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India’s economy contracts by 23.9%, worst in decades

NEW DELHI, Aug 31: India’s gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 23.9% in April-June period quarter, official data released by the Union ministry of statistics and programme implementation (Mospi) showed on Monday, amid coronavirus pandemic-induced which hit businesses and livelihoods across the country.

India’s economy had grown at 3.1% in the January-March quarter, its slowest pace in at least eight years. The GDP data had shown that consumer spending slowing, private investments and exports contracting in the March quarter.

Experts had said the country’s economy was expected to contract mainly because this quarter had seen more of the 68-day nationwide lockdown restrictions, which were enforced by the government from March 25 to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.

Data showed earlier that India’s GDP growth had slowed even before the Covid-19-induced lockdown restrictions. The growth rate in Q4 FY20 at 3.1% was the weakest point in the new data series that had started in 2012-2013. The FY20 real GDP growth is 4.2%, which is also the weakest in the series.

India’s economy grew at its weakest pace since 2013 between April and June period last year as consumer demand and government spending slowed amid global trade frictions, raising chances of the central bank cutting interest rates further at its next meeting. Asia’s third-largest economy expanded just 5.0% year on year, it grew 8% in the same quarter of 2018, and 5.8% in the previous quarter.

Global economies are experiencing contraction due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has estimated a global contraction of 4.9% in 2020. The United Kingdom’s (UK) economy has reported a 21.7% year-on-year plunge in the June quarter.

GDP estimates a matter of shame for Modi government: Chidambaram

NEW DELHI, Aug 31: Former finance minister P Chidambaram on Monday said the GDP estimates should be a matter of “surprise and shame” to the government that was seeing ‘green shoots’ on several days during the first quarter and did nothing to cushion the fall by taking suitable fiscal and welfare measures.

“But we know that the Modi government has no shame and will not acknowledge its mistakes. All these had been anticipated,” Chidambaram said, addressing a joint virtual press conference with party colleague Supriya Shrinate after the provisional estimates of GDP were released for the quarter April-June 2020.

India’s GDP shrank by the steepest ever 23.9% in the April-June period as the coronavirus-induced lockdowns battered an already slowing economy, according to data released by the National Statistical Office (NSP).

Chidambaram said the Congress and other opposition parties had warned and urged the government to take preventive and pre-emptive measures. “Our pleas fell on deaf ears. The country, as a whole, is paying a heavy price, the poor and the vulnerable are in despair. It is only the Modi government that was nonchalant and uncaring. The government peddled a fake narrative, but that narrative has been exploded today by the estimates,” he added.

The senior Congress leader said the GDP in the first quarter has declined by a whopping 23.9%. “That means, about one quarter of the gross domestic output as on June 30, 2019 has been wiped out in the last 12 months. Another way of looking at it is, since the end of 2019-20, the gross domestic output has fallen by about 20%.”

Chidambaram said the only sector that has grown is agriculture, forestry and fishing at 3.4%.

“The Finance Minister (Nirmala Sitharaman) who blamed an ‘Act of God’ for the economic decline should be grateful to the farmers and the gods who blessed the farmers,” he said.

Chidambaram said every other sector of the economy has declined sharply, some precipitously as manufacturing is down 39.3%; construction by 50.3%; and trade, hotels, transport and communications by 47.0%.

“The estimates do not come as a surprise to us. They should be a matter of surprise to the government that was seeing ‘green shoots’ on several days during the first quarter. They should also be a matter of shame to the government that did nothing — literally nothing — to cushion the fall by taking suitable fiscal and welfare measures,” he said.

Chidambaram said the “economic tragedy” was foretold by many close observers of the Indian economy, most recently by the RBI in its annual report released a few days ago.

RBI had pointed out the contraction in the first half of 2020 is widely regarded as deeper and more destructive than the Great Depression and the Global Financial Crisis (of 2008), he added.

“Turning to India, high frequency indicators that have arrived so far point to a retrenchment in activity that is unprecedented in history; the total stimulus package (liquidity and fiscal measures) for G-20 countries averaged 12.1% of GDP (5.1% of GDP for EMEs and 19.8% of GDP for AES); the shock to consumption is severe, and it will take quite some time to mend and regain the pre-Covid-19 momentum; and a majority of respondents reported pessimism relating to the general economic situation, employment, inflation and income,” he said.

“Let me say with regret: it will take many months before the economy turns the corner and registers positive growth. The inaction and ineptitude of the government gives us no hope that we will see light at the end of the tunnel at any time soon,” Chidambaram further said.

Reliance Retail acquires retail and wholesale business from the Future Group

MUMBAI, Aug 29: Reliance Retail Ventures Limited (RRVL) has announced that it will be acquiring the Retail & Wholesale business and the Logistics & Warehousing business from the Future Group. The acquisition comes due to going concerns on a slump sale basis for lumpsum aggregate consideration of ₹24,713 crore. This acquisition comes as a part of the Scheme in which Future Group is merging certain companies carrying on the businesses into Future Enterprises Limited (FEL).

Besides this Reliance Retail and Fashion Lifestyle Limited (RRFLL) plans to invest ₹1,200 crore in the preferential issue of equity shares of FEL. This will result in acquiring 6.09 % of post-merger equity. It also proposes to invest INR 400 crore in a preferential issue of equity warrants which will result in RRFLL acquiring further 7.05% of FEL.

"With this transaction, we are pleased to provide a home to the renowned formats and brands of Future Group as well as preserve its business ecosystem, which have played an important role in the evolution of modern retail in India. We hope to continue the growth momentum of the retail industry with our unique model of active collaboration with small merchants and kiranas as well as large consumer brands. We are committed to continue providing value to our consumers across the country," said Isha Ambani, Director, Reliance Retail Ventures Limited.

The acquisition is said to add to Reliance’s retail business and help Reliance retail to providing support to small merchants during the challenging times.

Apple becomes first US company valued at $2 trillion in market value

NEW YORK, Aug 19: Apple Inc became the first publicly listed US company with a $2 trillion stock market value on Wednesday, as Wall Street investors put aside challenges to its iPhone ecosystem in favour of bets it will only prosper more in the post-coronavirus world.

Shares in the company have surged since blowout quarterly results in July that saw the iPhone maker eclipse Saudi Aramco as the world’s most valuable listed company, up about 57% in value so far in 2020.

The moves reflect growing investor confidence in Apple’s shift towards relying less on sales of iPhones and other gadgets and more on services for its users, as well as a broad shift by big institutional investors during the coronavirus crisis.

With Amazon, Microsoft and Google-owner Alphabet, all now worth around $1 trillion or more, the big US tech companies are together worth more than $6 trillion.

Cupertino, California-based Apple surprised Wall Street as it was able to get loyal shoppers buy iPhones, iPads and Macs online even as several brick-and-mortar stores remained closed due to the coronavirus lockdowns.

Apple’s revenue grew across every category and all of its geographical regions in the June quarter, even as the coronavirus crisis caused the US economy to collapse at its worst rate since the Great Depression.

Started in the garage of co-founder Steve Jobs in 1976, Apple has pushed its revenue beyond the economic outputs of Portugal, Peru and other countries.

Apple’s shares rose as much as 1.4% at $468.63 on Wednesday.

Modi unveils new tax reforms

NEW DELHI, Aug 13: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday launched a platform to honour the honest taxpayers of the country. He said that it will be a new milestone in the structural reforms initiaited by the government.

“The ‘Transparent Taxation - Honoring The Honest’ platform will bring in faceless assessment, faceless appeal, and taxpayers’ charter. Faceless assessment & taxpayers charter come in force from today, whereas faceless appeal service will be available from September 25,” Modi said in his video conference address.

“In the last six years, put focus has been banking the unbanked and securing the unsecured. Today, a new journey begins - honouring the honest,” he added.

The prime minister said that the new reform will instill a sense of fearlessness among the honest taxpayers who play an important role in national development.

“It strengthens our resolve of minimum government, maximum governance,” Modi said adding, “The emphasis is on making every rule-law, policy people-centric and public friendly. This is the use of the new governance model and the country is getting its results.”

With the launch of this platform, the government has taken another step to make the lives of the taxpayers easier. Over the years, the income tax department has carried out several major reforms, including reduction in the corporate tax. The department had also abolished the dividend tax.

It has also been focussing on simplification of direct tax laws and increasing transparency in communication.

Similarly, to increase the ease of compliance for taxpayers, the IT department has moved forward with the prefilling of income tax returns to make compliance more convenient for individual taxpayers. Compliance norms for startups have also been simplified.

India bars China ships from oil trade as ties strain further

NEW DELHI, Aug 13: India’s state-owned oil majors have stopped hiring Chinese tankers to ship their crude and petroleum products after relations deteriorated between the two countries, although the move is unlikely to impact trade flows.

China-flagged and owned vessels have been barred from bidding on tenders for chartering tankers to import crude into India, or export products such as diesel out of the country, according to people familiar with the matter.

The ban followed India’s implementation last month of regulations on business with nations sharing its border, referring to China and Pakistan without naming them, the people said, asking not to be named because they’re not authorized to speak to the media.

The state-run majors are also planning to ask oil traders and suppliers not to send shipments to India using Chinese vessels, they said. The move is poised to further strain relations between two of Asia’s largest economies after a deadly Himalayan border clash left 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops dead. However, India’s oil companies are not expecting a significant hit to trade.

Most of the foreign tankers they use or charter are flagged in Liberia, Panama and Mauritius, said two Indian oil executives, asking not to be named because they’re not authorized to speak on the matter. The use of Chinese vessels is limited and mostly used in the transport of liquefied petroleum gas, they said.

Spokespeople for the three state-owned oil refiners -- Indian Oil Corp., Bharat Petroleum Corp. and Hindustan Petroleum Corp. -- did not immediately comment on the development.

India’s new trade curbs on some of its neighbors is seen aimed primarily at limiting participation of Chinese groups in orders and tenders offered by government-owned companies. India -- which imported goods worth over $70 billion from China in 2019 -- has already banned scores of Chinese mobile phone applications in an attempt to reduce dependence on its products.

Income Tax Form 26AS: Hotel bills of over Rs 20,000 will now reflect in your ITR

NEW DELHI, Aug 13: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 13 launched the 'Transparent Taxation' platform while announcing multiple reforms to improve tax compliance, faceless assessment and ease of filing returns. As part of the rehaul, the government has also proposed to reduce the threshold of various transactions for tax disclosure. This is aimed at widening the income tax base and checking tax evasion.

The list will now include white good purchases, property tax payment, medical and life insurance premium and even hotel payments.

So, the next time you pay a hotel bill or medical insurance premium of more than Rs 20,000, incur an expenditure of amount exceeding Rs 50,000 on life insurance or more than Rs 1 lakh for school fee, purchase white goods, jewellery, marble or paintings (see table), be mindful that the entity you have made the payment to will be informing the government of your transaction.

Even payments made to the government such as property tax and electricity bills would be reported if they exceed Rs 20,000 and Rs 1 lakh, respectively. Business-class airline travel, whether domestic or foreign, would be reported, as per communication from the Ministry of Finance. These would be reflected in an individual's tax account statement called Form 26 AS.

“Earlier, a majority of the high-value transactions were linked to the financial sector such as banks, demat accounts, but now this move aims to bring everyone under the lens. So, even normal payments for school fees and white goods or painting purchases above Rs 1 lakh would be reported and even bank account deposits would be checked,” said Mehul Sheth, a chartered accountant.

Some of these had already been announced earlier during the Union Budget or are being captured through income tax returns. But a formal implementation has been announced. Under the existing scenario, property purchase above Rs 30 lakh, Rs 10 lakh invested in shares, mutual funds, demat, credit card and fixed deposit transactions above Rs 10 lakh were reported.

The limit for cash deposits in banks has been enhanced from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 25 lakh for savings account and Rs 50 lakh for current account. But, if you have bank transactions exceeding Rs 30 lakh then you would have to file a tax return, whether your transaction has been reported or not.

“Government has introduced new sections and is making reporting of certain transactions mandatory to unearth black money. This is because the number of people subjected to scrutiny is being reduced. The tax department wants to say have faith that taxpayers won’t be harassed as they are relying on data analytics,” said Ameet Patel, partner at Manohar Chowdhry & Associates.

While it remains to be seen how this would be implemented and whether individual taxpayers would be burdened with additional compliance. But since June 2020, many notices have been issued to taxpayers to verify whether they have incurred certain high-value transactions.

“Notices to confirm transactions reported under the taxpayers' PAN have already been issued based on the information reported to the government. The taxpayer simply needs to log-in to confirm whether the transactions belong to him or her,” says Patel. Once you verify or decline the transaction, the tax department would cross verify with your income tax returns if any.

The options for an individual include, whether the information is correct, wrong or duplicate. “If you decline the information then they would verify with the company that supplied the information. If you are proved wrong then you would have to revise your income tax return,” says Shah.
Another case in point is whether the threshold limits for certain transactions have been set low to include everyone under the tax net. A big group of diners at the restaurant would exceed Rs 20,000 in hotel bill, school payments have been exceeding the Rs 1 lakh mark for many, while Mediclaim premium would be beyond Rs 20,000 for a family for four.

“The threshold may seem low if we take into account bigger cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi, but they are reasonable from the government standpoint, which would take into consideration smaller towns,” says Patel.

China’s days as world’s factory are over, says iPhone maker

Aug 12: A key supplier to Apple Inc. and a dozen other tech giants plans to split its supply chain between the Chinese market and the U.S., declaring that China’s time as factory to the world is finished because of the trade war.

Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Chairman Young Liu said it’s gradually adding more capacity outside of China, the main base of production for gadgets from iPhones to Dell desktops and Nintendo Switches. The proportion outside the country is now at 30%, up from 25% last June.

That ratio will rise as the company -- known also as Foxconn -- moves more manufacturing to Southeast Asia and other regions to avoid escalating tariffs on Chinese-made goods headed to U.S. markets, Liu told reporters after his company reported financial results.

“No matter if it’s India, Southeast Asia or the Americas, there will be a manufacturing ecosystem in each,” Liu said, adding that while China will still play a key role in Foxconn’s manufacturing empire, the country’s “days as the world’s factory are done.”

Intensifying trade tensions between Washington and Beijing have pushed device manufacturers to diversify their production bases away from China, and Liu last year said that Apple’s most prized product, the iPhone, can be made outside China if needed. The two nations remain in trade talks, but Liu’s comments affirm a growing expectation that the China-centric electronics supply chain will fragment over the longer term.

The Taiwanese company reported better-than-expected net income of NT$22.9 billion ($778 million) for the quarter ended in June, boosted by increased demand for iPads and MacBooks. Revenue was NT$1.13 trillion, but Hon Hai warned it expects its third-quarter sales will be down by double digits relative to 2019 as Apple delays its iPhone launch this year.

Hon Hai is bouncing back from a record profit slump in the first quarter as production at its factories recovered and shelter-in-place orders spurred demand for home computing equipment. The pandemic likely boosted iPad and Mac sales, even as Apple store closures weighed on iPhone sales, Apple CEO Tim Cook said on July 31 after reporting quarterly revenue that crushed estimates. Apple accounts for half of Hon Hai’s sales.

Even as Apple outperformed, Hon Hai’s other customers have fared less well. Hong Kong-listed subsidiary FIH Mobile Ltd. said in its Aug. 7 earnings release that while Huawei Technologies Co.’s new phones have been popular in China, they missed expectations elsewhere following U.S. sanctions. Another key customer Xiaomi Corp. suffered a backlash in the Indian market amid growing tensions between China and the South Asian country. FIH lost $100 million in the first half.

Foxconn has been shaking up its traditionally China-focused operations. Hon Hai is among Apple assembly partners that plan to expand operations in India, potentially helping the iPhone maker grow its presence in the country of 1.3 billion and shift some of the U.S. company’s supply chain outside of China as ties between Washington and Beijing fray.

Chinese rivals are also posing a growing challenge. Local electronics titan Luxshare Precision Industry Co. is poised to become the first Chinese homegrown iPhone assembler after sealing a deal in July to buy an Apple handset production plant from Wistron Corp. While Hon Hai will keep assembly orders for premium iPhones, Luxshare will eat into the business for mid-to-entry-level Apple handsets, Fubon Securities analyst Arthur Liao wrote in a July 23 note.

Foxconn will work on its component business to maintain tech leadership and it also benefits from its long-term relationship with Apple, Liu said in response to several analysts’ questions about Foxconn’s competitive strategy against the rising Chinese supplier.

Orders could be further affected after President Donald Trump issued an executive order barring U.S. residents from doing business with Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat. Annual iPhone shipments could plunge 25%-30% if Apple is forced to remove the app from its app stores worldwide, TF International Securities analyst Kuo Ming-chi warned in an August 9 note.

Narayana Murthy flags fears of GDP growth hitting lowest since 1947, pitches for operating economy at full steam

BENGALURU, Aug 11: Flagging fears that the country’s GDP growth may even touch its lowest since independence in the backdrop of coronavirus pandemic, Infosys founder N R Narayana Murthy on Tuesday said the economy should be brought back on track and people should be prepared to live with the pathogen.

He also pitched for developing a new system that should allow every player in every sector of the country’s economy to operate at full steam with suitable precautions.

“India’s GDP is expected to shrink by at least five per cent. There is a fear that we may even reach the lowest GDP (growth) since independence, since 1947,” Murthy said.

The software icon was participating in a discussion on ‘Leading India’s Digital Revolution’ during the 16th edition of Institute of Engineering and Technology’s India Digital Conversations held virtually.

“The global GDP has gone down. Global trade has shrunk, global travel has almost disappeared. The global GDP is likely to shrink between 5 per cent and 10 per cent,” he said.

Murthy said that right from the first day of the national lockdown on March 24 his view had been that people have to be prepared to live with the virus for three reasons -- there is no vaccine, no cure for coronavirus and the economy cannot be brought to a halt.

The earliest possible vaccine was from Oxford University, which may be available in the country anywhere from six to nine months, he said.

“But even if we are able to vaccinate 10 million people a day, it is going to take 140 days to vaccinate all the Indians. That is a long period to prevent the spread of the disease,” Murthy said.

“...we cannot make the economy come to a halt. Over all, 140 million workers have been affected by this virus. So the smartness is in defining a new normal. This normal should allow our economy to grow while moving on the earth and fighting the virus,” the tech leader said.

Stressing on developing a new system to deal with the current situation, he also laid emphasis on creating a health infrastructure for vaccinating everybody once a vaccine was available and working towards a cure for the new virus.

“India has traditionally not invested sufficiently in public health. We have severe shortage both in talent and in material for a robust public health system. The state of our Institute of Public Health is a good data point,” said Murthy.

In the given system, Murthy said, social distancing, and use of masks were the best way to combat the virus.

He, however, lauded the country for having done a decent job under the present circumstances.

To bring the economy back on track, the Infosys founder suggested getting back the 140 million migrant workers who have gone back to their villages to their workplaces, mostly in urban India.

His second advice was increasing the number of hospital beds and adding equipment for testing and taking care of the projected number of Covid-19 patients for three months and six months from now.

“Even today there is a severe shortage of Covid-19 care facilities in second tier and third tier towns,” said Murthy lamenting the demise of one of his relatives due to coronavirus in Hubballi, a north Karnataka tier-2 city and district headquarters.

The 74-year-old tech leader also favoured amending laws and providing infrastructural facilities for companies which cannot use the work-from-home paradigm and increasing the public transport and public safety facilities for businesses and the public to operate 24 hours.

Hong Kong crisis deals $7.7 billion blow to property tycoons

HONG KONG, Aug 9: After months of protests and Covid-19 restrictions, Hong Kong’s biggest property tycoons are feeling the pinch.

At Peter Woo’s Wharf Real Estate Investment Co., retail rental income plunged by almost a third in the first half of the year, leading to a loss and a HK$7.4 billion ($955 million) hit to its portfolio. Revenue from Hong Kong property sales at Li Ka-shing’s CK Asset Holdings Ltd. slumped by more than 60%.

The Kwoks’s Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. slashed rents for some tenants, while the biggest landlord in the Central district said its vacancy rate rose to 5% at the end of June from 2.9% in December.

With Covid-19 preventing tourists from coming and the national security law threatening Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub, the fortune that property moguls have amassed is suddenly shrinking. To make matters worse for them, the city’s financial secretary urged landlords to offer tenants concessions on rents — some of the world’s highest — to ride out a crisis that a resurgence of coronavirus cases is now taking to unchartered territory.

While seven of Hong Kong’s real estate tycoons still sit atop $107 billion combined, the impact of the recent events is clear: They’ve lost $7.7 billion this year as their properties got hit by the double whammy of political unrest and a virus outbreak that no one could have predicted. An index tracking the city’s developers has plunged 21%, more than any other industry group.

Wheelock & Co., which controls Wharf REIC, CK Asset, Sun Hung Kai, Henderson Land Development Co. and New World Development Co. didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Some developers that have yet to report their first-half earnings have warned about potentially disappointing results. One of them is Merlin Swire’s Swire Properties Ltd., which said in June the company will post a “substantial” profit drop and a loss of about HK$2.6 billion on the revaluation of investment properties, according to a company filing.

Overall, the city’s vacancy rate for office buildings is at the highest in more than a decade as foreign firms scale back their operations in Hong Kong. Mall traffic is down by more than a third from a year ago amid stricter social-distancing measures to contain the spread of Covid-19.

But the coronavirus was only the latest blow. The malaise all started last year, when pro-democracy demonstrations erupted to contest a proposed extradition law. While the bill was later withdrawn, the protests persisted with more demands, including direct elections of the city’s leader. The national security legislation was Beijing’s response.

Hong Kong’s real estate tycoons have largely rallied behind the security law. A developer association representing firms including CK Asset and Lee Shau Kee’s Henderson Land said it supported it because it would guarantee stability and prosperity in the city. The families behind Swire, Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd. and Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd. have also issued similar endorsements.

“Hong Kong’s property tycoons are subject to the state-security law as much as anyone else,” said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. “And since the law is implicitly a ‘you’re with us or against us’ imposition, tycoons who want to stay in Hong Kong and make money are required to declare they support the law.”

Hang Lung Properties Ltd. Chairman Ronnie Chan said the bill has brought back some stability to Hong Kong.

“The national-security law is to restore the ‘one country, two systems’ framework, and I just don’t see any other way,” Chan said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on July 31. “Those people who were demonstrating against the Hong Kong and Beijing governments, they asked for it.”

But to some, the real estate moguls helped trigger the protests that led to the national-security law. Chinese state media have argued that Hong Kong’s expensive homes were a reason for last year’s social unrest and lambasted the tycoons for propping up property prices. That pushed developers including New World Development of the Cheng family and Henderson Land to donate land plots to charity.

Minimizing both political and economic risks could be an arduous task for the tycoons. While they strive to limit the damage, it might take some time, according to Patrick Wong, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence who expects prime-office rents to fall between 15% and 20% this year.

“Heightened political instability, and a recent increase in Covid-19 infections could threaten to cast a pall over the city’s economic growth, which may further weaken office leasing demand in major districts in the second half,” he wrote in a July 24 note.

GST collections drop to Rs 87,422 crore in July

NEW DELHI, Aug 1: GST collections in July fell to Rs 87,422 crore from Rs 90,917 crore in June, according to a Finance Ministry statement.

However, July collections are higher than Rs 62,009 crore in May and Rs 32,294 crore in April.

“The gross GST revenue collected in the month of July, 2020 is Rs 87,422 crore of which CGST is Rs 16,147crore, SGST is Rs 21,418 crore, IGST is Rs 42,592 crore (including Rs 20,324 crore collected on import of goods) and Cess is Rs 7,265 crore,” a finance ministry statement said. The revenues for the month are 86 per cent of the GST revenues in the same month last year.

The ministry further said although the June collections were higher than that in July, however, it is important to note that during the previous month, a large number of taxpayers also paid taxes pertaining to February, March and April 2020 on account of the relief provided due to Covid-19.

It may also be noted that the taxpayers with turnover less than Rs 5 crore continue to enjoy relaxation in filing of returns till September 2020.

 

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