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Straight from the Specialists

U.S.-India dispute: A diplomat and a double-standard laid bare

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(The following essay is commentary. The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of Reuters)

Relations between the United States and India have crashed to their lowest ebb since the last millennium, something many Americans might have missed during the holiday buzz.  A spat over the treatment of a diplomat and her maid threatens the foundations of a key international partnership, and the implications extend far beyond foreign policy. This case could endanger American diplomats, businesspeople and tourists travelling abroad.

The fight began with the December arrest of Devyani Khobragade, India’s Deputy Consul in New York.  Khobragade, a young mother accused of under-paying her maid and making a false statement on a visa form, says she was hand-cuffed, strip-searched, and thrown in a holding facility with violent criminals.  India regards her arrest as a violation of diplomatic immunity.  The United States argues that such immunity does not extend to consular officials.

The incident provoked widespread protests in India, and the government withdrew many privileges accorded to American diplomats.  Some, such as a suspension of the right to import liquor, are inconveniences.  Others, like the removal of security barriers outside the embassy in New Delhi, and issuing officials with ID cards noting that their bearers are subject to arrest for many offenses, could put U.S. diplomats in physical danger.  Indian officials have demanded an apology, but the United States has offered only a statement of “regret.”  The federal prosecutor who launched the case, said, “Ms. Khobragade was accorded courtesies well beyond” those to which she was entitled.

The fear of “L”

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(This piece comes from Project Syndicate. The opinions expressed are the author’s own)

For the last few years, economists have been running through the alphabet to describe the shape of the long-awaited recovery — starting with an optimistic V, proceeding to a more downbeat U, and ending up at a despairing W. But now a deeper anxiety is beginning to stalk the profession: the fear of what I call an “L-shaped” recovery.

The return of the ugly American

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(This piece comes from Project Syndicate. The opinions expressed are the author’s own)

Nearly a month after American authorities arrested India’s deputy consul general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, outside her children’s school and charged her with paying her Indian domestic worker a salary below the minimum wage, bilateral relations remain tense. India’s government has reacted with fury to the mistreatment of an official enjoying diplomatic immunity, and public indignation has been widespread and nearly unanimous. So, has an era of steadily improving ties between the two countries come to an end?

India Markets Weekahead: Driven by hope in an election-led rally

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The New Year was ushered in with a steep and sudden correction in the broader indexes, with the Nifty closing 1.63 percent lower at 6,211. However, the mid-cap and small-cap indexes outperformed.

Though the holiday mood was evident, it was a politically charged week. The newly installed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi won a confidence motion with the support of the Congress. They subsequently announced power subsidies after granting water sops last week. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed a rare press conference, the third in 10 years, announcing his intent of handing over the baton to a new prime minister.

Will 2014 be any better for investors?

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

High inflation, low GDP growth and a sharp depreciation in the rupee led to subdued returns of 6.8 percent for the Nifty in 2013.

The core sectors — steel, cement, industrials, energy, infrastructure and capital goods — continued their poor performance and hence valuations shrunk, while consumer staples, IT, pharma and private sector financials bucked the trend. But the polarisation towards a few sectors underscores growing risk aversion.

The year 2013 in perspective

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The economy was already in distress before 2013, but with no significant action by the government and increased pressure from external sources resulted in more danger signals. It is now doubtful whether the economy will recover in the current fiscal.

The rot began in 2011. It took hardly two-and-a-half years to bring down the growth from 8.8 percent to 4.5 percent. The monsoon was good but badly distributed with the result that the summer crop did not show much improvement.  Industry is amidst stagnation with zero growth in April- October. The capital goods sector has been hit the hardest because investment declined, while the only silver lining was the improvement in external trade. Exports increased and imports declined which brought down the CAD to less than 2 percent of GDP.

India Markets Weekahead: Investors to remain bullish in election season

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

A surprise decision by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to keep the repo rate unchanged and a dovish statement from Ben Bernanke in his last news conference as U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman improved sentiment with the Nifty closing 106 points higher at 6,274.

Markets tottered for three days during the week amid fears the Nifty could break a crucial support zone between 6,120 and 6,140. Investors had discounted a 25 bps hike in monetary policy based on inflation numbers that were the highest in 14 months. RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan should be lauded for taking a practical stance as food inflation is expected to cool considerably in December due to improved supplies and the monsoon effect.

Managing India’s budget deficit

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The budget deficit has been a concern for India, but Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has assured that the government will not deviate from the target of 3 percent deficit in 2017. In the very first year, however, it has become almost obvious that the target will be missed.

Budget deficit is not the privilege of government alone as even corporates and households borrow like the government to fund deficits. However, they ensure that the money is used in a manner that it is repaid in time. With the government it is different — it can borrow more in order to repay old loans and it can do so with impunity because banks are a captive market for the government securities. That results in mounting public debt which stood at 56.5 trillion rupees at the end of March 2013. Of this, 40 percent is held by banks.

Unclear messages from the electoral tea leaves

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The past 12 months have been characterized by the narrowest market in two decades although sectoral performance varied significantly. While the markets are likely to be range-bound, valuations are expected to rise in 2014, especially in the first half.

Based on a one-year forward PE range of between 12.5 and 15 times and our top-down FY15 earnings growth forecast for the Nifty of between 10 percent and 15 percent, we expect the index to trade between 5,500 and 6,900 in 2014, with a target of 6,900 — an implied increase of around 10 percent relative to current levels.

Solving the Indo-Japanese equation

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

In geopolitics, neighbours rarely make great alliances. However, distance does not impede strong partnerships.

In the case of Japan and India, historical bonds nurtured by Buddhism and the Japanese providing the wherewithal to freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose for the Indian National Army, provides for the necessary people-to-people connect.

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