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Only 5% Asia Pacific infra firms highly exposed to COVID-19 disruptions: Moody's

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Barely 5 percent of the rated project and infrastructure companies in Asia Pacific have high exposure to coronavirus disruptions, Moody's Investor Service said on Wednesday. Pressure has eased for Chinese toll roads, while a small number of utilities face moderate exposure, it said.

A high proportion (67 percent) of rated project and infrastructure companies in Asia Pacific continue to have low exposure to the coronavirus-related disruptions, supported by their essential nature and predictable cashflows, Moody's Investors Service said in a statement.

“The number of companies with high exposure has reduced in recent months, particulary the Chinese toll road sector following the end of the toll-free period and with recovering traffic volumes,” said Arnon Musiker, senior vice president and manager at Moody's.

Airports now make up most of the high exposure category, he said.

Whereas Moody's in April estimated 9 percent of project and infrastructure companies had high exposure to coronavirus disruptions, this number has now declined to 5 percent.

"On the other hand, a small number of power utilities now have moderate exposure to coronavirus disruption, given rising pressure from falling power prices and lower demand, which is only partly offset by lower fuel costs," the statement said.

Following the reclassification of these toll roads and utilities, the number of companies with moderate exposure has increased to 28 percent from 23 percent in April.

“Moreover, a limited number of projects with exposure to commodity risk – particularly energy-related – also face rising challenges following the recent material fall in oil, gas and coal prices,” Musiker said.

Still, the majority – 67 percent – of companies face low exposure, and include regulated utilities, projects and public-private partnerships, the statement said adding, this risk exposure for regulated networks remains low notwithstanding temporary tariff relief measures instituted by certain companies, given their temporary nature and immaterial effect on metrics.

Q4 GDP numbers on expected lines but lockdown pain yet to be seen: Experts

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The Indian economy grew at 3.1 percent in March quarter of FY20 and the full-year growth came in at 4.2 percent against 6.1 percent in FY19.

Experts said the numbers are on expected lines and the full impact of lockdown will be felt in the coming quarters.

"GDP growth rate for Q4FY20 is in the expected line as growth was moving in a downward trajectory. The impact of COVID was limited in the last quarter of FY20, though the slowdown in global economic activities affected India as well," Deepthi Mathew, Economist at Geojit Financial Services, told Moneycontrol.

Experts feel the data could be revised given more than a week of lockdown in March. The GDP numbers for Q1, Q2 and Q3 of FY20 have already been revised downwards. The Q3FY20 GDP was revised to 4.1 percent (from 4.7 percent.

The nationwide lockdown in India started on March 25 and currently we are in the lockdown 4.0.

"The statutory deadline extension for financial returns hit data flow to calculate GDP. Hence quarterly and annual GDP estimates of FY20 is likely to undergo revision," a Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation statement said.

"The Q4 GDP data looks much better but there could have been some data problem given the lockdown started in last week of March. So revision in numbers can't be ruled out. It is too early to conclude the impact of lockdown on economy," Dharmakirti Joshi, Chief Economist at CRISIL, told CNBC-TV18.

"My hunch is that exports contracted by 35 percent, auto sales were down by 45 percent, which indicated that industrial activity was getting impacted in March, aviation was also shut. So the data may not have captured the lockdown period data," Joshi said.

The gross value added (GVA) grew 3 percent in March quarter 2020, while the full year (FY20) growth was 3.9 percent against 6 percent in FY19.

The Q4 growth was supported by agriculture which grew 5.9 percent (against 3.6 percent QoQ and 1.6 percent YoY), and mining which showed growth at 5.2 percent (against 2.2 percent QoQ and (-4.8) percent YoY).

"Agriculture numbers are definitely good and are also going to be good numbers given the strong rabi harvest numbers. So agri become a hope for FY21," Joshi said.

Private Consumption Expenditure growth in Q4 dipped to 2.7 percent compared to 6.6 percent in previous quarter and Gross Fixed Capital Formation growth contracted further to (-6.5) percent against (-5.2) percent on sequential basis, but Government Final Consumption Expenditure grew to 13.6 percent against 13.4 percent QoQ.

"The private consumption expenditure falling is not surprising, infact it already showed deceleration. Gross Fixed Capital Formation (GFCF) was contracting even in earlier two quarters and this was the third quarter where contraction continued. Given the headwinds facing by India, we see deeper contraction in GFCF data," Anubhuti Sahay, Head of South Asia Eco Research at Standard Chartered Bank told CNBC-TV18.

Dharmakirti Joshi also feels GFCF will go down further. "Agri, mining will be saviours, but are not enough to offset the impact which is seen in other sectors."

Indranil Pan of IDFC First Bank said given significant contraction in revenue, the government expenditure will not hold on same levels if private consumption expenditure continues to fall in FY21.

Hence experts expect the double digit contraction in first quarter FY21 GDP, but as there could be some improvement in economic activity after easing lockdown measures from May onwards, the full year degrowth could be in single digit.

"These are starting points, the data captured only one week of lockdown, so the pain is ahead definitely in Q1FY21 which will come out later in the year. We see 35 percent degrowth in Q1FY21 GDP due to already tepid growth in economy and lockdown for more than 2 months," Anubhuti Sahay said.

"India could degrew 4% in FY21 as once the recovery starts, we should see some improvement in numbers on May onwards due to some relaxation from lockdown," she added.

Joshi also said, "My broad sense is that 2019-20 like story will be played out in FY21 as well but would be much deeper."

Indranil Pan, the Group Economist at IDFC FIRST Bank expects a contraction 14-15 percent in Q1FY21 GDP and (-6.4) percent for FY21 due to stalled economy for two-and-half-month by COVID-19-led lockdown.

"Trajectory was anyway on downwards during COVID. Therefore there is definitely some headwinds on the structural front. Health problem will have significant impact," he said.

Here is what other experts said:

Upasna Bhardwaj, Senior Economist at Kotak Mahindra Bank

“Expectedly, the 4QFY21 GDP slowed down across manufacturing, construction and trade hotels, partly reflecting the sudden halt in economic activity led by the COVID-related response. Probable, some data gaps could also have made the data patchy. While the slowdown in economy was already underway, the COVID-19 related disruptions has further exaggerated the issue. We expect the 1QFY21 to record a sharp contraction of over 14 percent, with only a gradual recovery thereafter. For the year, we continue to expect contraction in GDP (over 5 percent). Accordingly, expansionary fiscal and monetary response will have to continue to aid the economy.”

Joseph Thomas, Head of Research - Emkay Wealth Management

The sluggishness in economic growth which was a feature of the numbers in the Q2 and Q3 of the last financial year, manifested itself once again in the Q4 growth rate falling further to 3.10 percent. This number fully reflects the slowdown which the economy was going through in the last two years, and it also amply highlights the importance of a demand-led recovery for sustainable future growth. This number is more important than a quarterly number. Because this number would be the base against which the impact of the lockdown and consequent demand destruction, loss of productivity and employment would mapped. What could be the fall from this level us the question that would be asked. It goes without saying that the number for Q1 of the current financial year will be much lower bordering on the negative as we get the first estimates after a month. That the core sector output contracted by 38 percent in April is an indicator of the dent which the lockdown is likely to bring forth in economic activity and the resultant numbers.

B Gopkumar, MD & CEO at Axis Securities

GDP growth at 3.1 percent is not a major surprise considering the challenges that started in March 2020 and Q1FY21 will be even weaker. This information is already factored by the market and now focus has shifted to opening of economy. The pace at which demand will be restored to normalcy is critical. There have been some encouraging signs in consumer staples, digital businesses and Pharmaceuticals. However, large ticket consumer discretionary revival will take time. Overall, businesses have drawn plans to deal with the situation and economy will improve from hereon and demand will pick up with each passing month.

Dhiraj Relli, MD & CEO at HDFC Securities

The Q4FY20 GDP number came in better than expected at 3.1 percent (11-year low) though the downward revision in the previous three quarters takes away some of that relief. The poor data on growth of India’s eight infrastructure sectors contracting by a record 38.1 percent in April led by cement, steel, electricity and coal was partly on expected lines. However this data does not portend well for Q1FY21 unless we see a fast and complete lifting of lockout with safeguards in place.

The fact that Manufacturing sector has grown at 0 percent for the whole of FY20 versus 5.7 percent in previous year highlights the extent of issues in that sector and prompts faster and thorough measures to kickstart manufacturing given that the first two months of FY21 are washouts and job creation remains a top priority in the current times. Construction is the other sector needing immediate attention. Agriculture could do well even in FY21 after growing 4 percent in FY20 and lead the sectoral growth in FY21, contrary to its negative contribution in all earlier years of negative GDP growth.

Deepthi Mathew, Economist at Geojit Financial Services

GDP data for Q1FY21 would slip to the negative territory, with the impact of COVID on the economy fully captured.

States should come forward with Rs 20 lakh crore to battle COVID-19 disruptions: Nitin Gadkari

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More liquidity is needed to boost economic activity following the coronavirus pandemic and states should come forward with Rs 20 lakh crore, while another Rs 10 lakh crore can be harnessed from public-private investment to fight the COVID-19 disruptions, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said on Wednesday.

Gadkari said the economy is facing serious problems, businesses are being closed and unemployment is growing. All sections of the society, whether migrants, media, business persons or employees, are facing problems, but ultimately "we will win the economic war" and the "corona war", he said.

"More liquidity needs to be pumped in the market to boost the coronavirus-hit economy and states should come forward with Rs 20 lakh crore, while another Rs 10 lakh crore can be harnessed from public-private investment," Road Transport, Highways and MSME Minister Gadkari told PTI.

He further noted that "these funds together with the Rs 20 lakh crore package already announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi would result in Rs 50 lakh crore liquidity in the market to battle the adverse impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the economy".

The Centre had announced Rs 20 lakh crore economic stimulus package, including Rs 8.01 lakh crore of liquidity measures announced by the Reserve Bank since March.

The five-part stimulus package comprised Rs 5.94 lakh crore in the first tranche that provided credit line to small businesses, and support to shadow banks and electricity distribution companies, while, the second tranche included free foodgrain to the stranded migrant workers for two months and credit to farmers, totalling Rs 3.10 lakh crore.

Spending on agriculture infrastructure and other measures for agriculture and allied sectors in the third tranche totalled to Rs 1.5 lakh crore, while the fourth and fifth tranches dealt mostly with structural reforms and totalled to Rs 48,100 crore.

He further noted that work on national highways has been started on war-footing and the government plans to build highways worth Rs 15 lakh crore in the next two years.

He said work has been resumed on almost 80 percent of the projects.

Meanwhile, in order to keep the national highways entrusted to NHAI in patchless and traffic-worthy condition, National Highway Authority of India has directed its Regional Officers and Project Directors to undertake maintenance of the National Highways on top priority-basis considering ensuing monsoon season.

The aim is to facilitate timely action and keep the highway stretches traffic-worthy ahead of the monsoon season, latest by June 30, 2020, he said.

'More rate cuts seen but won't be effective unless credit, economic activity picks up substantially'

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While it is positive sentimentally, the reverse repo rate is the effective policy rate right now, and thus, more effective and relevant than the repo rate. More cuts may come but won't be really effective unless credit and economic activity pick up substantially, Nikhil Gupta, Chief Economist at Motilal Oswal Institutional Equities said in an interview to Moneycontrol's Sunil Shankar Matkar.

Q: What are your thoughts on RBI policy move and was it a need of the hour given the measures announced by RBI?

The cuts in policy rates are a welcome move. We believe that the reduction in reverse repo rate is more effective than the repo rate because the credit off-take and related economic activity are almost negligible right now. Further, the extension of moratorium by another three months is also on expected lines. What caught our attention in this policy was the relief to states amounting to Rs 13,300 crore, which we believe is extremely useful at this stage.

Q: Most experts feel there could be more pressure on banks after six months moratorium. Do you agree, why and how much could be the impact?

Yes. This is unchartered territory and there could be more pressure on banks in H2 FY21. However, not everything will be lost. With the opening up of the economy and resurgence of business activities, banks can also hope to get back their loans. It will be definitely complex and very difficult to estimate anything at this stage.

Q: Experts, as well as corporates, prefer one-time loan restructuring of sectors which are under stress like real estates, hospitality etc. But bankers disagree and they want to wait till the opening of the full economy to get the actual picture. What are your overall thoughts on this topic?

We broadly agree with this. Although the RBI has not announced one-time restructuring so far, it can announce it anytime. And it would definitely make more sense when there is more clarity on the economic recovery. It will, however, need to be seen who will bear the burden of such forbearance.

Q: Do you think deposits and savings rate will decline significantly after the hefty repo rate cut seen since last year? Also, is the rate transmission happening on the ground?

Yes. With a sharp reduction in policy rates, both deposit and lending rates could also come down.

Q: Do you think another repo rate cut is needed as RBI stays accommodative till the sign of revival in the economy?

As we mentioned earlier, while it is positive sentimentally, the reverse repo rate is the effective policy rate right now, and thus, more effective and relevant than the repo rate. More cuts may come but won't be really effective unless credit and economy activity pick up substantially.

Q: Do you think the RBI needs to remove the risk aversion as there is substantial liquidity in the banking sector?

This is more easily said than done. The RBI could help bring back risk appetite by either interfering directly or by forcing banks. Both these measures come with their own set of problems. If RBI buys long-dated G-secs, it is a difficult task to know how much to do, when to stop and more importantly, when to reverse. If banks are forced to buy G-secs, the free market hypothesis is questioned. Therefore, while we all want the RBI to do something, it is not an easy task.

Q: Are these measures from RBI as well as the government enough to revive the economy and what are more measures needed to be taken by both?

It is not easy to revive the economy, which is under lockdown. Even if free money is given to all citizens, that won't revive the economy under lockdown. So, the first thing to track carefully is the re-opening of economic activity and to ensure that there is no second wave of COVID-19 cases. If that's achieved, it will be a meaningful feat in itself to celebrate.

Q: What are your thoughts on inflation and economy growth for FY21 as most of the experts feel it could be negative or flat growth and RBI also said FY21 GDP growth is seen in negative territory. Also, does it mean there would be a strong revival in FY22 considering current conditions?

We expect real GDP to decline 4-5 percent in FY21, with as much as 20 percent fall in Q1 FY21. Since food items account for 40 percent of CPI basket, notwithstanding lower GDP, we expect headline inflation to be around 5 percent this year vis-a-vis 4.8 percent last year. Notably, though core inflation could be only about 2-2.5 percent this year reflecting weak demand.

Q: What is the impact on bonds and yield in short to medium term?

The 10-year bond yield could fall to 5.5 percent over the next few months. We maintain our call.

George Soros says EU may not survive coronavirus crisis

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Billionaire financier George Soros said the European Union could break apart in the wake of the new coronavirus pandemic unless the block issued perpetual bonds to help weak members such as Italy.

The novel coronavirus, which emerged in China last year, has stalled swathes of the global economy while governments have ramped up borrowing to levels not seen in peacetime history.

Soros, 89, said the damage to the euro zone economy from the new coronavirus would last "longer than most people think", adding that the rapid evolution of the virus meant that a reliable vaccine would be hard to develop.

The hedge-fund veteran and chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC said perpetual bonds, used by the British to finance wars against Napoleon, would allow the European Union - itself created out of the ashes of World War Two - to survive.

"If the EU is unable to consider it now, it may not be able to survive the challenges it currently confronts," Soros said in a transcript of a question-and-answer session emailed to reporters. "This is not a theoretical possibility; it may be the tragic reality."

The comments were approved by Soros for publication on Friday, a spokesman said.

Soros, who earned fame by betting against the pound in 1992, said that with major countries such as Germany selling bonds with a negative yield, perpetual bonds would ease a looming budget crunch across the bloc.

He said the EU would have to maintain its 'AAA' credit rating to issue such debt - and thus have to have tax-raising powers to cover the cost of the bonds - so suggested it could simply authorise the taxes rather than imposing them.

"There is a solution," said Soros. "The taxes only have to be authorized; they don't need to be implemented."

Asked about Brexit, Soros said he was particularly worried about Italy: "What would be left of Europe without Italy?"

"The relaxation of state aid rules, which favour Germany, has been particularly unfair to Italy, which was already the sick man of Europe and then the hardest hit by COVID-19," Soros said.

Soros fled Hungary when the communists consolidated power in 1947 and ended up at the London School of Economics. His Quantum Fund made huge profits in 1992 betting that sterling was overvalued against the Deutsche Mark, forcing the British to pull the pound out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.

COVID-19 impact | Banks knock on MCA's doors, seek speedy approval for 40 resolved IBC cases

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With uncertainty looming large, banks have approached the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) seeking a fast-tracking of 40 resolved, high-value insolvency cases in which a decision from the bankruptcy courts is pending, 

The extremely low recovery prospects in the imminent months have bankers worried sick as they fear they may lose buyers due to delay in pending approvals in the aforementioned cases, the report noted. A fall in the value of these deals due to the lack of movement in the economy may dissuade buyers from going ahead with these deals.

Additionally, companies that have been admitted for insolvency and are awaiting hearings also featured on the list that was sent to the MCA.

The ongoing lockdown has hit economic activity in the country, with a deterioration in the state of backlogs at bankruptcy tribunals across India. That these accounts awaiting approvals are likely to face additional challenges due to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, crisis is another cause of concern for bankers, who want the ministry to look at laying down guidelines to help them deal with the upcoming troubles.

This comes even as Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a blanket ban on fresh insolvency admissions for up to a year, while also exempting COVID-19-related debts from the definition of 'defaults' under the Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code (IBC).

Recession, job losses, another pandemic and protectionism top worries: WEF study

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A prolonged global recession due to COVID-19 pandemic, high unemployment, another outbreak of an infectious disease and increased protectionism are among the biggest near-term worries for companies around the world, a new study showed on Tuesday.

The study conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF) also flagged that the world is not ready for the knock-on effect of far-reaching environmental, societal and technological risks, but a "green recovery" and more resilient, cohesive, inclusive and equal societies can emerge if leaders act now.

"Economic distress and social discontent will rise over the next 18 months unless world leaders, businesses and policy-makers work together to manage the fallout of the pandemic," according to the report.

As economies restart, there is an opportunity to embed greater societal equality and sustainability into the recovery, which would unleash a new era of prosperity, said Geneva-based WEF, which describes itself as an international organisation for public-private cooperation.

The study, titled 'COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and Its Implications', has been conducted in partnership with Marsh & McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group. It taps into views of nearly 350 senior risk professionals who were asked to look at the next 18 months and rank their biggest concerns in terms of likelihood and impact for the world and for business.

The immediate economic fallout from COVID-19 dominates companies' risks perceptions and these range from a prolonged recession to the weakening fiscal position of major economies, tighter restrictions on the cross-border movement of goods and people, and the collapse of a major emerging market.

The report also calls on leaders to act now against an avalanche of future systemic shocks such as the climate crisis, geopolitical turbulence, rising inequality, strains on people's mental health, gaps in technology governance and health systems under continued pressure.

"These longer-term risks will have serious and far-reaching implications for societies, the environment and the governance of breakthrough technologies," the WEF said.

As per the study, two-thirds of respondents identified a "prolonged global recession" as a top concern for business. Besides, one-half identified bankruptcies and industry consolidation, failure of industries to recover and a disruption of supply chains as crucial worries.

With the accelerated digitisation of the economy in the midst of the pandemic, cyber attacks and data fraud are also major threats, according to one-half of the respondents, while breakdown of IT infrastructure and networks is also a top concern.

Geopolitical disruptions and tighter restrictions on the movement of people and goods are also high on the worry list.

A second report from WEF, 'Challenges and Opportunities in the Post-COVID-19 World', which was also published on Tuesday, draws on experiences and insights of thought leaders, scientists and researchers to outline emerging opportunities to build a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable world.

WEF's Managing Director Saadia Zahidi said the COVID-19 crisis has devastated lives and livelihoods while triggering an economic crisis with far-reaching implications and revealing the inadequacies of the past.

"As well as managing the immediate impact of the pandemic, leaders must work with each other and with all sectors of society to tackle emerging known risks and build resilience against the unknown. We now have a unique opportunity to use this crisis to do things differently and build back better economies that are more sustainable, resilient and inclusive," she said.

Auditor report piles misery on M&M-owned Korean automaker SsangYong Motor

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KPMG Samjong, the auditor of Mahindra and Mahindra-owned Korean automobile company SsangYong Motor, has issued a 'disclaimer of opinion' on the automaker's quarterly financial results, according to a a report by Yonhap News Agency.

SsangYong's net loss widened in the first quarter of this financial year, making it the 13th consecutive quarter where the company continues to post hefty losses. The auditor said these issues raised a question over the company's ability to remain viable.

As its current debts surpassed its current assets by 576.7 billion won this quarter, SsangYong's shares tumbled on the back of the news.

A 'disclaimer of opinion' is one among the four different types of auditor's opinions issued against a company's financial results.

Indian automaker Mahindra and Mahindra owns around a 74 percent stake in the Korean carmaker. SsangYong has been struggling to keep up its numbers due to declining sales, while the parent firm has yet decided against liquidity infusion.

Earlier this year, M&M had plans of putting in 230 billion won into SsangYong subject to its board's approval. However, the board struck down the plan last month in light of the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on the domestic automobile industry.

Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana: FM Sitharaman reserves Rs 20,000 crore for welfare of fishermen

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Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on May 15 said an amount of Rs 20,000 crore will be reserved for the welfare of fishermen through the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY)

Sitharaman was addressing a press conference to announce the third tranche of the economic stimulus package covering agriculture, fisheries and allied activities.

PMMSY scheme will be launched for integrated sustainable and inclusive development of marine and inland fisheries.

Rs 9,000 crore has been reserved for the development of infrastructure in fishing harbours, cold chains as well as markets.

The registration of the 242 shrimp hatcheries and rearing hatcheries have been extended for the next three months while marine capture fisheries and aquaculture has been relaxed to cover inland fish farming.

The scheme is expected to help with providing employment to over 55 lakh people and increase production to 70 lakh tonnes over the next five years. This is also expected to result in exports doubling to Rs 1 crore.

The FM also said that all COVID-19 related deadline extensions have been honoured including overseas contracts.


RBI sells net $4.05 billion of American currency in March in spot market

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The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) turned net seller of the US dollar after it sold $4.054 billion in March on a net basis in the spot market, recent RBI data showed. In the reporting month, the RBI had bought $3.984 billion of the US currency and sold $8.038 billion in the spot market, RBI data showed.

In March 2019, the central bank was net buyer of the greenback as it had purchased $9.408 billion. It bought $10.306 billion from the spot market and sold $898 million.

In February, the RBI had bought $10.604 billion of the US currency and sold $1.460 billion in the spot market.

In FY19, the apex bank was a net seller of dollars, offloading $15.377 billion in the spot market. It had bought $40.804 billion and sold $56.181 billion in the year to March 2019.

In the forward dollar market, the outstanding sales at the end of March was $4.939 billion, compared to a sale of $2.295 billion in February, the data showed.

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