India Insight

Bandhan eyes India’s banking league with RBI licence

Kolkata-based Bandhan Financial was little known in India’s corporate arena. But a new banking licence from the Reserve Bank has given Managing Director Chandra Shekhar Ghosh and his 13,000 employees a reason to cheer.

“This is a different type of win. In the last 13 years they (employees) have been working hard and now they have got the recognition,” said Ghosh. “I hope that this is not a big challenge, the challenge is to develop the skills of the staff, it will take some time.”

The Reserve Bank of India on Wednesday granted provisional bank licences to Bandhan and infrastructure lender IDFC, preferring them over bigger corporate applicants and paving the way for new banks in India after a decade.

Started in 2001 in West Bengal, Bandhan offers small loans to India’s lower-middle class borrowers through its network of more than 2,000 branches. Present in 22 states, the lender had more than 5 million borrowers and outstanding loans of 57 billion rupees ($950 million) as of February, according to information available on its website.

Bandhan’s business model is similar to any other microfinance institution — a network of field workers collects and disburses loan amounts as low as 10,000 rupees ($166). The annual interest rate is about 22 percent and borrowers make weekly repayments.

Markets this week: Sensex up marginally, Axis Bank gains 4.7 percent

After registering record closing highs, the BSE Sensex ended with small weekly gains as the index fell sharply on Friday after the RBI governor’s strong comments on inflation dented sentiment.

Raghuram Rajan called inflation a “destructive disease” on Thursday. Earlier in the week, a panel recommended that the RBI should make managing inflation its main policy objective and set monetary policy by committee.

The central bank is likely to keep the repo rate on hold at its policy review next week, a Reuters poll published on Jan. 23 showed.

RBI puts the brakes on the bitcoin train in India

By Abhiram Nandakumar and Ratnika Maruvada

Enthusiasm over bitcoins has dampened in India after the country’s central bank cautioned investors to be wary of using virtual currency because of the associated security, financial and legal risks.

Bitcoin, which was introduced in 2009 by a developer known as Satoshi Nakamoto (the developer’s real name or names is unknown), is an online currency created by users, also called miners, by solving complicated math problems on the Internet. The currency is designed in a way that will produce 21 million coins that can be traded or, increasingly, used to buy things. (For a detailed explanation, visit bitcoin.org)

The Reserve Bank of India’s advisory on Dec. 24 prompted some Indian bitcoin traders to suspend their operations, even as regulators seek clarity on digital currencies and ways to regulate them. The RBI’s worries include taxation, security risks, losses due to the volatility and money laundering.

India’s debit card safety rule boosts sales of payment processing firms

Companies that help in processing card payments look set to benefit from rising demand for portable card swipe machines after the Reserve Bank of India adopted new rules to prevent fraud and enhance security.

Merchants in India usually swipe cards through a reader to generate receipts that customers sign, but the new rule, effective Dec. 1, adds another layer of security by making debit card holders enter their personal identification numbers to validate transactions via these machines, also referred to as point-of-sale (POS) terminals.

Businesses such as fuel stations, hotels and restaurants that normally keep their card machines out of the customer’s reach will have to buy the portable, GPRS-enabled devices to offer convenience to clients.

Markets this week: Sensex falls 1.3 percent, BHEL slumps nearly 10 percent

By Ankush Arora and Aditya Kalra

The BSE Sensex fell 1.3 percent in the week ending Dec. 13 after high retail inflation raised fears of a rate hike. Eight of 10 analysts in a poll on Friday said they expected the central bank to raise the repo rate by 25 basis points to try and tame stubbornly high inflation.

Before falling for four consecutive sessions from Tuesday, markets touched life highs on Monday. The BSE Sensex touched 21483.74 after sentiment on the street was boosted by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s win in three of five state elections.

However, profit-taking and the cautious outlook of investors before Thursday’s inflation data pushed shares lower, with the Sensex registering its worst weekly performance in nearly a month.

Business of new and worn banknotes thriving in Delhi

Rakesh Kumar is not like most of the street vendors in Old Delhi. The hand-painted sign on his wooden counter, “exchange damaged, old notes,” reveals a different story. He sells money.

For the past 40 years, Kumar has offered customers new banknotes for soiled or damaged ones for a fee that earns him about 100,000 rupees ($1,600) a year. It has also helped him pay for the marriages of his three children.

“We charge commission depending on the condition of the note,” the 58-year-old Kumar said while examining some 1,000-rupee notes nibbled by rats. “Around 30-40 people come to us daily.”

Real estate offers lure some Indian buyers

For around a year, Girish Kale was flirting with the idea of buying his dream house. His budget of 3.5 million to 4 million rupees ($56,000-$64,000) wasn’t going to work for Mumbai, where the kind of house the auto industry professional wanted would cost upwards of 10 million rupees.

Kale, who currently lives in a rented flat in Kandivali suburb, turned instead to Pune, a university city 150 kilometres away, with a plan to opt for a so-called 80:20 payment scheme. Such schemes allow the buyer to pay 20 percent of the property’s cost initially and the remaining amount on possession after construction.

However, when the Reserve Bank of India issued a directive on Sept. 4 restricting some of these schemes, Kale’s broker put them on the back burner. The central bank’s directive might have disappointed buyers, but some still want to invest in property.

“Maybe when in six months I would like to get married … my expenses will go up. That is why I was interested in 80:20,” said Kale, who is still on the lookout for a similar offer that will fit his budget. “It will be difficult but still I will go for it. I want to invest in real estate … if I delay it for maybe one or two years further, the price will go up”.

Markets this week: Sensex falls 2.6 percent, Jindal Steel slumps 9 percent

After rising for four consecutive weeks, the BSE Sensex fell 2.6 percent in the last five trading sessions, as a surprise repo rate hike by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Sept. 20 dampened investor confidence and battered banking shares.

Rate-sensitive sectors were hurt — the banking index and the realty index lost over 7 percent in the week. YES Bank fell 14.5 percent, SBI lost 6 percent while shares of DLF slumped 13 percent.

While analysts expected the new RBI chief Raghuram Rajan to hold rates last week, expectations for monetary policy have suddenly shifted towards further tightening after the rate hike, a recent Reuters poll showed.

Markets this week: Sensex gains 2.7 percent, Maruti surges 11 percent

By Ankush Arora and Sankalp Phartiyal

The BSE Sensex rose 2.7 percent in the week ending September 20, as foreign inflows and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s surprise decision to continue with its bond-buying programme boosted market sentiment.

The benchmark index, which is now up 9 percent in September and has gained for four consecutive weeks, touched its highest level since November 2010 on Thursday after the Fed’s surprising move. Analysts said the U.S. central bank’s decision could lead to a resurgence of portfolio flows into emerging markets such as India.

On Friday, the Reserve Bank of India stunned markets by raising the repo rate by 25 basis points (bps), but some of the recent rupee support measures were trimmed. The Indian currency gained 2 percent in the last five sessions and ended the week at 62.23/24 per dollar.

Markets this week: Sensex gains 2.4 percent; L&T, Tata Power surge

September is turning out to be a good month for Indian shares, as key stock indexes extended gains in the last four sessions. Monday was a market holiday.

The BSE Sensex gained 2.4 percent, while the broader Nifty rose nearly 3 percent as foreign institutional investors (FIIs) extended buying into Indian equities. A recovery in the rupee, which posted its best week in 15 months, also boosted sentiment.

Profit-taking dented markets mid-week as caution also prevailed ahead of a series of macroeconomic events scheduled next week, including August inflation data due on Monday and the likelihood of U.S. Fed’s decision to announce a reduction in its monetary policy stimulus. RBI will review its policy on September 20.

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