on account of a stronger order book, leading to higher capacity utilisation and lower costs in the second half of 2009-10”.

Earlier, Corus also said its MD and CEO, Kirby Adams, would be stepping down in October, handing over the reins to its current chief operating officer, Karl-Ulrich Köhler.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Indian IT firms top Europe survey

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London August 4, 2010

Cognizant first, TCS third, Infosys fourth in Performance and Satisfaction study.

Indian information technology (IT) service providers Cognizant, TCS and Infosys have topped the latest ranking of service providers in Europe, in a survey done by EquaTerra, an IT advisory service provider.

In the Performance and Satisfaction (SPPS) study by EquaTerra for 2009-10, Cognizant has captured the first position, with a 79 per cent score. TCS and Infosys have taken the third and fourth position, with 75 per cent and 74 per cent scores, respectively. The second place was taken by US company Compuctacenter, with 78 per cent.

The study evaluates client satisfaction by surveying over 2,000 client relationships from 750 top IT spending organisations across Europe, covering 12 countries. The ranking covers 25 IT service providers in all. Cognizant topped the rankings in seven of the eight parameters the study focused on. These include Relationship Management (actively managing the relationship at the operational and strategic levels), Innovation (actively identifying innovation opportunities), Transition (completing the transition successfully on time and budget and with the required functionality), Quality (meeting the service levels as set out in the Service Level Agreement), Price (charging for services in line with current market price) and Risk (shouldering reasonable commercial risk and making necessary investments to reduce it).

Jef Loos, director, EquaTerra, said this ranking, based on two-thirds of all IT deals in Europe, gives a near-accurate evaluation of client satisfaction. “We choose the clients and do cross-reference where the same client is serviced by more than one IT service provider,” Loos said.

He further said, “Cognizant had not one dissatisfied client, which makes the company the best performer among the top 25 IT outsourcing service providers that we evaluated.”

Apart from Cognizant, TCS and Infosys, the other major IT companies to appear in the top 25 list are Wipro (15), Mahindra Satyam (17) and HCL (18).

Francisco D’Souza, President and CEO, Cognizant, said,“Over the years, we have made significant investments in bringing our industry-leading, client-focused processes to Europe. Our high-touch relationship model, deep domain expertise and consulting skills, our unique reinvestment philosophy, and our ability to build strong multicultural teams around the globe have helped our customers navigate structural changes in the economy and their businesses, enabling them to stay efficient, effective and innovative.”