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UPI transactions hit a record 672.75 million in January: NPCI

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The Unified Payment Interface (UPI) witnessed a record number of transactions in January and amounted to more than Rs 1 lakh crore in value, according to data released by NPCI (National Payment Corporation of India), the Livemint reports.

The transaction volume grew by 8.5 percent to Rs 1.09 lakh crore in January, up from Rs 1.02 lakh crore in the month of December 2018. December was also the month when UPI recorded over 600 million transactions for the first time ever, the report states.

UPI was introduced by NPCI in 2016 as a platform that powers multiple bank accounts into a single mobile application. UPI got a significant boost when the BHIM app was launched by the Central government on the 30 December 2016. Since then, NPCI has taken steps to cut down fraudulent transactions and introduced many regulatory guidelines.

Out of the total transactions registered in January, 13.98 million transactions were conducted through BHIM app alone, the data shows.

The last one year has witnessed the rise of 350% in UPI transactions.

RBI credit policy: Economists polled differ over rate cut, but see change in stance to neutral

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The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) may not tinker with the policy rate, but will change its stance to neutral. Economists and market experts whom Moneycontrol spoke to were divided on the rate cut but were confident of a change in stance by the banking regulator.

This is the first policy of RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das, who also heads the monetary policy committee.

The change in the stance from ‘calibrated tightening’ to ‘neutral’ is what is being keenly watched by the market. In its December policy, the MPC decided to keep the policy repo rate on hold at 6.5 percent and maintain its 'calibrated tightening' stance.

Shubhada Rao, Chief Economist at Yes Bank, said that while there could be a pause in this policy, the stance may be changed to neutral. However, she sees possibility of a rate cut sometime in 2019.

In its fifth bi-monthly monetary policy in December 2018, while the decision on keeping the policy rate unchanged was unanimous, Ravindra Dholakia voted to change his stance to neutral. The committee members maintained that the central bank’s focus remained focused on taming inflation, even if it came at the cost of higher rates.

A Kotak Economics Research Securities report expects the committee to change its stance to ‘neutral’ in February and 25 basis points repo rate cut in April and June given the benign inflation trajectory.

Deepak Jasani, Head-Retail Research, HDFC Securities, said RBI is likely to change its stance from calibrated tightening to neutral. However, he added that a rate cut at this stage may be a bit premature though there are reasons to back it.

Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation hit an 18-month low, rising 2.19 percent in December as compared with 2.3 percent in November due to cheaper fuel and food items, data released by the government showed. CPI, or retail inflation, is the main price gauge that RBI tracks.

At its last policy, the MPC expected retail inflation to moderate to 2.7-3.2 percent during October-March, before rising to 3.8-4.2 percent in April-September in 2019-20, with ‘risks tilted towards the upside’.

MPC had earlier said that the benign outlook for headline inflation is driven mainly by the unexpected softening of food inflation and collapse in oil prices in a relatively short period.

Consumer food price index had seen a de-growth to 2.51 percent in December from (-) 2.61 percent in November. Among food and beverages, prices of fruits, eggs, vegetables, pulses and sugar fell during December.

Niti Aayog open to have a role in allocating developmental funds to states: Rajiv Kumar

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The Niti Aayog is open to the idea of having a role in fund allocation to states for developmental expenditure and would discuss the matter with the 15th Finance Commission, the think tank's vice chairman Rajiv Kumar said on Monday.

Former chairman of the Finance Commission Vijay Kelkar recently suggested that the Aayog should be given financial powers to help address regional imbalances.

The Aayog, unlike its predecessor Planning Commission, does not have financial powers nor any say in preparing annual plans of the states. "I have always respected Dr Kelkar and his views comes from a very long experience, both as finance secretary as well as chairman of the Finance Commission.

"I having worked as the vice chairman of Niti Aayog for 16-17 months, what I do feel is that there needs to be some independent allocations for states to undertake their developmental expenditure," Kumar told PTI in an interview. He said that if the Aayog would be given some role in allocating development expenditure to states, then that would also "promote co-operative and competitive federalism".

"And I can also say to you that we are going to be discussing this with the 15th Finance Commission...," the Aayog vice chairman said. In a recent research paper, Kelkar suggested setting up of 'Niti Aayog 2.0' that would have financial powers as part of efforts to address regional imbalances.

Kelkar had also suggested that the vice-chairman of the new Aayog be made a permanent invitee of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA). Socialist-era Planning Commission was replaced by the Aayog on January 1, 2015. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the chairman of the Aayog.

While the Aayog is open to the idea having a role in resource allocation to states, Kumar made it clear that he was not seeking revival of the Planning Commission. "But certainly we don't want to return to old days of the Planning Commission and have a huge expansion in the number of centrally sponsored schemes etc...," he noted.

The Planning Commission used to play a key role in deciding the expenditure plans of central ministries as well as that of states. "I think the time has come to achieve a better balance between complete fiscal sovereignty and some allocation for targeted infrastructure in development-oriented expenditure across the states to ensure that there is a better convergence within the states.

"And all those states that are now today have weaker infrastructure (and need to) catch up with the more forward states," Kumar said. Echoing similar views, former Union minister and noted economist Yoginder K Alagh said that in 2014, he had called for the new body to have powers to allocate funds as per transparent rules.

"The government abolished the Planning Commission, started a large number of central schemes but resources (are allocated) by the finance or the ministry concerned. Some chief ministers' say this is arbitrary. Kelkar rightly wants a rule-based system,"Alagh told PTI.

About the interim Budget for 2019-20, Kumar said it has achieved a very good balance between providing a growth stimulus and maintaining the fiscal discipline. On former finance minister P Chidambaram's criticism that the Budget was an 'account for votes' and not a 'vote on account', Kumar said, "you cannot expect a non-election budget in an election year".

"... addressing some of the issues of some of the classes of the people is good political economy and only shows that the government is sensitive to the problems of the particular segments," Kumar said. Regarding the disinvestment target for 2019-20, he said the government when it comes back to the office would pursue the target much more efficiently.

"We will make sure that this Rs 90,000 crore disinvestment target will be achieved through some strategic disinvestment of loss-making PSUs.

The Interim Budget has set a target of Rs 90,000 crore to be mopped up from CPSE disinvestment in 2019-20 higher than Rs 80,000 crore in the current fiscal. Meanwhile, the Aayog vice chairman said there is now a need for re-establishing the quality of the India' statistical system.

The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation should not only come out as a collector of all data but also a quality regulator of all data, he opined. "What we have inherited is a relatively neglected statistical and data system in the country. I think, we now need to reverse that.

"And there was a time when the Department of Statistics was also a part of the Ministry of Planning, and I think that particular co-ordination is required," he said. The Department of Statistics has now rechristened as the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

Budget 2019: Govt to develop national portal for artificial intelligence, says FM Piyush Goyal

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Finance Minister Piyush Goyal on February 1 said that the government will soon develop a national portal for promoting the development of artificial intelligence, while delivery his budget speech.



"A national artificial intelligence portal will also be developed soon," he said.



With the aim to take the benefits of artificial intelligence and related future technologies to the people, a national programme on artificial intelligence has been envisaged by the government.



"This would be catalysed by the establishment of the National Centre on Artificial Intelligence as a hub along with Centres of Excellence. Nine priority areas have been identified," he said.



The announcement comes at a time when global giants such as Foxconn have expressed their plans to set up advanced industrial artificial intelligence research and development centres in the country.



Many educational institutions are also warming up to the concept of artificial intelligence.



Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hyderabad for instance recently said it was starting a first full-fledged B.Tech (Bachelors of Technology) programme in artificial intelligence (AI) for the academic year 2019-20.

Fitch warns of fiscal slippage if govt goes for populist Interim Budget

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Ahead of BJP-led NDA government presenting the final budget of its tenure, Fitch Ratings on Thursday warned of a second consecutive year of fiscal slippage in the event of Finance Minister Piyush Goyal resorting to populist spending to win over lost vote base.

The interim budget to be presented on Friday could give some indication of the government's commitment to fiscal consolidation, which is one of the main sensitivities in the sovereign ratings, Fitch said.

"Pressure for new expenditure to attract votes, particularly among rural and small-business owner voters, has increased as polls have shown the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is becoming less assured of victory in the general elections.

"The BJP has reportedly lost votes in some recent state elections due to rural distress and public concerns over job creation. Targeted cash programmes appear the most likely form of support, as they would avoid downside risks of alternatives, such as the farm loan waivers that undermined the loan repayment culture in the past," it said.

Populist spending, it said, would aggravate fiscal pressures, which are already building due to revenue shortfalls.

"Higher pre-election spending could risk a second consecutive year of fiscal slippage relative to the government's targets and would further delay plans to reduce the high general government fiscal deficit and debt burden," it said.

Fitch said longer-term trends are more important to the sovereign rating profile.

"We believe the central government may still be able to meet its fiscal deficit target of 3.3 per cent of GDP for FY19, which would help support its fiscal credibility, although this may be achieved by deferring capital expenditure and postponing bill payments until after March," it said.

The final budget for the fiscal year ending in March 2020 (FY20) will be presented soon after the next government takes office following general elections, which are due by May 2019.

Revenue from the new GST is well below target, Fitch said citing it as an reason for revenue falling short of the target so far in the current fiscal year that ends on March 31, 2019.

"Officially, the government still aims to adhere to a debt ceiling of 60 per cent of GDP by March 2025, as adopted under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act. However, this would require significant and politically difficult fiscal consolidation. The newly elected government's final budget, likely to be presented around July, should provide more meaningful guidance on the medium-term fiscal outlook," it said.

Fitch's base-case scenario is that general government debt will remain close to 70 per cent of GDP in the next few years, and will constrain India's sovereign rating (BBB-/Stable).

Indian budgets normally offers guidance on plans for structural reforms and tax changes.

"The current government could choose in its interim budget to signal the reform direction it would adopt in a possible second term, but we believe it is more likely to include such plans in the final budget...," it said.

The government's reform efforts have led to a strong improvement in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business ranking in recent years, but FDI inflows have remained roughly stable as a percentage of GDP over the past five years, as there are lingering difficulties, such as in enforcing contracts and the functioning of the labour market.

Indian sovereign bond yield touch 7.6% ahead of interim budget: DBS

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The yields on India's benchmark sovereign bonds were hovering around 7.6 percent ahead of the country's interim budget, according to a report by Singapore banking group DBS.

The yields of the most traded 2028 INR sovereign bond were bid in the 7.5-7.6 percent range and are up around 18 basis points since late-2018.

"Yields of the new 10-year are supported above 7.3 percent, with last Friday's auction (for 5-year, 10-year) attracting interests by a large corporate which resulted in a short-squeeze amongst the other participants," according to DBS.

Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of India's liquidity supportive stance also continues and the last tranche of open market operations (OMOs) for January is lined up for January 31.

In February, the RBI plans to buyback bonds worth Rs 375 billion, taking the FY19 haul to Rs 2.86 trillion.

The report further noted that the next event risk for the INR bond markets is the ensuing Interim budget for financial year 2019-20.

Coming ahead of the general elections in April-May 2019, the interim budget will express the intent of the government, it will outline expenditure and revenue projections for FY20, assuming the incumbent is voted back to power.

An overview of the past five years' achievements and blueprint for the upcoming year is also expected to be a part of the announcement, according to the DBS report.

"With the FY19 target of 3.3 percent of GDP likely to be met (any slippage to be limited to 3.5 percent), we expect the FY20 deficit target to be set higher at 3.2-3.3 percent vs recommended 3.1 percent," wrote DBS Group Research economist Radhika Rao and Strategist Duncan Tan.

Opposition political parties have meanwhile upped the ante, as the Congress party promised to provide a 'Minimum Income Guarantee' to the poor if voted to power, increasing pressure on the incumbent to address the ongoing farm distress.

"If fiscal deficit targets are along our expectations, bond markets are unlikely to witness big swings," wrote the duo.

Indian School of Business' 3 ingredients that put it on the global top 25 list

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Indian School of Business (ISB) is the only Indian institute to feature among the top 25 management institutes in the world as per the FT Global MBA Rankings 2019. Rajendra Srivastava, Dean of ISB talks about what makes the institute's expansion plans. Excerpts:

Q: You are the only Indian B-School to make it to the top 25 in the FT MBA rankings. What are the factors that contributed to this?

A: We've been working at it steadily. There are three major ingredients. The main ingredient is the quality of students. We only admit students with work experience. The average that they have is five years.

Also, when we admit students, we not only look at the test scores but the soft skills as well. Further, we look at emotional quotient, ability to communicate, team-building capability and intelligence quotient. Now, we are also looking at what I call the 'heart quotient'. This looks into whether they care about society and community.

The faculty is also very research focussed. We are looking to add 30 percent to our faculty strength and will have 70 resident faculty members. We get a lot of experienced visiting faculty and this brings a balance that comes from the global perspective of these faculty. Going forward, we are looking to hire faculty members from the East (Asia) as well.

Q: Has the thrust on corporate engagements also helped?

A: We have also focussed on engagement with the corporate community and government. The engagement with the corporate community is not only through recruiting but also through executive education. This is important not as a source of revenue but also helps in brand building.

Also, the corporate community has an opportunity to guide content development and research programmes in areas like infrastructure and healthcare.

Q: Is the institute also looking to develop more India-focussed case studies?

A: About two years ago, we were doing 25-30 case studies a year. We have now pushed it up to 70 a year and the goal is to reach 100 per annum. Out of these, about 85 percent are based in India and the rest are emerging markets focussed. What we have realised is that there is a need to have more India-focussed cases because that is what students are interested in.

Q: Government is working on a second list to give the Institute of Eminence tag. In the first, the tag was granted to a few educational institutes. What is your view on it?

A: We are still waiting to see what is going to happen with the Institutes of Eminence (IoE) list.

We were disappointed (of not being featured on the list) but we will continue on our path.

We will look into the course curriculum and try to bring in additional modules related to analytics, public policy and corporate governance. We had planned these anyway irrespective of whether we get the IoE or not.

Q: Are you in talks with All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to get an accreditation?

A: We have global accreditations including AACSB and EQUIS. In India, we are continuing to keep our dialogues open. We are well recognised globally as the leader in management education and hopefully, people at home will take notice too.

Q: After Mohali, is there a plan to open up campuses in other parts of the country?

A: In the future, our investment is going to be in soft assets like content development and digital infrastructure. We can have more telepresence. We are already delivering programmes in Gurgaon, Mumbai and Bengaluru for working professionals. But we will not buy real estate and will rent it wherever required.

Q: The ISB management programme is considered premium. Are additional scholarships on the anvil?

A: The fee structures of Indian Institute of Management are not that far behind than us. However, since the reputation of the school and the alumni are high, bank loans are easily available. For students, there are usually four or five banks queuing up to provide education loans.

Having said that there is an endeavour to tap the alumni network for this purpose. We are building up the endowment and the alumni are providing funds for the deserving students too.

BJP warms up to sulking allies in UP, might field candidates from rival parties: Report

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s Uttar Pradesh cadre has turned warmer towards its sulking allies in the state, including Apna Dal and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), after Priyanka's Gandhi's entry, The Economic Times has reported.

According to the report, the BJP top brass in the state is alarmed by the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance. With the Congress' decision to make Priyanka Gandhi its UP (East) in-charge, the BJP is likely to accommodate the demands of its smaller partners, sources told the newspaper.

Apna Dal, led by Union Minister Anupriya Patel, and SBSP has been reportedly 'unhappy' with its senior partner. Leaders from both parties have recently criticised the state as well as the central government on issues such as Ram Temple and reservation.

In a symbolic gesture, SBSP president Om Prakash Rajbhar and Patel had, in December, skipped a key rally in UP attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Patel had later also said the BJP should "respect" its allies and "learn from its mistakes".

According to the report, both Apna Dal and SBSP have sizable vote banks in eastern UP, where Priyanka is set to lead the Grand Old Party.

The report states that apart from warming up to existing allies, the BJP is also looking for newer allies in UP as well as states such as Tamil Nadu. Sources told the newspaper that BJP is in touch with Patel's mother Krishna and her sister Pallavi, who have floated a separate outfit after infighting within the Apna Dal had split the party.

According to the report, BJP might poach and field over three dozen leaders from rival parties during the upcoming polls. The saffron party is also trying to stitch a "rainbow alliance" across the country. The party, according to the report, is in touch with both factions of the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu, where it hopes to make inroads.

The BJP has also tried to placate the Shiv Sena by sanctioning a memorial worth Rs 100 crore for party supremo Bal Thackeray, who died in 2012.

India's exports up 32% to China, 12% to US during June-Nov 2018: FIEO

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The tariff war between the US and China is benefitting India as its exports to the neighbouring country have increased by about 32 percent to $8.46 billion during the June-November 2018 period, exporters body FIEO said on Thursday.

Exports to China had stood at $6.37 billion in June-November 2017.

In June and September 2018, the US announced high customs duties on several Chinese goods. In retaliation, China also raised levies on American goods.

Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) President Ganesh Kumar Gupta also said that during the period, India's exports to the US grew by 12 percent.

"Exports to China jumped from $6.37 billion in June-November 2017 to $8.46 billion in June-November 2018," Gupta said in a statement.

He said commodities that have exhibited high growth during the period to China include petroleum products, chemicals, cotton yarn, plastic raw material, and marine products.

"While tariff war is not good for the global trade, the same has come as an opportunity for other countries including India. Our exports to China in June-November 2018 went up by 32 percent and to US by 12 percent in the same period," Gupta said.

If the tariff escalation continues, India has to increase production capabilities to meet the growing demand in both the markets, he added.

Growth in exports to China is beneficial for India as it has huge trade deficit with the neighbouring country.

Trade deficit with China increased to $63.12 billion in 2017-18 from $51.11 billion in 2016-17.

India is taking several steps to promote shipments to China. Recently it has managed to export agricultural goods such as non-basmati rice to China.

India's exports up 32% to China, 12% to US during June-Nov 2018: FIEO

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The tariff war between the US and China is benefitting India as its exports to the neighbouring country have increased by about 32 percent to $8.46 billion during the June-November 2018 period, exporters body FIEO said on Thursday.

Exports to China had stood at $6.37 billion in June-November 2017.

In June and September 2018, the US announced high customs duties on several Chinese goods. In retaliation, China also raised levies on American goods.

Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) President Ganesh Kumar Gupta also said that during the period, India's exports to the US grew by 12 percent.

"Exports to China jumped from $6.37 billion in June-November 2017 to $8.46 billion in June-November 2018," Gupta said in a statement.

He said commodities that have exhibited high growth during the period to China include petroleum products, chemicals, cotton yarn, plastic raw material, and marine products.

"While tariff war is not good for the global trade, the same has come as an opportunity for other countries including India. Our exports to China in June-November 2018 went up by 32 percent and to US by 12 percent in the same period," Gupta said.

If the tariff escalation continues, India has to increase production capabilities to meet the growing demand in both the markets, he added.

Growth in exports to China is beneficial for India as it has huge trade deficit with the neighbouring country.

Trade deficit with China increased to $63.12 billion in 2017-18 from $51.11 billion in 2016-17.

India is taking several steps to promote shipments to China. Recently it has managed to export agricultural goods such as non-basmati rice to China.

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