Routinely work with digital players; no other activity to report, says Airtel on reports of Amazon investment

According to a report by Reuters, Amazon is in early-stage talks to buy a stake worth $2 billion in Bharti Airtel.

Amid reports of U.S.-retail giant Amazon looking at investing at least $2 billion in it, Bharti Airtel on Thursday said the company routinely works with digital players to bring their services to customers, but has “no other activity to report”.

According to a report by Reuters, Amazon is in early-stage talks to buy a stake worth $2 billion in Bharti Airtel. If the investment goes through, Amazon will end up owning 5% in the mobile services provider.

“We routinely work with all digital and OTT players and have deep engagement with them to bring their products, content and services for our wide customer base. Beyond that there is no other activity to report,” Bharti Airtel said in a statement.

When reached out, an Amazon India spokesperson said, “We don’t comment on speculation about what we may or may not do in future.”

The news comes after Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Platforms raised ₹78,562 crore in one month from five investors including Facebook, Silver Lake, Vista, General Atlantic and KKR. Additionally, technology giant Google is also said to be mulling picking up a minority stake in the beleaguered Vodafone Idea.

Following the news, Bharti Airtel scrip closed 5.73% or ₹31.60 higher on the NSE at ₹83.25 per share.

“The talks between Bharti and Amazon are at an early stage and the deal terms could change, or an agreement may not be reached, said two of the three sources, all of whom declined to be identified because the discussions are confidential,” a Reuters report said.

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Merck Inks Deals, Joins Coronavirus Vaccine Race

Merck & Co. Inc. (MRK) on Tuesday announced deals, including an acquisition and two collaborations that will enable the U.S. drugmaker to join the race to develop coronavirus vaccines and drugs. Shares of Merck were rising almost 4 percent in the pre-market.

Merck said it has agreed to acquire privately-held Themis, an Austria-based company focused on vaccines and immune-modulation therapies for infectious diseases and cancer. Themis’ COVID-19 vaccine candidate is in pre-clinical development, with clinical studies planned to start later in 2020.

Under terms of the deal, a subsidiary of Merck will acquire all outstanding shares of Themis in exchange for an undisclosed cash payment. Themis will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Merck on completion of the deal.

Themis has developed a pipeline of vaccine candidates and immune-modulatory therapies using its imeasles virus vector platform based on a vector originally developed by scientists at the Institut Pasteur, a European vaccine research institute. The measles virus vector platform is licensed exclusively to Themis for select viral indications.

In March, Themis said it is collaborating with the Institut Pasteur and the Center for Vaccine Research at the University of Pittsburgh, to develop a coronavirus vaccine candidate.

The project was supported by funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations or CEPI. Merck said it will join the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine program originated by Themis.

Merck also announced a new collaboration with IAVI, a non-profit science research organization, to develop another coronavirus vaccine.

This vaccine candidate will use the recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus or rVSV technology that is the basis for Merck’s Ebola Zaire virus vaccine, ERVEBO, which was the first rVSV vaccine approved for use in humans.

The vaccine candidate is in pre-clinical development, with clinical studies are planned to start later in 2020. Merck said it will lead regulatory filings globally.

In addition, Merck has entered into a collaboration agreement with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP to develop EIDD-2801, an orally available antiviral candidate currently in early clinical development for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Miami, Florida-based Ridgeback Biotherapeutics is a privately held, majority woman-owned biotechnology company.

Under the terms of the deal, Merck will gain exclusive worldwide rights to develop and commercialize EIDD-2801 and related molecules.

Ridgeback Bio will receive an undisclosed upfront payment, specified milestones, and a share of the net proceeds of EIDD-2801 and related molecules if approved. Merck will be responsible for the clinical development, regulatory filings and manufacturing of the antiviral.

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Why a proposal form is sacrosanct

Insured, nominees have to live with its consequences once the form is signed

The proposal form is the basis of your insurance contract. An important function of the form is to extract all material facts from the potential insured — that is you — that are pertinent to the policy you want to purchase.

A properly-filled proposal form is the first and biggest step in fulfilling your responsibility of adhering to the principle of ‘utmost good faith.’

The other half of ‘utmost good faith’ is the responsibility of the insurer to inform you in detail about the offered coverage, its extent, terms and conditions and its exclusions. So, you should be able to make informed decisions while buying the policy.

Proposal forms are designed for full disclosure and ensuring this will help you in receiving claims properly.

For example, in a hospitalisation policy, information regarding your health status and medical history will be required. If pre-existing conditions are withheld, claims can be repudiated on that basis. If it is home fire policy, details of the physical construction of the building, its fire-safety norms and fire-safety systems or equipment will be captured.

Proposal form declarations for life insurance are more critical to your coverage given that the claim is meant for the financial protection of the insured’s loved ones after his lifetime.

Legal dimension

Thus, your declarations acquire a legal dimension and the proposal form is consulted when claims are processed. For this purpose, you should have a copy too, and all papers preserved where you and your family members can retrieve them.

In fact, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India’s (IRDAI) Policyholders’ Protection Regulations mandates that a copy of the proposal form should be given to the policyholder along with the policy copy at the time of purchase of cover. Please ensure you receive this and preserve it for future reference.

It is common for those who buy insurance to be exasperated when it comes to filling proposal forms, to refuse to do so or refuse to give full information. Unfortunately, buying insurance itself is approached reluctantly and with distaste, and filling forms is considered a bafflingly irritating requirement of doubtful value.

The reverse is true and the only advice that can be given is, filling the proposal form is the one big favour you can do yourself while buying insurance.

Your insurance intermediary, an agent or broker or a bank staffer, can help you fill the proposal form. But remember, you are the owner of the document as you sign it. And, it is you and your nominees who will live with its consequences.

Sometimes, these details are filled erroneously by an intermediary and that could work to your disadvantage. So, verifying all details before signing and submitting it is your responsibility.

In the case of proposers who cannot read the proposal form or if it is in a language not known to them, then the contents have to be read out to them, explained and a full understanding of it ensured. The person doing this has to also sign a declaration that it has been carried out properly.

The bottomline is that the insurance contract is based on trust that both the parties are upfront about all relevant information.

Utmost good faith upholds the contract and when it is not observed, it can dent financial security and destroy lives.

(The writer is a business journalist specialising in insurance & corporate history)

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Merchandise exports drop over 60%

With global trade stalling on COVID-19, shipments nosedive in April

With the global trade coming to a near halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s merchandise exports nosedived over 60% in the last month to $10.36 billion from $26.07 billion in April 2019.

Except for iron ore and drugs and pharmaceuticals, all other commodities saw a negative growth.

As per government estimates, service exports for April 2020 — which will be revised later — stood at $17.60 billion, taking India’s overall exports to $27.96 billion, a decline of 36.65% year-on-year.

“The decline in [merchandise] exports has been mainly due to the ongoing global slowdown, which got aggravated due to the current Covid-19 crisis. The latter resulted in large scale disruptions in supply chains and demand resulting in cancellation of orders,” the Ministry of Commerce said.

Ravi Sehgal, chairman, Engineering Export Promotion Council said that the over 60% drop in merchandise exports during April 2020 is no surprise given a near halt in the global trade and it would be a long haul before normalcy returns.

Noting that exporting units, especially in the engineering sectors, are largely MSMEs, Mr. Sehgal said while the MSME package would provide liquidity infusion, the units need straight- forward fiscal support like waiving of electricity charges, water bills, and wage support for survival.

“All dues and refunds should be immediately released to enable exporters to tide over this unprecedented crisis,” he added. Except for iron ore and drugs and pharmaceuticals, which registered a growth of 17.53% and 0.25% respectively, all other commodities registered negative growth in April 2020 vis-a-vis April 2019.

Major commodity groups that recorded negative export growth during April 2020 are Gems & jewellery (-98.74%), Leather & leather products (-93.28%), Handicrafts (-91.84%), Carpet (-91.67%), Jute manufacturing (-90.61%), Man-made fabrics (-84.11%), Ceramic products & glassware (-76.72%), Electronic goods (-71.04%), Tea (-68.89%), Tobacco (-68.47%), Cashew (-67.55%), Petroleum products (-66.22%), Engineering goods (-64.76%) and Meat, dairy & poultry products (-60.34%).

Non-petroleum and Non-Gems and Jewellery exports in April 2020 were $9.08billion as compared to $19.54billion in April 2019, a negative growth of 53.54%.

Imports

Merchandise imports in April 2020 stood at USD 17.12 billion, 58.65% lower than imports of USD 41.40 billion in April 2019. Major commodity groups of import that showed negative growth include electronic goods (-62.72%), petroleum, crude & products (-59%), machinery, electrical and non-electrical (-52.91%), Coal, coke & Briquettes (-48.83%) and organic & inorganic chemicals (-35.10%).

Oil imports in April 2020 were 59% lower at $4.66 billion compared to $11.38 billion in April 2019. Non-oil imports in April 2020 were estimated at $12.46 billion compared to $30.02billion in April 2019.

Trade deficit

The merchandise trade deficit for April 2020 was estimated at $6.76 billion as against the deficit of $15.33 billion in April 2019. The statement said, “Taking merchandise and services together, overall trade surplus for April 2020 is estimated at $0.16 billion as compared to the deficit of $8.67 billion in April 2019.”

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Indian smartphone market grows 1.5% in Jan.-March quarter

India only country among top 3 markets to see some growth

India’s smartphone market grew 1.5% year-on-year to 32.5 million units in the January-March 2020 quarter, according to the data released by IDC. However, even though the pace of growth was tepid, India was the only country among the top three markets to see some growth.

The IDC’s ‘Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker’ noted that both China and the U.S. markets registered a double-digit decline of 20.3% and 16.0% during the first quarter of 2020, respectively.

Virus impact

“COVID-19 will have a substantial impact on the Indian mobile phone market in 2020, with potential supply chain disruptions and slower-than-expected consumer demand for the next few quarters,” Navkendar Singh, research director, Client Devices & IPDS at IDC India, said.

IDC expects the India mobile phone market to follow a U-shaped recovery from 3Q20 (July-September quarter). “The pent-up demand from the first half of the year will gradually shift to the second half, rolling over to 2021 as well. A revival in consumer demand is expected around the festive quarter of 4Q20; with amplified marketing and promotional activities,” Mr. Singh said.

As per the data shared by IDC, Xiaomi was the leader in the smartphone market with 31.2% market share, followed by Vivo (21%), Samsung (15.6%), Realme (13.1%) and Oppo (10.6%).

The online channel grew by 9% year-on-year during the January-March quarter due to multiple new launches, attractive discounts, cashback offers, and affordability schemes, registering a share of 43.1%, Upasana Joshi, Associate Research Manager, Client Devices at IDC India said.

She added that offline channel shipments declined by 3.5% year-on-year, owing to fewer consumer offers, fewer retail walk-ins, and a more aggressive portfolio available on e-tailer platforms across leading brands.

Further, with a 5.5% y-o-y growth, the average selling price for the smartphone market stood at $171 (approximately ₹12,800).

The feature phone segment, which still accounted for 41.2% of the overall mobile phone market in India, continued to decline y-o-y by 29.4% with shipments of 22.8 million units in 1Q20.

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Hero MotoCorp resumes manufacturing operations at three plants

The company is commencing operations in a graded manner at three of its manufacturing plants — Gurugram, Dharuhera (both in Haryana) and Haridwar (Uttarakhand).

The country’s largest two-wheeler maker Hero MotoCorp on May 4 said it has resumed operations across three of its manufacturing plants with actual product roll-out expected to begin from May 6.

The company is commencing operations in a graded manner at three of its manufacturing plants — Gurugram, Dharuhera (both in Haryana) and Haridwar (Uttarakhand), Hero MotoCorp said in a statement.

Additionally, the company’s Global Parts Center (GPC) at Neemrana in Rajasthan has also resumed operations.

The decision comes in the wake of the relaxations put in place by the government on the countrywide lockdown and the necessary permissions granted by local authorities, it added.

The manufacturing plants Haryana and Uttarakhand reopen from Monday and production at these facilities will commence from Wednesday, the two-wheeler major said.

“We are now ready to hit the ground sprinting as we commence the re-opening of our facilities. The well-being of the citizens continues to be our focus and the running of our economic engines is crucial to ensure their health and prosperity,” Hero MotoCorp Chairman Pawan Munjal said.

From the early onset of COVID-19, the company has been proactive in its business continuity plan and this has helped during the much-needed nationwide lockdown, he added.

“I am optimistic that business and the economy will begin the trajectory of its gradual recovery from here,” Mr. Munjal stated.

The company said it has also obtained necessary permissions to reopen its other plants, and operations will commence once supply chain partners get requisite permits to re-start.

Besides Haryana and Uttarakhand, the company has plants at Neemrana (Rajasthan), Halol (Gujarat) and Chittoor (Andhra Pradesh).

Hero MotoCorp said its Jaipur-based research and development facility — Centre of Innovation and Technology — has also received the necessary permission to reopen and will resume functioning soon.

With the easing of restrictions in several parts of the country, most of the company’s extensive customer touch-points, including dealerships, workshops and the secondary network, are expected to open gradually May 4 onwards, it added.

A business restart manual has also been shared with all the dealer partners of the company and they are restarting operations as per the government guidelines, after obtaining necessary permissions from local authorities, the company said.

Hero MotoCorp halted operations across its manufacturing facilities and made work-from-home mandatory for all its offices from March 22, 2020.

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Salaried borrowers mostly sticking to EMIs

Most MSMEs have opted for loan moratorium, say bankers

The option of a moratorium on loan repayments that was announced by the Reserve Bank of India last month has mostly been availed by micro, small and medium enterprises while salaried class borrowers have, till now, largely refrained from availing the facility, bankers said.

Last month, the RBI announced that banks and other financial institutions would give an option to borrowers of term loans, for deferring payment of all instalments falling due between March 1 and May 31, 2020.

The move was aimed at addressing the liquidity crunch faced by businesses and individuals due to the economic lockdown imposed to help contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

“About 85-90% of businesses in the MSME sector have availed the loan moratorium,” the chief executive officer of a public sector bank told The Hindu, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “This was expected as their business is down and [they] are facing a liquidity crunch,” the banker added.

“At the same time we have not seen many individuals, who are salaried, availing themselves of the moratorium,” the official said.

The bank CEO explained that the moratorium was imposed on repayment for all borrowers, except those borrowers who had availed of the standing instruction facility to pay equated monthly instalment (EMI). Such borrowers were required to inform the bank if they wanted to opt for the moratorium.

“We have not seen many such individuals opting for the moratorium, which is understandable as their income flow has not been impacted,” the official said. “The government employees for example… why should they opt for moratorium since their salaries have not stopped,” the banker added.

Borrowers opting for a moratorium would have to incur a cost as the interest, which has not been paid in these three months, would be added to the principal component.

“Some borrowers from the micro and medium enterprises have opted [for it],” said the managing director of another public sector bank. “But personal loans, term loans like housing loadns and vehicle loans, credit card loans, which carry higher rate of interest… many people have not opted [for a moratorium].

“In any case, the interest meter is running,” the official added, indicating that those who are in a position to repay ha not opted for the moratorium since they were aware of the cost.

Some private sector lenders, including housing finance companies, however, are still entertaining requests from their customers on the moratorium issue.

“A clear picture on how many of the salaried borrowers have availed themselves of the moratorium will emerge after some time, as customers still have some more days to indicate their choice,” an official from a private sector lender said.

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US ready to shape global energy markets with this game-changing power

OPEC deal buys producers time: Analyst

The PRICE Futures Group senior market analyst Phil Flynn on the world’s major oil producers finalizing a historic production cut.

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With billions of workers locked down by a global pandemic, President Trump has announced a historic agreement between Saudi Arabia, Russia, and other oil countries to cut global oil production.

TRUMP PLAYS KEY ROLE IN BROKERING HISTORIC OIL DEAL

This is a game-changing announcement, that reflects America's new role as the world's leading energy superpower.

It could reshape geopolitics for a generation and bring America massive economic and environmental benefits.

No oil company and no oil-producing country wants to cut production by itself. But if enough countries all cut oil production at the same time, oil prices will rise so that their industries make more money even though they're selling less oil.

The more oil-producing countries that cooperate, the bigger profits they can receive by acting together. For years, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, known as OPEC, restrained production to keep prices high.

CORONAVIRUS PRICE CRASH COULD SEE US STOCKPILE 1B BARRELS OF OIL: ENERGY SECRETARY

America is now emerging from the biggest oil and gas boom that the world has ever seen. It now produces 19 percent of the world's oil, far more than any other country. Its increasing share of oil has made OPEC less and less dominant.

The U.S. is now a net energy exporter: every year it ships more and more oil and gas to countries around the world.

OIL TRIMS EARLY GAINS DESPITE DEAL BETWEEN SAUDI ARABIA, RUSSIA

As a result, it increasingly shares OPEC's interests in higher energy prices for its producers. So it makes sense for America to work with Saudi Arabia and other energy exporters like Russia and Canada.

Of course, the United States is also the world's biggest oil consumer, so it does not want oil prices to be too high. But the unusual circumstances of a global pandemic mean that, for the moment, production cuts will also benefit consumers.

Yes, production cuts will slightly raise the current rock-bottom energy prices for consumers. But prices are so low that some oil and gas is being wasted—thousands of oil wells in Texas and North Dakota are just burning off, or "flaring" gas. These flares can be seen from space and waste more gas than some states use.

Consumers will be better off if this precious fuel is conserved for the future.

HALLIBURTON CUTS 350 US JOBS AS OIL BUST DEEPENS

Global production limits will also have massive environmental benefits. At a stroke, they will do more than any other policy has ever done to lower global greenhouse gas emissions by slowing production and consumption of fossil fuels. And they will also increase the benefits of America’s clean-burning natural gas.

The American oil boom was so rapid that gas pipelines could not keep up, which is why so much gas is being flared. This gas is being wasted, emitting carbon dioxide, with no environmental benefit.

If we can slow production a bit and build new infrastructure to bring this gas to the markets that need it, it can be used to replace dirtier sources of power and heat.

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Coal is still the world’s leading source of power and billions around the world still depend on coal or oil for home heating. Given time, America’s clean-burning natural gas can replace these sources, allowing the world to breathe freer.

America’s oil alliance demonstrates its newfound power to shape global energy markets. It is the perfect moment to show how this power can be used, with care, to protect the economy and the environment.

James W. Coleman is a professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, focused on energy and environmental law. Follow him on Twitter @EnergyLawProf. He has a new research paper on oil state cooperation on production cuts.

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Trump holds oil call with Saudi Arabia's King Salman, Russia's Putin as OPEC wavers

Trump believes Russia, Saudi Arabia are ‘close to a deal’

President Trump says he wants to prevent as many layoffs as possible in the oil industry.

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Saudi Arabia and Russia may be talking but a deal to cut oil production has failed to materialize, prompting President Trump to work the phones again urging the two feuding nations to come together as oil prices continue to spiral downward.

“I just spoke with the President of Russia Vladamir Putin and King of Saudi Arabia King Salman, and we had a big talk as to oil production and OPEC and making it so that our industry does well and the oil industry does better than its doing right now, the numbers are so low that there will be layoffs all over the world," Trump warned, including the United States.

WILL OPEC'S BIGGEST PRODUCTION CUT IN HISTORY BE ENOUGH?

The call followed OPEC's highly anticipated virtual meeting that failed to produce production cuts kicking oil prices even lower.

While it is unclear what is blocking a deal, Bloomberg reports that Mexico’s Energy Secretary Rocio Nahle Garcia refused to agree to curbs leaving more questions about Latin America. The meeting is expected to resume Friday. Earlier reports suggested Saudi Arabia and Russia had tentatively agreed to a production cut of around 10 million barrels.

For the week U.S. oil prices tumbled 19.7 percent to around $22.76 per barrel. For the year, losses are steeper at 63 percent as the coronavirus eliminated a huge chunk of demand.

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The phone call is at least the second Trump has orchestrated in recent days between the two countries, and this one lasted an hour and a half and Saudi Arabia's King Salman participated, while in prior calls the county was represented by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite the ongoing back-and-forth, Trump remains optimistic.

US SHALE PRODUCERS SURVIVAL AT STAKE IN LOOMING OIL-PRICE TALKS

“The conversation was very good, they are getting close to a deal, that is OPEC and many other countries outside of OPEC and we’ll see what happens," Trump added noting a deal could come "today or tomorrow."

News of the call, which ran into the coronavirus task force briefing, was first disclosed by Trump's adviser Dan Scavino in a tweet.

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Cognizant withdraws 2020 guidance on virus impact

Businesses hit, client demand set to drop in Q2 as well

Cognizant has decided to withdraw its revenue guidance for calendar year 2020 against the backdrop of fluid economic environment and COVID-19-driven market uncertainties.

“The long-term fundamentals of our business remain strong. However, given the unprecedented nature of this crisis, uncertainty around its duration and its impact on our ability to forecast performance, the company is withdrawing its 2020 guidance that was provided on February 5, 2020,’’ said Brian Humphries, CEO,Cognizant, on Thursday.

However, he said he was happy to see business momentum in the first two months of the quarter and was grateful to all associates for their commitment and professionalism which enabled Cognizant to meet its previously-announced revenue guidance.

He further said, “We acted decisively to limit COVID-19’s impact on our business, including rapidly enabling work-from-home capabilities across delivery teams. We are committed to helping our clients as they navigate unprecedented business challenges as well as supporting the efforts of governments globally to contain the spread of the virus.’’

“In this fluid environment where uncertainty prevails, we are well-positioned with deep client relationships across more than a dozen industries, and a strong balance sheet that provides solid financial flexibility.”

Cognizant said its first quarter revenue was expected to be in the $4.22 billion to $4.23 billion range, up 2.7-2.9% (3.4-3.6% in constant currency) over the corresponding quarter last year. Financial performance in the first two months of the quarter was on track to exceed previous guidance, driven by strong performance across North America.

Work-from-home

During the latter part of March, the company said, COVID-19 had increasingly affected business, largely due to delays in project fulfilment as delivery, particularly in India and the Philippines, shifted to work-from-home and reduced client demand, primarily in the travel and hospitality industries.

Cognizant expects the pandemic to further reduce client demand in Q2, as its societal and economic impact causes broader disruptions across industries.

Cognizant has taken some proactive steps to strengthen its financial flexibility, including drawing down $1.74 billion on its revolving credit facility on March 23, 2020, bringing its total cash and investment balance as of March 31 to approximately $4.7 billion, or net cash of $2.2 billion.

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