Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Opinion: Why Hyderabad-Karnataka region did not grow like rest of Karnataka?

Last Sunday I attended a convention in Bangalore organized by institutions built by Mr. Basavaraj Patil Sedam, a well-known politician and a Rajya Sabha member. Topic of the discussion was how those migrated from Hyderabad-Karnataka region could help their motherland prosper. Dignitaries put forward their perspectives. All assembled there took oath to commit funds towards welfare of the region they originated from. It had good motive and right intentions. The leader behind this scheme, Mr. Basavaraj Patil Sedam had put all his efforts to convey this in right manner and had roped in officials, and those respected from society to have a greater buy-in and make it a movement.

But there was a big flaw in their thought process. Truth is politicians and Govt. officials are facilitators of economic growth but they cannot create it. Even if they are able to do something, they can create pockets of growth but not a full-fledged, sustainable economy. It is the majority of population and the demand for their produce drives the economy. Policies, governance helps to promote growth but there has to be underlying force in the economy to succeed. This is what the history of economics all over the world had shown us.

Let us assume Govt. has created proper policies, provided all the infrastructure needed and banks are funded with the capital required to be lent. Will that make Hyderabad-Karnataka a developed region? Not really, as reasons are many. Take the case of Bellary. It was prospering as long as there was good price for iron ore despite the lack of infra, policies etc. When China reduced its imports, there were not many takers for iron ore left in the market. So it impacted economics of Bellary. Now you can see hundreds of Earth Moving equipment lined up outside Bellary Bus Stand looking for work. This is the reality of the economy. It prospers when there is demand for products or services produced in the region.

So what are the other main produces of this region? Rice comes first to my mind. Look at those paddy farmers, are not they doing well? Why not, they are no less than those live in Bangalore in lifestyle. Then who is left behind? And why?

You pick any poor family randomly in any village or town in this region; see their income and consumption pattern. Look at their productivity. Any family which is below poverty line is sure to have more consuming mouths than working hands. It is not that all cannot find work but all of them do not want to work. At least one or two members in those families spend time lazily and they live off on the earnings of the working member, a single head many a times, burdening him and ensuring that they do not break out of poverty as a family.

Look at those families who have loads of debt and see where it all started. Most likely that loan would have origins in a grand marriage or any other family function. That means they spent more than they could afford and there is no easy way out. They are struck in the vicious cycle of debt.

Mr. Basavaraj Patil Sedam
We need to be sympathetic towards those farmers committing suicide and offer them help but the same kindness towards other poor will backfire. We will spoil them further. Those who say they do not have a roof, why cannot they build their own? Why do they wait for Govt. to help them? Who will suffer until the help arrives?

I too grew up in this region. I tried supporting many in my personal capacity but results were not encouraging. You cannot make someone work who do not want to work. There is an old saying ‘You can take a Horse to waterhole but you cannot make it drink water’. It is his choice. If those poor want to remain poor, what is there for me or you to do? If they want to break out, they will find work and also a way out of poverty.

Mr. Basavaraj Patil Sedam, please see how you can put those lazy poor to work if you want to realize your dream. There is plenty of money in this world for those who want to work but not much for those who do not respect it.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Gold has another golden use in treating the cancer

Physical and chemical properties of Gold make it a supreme metal. It is biocompatible too, that makes it useful in the medical applications. Recent studies show that gold-plated nanoparticles are able to find and destroy cancer cells. Gold nanoparticles absorb high levels of ionising radiation, boosting the impact of radiotherapy treatments that work by damaging DNA in tumour cells.


Dr. Kattesh V Katti
Behind this research there is an Indian associated with it. Born and educated in India, Dr. Kattesh V. Katti, now lives in US and works for University of Missouri Cancer Nanotechnology Platform. He is recognized as one of “25 Most Influential Scientists in Molecular Imaging”. 

With many awards and citations to his credit, Dr.Katti is a top scientist today. But he traces his roots back to a small town in Karnataka and modest beginnings.

More info about him can be found at: http://web.missouri.edu/~kattik/katti/


Gold loving India has produced a gem in Dr. Katti. While Indians take pride in his origins, one has to also note what he says “India needs to spend more money on science and technology". Hope those who manage budgets care his words.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Opinion: Financial freedom is never a taboo for savers

To those who wonder if and when it is possible to earn their financial freedom, there are two questions to be asked – can you control your expenses and how much you save toward this goal? Rest you can see for yourself.

I made few assumptions for the model. One is 35 years old. Has an income of Rs.50,000 a month. His regular expenses are at 50% of income. Other expenses like paying towards insurance premiums etc. are at another 25%. Hence he can save 25% of income towards retirement kitty. It is also assumed that income grows at 5% every year and expenses too go up accordingly. If he puts the 25% savings into deposits or bonds and manages to earn 10% on the savings, he can retire comfortably at the age 50. And he can live off rest of the life from the income his accumulated savings earn.















Accelerator mode: If one can save incremental 2% savings a year to accelerate this scheme and boost the returns by diversifying savings into index funds and ETF’s, he can retire by 45.

How one can save this additional 2% a year? Fixing the finances would be one of the ways. Refinancing higher cost loans with lower rates, paying off credit card bills and treating it as a buffer would help too. When the income grows on yearly basis, spending should not be increased at the same pace. One can go for bargain buys for the necessities, avoid impulse spending by procrastination and extend the life of goods by maintaining them well etc. Basically avoid spending to impress others and look to get the value out of all your spends.













Aggressive mode:  For an aggressive saver and an informed investor, who saves 40% of his income and manages to earn 18% on his savings with a balanced portfolio of deposits, bonds, ETFs, mutual funds and good quality index stocks, retirement or financial freedom is just 6 years away.

Though 40% would look a higher number, it is not impossible to achieve. Count the contributions towards Provident fund, gratuity earnings, investments made to save tax into your savings. They would be already 15-20% of your income for salaried people. You need to make additional conscious efforts to boost it to earn your financial freedom.














Life does not follow any model. Many unplanned expenses come in the way that would delay reaching the goal but yet one can earn financial freedom if one can manage his/her spending, saves regularly and earn consistent returns.


(Inspired by the article on MarketWatch: How to retire early — 35 years early Link: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-to-retire-early-35-years-early-2014-01-17)


Friday, December 19, 2014

Opinion: India wakes up to Ebola

Source: Unicef
India or Indians were/are always busy with our own lives and tend to ignore the developments around the world. But there is evidence that it is changing. In our past mindset, we would have ignored Ebola as African pandemic and would not have taken notice unless it had spread and claimed lives in India too. But not anymore, we too are proactive.

Before arriving at Bangalore airport from international travel last week, we passengers were handed over a form to fill-in by the cabin crew and it was about Ebola. The form needed declarations of the traveler and had identified the affected countries, symptoms of the disease, measures to prevent spreading etc. and whola, it also gave a toll-free number to call for help during emergency. At Airport too, all passengers were made to line up to hand over the forms as the first thing to do and also seek clarifications or advice on the disease or to undergo check-up if needed. Kudos to those who made it possible as airports are the first place and easy passages to import this disease. 

If it arrives, it would be really difficult to stop as it spreads quickly and would have a dangerous impact on countries like India which have dense population. Better to stop it at the borders and the effort has begun.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Economic news round-up

Brent falls below $60

What seemed unlikely is no more impossible. While many are speculating further downslide, charts suggest otherwise. For those oil exporting countries, their revenue is halved, their economy will be hurt badly. But fundamentals of oil pricing would come back kicking in quickly. Further low crude price would not leave any profits on the table for oil producers, many would get out of this business, reducing supply glut and prices may hold on or come back to $80/barrel.

But this sharp fall in oil price has put pressure on those who made a living out of that surplus money in the oil pricing. Those organizations funded by oil money appear to be starved now and the attack on humanity in the neighboring country of India would be a side-effect. Though this is gross speculation, if it has any truth in it, we would see more violence before those organizations disappear or become smaller in size.

Value of Russian Rubble takes big hit

Putin might be wondering in private that there is no power left in his MIG’s, missiles and aircraft carriers in the new world of economic wars. He could annex Crimea but the economic war with the west took away all his pride. Former KGB agent might be feeling his training is insufficient when raising the interest rates to 17% could not stop Rubble from falling further.

Couple of months ago, you needed 2 Indian Rupees to buy a Russian Rubble but now you would need less than Rupee. It is time to increase oil& gas import from Russia. Tourists take note and plan your trip to Russia!

Source: Investing.com

Monday, December 15, 2014

Opinion: Bravo Rajan!

Two recent news reports from Raghuram Rajan, Governor of RBI offer wisdom and shows what he stands for. Here they are:

One: RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan's word of caution on 'Make in India' campaign (Link: http://zeenews.india.com/business/news/economy/rbi-governor-raghuram-rajans-word-of-caution-on-make-in-india-campaign_114054.html )

Two: Raghuram Rajan Says It's Not The Regulator's Job to Boost Sensex (Link: http://profit.ndtv.com/news/economy/article-raghuram-rajan-says-its-not-the-regulators-job-to-boost-sensex-712041 )

In the first news item, what Rajan says is ABC of economics. Do what you are good at and outsource the rest to flourish. Instead if every country follows the approach of make it all themselves, there would not be much international trade. And the prices of goods won’t be any less leading to opportunity loss. Manufacturing has worked for China but it does not mean our primary focus should also be the same. Manufacturing creates more jobs and has a lot deeper trickle-down effect than service industry. But what the Prime Minister’s office fails to see is manufacturing is not just labor, it is skilled labor and it also demands uninterrupted power, huge water supply and a robust transportation network to enable moving around things quickly and at low cost. Without the supporting infrastructure, it is not possible to produce at low cost. It takes lot more time to build infra than building factories. When we have so many power plants producing a lot lower power than name plate capacity due to coal & gas shortage, who will power the new factories coming online? And what about the water, chemical supplies? Hopefully you now see, why many goods from plastic goods to solar cells would be lot more cheaper to import than make them here in India. Until we fix infra woes, which may take a couple of years to a decade, focusing on manufacturing may not yield the desired results. So Rajan’s caution is all about economical wisdom but who knows whether the powerful person of India is willing to lend an ear or will he ask Rajan to leave at some time? It would be unfortunate if Rajan’s caution is not taken in right sense.


The second news item is about the priorities of a central banker. Inflation and Rupee valuation come first for RBI before the wish list of finance minister and businessmen. The former Governors of RBI too had this as priority but they were pressured successfully by politicians and businessmen. But Rajan is giving them a miss. He raised rates during UPA-2 governance and now he is able to withstand pressure from NDA Government by not reducing it. It may cost his job, but the rock star Governor made it clear what are his priorities. So I say, “Bravo, Rajan!


Both inflation and Rupee valuation were hit hard in the past few years. Inflation was stubborn above 8% for many years and Rupee had a good fall from 45 to 60 against dollar. But now, in the last few months, inflation is reversing and Rupee did not give up much when rest of the emerging market currencies were sliding quickly. While RBI can be credited for arresting the Rupee fall but not for bringing down the inflation which is due to softening of crude oil and other commodities.


Since the liquidity is high, bringing down rates by a 100 bps may not increase the inflation, but could help in bringing down the interest costs and help boost economy like it is happening in US. Rajan said he is noticing this, but he will act only on confirmation and that may come very soon. What he says is best is best for us, the common men. Of course his priorities are priorities for the common man too.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

PwC Report: India to be $10 trillion economy in 20 years; Too rosy picture?

Cover page of PwC report: Source: PwC site
A report published by PwC says India has the potential to achieve 9% growth rate and become a $10 trillion economy by 2034 (i.e., 5 times of $1.9 trillion in 2014) on the back of concerted efforts by the corporate sector and a constructive role played by the government. (http://www.pwc.in/en_in/in/assets/pdfs/future-of-india/future-of-india-the-winning-leap.pdf)


Here are the major expectations of the report:

  • Average life expectancy to increase to 80 years (from 66 years)
  • Manufacturing to be 25% of GDP (from 12%)
  • Agricultural output to rise to 7.4 tons/hectare (from 4 tons/hectare)

Overall, the report paints an optimistic picture though it considers several scenarios. It took a gap of few years for these optimistic reports to make come back. It is a feel good factor for all Indians and we can cheer at this renewed faith.




But one must not ignore the roadblocks and consider following factors to keep expectations more realistic.
  • In the next 20 years, there will be at least 3 elections. If the ruling party does not come back to power, replacing political party/parties have the habit of undoing some of the works done by the previous Govt. So forecasting the policies which will come into force in next two decades is grossly inaccurate task.
  • As the economy base increases, growth rates reduce. Many econometric models have shown this and one can look at the data of developed countries for the sake of proof. This would mean 9% growth would be achievable when India is a $2 trillion economy. By the time India becomes $5 trillion economy or so, growth rates will slow and even a 6-7% growth would look fantastic.
  •  In a period of 20 years, there would be couple of down years due to economic cycle taking a turn. Nobody has perfected the art or science of forecasting the downturns, the timing or impact of it. Central banks all over the world are still struggling to erase the impact 2008 financial crisis.
  • India has tough neighbors and had fought with two of them since independence. As growth kicks in, competition for natural resources and trade will intensify.
  • India is a low wage country at present. If wages rise quicker than broader economic growth, it would hurt exports and some of the competitive advantages. Though higher wages boost domestic consumption in the beginning, inflation will also go up limiting further growth in consumption.
  • Most of the investments are going into infrastructure space now but the productivity benefits derived out of better public infra is high in the beginning and tapers out over time. Further investments in infra after a decade or so may not produce the same financial returns like those earlier projects. So the investment opportunities in Infra will likely reduce over time as it is happening in Japan and Europe. Also think of ghost towns of China which has also built roads to nowhere.
Considering these speed-breakers in place, one can expect Indian economy to reach $7-8 trillion in next 20 years, if not $10 trillion and an average growth rate of around 7% (instead of 9%). Even if this is achieved, millions of people would move above the poverty line and India would be a front-runner in many fields.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

I finished reading (rather lately though it was in my list for long) the biography of Steve Jobs. And what an experience it was to know the life of innovative and equally crazy person. An adopted child grows to mesmerize the world and brings change to the way people live in his own way. He was always honest and brutal many a times so most people found it difficult to work with him though they admired his thinking. When he was at school he was busy with pranks involving electronic gadgets than making friends. One of his childhood friends, Steve Wozniak, one more person obsessive with electronics, made a good friend of Steve Jobs and both went on to found the business of designing, making and selling computers which is called Apple.

Being abandoned by his biological parents hurt Steve Jobs a lot though the parents who adopted him poured all their love and care and spent their life savings to send him to college. Steve later in his life tracks his biological mother and learns that he has a sister, Monica Simpson, who becomes a confidant of Steve for the rest of his life. When Monica traces their biological father, Steve refuses to meet him.

While he mastered the subject of electronics, his personal life was not a conventional one. He goes to India to learn spirituality. He takes up arts as his subject of study for graduation and does not complete it as he thought it is a financial drain of his parent’s earnings. But incomplete academics were not a drag on his future and the artistic bent of mind of he developed had put him at the junction of technology and art and the products he designed and developed were on the hands of millions of people all over the world.

His personal life was erratic many a times. He makes his girlfriend pregnant and refuses to acknowledge that he is the father of the child for many years after the birth of child, only to take responsibility of her later in life. His attitude towards co-workers earns him a bad name and he is thrown out from running operations of Apple, the company he founded. He starts another company, brings out many creative products but none of them see big commercial success but establish him as an innovator in the industry and that experience also teaches him how to manage a company and not just design products. Apple, in Steve’s absence looses market share as it fails to bring out exciting products after the initial Macintosh product line. Steve is called back and the successful products begin to roll out again putting back both Apple and Steve at the helm. When the products of Apple were a competition to their own products, Steve had said “We need to cannibalize our own products, else someone will”.



This book was the #1 best-seller on Amazon in 2011. When you read this book, you will know why a perfectionist like Steve Jobs was insisting Walter Isaacson to write this biography. It is based on multiple interviews of the author with Steve Jobs and discussions with numerous other people. This book provides multiple perspectives about Steve Jobs, his life as seen by himself and others.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Jatropha: Will low crude kill the interest?

Background

While India and all other oil importing countries are celebrating the drop in crude oil prices, there is one industry in the early phase will see a set-back. That is bio-fuels. All the interest in bio-fuels was due to consistent rise in crude oil prices. There was search for alternate fuels. And bio-fuels seemed to be the answer. Ethanol blending began couple of years ago. Since most of Ethanol is made out of Sugar crop, there was fear that it will lead to shortage of sugar and drive the food prices high. Then the interest turned towards Jatropha, which is a non-food crop and can be grown in semi and non-arable farmlands. It seemed perfect to make bio-diesel out of Jatrpoha seeds. It will reduce oil imports, saves foreign exchange, create jobs in the homeland where there is so much of unemployment and non-arable land. Govt. announced subsidies, organizations began spreading the knowledge, pilot projects kick-started and there were research projects taken up to improve yield of Jatropha crop.

Jatropha farm and its seeds

Bio-fuel economics under threat

Most of the bio-fuel business models assumed crude oil prices remaining high or going up further. Now that crude prices are down (30% approx.), and there seems to be no hurry in getting back to earlier prices as the crude oil capacity is on the rise and demand is not catching up at the same pace.
To keep up with the fall in crude and to make economic sense, yields from Jatropha crop has to go up by at least 30% or so. When the pilot projects are not yet proven for their feasibility, this additional expectation is a burden on the economics of Jatropha crop.

In another development, natural gas (CNG, LNG, LPG) vehicles are becoming popular. An increasing number of vehicles worldwide are being manufactured to run on natural gas. The trend is likely to catch up further as many countries would like make use the new gas discoveries and the biggest of them is USA with their shale gas exploration. As more and more natural gas run cars hit the roads, demand for bio-fuel fades away.


Conclusion

As bio-diesel loses its price competency against the conventional crude oil, Jatropha farmers (there are not many) will find fewer and fewer takers for their crop. An industry in its infancy will face a survival threat. Jatropha seemed to be a solution to isolate from geo-politics for India but when oil producing countries are offering a discount for their natural resource, geo-politics lost its power to influence crude pricing.


 For now it appears that Jatropha has hit a road block. Unless the crude prices come back or Govt. offers further incentives or any improvement in the yield in Jatropha is seen, Jatropha farmers need to stay cautious.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

ಪುಸ್ತಕ ಪರಿಚಯ: ಹುಚ್ಚು ಮನಸಿನ ಹತ್ತು ಮುಖಗಳು (ಶಿವರಾಮ ಕಾರಂತ)

ಇದು 'ಕಡಲ ತಡಿಯ ಭಾರ್ಗವ' ಎನಿಸಿಕೊಂಡಿರುವ ಶಿವರಾಮ ಕಾರಂತರ ಆತ್ಮ ಚರಿತ್ರೆ. ಈ ಪುಸ್ತಕದಲ್ಲಿ ಅವರು ತಮ್ಮ ಜೀವನದ ಬಹು ಮುಖ್ಯ ಘಟ್ಟಗಳನ್ನು ಮೆಲುಕು ಹಾಕಿ, ತಾವು ಸಾಗಿ ಬಂದ ಹಾದಿಯನ್ನು ವಿಶ್ಲೇಸಿಸುತ್ತ, ತಮ್ಮ ಬದುಕು ಹಾಗೂ ವ್ಯಕ್ತಿತ್ವ ರೂಪುಗೊಂಡ ಬಗೆಯನ್ನು ಅನಾವರಣಗೊಳಿಸುತ್ತ ಹೊಗುತ್ತಾರೆ.

ಅಪರಿಮಿತ ಕುತೂಹಲ ತುಂಬಿದ, ಜೀವನ್ಮುಖಿಯಾದ ಒಬ್ಬ ವ್ಯಕ್ತಿ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ಅನ್ವೇಷಣೆಗೆ ತೊಡಗಿದಾಗ, ಆತ ಹಲವಾರು ವಿಷಯಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಸುಲಭದಲ್ಲಿ ಹಿಡಿತ ಸಾಧಿಸುತ್ತ, ಸಾಹಿತ್ಯ, ಸಂಗೀತ, ನೃತ್ಯಗಳನ್ನು ಒಲಿಸಿಕೊಂಡು, ಇತಿಹಾಸ, ರಾಜಕೀಯ, ತತ್ವಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಪ್ರೌಢಿಮೆ ತನ್ನದಾಗಿಸಿಕೊಂಡು, ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ಉದ್ದಗಲಕ್ಕೂ ಅಲೆಯುತ್ತಾ, ನಾನಾ ಸಂಸ್ಕೃತಿಗಳ, ವಿವಿಧ ವ್ಯಕ್ತಿತ್ವಗಳ ಪರಿಚಯ ಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತ, ಅದುವರೆಗೂ ಜನ ಗಮನಿಸದಂತ ವಿಷಯಗಳನ್ನು ಗ್ರಹಿಸುತ್ತಾ ಸಾಗುತ್ತಾನೆ. ಅವನ ಜ್ಞಾನದ ಪರಿಮಿತಿ ವಿಸ್ತಾರಗೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತ, ಅವನು 'ನಡೆದಾಡುವ ಜ್ಞಾನಕೋಶ' ಎನಿಸಿಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತಾನೆ.

ಒಬ್ಬ ಬರಹಗಾರ ತನ್ನ ಜೀವನ ಅನುಭವದ ತಳಹದಿಯ ಮೇಲೆ, ತನ್ನ ಕಥೆ, ಕಾದಂಬರಿಯ ಪಾತ್ರಗಳನ್ನು ಸೃಷ್ಟಿಸುತ್ತಾನೆ. ಬರಹಗಾರನ ಬದುಕು ಎಷ್ಟು ವಿಸ್ತಾರವಾಗಿರುತ್ತದೋ ಅಷ್ಟು ಅವನ ಕೃತಿಗಳು ಸಂಪತ್ದ್ಭರಿತ ವಾಗಿರುತ್ತವೆ. 'ಚೋಮನ ದುಡಿ' ಯಿಂದ 'ಮೂಕಜ್ಜಿಯ ಕನಸು'  ವರೆಗಿನ ಕಾದಂಬರಿಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಕಾಣ ಬರುವ ಪಾತ್ರಗಳ ವೈವಿಧ್ಯತೆಗಳು, ಕಥೆಯ ಸಾರ, ಅವುಗಳ ಕರ್ತೃವಿನ ಜೀವನಾನುಭವ ಸೂಚಿಸುತ್ತವೆ. ಬಹು ಮುಖ ಪ್ರತಿಭೆಯ, ಪ್ರತಿಯೊಂದನ್ನು ಪ್ರತಿಶೋಧನಗೆ, ತುಲನೆಗೆ ಒಳ ಪಡಿಸುವ ವ್ಯಕ್ತಿಗೆ, ಬರೆಯುವ ಕಲೆ ಸಹಜವಾಗಿ ಸಿದ್ದಿಸಿ ಬಂದಿತ್ತು. ಕಲೆಯ ಇತರೇ ಪ್ರಾಕಾರಗಳು ಈ ಸರಸ್ವತಿ ಪುತ್ರನಲ್ಲಿ ಮಿಳಿತಗೊಂಡಿದ್ದವು. ಶಿವರಾಮ ಕಾರಂತರು ಕಾಲೇಜು ಪದವಿ ಪಡೆಯದಿದ್ದರೂ, ಎಂಟು ವಿಶ್ವ ವಿದ್ಯಾನಿಲಯಗಳಿಂದ ಗೌರವ ಪೂರ್ವಕ ಪ್ರಧಾನ ಮಾಡಿದಂತ ಡಾಕ್ಟರೇಟ್ ಪದವಿಗಳು, ಅವರ ಬೌದ್ಧಿಕ ಆಳ ಮತ್ತು ಸಾಹಿತ್ಯ ಸಾಧನೆಗಳನ್ನು ಎತ್ತಿ ಹಿಡಿಯುತ್ತವೆ.

ಶಿವರಾಮ ಕಾರಂತರ ಜೀವನ ಚರಿತ್ರೆ ತಿಳಿದುಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಆಸಕ್ತಿ ಇರುವವರಿಗೆ ಅವರದೇ ಬರವಣಿಗೆ ಇರುವ ಈ ಪುಸ್ತಕ ಉತ್ತಮ ಆಯ್ಕೆ. ಅವರ ಕಾದಂಬರಿಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಕಂಡು ಬರುವ ಜೀವನ ಸ್ಪೂರ್ತಿ, ಈ ಪುಸ್ತಕದ ಉದ್ದಕ್ಕೂ ಕಾಣಬಹುದು. ಕಾರಂತರು ಈ ಪುಸ್ತಕಕ್ಕೆ 'ಹುಚ್ಚು ಮನಸಿನ ಹತ್ತು ಮುಖಗಳು' ಎಂದು ಹೆಸರಿಟ್ಟರೂ, ನನ್ನ ಪ್ರಕಾರ ಕನ್ನಡ ನಾಡು ಕಂಡ ಹತ್ತು ಪ್ರತಿಭಾನ್ವತರಲ್ಲಿ ಅವರು ಒಬ್ಬರು.

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This is the autobiographical work of veteran writer Shivaram Karanth. In this book he revisits the major milestones of his long and fulfilling life.

When a curious person begins exploring the life, he quickly learns the subject of his interest and moves to another (Literature, Music, Dance, History, Politics, Philosophy and so on), travels from one place to another (all over the world), meets variety of people, witnesses strange incidents and observes what many others overlooked. As the repository of knowledge gets bigger and bigger, he becomes a ‘Walking Encyclopedia’.


A writer, a novelist in particular, creates characters for his fictional work from his own life experiences. Wider the experience of the writer, richer is the novel. From ‘Chomana Dudi’ to award winning ‘Mookajjiya Kanasugalu’ characters and plot of the novels show the breadth and depth of life experiences of their creator. For the multi-talented, well-traveled, exploratory nature person, writing came naturally as a form of creative expression but he was equally successful in other forms of arts as well. Shivaram Karnath did not have a college degree, but the honorary Ph. D’s from at least 8 universities were more of a tribute to his intellectual depth and literary achievements.


For those who are interested in knowing the making and personal life of Shivaram Karanth, this book serves best in his own words. Like in his fictional works, one can observe presence of the life force throughout the length of this autobiography. Though this book is named ‘Ten Faces of a Crazy Mind’, I think Shivaram Karnath is one of the ten wisest men Karnataka has seen.

Book Review: Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane (A Kannada novel) by S L Bhyrappa

The story of this Kannada novel is set in the 1960s’ in a typical village of India. Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane can be roughly translated to “You've become an orphan, Son”.

The family of Kalinge Gowda belongs to the tribes who rear the cattle. Kalinge Gowda and his family believe that cows are no ordinary animals but representation of Gods. They get no less care than his family members. His affection towards cows is appreciated ad reciprocated by the whole village at large. His son died a brave death fighting a wolf trying to kill his cow. His grandson, also named Kalinga (as per family tradition of passing the name of grandfather to grandson across generations), was fed by a cow during his infancy when the child’s mother did not produce sufficient breast milk. These experiences had made his life more interwoven with that of cows and he goes on to build a temple at the place memorized as the meeting place of a cow ‘Punyakoti’ belonging to his ancestors with a tiger and it was believed that tiger gave up its life as it was moved by truthfulness of the cow for keeping the promise it made to the tiger for coming back to it to become food for it. In this background, grandson Kalinga grows up, completes his schooling and heads to USA for higher studies in Agriculture and related sciences.



The final days turn tragic for the contented old man Kalinge Gowda. Govt. begins to construct a road across his farm dividing the land he owns and also running over the burial place of his son. Moved by this Kalinge Gowda’s wife dies and Kalinge Gowda too departs soon. Grandson Kalinga returns to homeland to find that both of his grandparents are dead. He cannot communicate effectively with his mother as she is mute, cannot talk.

Kalinga approaches the Govt. officials for compensation for the land lost towards road construction and the land where his grandfather had built the temple in return. As a well-educated and foreign returned individual he commands respect among the Govt. officials with ease. He puts efforts in bringing the modern methods of farming to his village, buys a tractor and makes use of a water-pump to lift water. He meets up with his childhood friend Venkataramana who is also a priest performing Pooja at the temple built by his grandfather. He informs him that he is already married to an American and has a son and talks of his arrangements to bring them to the village. They too arrive soon. 

All the villagers are partially scared with the developments in the family of the offspring of their beloved Kalinge Gowda. Kalinga after his return is a changed person and has very different perspectives than those of his grandfather. He now thinks that the cows which are old of no use and sells them to butchers. This angers the villagers and they begin to develop hatred towards Kalinga. Kalinga’s wife Lydia thinks that animals are a means to human welfare and they should be put to productive use else should be killed. She is a regular meat eater like many of her country people. She one day kills a cow and cooks the meat for her family. Once the news of this spreads in the village, furious villagers attack Kalinga’s farm, destroy his crops and put him to a village court which fines him and bars him from killing any more cows. And the decision was supported by Kalinga’s mother and Venkataramana.


Kalinga’s mother saddened by the behavior of her son dies but the villagers perform the last rites keeping Kalinga out of the scene. Kalinga learns about all this. Though he was pained by his mother’s death, he is afraid of villagers insulting him if he went any near to them. He develops a dilemma and starts thinking what steps of his went wrong. In a few days after his mother’s death, Kalinga’s second child, a daughter is born and soon after the delivery due to medical complications his wife is unable to feed breast milk to the new born. The baby is starved as it refused to accept bottled milk and reaches the verge of life and death and that is when Kalinga goes to Venkataramana and begs him to lend him a cow to feed his baby and thus saves his child. That incident brings clarity to the thoughts Kalinga had and he decides to save the old cows his wife had sold to a butcher few days ago. Tracing them he reaches Mumbai but fails identify his cows among thousands of cows in the butcher house. All begin to appear like his cows but with the money he has he cannot save all of them. Again he begins to retrospect his life.


 This is a masterpiece and a critical work by S L Bhyrappa. This was first published in 1968. It was made into a movie in Kannada and Hindi languages. Though it was written four decades ago, readers of the present times can read it for the clarity of thought and to get the perspectives of moral rightness. Having read most of Bhyrappa’s work, I rate this book and his other novel ‘Parva’ the best among all of his works.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Book Review: Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kiran Desai

Sampath Chawla is unusual, different from others. On the day he was born, it rained after a long dry spell and missed monsoon causing drought. He always looked slow and rather dull while growing up making his father lose all hopes on him. But his grandmother was optimistic and used to say “Though it appears he is going downhill, he will come up out on the other side on top of the world. He is just taking the longer route”. But Sampath induced confidence in no one else. He loses the job he had as a post-office clerk. He does not seem to get the ways of this world.

One day he disappears from his house and reaches a guava orchard and settles himself in a guava tree. The family learns this later and makes all attempts to get him down but unsuccessfully. One doctor examines Sampath on the tree and gives up; another suggests arranging a marriage would help solve the issue. Sampath’s family finds a match for him, bring the bride to the tree but the girl falls off from the tree. When multiple attempts to bring Sampath down from the tree fail, his family begins to live in the orchard and make arraignments to supply food to Sampath using a rope and pulley.


A band of monkeys arrives at the tree Sampath is housed and they too approve his stay on tree top. They begin to protect Sampath from those trying to trouble him. The news spreads and attracts people from surrounding places. People begin to identify Samptah as ‘Baba’, and few start calling him ‘Moneky Baba’ too. Monkeys on the tree develop a taste for the alcohol which the visitors had left behind. They became a menace and to put an end to it, District Collector orders to catch all of the monkeys to leave them in a distant forest. When the staff arrives along with nets to catch monkeys and surround the tree, Sampath is to be seen nowhere. At the place he was sitting a guava with a mark resembling a birthmark of Sampath is found. Leader of the monkeys picks it up and the whole gang of monkeys moves away from the tree towards the hill top.

This was the first book of Kiran Desai. She surely has inherited writing talents of her mother, a well known author Anita Desai. One can see the making of a Booker winning author in her first work itself.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Book Review: The Famished Road by Ben Okri

Azoro, a young protagonist of this novel, was happy being a spirit. Though he is born several times, he quickly left the bodies he was trapped into, to return to the happy world of spirits causing pain to many mothers in the process. But now he is born again and wants to live longer as a human being but he is not cut-off from his connections to the world of spirits. He sees the spirits all over the place, every day. He does not reveal this to his parents and buries it within him as he is not interested in isolating from spirits either. He is a child who did not want to be born and does not to die soon.

Azoro is the only child to his poor parents living in Africa. His father looks for work on daily basis as a load carrier and his mother sells grocery in the local market to earn their living. There is a bar in the neighborhood run by Madame Koto. The entire neighborhood, except Azoro’s parents is scared of Madame Koto as they believe she is a witch. Madame Koto is kind towards Azoro and she thinks he brings good luck to her if he sits in her bar and can attract customers. While sitting in her bar, Azoro learns that majority of the customers visiting the bar are not human beings but the spirits and demons in their borrowed human bodies in the ugliest forms. All of those spirits are interested in taking Azoro back to their world and make many attempts to pack him up and carry. But the determined boy, escapes every time and finds way to back to his home.


Other characters, incidents and narrations like the rage of Azoro’s father, helplessness of his mother, the photographer, the elections, the creditors of his father fill up the pages to bring African life into this book but the main theme remains the young boy’s encounters with the spirits. The story does not conclude in this book as it continues in two more books making it a trilogy.

This is one of the unusual themes I have come across. It is creative and imagination running wild. The first five pages of this book convinced me that the life of spirits would be more joyous than life as human beings. But the later pages are filled with horror and descriptions of spirits and demon in their ugliest forms which are capable enough to give nightmares to the readers. I see that in India as well, there are many famished roads, thirsty for blood. But the difference is I do not get to see the spirits and demons. I am happy I am not Azoro.


This book won The Booker prize for its author Ben Okri in 1991. This book has all the ingredients to become a good graphical novel if no one has thought about it. And that way it can reach a different genre of readers who prefer it read it graphically than immerse into a 500+ page novel like this.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Wind is set to blow stronger in 2015

ET reports that “Wind energy sector in India expected to attract Rs 20,000 crore of investments” (Link: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/energy/power/wind-energy-sector-in-india-expected-to-attract-rs-20000-crore-of-investments/articleshow/45030063.cms). What makes the wind to blow stronger in the coming year?

Accelerated Depreciation:

One of the reasons for the revived interest is reintroduction of accelerated depreciation (AD), which was withdrawn in 2012. This makes the wind energy attractive for captive use for many industries as the investment gets tax benefits and the wind power costs becomes viable. Those who were exiting from this business in 2013 are coming back with a pent-up demand. 2013 was a slow growth year for the wind sector but that loss is set to make 2015 a stronger year.


Finance availability:

More than the tax breaks, it is the health of the economy which is a big driver for this industry since majority (~70%) of the wind power installers borrow to install the capacity. When the interest rates are low and big ticket loans are available to this sector, it sees a boost. Demand for power is always there but at what cost energy is produced depends on the finance costs of the energy producer. With the new initiatives  of the Govt. towards the infrastructure growth and interest rates coming down is a matter of few months’ time, wind energy sector is set to see strong winds in 2015 and it is expected to add incremental 3000 MW capacity to already installed base of 20,000+ MW.

Chart generated from Wikipedia data

Global Ranking:

By the end of 2015 or early 2106, India would replace Spain to become 4th largest wind power producer. When compared to China and USA (the #1 & #2), India seems to be far beyond but for those top wind power producers, it is the offshore capacity which gives the edge as off-shore wind turbines are 3 to 4 times bigger in capacity than those installed on the land. India is beginning its offshore activities with the first planned demonstration along the Gujarat coast. (Link: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/energy/power/government-signs-pact-for-offshore-wind-power-project/articleshow/43980551.cms). With 7,600 km of coastline, India has better potential to add to off-shore wind capacity that would help India to reduce its carbon foot-print and reduce dependency on coal generated power. What some of those retired coal miners will have to do then? Well, they can try poetry.

“Let the wind blow in all directions,
and free us from fission's and emissions;
Oil and coal are unkind,
Wind is the embrace for the mankind;
Black flower is no beautiful,
Earth no green is not wishful;
End the yell, be grateful, sing joyful,
Let the wind blow …


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Living Planet Index and why it is necessary to save Tigers?

The Living Planet Index (LPI) is an indicator of the state of global biological diversity, based on trends in vertebrate populations of species from around the world. Recent report shows that more than half of the world's vertebrates have disappeared between 1970 and 2010. In the same period, the human population nearly doubled. Bloomberg writes that “If animals were stocks, the market would be crashing”. (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-09-30/depressed-market-half-of-world-s-wildlife-disappears-in-40-years.html). The report also points out that humans are currently drawing more from natural resources than the Earth is able to provide.

Source: Bloomberg

If we had cared for Tigers we would have reduced some of the damage done to the biological diversity. One may wonder how Tigers matter. Why the mankind should bother about the Tiger? After all, it is a ferocious animal which can never be domesticated and can turn into a man-eater when not able to hunt. But Tiger is at the top of food chain. For its population to increase, the prey base has to increase at some proportion.  For the prey base to thrive, the feed stock for those animals should be sufficiently available. That would demand for the forest to expand to provide for these animals. A home for tiger is a home for other animals too. The forest that houses Tigers and the diverse wildlife also serves many other functions that of a rain catchment area, of slowly releasing ground water to regulate floods, and as a natural factory to convert carbon into oxygen bringing an ecological balance. Now you see that Tiger count is a very good indicator of the health of the ecosystem as the Tigers as the highest predators shape the ecosystems in which they live.

Source: National Tiger Conservation Authority(NTCA)
If Tiger’s population is decreasing naturally over decades, it does mean that the whole pyramid of animal diversity is shrinking. When we disturb the ecological balance, the nature takes its toll in one way (global warming) or another (floods, river siltation etc.). For human development to continue, we need to take better account of our resources. Right now except for human beings, life on Earth is not a bull market. If other animals count is reduced to half now, what will the man kill when the remaining animals become a minority? Ghost of Malthus will rise if we do not respect the forest boundaries and force the remaining animals to extinct.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

New ways to construct a house (in less time and money)

New materials and methods are giving multiple options to build a house quickly and with less money in comparison to RCC structures. Let us look at some of the developments.

Glass Fiber Reinforced gypsum (GFRC)

GFRC panels are used extensively to build walls, floors and staircase. Traditional brick walls consume materials - bricks, sand and cement. And significant labor and many months timeline is needed to build a house. All that is cut short by using the GFRC panels. Doors and windows can be cut-out precisely in these panels. Concrete is poured in the pockets of GFRC panels to make it strong. Use of steel reduces as the weight of the total structure is grossly reduced, so steel is mostly needed as reinforcement to carry gravity loads. Since no plastering is needed, cement’s use drastically reduced. The house will be ready in a matter of 3-4 weeks. Watch the video in which civil engineers from IIT Madras demonstrate the making of a GFRC panel built house. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUQEUcB7cMM)



Pre-fabs:

This is more of assembly at site since most of the construction is done at the factory. If you need to build a kiosk or a bunk house, you don’t have to construct it, rather you buy and get it installed in a weekend. You can get it moved to another location if the situation demands it. Sintex on the sellers of these pre-fabs.
Source: http://www.sintex-plastics.com/prefab/prefab_usp.htm


Bamboo house:

This is innovative thinking in making use of the bamboo to build structure of the house. If bamboo can be used in making a ladder which easily holds loads of a person or two, why not extend the use of it and build column structure to carry gravity loads? Yes, sure. There are many houses built that way to prove the reliability of this method. For your next farm house or sun-shades on your roof, you can try this by calling companies like Wonder grass (http://www.wondergrass.in/).

Source: http://www.wondergrass.in/

As the cost of housing is ever increasing, search for alternative methods for low cost housing will also increase and one can expect lot more new things happening in this segment.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Book Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Watanabe is a Japanese youth studying at a University in Tokyo. He has two girlfriends Naoko and Midori. Both are unusual, suffering from depression, and need help to recover and Watanabe is the friend who they trust. He is worn out between these two, grows up from the experience, loses one and settles with the other.

Naoki is introduced to Watanabe by a childhood friend of hers who commits suicide in his youth. That puts Naoko into emotional trouble. And Naoki has this in her blood too as her younger sister also had committed suicide for psychological problems. She is put into an unusual hostel which serves as a home for those suffering from emotional issues and it helps bring together through many activities and teaches them to help themselves. Watanabe as a close friend of hers offers help and attempts to fill in the confidence in her to come out and face the external world. He finds that is he is deeply in love with Naoko. Reiko, another patient at the hostel, is a roommate of Naoko. She has an ear (and hands!) for the music and “Norwegian Wood” is one of the songs she plays on her guitar. Though herself a patient, she is another source of strength for Naoko in getting better. Three spend good time together when Watanbe visits the hostel. And there is hope that Naoko would get better and become normal.

Top Left: Haruki Murakami Right: Stills from movie adaptation of the novel
Midori is another student in Watanabe’s class. She is attracted to him for his unusual, serious and sincere behavior. She is going through difficult phase in her personal life as she had lost her mother recently and her father too is on the deathbed. Watanabe turns out to be a true friend for her understanding the situation she is into and supporting her while she gets through the difficult times. A bond develops between them and that turns into love.

Watanabe has to choose between Naoko and Midori and seeks guidance from Reiko on this matter. He learns from Reiko that Naoko could not get better and committed suicide. That news comes as a shock for Watanabe and he travels alone to unknown places to find peace with himself. Finally he recovers from it and connects with Midori.

What starts as a usual, predictable plot takes many twists and turns. It explores many strange human characters. The novel is more about those who are not normal but very sensitive and emotional and who can’t bear the pains which normal people would tolerate and get over it. This novel is also full of descriptions of the characters having drinks and casual sex and this theme recurs throughout the book and makes the novel more dramatic.

Though this novel has autobiographic tone, its author Haruki Murakami clarified that it is not his biography and his personal life is lot boring. It is believed that Norweign Wood is one Murakami book that “everyone” in Japan has read.

Book Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The plot of this short novel begins with a young Pakistani, Changez, who heads to USA for his higher studies in a prestigious university. After his studies, he manages to get a job in an investment banking firm. His intelligence, hard work and commitment help him to get noticed and grow within the organization. He finds an American girl friend too. Before it turns out to be all is well story, terror strikes on the World Trade Center at New York bring down twin towers come to the earth. That incident changes the way white Americans looked at Muslims living in the country. The protagonist of the story too observes people around looking at him with suspicion. A colleague of him advised to shave off the beard. Checks at Airport turn embarrassing. Strangers attempt a physical assault on him when he is alone in the car park. His girlfriend falls sick and moves away from him. All these developments put Changez into introspection and he finally realizes he truly belongs to his home country Pakistan and that is where his destiny is. He resigns from the job, packs off his bags, heads back to his home country. He finds a job in a College but his passion turns him into a social activist.


The whole story is told in first person in autobiographic style, over a conversation with an American tourist visiting Pakistan talking to the author in a restaurant. Though it is supposed to be the dialogue between the two strangers, it is the uninterrupted monologue which runs through the entire novel. So the reader gets to hear only person throughout the novel, the narrator in first person. This style is unique and may be unsuitable for a work of fiction but the author make it work for this story.

This book was shortlisted for The Man Booker prize in 2007. Its author Mohsin Hamid is talented and a writer to watch out for.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Opinion: Jindal Steel and DLF: Business laggards or political victims?

The recent developments in the business world have severely affected the fortunes of two companies who were regarded as the leaders in the business segments they operated in.

Supreme Court judgment to cancel the coal block allocations affected the whole power industry and Jindal Steel & Power has taken the biggest hit. Now it is charge sheeted again by CBI. Last week, SEBI took decision to keep promoters of DLF out of equity markets for a couple of years for giving false information while listing its stock. These incidents have put great pressure on their stock prices which have seen multiple year lows.

So was this in their destiny? The issues they are facing are nothing new but many years old. What about the timing? As the weight on the lid came down, Pandora’s Box got opened?
Stock performance charts for Jindal Steel and DLF in the past 4 months. Source: Google Finance

Just a year or two ago, Naveen Jindal was a celebrated businessman cum politician. TV shows discussed how he was able to balance the demanding roles of a politician as an elected MP and that of a head of a vast business enterprise. His dual role complemented each other as they concluded. But now, in the changed political scenario, it does not appear to remain so.

If you read the biography of KP Singh “Whatever the Odds”, you will know that it is more than the business cycles, managing the politicians were a challenge for the chairman of DLF. Once he was in the list of top 10 richest men of India. But his wealth deteriorated along with the market capital of DLF.

The political connections which helped few businesses grow in the past are now taking a toll on them. Losing political favor is no good for any businessman, in India and everywhere. A billionaire businessman of yester years is now in jail in Putin’s Russia. Indian businessmen (who are out of favor) may not be in the same risk but their fortunes and revival depends on their ability and willingness to cope with the changed political scenario.


For stock market investors, it is time to go beyond financial statements. Those with good political quotient seems to have better opportunities to make money. 


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Writers as agents of social change

"Can writers bring in desired social change?"

Why did you ask that question? Oh, you forgot Charles Darwin and his work ‘The Origin of Species. Don’t you accept Voltaire as French enlightenment writer? Do you remember that in the middle of Second World War, Stalin distributed ‘War and Peace’ to Soviet citizens to gird themselves against the invaders? Ah, what a price Hitler paid for not reading his Tolstoy. Rachel Carson could bring ban on DDT, a destructive chemical, with her ‘Silent Spring’. What else could one ask for?

Many leaders chose writing as a communication tool to bring in the desired societal change and writing was their only option when they were jailed, for Gandhi to Nehru and Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela. If what they wrote were just self-expressions, why their works are in re-print for so long? How could Obama quote Gandhi or I would quote John Steinbeck (on this blog post), if we had not read and influenced by their writings?


Instead, you would have asked why all the writers were not equally successful at influencing the readers and triggering a change? For that, I would have quoted John Steinbeck again – “A book is like a man — clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly”. Effective writing demands efficiency in the creator. Do your homework, present your best case and attempt to stand out. They may not notice you immediately. They may chose to ignore your change proposition first, laugh at it, criticize it and then ride the change!

I would have loved the question, if you had asked why the successful writers could not bring the desired change all the time and why only few of their works were celebrated and the rest were ignored. If your new book is not loved by your readers, it is your publisher is at risk, more than you, the celebrated writer. Well, this applies to all the professions and is not limited to writing. Amitabh Bachchan and Rajanikanth too had their share of flops. Being accepted by the society does not necessarily mean they take all you give. Change is embraced when the society is ready for it. And you cannot remain the change master forever and it could be time to make way for another writer.

If leaders are product of the times, then it is the awaiting social change provides the subject to the writers. Writers too are part of society and do not live away from it. They are part of the change the society goes through. Probably they see it first and have the ability to communicate and pass on the message to others. Societal change demands writing from writers and writers propagate the change. The change cycle continues and new writers are born to lead the new change.

Well, what is your next question? I liked discussing this with you.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Opinion: Indian companies global ambitions: Value hunting or walking into a trap?

Yesterday Economic Times reported that Tata Steel is in talks to sell its steel business units in Europe. (Link: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/indl-goods/svs/steel/tata-steel-in-talks-to-sell-long-steel-business-in-europe/articleshow/44831550.cms). This is the same company which bought European steel maker Corus for an astonishing figure of $8B in 2007. It was the biggest foreign acquisition by an Indian company then. Optimistic times make the risks look smaller. Neither Tata Steel nor any other businessmen expected the business cycle to top out that year and they did not know either that that steel industry was set for a multi-year down slide. It took time for Tata Steel to come out of its optimism and finally wrote off $1.6B in 2013. (Link: http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/what-the-tata-steel-write-off-reveals-113052101267_1.html). Now it finds that its European business unit is a drag on the company, so it wants to sell off some of the units there and reduce its foot print in Europe.


All the companies make mistakes and all businessmen get few things wrong. Ratan Tata has so many achievements in his life committed to Tata businesses; one Corus deal going wrong would never undermine his business judgments. But yet it was a billion dollar mistake. Had this mistake been done by any other Indian company, it would have been suicidal. Take the case of Suzlon. It acquired REpower, a German wind turbine maker in 2007. Suzlon thought it is a prized deal and financed the acquisition by borrowing extensively. Times changed. Suzlon could not withstand the debt load. A multi-bagger stock turned into a penny stock over the time. If Tata Steel was not a well-established, asset-backed, cash flow rich company, it would have struggled to service its debts.

This does not mean one should avoid going abroad with an open purse. Take the successful story of Jaguar-Land Rover (JLR) deal which is doing wonders for Tata Motors. But looking into the sales figures reveal that it is the rising sales of Land Rovers in China bringing good returns to the company. If JLR was a region-specific business, it would have become another blow to Tata group.

It is not that only Indian companies struggle outside their home country. Daiichi Sankyo, a Japanese pharma business group, had ambitious plans when it acquired Ranbaxy in India. It could not manage Ranbaxy and sold it off to another Indian company Sun Pharma but lost multi-billions in the transaction. Big ticket acquisitions always come with integration risks. If the acquiring firm does not have appetite for those risks, deal turns out to be a death trap.

So next time when we hear about an Indian company buying a distressed foreign company, it should not be viewed with pride but caution. It will not be a cake walk going global for all. The proud moment can bring a distress later too.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Opinion: After Kedarnath and Kashmir, are there more natural disasters waiting to happen?

There were floods in Kedarnath last year and Kashmir this year. The triggers for both of these disasters, sequence of events and the learning are almost same. If we a take look back on both the events, it becomes clear they were not one time events and this may not be an end. Here is an effort to explore why it is so.

Sequence and reaction

This seems to be the sequence of events in both the cases.
Extensive rain causes floods ->   Water in low lying areas rise -> Transportation,  Electricity and Telecommunication are cut -> Rescue efforts seem inadequate and many a times cannot not reach in time ->  Causalities rise.

The typical reactions were as follows.

Army begins rescue efforts. Relatives of those affected pray the God. State Govt. start collecting relief funds. Newspapers blame weather forecast failure. TV channels run live shows focusing on victims and how their good life came to ruins in a short time. Opposition party blames ruling party for insufficient action. One research organization does root cause analysis which no one reads and recommendations do not get implemented.

Few months or years pass. One more natural disaster strikes in another place. And the history repeats.


Random pictures showing the impact of floods at Uttarakhand and Kashmir

Why Mother Nature became ultimate destroyer?

All the rainwater collected in the catchment area flows to the rivers also filling in water bodies, ponds, lakes on the way. Rivers act as a natural drain to the rain water. When the clouds burst and it rains for days, rivers see overflow, everything on its shores gets washed away, seams burst and the feeding channels to the rivers see the rise in water levels. Water reservoirs on the way hold more water giving it time to flow through channel. But during the dry years, there is encroachment on the route of the rain water flow. Civil constructions make those channels narrower. There is habitation built on the lake beds. People build their homes on low lying areas. They live in comfort only to risk their lives when the extensive rains come back.

Increase firefighting capacity or build better infra?

So what is the better solution for this recurring tragedy? Add more people in the emergency services to rescue who get struck or do better planning? For a country which has mastered rocket science and did Mangalyaan, town planning is not a challenge. But the devil is not in the planning but the economics of building infrastructure. Ever increasing population puts pressure on people to find new land to live on. It takes years before infrastructure gets built for them until the population reaches a mass to pay back the investments in infra. Mother Nature does not care for business cycles or wait until the man builds suitable infrastructure for himself. Ask your Meteorologist expert friend, he would say that the extensive rains in the catchment area are a recurring phenomenon and are sure to come back at least once or twice in a span of century though there could be a gap of decades in between them. So when the disaster strikes, it hits severely those living on its path. Thanks to low running bridges, poor quality roads, they flow with the water when the rain gods smile at them.


While there is no quick solution in place, both the Govt. and the civilians have to take certain precautions and steps forward toward disaster management. Efforts in understanding the monsoon dynamics needs to be intensified and thereby making the weather forecast more reliable. Ecology of the region and scientific challenges need to be understood thoroughly before building new dams and putting the civil infrastructure in place in the rain catchment areas. Habitation should not be encouraged on the lake beds and so on. Otherwise history keeps repeating until we learn from it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Opinion: The rise and fall of Gold

Pricing of any commodity depends on supply and demand of it. But for gold it does not appear so, at least in last 8 years. And gold is no ordinary commodity. It is considered as ‘store of value’ for many centuries. When the fiat currencies fail to store value, gold comes to rescue and acts as an alternate currency. So the pricing of gold depends on what is happening with the currencies in circulation all over the world as well. And the biggest of them is USD. The Federal Reserve, central bank of US did few experiments with its monetary policy and gold had to respond to that.

Look at the following two charts. Gold had a fantastic run from 2008 to 2012. It appreciated from $800/troy ounce to $1800 which made many wonder if it will ever end its dream run. The Indian women (including grandmothers) who advocated buying gold all the time and at any price point appeared to possess more wisdom than anyone had thought. But gold too topped out and it saw price erosion despite few shouting ”It is a good time to buy” and now it is at 4 year’s low price.
Look at the other chart below it. It is the chart of US 10 year Bond Yield. It bottomed out when gold was at its top in 2012 and both reversed their directions from there on wards. So gold pricing was inversely proportional to bond yield in the last 8 years. And bond yield depended upon the demand and supply of the underlying currency, USD.



Rise and fall of gold

After the financial crisis in 2008, Fed announced Quantitative Easing (QE) a way of pumping to more dollars into the system by buying treasury bonds, a bull run in the gold had begun. Interest rates were kept to minimum to help trigger the economic growth. That means dollar supply was more than gold so one has to pay more dollars to buy the same quantity of gold. QE2 came during Nov 2010, quickening the rise in gold and reach an all-time high. QE3 began at the end of 2012 but it was intended to but only mortgaged securities unlike QE1 and QE2 which were aimed at buying treasury bonds. So it did not help gold to appreciate. As the speculation of QE tapering began in the early 2013, downward journey in gold prices started and by the time Fed confirmed its intentions to begin taper at the end of 2013, gold had given up most of its gains and bond yields which were suppressed were popping up again.

Outlook:

Expansion of balance sheet at Fed would stop from next month as bond buying program ends. So the focus is now shifted to the other policy measure Fed controls, interest rates. Fed has not yet revealed its plan and wants to keep rates low until US economy sees further revival but that time line may not be very far from here, probably 6 months to an year. And the rise in rates is expected to be slow and gradual as well. Until then gold prices are likely to remain in a range. So around the time rates begin to go up, gold may see its bottom and gradually begin to rise. Chart suggests it may not fall below $980 which may act as a strong support. For gold lovers, mid to end of 2015 might be the beginning of bargain buying opportunity.