India inflation to trend lower in first quarter

Updated 07 December 2012
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India inflation to trend lower in first quarter

KOLKATA: India’s inflation is expected to trend lower during January-March, the Reserve Bank of India Governor Duvvuri Subbarao said yesterday, a month after he had indicated the central bank might ease monetary policy as early as January.
“It (inflation) has come down from its peak, but at 7.50 percent, inflation is still high,” he said after the central bank’s board meeting in the eastern city of Kolkata.
“We are expecting that inflation will trend down starting the fourth quarter of this fiscal year. As we go into our mid-quarter policy on Dec. 18 and the quarterly policy on Jan. 29, we will take into account the growth-inflation trajectory and calibrate our monetary policy accordingly.”
The headline inflation rate, based on the wholesale price index, rose an annual 7.45 percent in October, the slowest pace in February.
The RBI projects WPI at 7.5 percent at March-end, after revising the projection upwards twice earlier this year.
The Indian central bank, which was a hawkish outlier long after many central banks began loosening policy, has refrained from lowering rates following sticky and elevated inflation since the April rate cut despite slowing growth.
However, pressure from government and industry bodies has mounted over the last few months to cut policy rates due to the sharp slowdown in economic growth.
India’s services sector, which makes up nearly 60 percent of economic output, grew at its weakest pace in over a year in November, an HSBC services Purchasing Managers’ Index, showed on Wednesday.
In the October review of the monetary policy, Subbarao said there was a “reasonable likelihood” of further easing in the January-March quarter.
The rupee rose for a third session yesterday, marking its sixth rise in seven days, as the decision of a key ally to support the government on the retail FDI issue in the upper house is likely to help the government win the vote.
On Wednesday, India’s ruling coalition won a vote in the lower house on allowing foreign supermarkets to operate in the country, in a key test of support for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his flagship economic reform.
“The win in the lower house was already mostly discounted by the market but the upper house win helped the rupee break the 54.25 level. The overall target now is 53.20,” said Vikas Babu Chittiprolu, a senior foreign exchange dealer with Andhra Bank.
Traders said the rupee moved in a wide 54.04 to 54.5775 band with dollar demand from oil and gold importers pushing it lower and prompting exporters to step in and sell the greenback, thus, limiting a sharper fall.
The partially convertible rupee closed at 54.1350/1450 per dollar, 0.75 percent stronger than its close of 54.54/55 on Wednesday. The unit rose as high as 54.04, its strongest since Nov. 7.
Sentiment toward the Indian rupee improved over the past two weeks and net short positions on the unit fell by over two-thirds, a Reuters forex positioning poll on Thursday showed.
Traders said a recovery in the domestic share market also helped sentiment for the rupee in the second half. Indian shares gained 0.5 percent, its third consecutive rise.
Rupee could rise to 52 per dollar by the end of 2013 and is Credit Agricole’s top pick among the emerging markets, it said in a note earlier in the day.
The government’s win in the lower house would continue to help the rupee despite questions on whether the reform would be approved by the upper house and concerns about its implementation.
“The government’s victory is a good sign of its ability to push through other reforms,” Credit Agricole said.
In the offshore non-deliverable forward, the one-month contract was at 54.42 while the three-month was at 54.94.
In the currency futures market, the most-traded near-month dollar/rupee contracts on the National Stock Exchange, the MCX-SX and the United Stock Exchange all closed at around 54.2850 with a total traded volume of $ 6.30 billion.


All-American banker heads back to the Kingdom

Updated 21 April 2018
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All-American banker heads back to the Kingdom

  • "The implementation and execution of Vision 2030 will produce global companies for Saudi Arabia, and we can help in that process," said Citigroup CEO
  • "The government has a lot on its plate and privatization takes a long time to set up. Privatization is one of those things that you only want to do once,”

If anybody deserves the description “all-American”, it is surely Mike Corbat, chief executive officer of Citigroup.

New England origins, a Harvard education, Ivy League American footballer and a Wall Street career are all evidence of the fact he was very definitely “born in the USA”, as is the in-bank nickname of “Clark Kent” — the alter-ego of Superman — due to his athletic physique and spectacles.

But last week Corbat was turning his mind away from the USA and toward Saudi Arabia, as the bank formally ended a 14-year self-imposed exile from the Kingdom with a ceremony at its new offices in Riyadh, symbolizing its return to the lucrative markets it first entered in the 1950s, among the first American banks to do business in the region.

Corbat took some time out of the day’s celebrations — a formal ribbon-cutting alongside Ibrahim Al Omar, governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, and an elite dinner in the ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel in Kingdom Tower — to talk exclusively to Arab News about Citi’s plans for the Saudi business at a time of rapid transformation in the Kingdom and the region.

“I am absolutely positive about the economic prospects for this region. We are in 13 countries here, with 2,500 employees, focusing on trade and business, with some consumer presence. The implementation and execution of Vision 2030 will produce global companies for Saudi Arabia, and we can help in that process. Citi can service some of their needs as they expand globally,” he said.

Citi withdrew from Saudi Arabia in 2004 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the USA, in a decision later described by executives as “a mistake.” Even before the enormous opportunities of Vision 2030 persuaded the bank it had to have a formal presence again in the Kingdom, and a license from the Capital Markets Authority (CMA) to pursue investment banking and other business there, the bank was back on the scene.

In 2015 it helped Saudi Aramco to raise multi-billion dollar loans, and advised the oil giant on Asian deals. The following year, which saw the formal unveiling of Vision 2030, Citi was involved in the groundbreaking $17.5 billion bond issue that marked the Kingdom’s debut on global capital markets.

Citi was back, but needed a CMA license to win more lucrative business in the big domestic economic transformation under way. That was finally granted in April of last year, and Carmen Haddad, a long serving Citi executive with extensive experience of the Middle East, was made head of the new Saudi operation.

“We’ve been at the front and center of the sovereign bonds drive Saudi has been doing for the past couple of years, and also with syndicated loans. But with the CMA license we can really show our worth. We can help with all future debt and equity transactions,” Corbat said.

Vision 2030 aims to reduce the Kingdom’s dependence on oil, but also to increase the contribution of the private sector to the national economy, and this is one area where Citi feels it can use its global experience. The bank has advised governments around the world on privatization strategies, and Saudi has a privatization schedule that ranks among the largest in history.

The timing and scale of the program is still unclear. Last year minsters put a value of $200bn on the program, but officials in Riyadh last week were talking more in the $60bn to $70bn range. And investors are still waiting for the first big sell-off of a state company. But Corbat insisted Citi would be ready to get involved when the time is right.

“Privatization is obviously a top priority of the Vision 2030 strategy, and we can bring our expertise to bear in this. I think it is right to take your time over something as significant as the privatization program. The government has a lot on its plate and privatization takes a long time to set up. Privatization is one of those things that you only want to do once,” he said.

By far the biggest element of the drive toward a more private sector-focused economy is the plan to sell shares in the Kingdom’s “jewel in the crown”, Saudi Aramco. Citi is among a small group of top global banks vying for business in the Aramco sell-off.

Originally planned as a big international initial public offering (IPO) by the end of this year, valuing the company at $2 trillion, doubts have begin to creep in over the valuation figure, and over the venue for what promises to be the biggest IPO in history. One suggestion is that Aramco will go only for a listing on the Tadawul exchange in Riyadh.

“I don’t know the timing of the IPO. Maybe they [the Saudi authorities] will want to start locally, in which case they have to be sure the capacity and liquidity are there,” Corbat said.

He believes that recent improvements to the market infrastructure in Saudi Arabia — which look set to see the country included in index provider MSCI’s widely-tracked Emerging Markets index from as early as next year — could make an “exclusive” IPO on Tadawul more attractive.

“The MSCI upgrade to emerging markets status will create more liquidity, and foreign investors will have to play their role,” he said.

“All the big reforms that have taken place on the Riyadh market recently have certainly made it a friendlier place for foreign investors. The CMA has been through more change than ever, and it’s a better place for that. The CMA over the past two years has proven to be progressive and consultative,” he added.

Citi found itself indirectly involved in the big anti-corruption campaign of last year, when their long-term partner and shareholder, Price Alwaleed Bin Talal, was among the businessmen detained in the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh.

Corbat is reluctant to comment on the Kingdom’s internal affairs, though he did say that foreign direct investment would not be hit by the anti-graft drive. “I don’t think FDI has been or will be affected negatively by the anti-corruption campaign. Saudi Arabia is already the biggest economy in the region with only limited foreign investment. Imagine how far it could go with more,” he said.

On Alwaleed, he said: “He has been a shareholder since the early 1990s, and he has been a great shareholder, a loyal voice of support and reassurance. We’ve been fortunate to be able to count him as one of our shareholders. In all our dealings with him I’ve found him to be straightforward and transparent.”

Corbat was one of the top American executives who met with Saudi officials on the recent royal visit to the USA, intended in part to counter any adverse investor sentiment from the anti-corruption arrests, and was impressed by what he saw.

“The visit to the USA by the Crown Prince was extremely well received. The whole Saudi delegation impressed us with their drive and commitment to the transformation process. It was a very successful exercise for Saudi Arabia,” he said.

With 35 years at Citi under his belt, including responsibly for unwinding Citi’s “toxic” assets after the financial crisis, and wide ranging experience of the bank’s international operations, he is well placed to gauge global geo-politcal risk.

He sees some threat to the world financial system from the end of quantitative easing, which he called a “renormalization of the global economy”, and a more limited challenge to world economies from possible “trade wars” between the USA and China.

“I think it’s fair to say that if we did have a serious trade war, it would have an effect. But it would not be the end of trade. I think it’s more likely to redraw the trade lines of the world. Trade flows would move away from the big blocks and go through other areas, like Africa and other places for example,” he said.

On regional risks, always a factor in business and financial decisions in the Middle East, he said: “I think they are within acceptable limits and I don’t think they will go beyond that. The region is the leading center for oil and gas so what happens here has global implications,” he said, though with the caveat that the effects of a prolonged trade was on the “bookend” economies of the USA and China could have a negative impact on global commodity prices.

All-American Corbat may be, but Citi’s return to the Kingdom will just not be an exercise in stuffing US executives into the top jobs in Riyadh. The firm is committed to achieving 85 percent Saudi employment levels at its new office, and is already well on the way to achieving that.

“The market for talent in Saudi Arabia is extremely competitive, but we think we have a very strong appeal for candidates. We are very proud of our ability to invest in and train, and to improve home grown talent,” Corbat said.