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Today’s top business news: Shares rise with financials in lead as COVID-19 cases fall, WPI soars to 10.5% in April, NEFT to remain unavailable for 14 hrs on Sunday due to technical upgrade, and more


The benchmark stock indices opened the day on a positive note riding on the gains witnessed in large private banks as coronavirus cases fall.

Join us as we follow the top business news through the day.

4:30 PM

NEFT to remain unavailable for 14 hrs on Sunday due to technical upgrade

The popular payments system will be down over the weekend.

PTI reports: “The popular National Electronic Funds Transfer (NEFT) system for online transfer of funds will remain unavailable for 14 hours from Saturday mid-night till Sunday afternoon due technical upgrade, the Reserve Bank of India said on Monday.

National Electronic Funds Transfer (NEFT) is a nation-wide centralised payment system owned and operated by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). It is available round the clock availability on all days of the year.

A technical upgrade of NEFT, targeted to enhance the performance and resilience, is scheduled after the close of business of May 22, 2021, RBI said in a statement.

“Accordingly, NEFT service will not be available from 00:01 hrs to 14:00 hrs on Sunday, May 23, 2021. The RTGS system will continue to be operational as usual during this period,” the RBI said.

The RBI has asked banks to inform their customers to plan their payment operations accordingly.

Similar technical upgrade for real-time gross settlement (RTGS) was completed on April 18, 2021.

RTGS facility is used for high-value fund transfers. NEFT is also a near-real-time funds transfer facility. NEFT currently operates in batches on half-hourly intervals throughout the day.

Besides funds transfer, NEFT system is also used for a variety of transactions including payment of credit card dues to the card issuing banks, payment of loan EMI, and inward foreign exchange remittances, among others.”

4:00 PM

Indian shares rise with financials in lead as COVID-19 cases fall

A great day for stocks.

PTI reports: “Indian shares rose on Monday as market sentiment improved after domestic coronavirus cases fell below the 300,000 mark for the first time since April 21, with financials rebounding from a sharp drop in the previous session.

The NSE Nifty 50 index climbed 0.82% to 14,798.55 by 0505 GMT, up after three straight sessions of falls, while the benchmark S&P BSE Sensex advanced 0.93% to 49,191.68.

Last week, both indexes lost 0.9% after worries over higher U.S. inflation triggered a sell-off in global markets.

“The decline in the speed of new cases is helping domestic markets,” said Narendra Solanki, head of equity research (fundamental) at Anand Rathi Investment Services.

“At this rate, lockdowns might not continue for too long and investor sentiment is upbeat.”

India reported 281,386 new coronavirus infections over the last 24 hours, the lowest since April 21, helped by extended lockdowns in some states.

Most sectors were trading higher, led by a 2.24% rise in the Nifty PSU Bank index. On Friday, the sub-index had slid 2%.

Private sector lenders HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank were the top boosts to the Nifty, adding nearly 1% each.

The Nifty IT index was up 0.2% after rising as much as 0.71% earlier supported by a 1.4% climb in IT major Infosys.

Automotive components maker Automotive Axles soared nearly 16% after reporting a jump in quarterly profit.

Nifty component Bharti Airtel was down as much as 1.67% ahead of its March-quarter results.

Meanwhile, Asian equities were mixed as data on Chinese retail sales missed expectations though industrial output stayed solid, while more evidence of global inflation pressures helped gold scale a more than three-month high.”

3:30 PM

WhatsApp installs fall over 40% as users download rival apps

WhatsApp’s app installs worldwide declined nearly 43% between January and April this year as several users considered downloaded Telegram and Signal apps, according to data by app analytics firm Sensor Tower.

Telegram’s installs grew 98% in the January-April period, compared to last year, on both Android and iOS devices. Privacy-focused app Signal’s app first-time downloads surged nearly 1,200% in the same period, compared to last year.

The Facebook-owned company announced a contentious privacy policy update in January, triggering a mass exodus of users to rival apps Signal and Telegram.

WhatsApp’s mobile app saw a decline in first-time installs even before the January update, with 55.2 million installs globally in April last year, down nearly 30% from the previous month. This could be due to several users moving to WhatsApp’s desktop or web version, Sensor Tower noted.

 

3:00 PM

Housing sales up 21%, new supply down 40% in Jan-Mar; demand to be muted in Apr-Jun

Housing inventory takes a dip.

PTI reports: “Housing sales increased by 21 per cent while new supply declined 40 per cent year-on-year during January-March 2021 across seven major cities, according to data analytic firm PropEquity.

Housing demand in the April-June quarter is likely to be sluggish due to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sales or absorption of housing units rose by 21 per cent across seven cities in the first quarter of the 2021 calendar year to 1,05,183 units as against 87,236 units in the year-ago period.

However, the new supply or launches of housing units fell 40 per cent to 59,737 units from 1,00,343 units.

Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), Delhi-NCR and Pune saw a rise in housing sales, while Kolkata slipped by 20 per cent.

Samir Jasuja, founder and MD at PropEquity, said the first quarter of this calendar year was relatively better for Indian realty as compared to the last year.

“There was higher demand in ready to move in units and the projects nearing completion. However, the second wave of COVID will lead to muted demand going forward,” he said.

Jasuja expects sales to pick up after the end of the second wave of COVID.

According to the data, housing sales in Bengaluru rose 13 per cent to 12,262 units in January-March 2021 from 10,878 units in the year-ago period.

Chennai saw a 29 per cent rise in sales at 5,055 units from 3,930 units, while Hyderabad witnessed a 16 per cent rise in demand to 10,964 units from 9,477 units.

In Maharashtra, housing sales in MMR grew 26 per cent to 41,323 units from 32,886 units, while Pune registered 31 per cent growth in demand at 25,252 units compared to 19,221 units.

In the Delhi-NCR market, sales rose 6 per cent to 6,644 units as against 6,239 units.

However, housing sales in Kolkata dipped 20 per cent to 3,682 units in January-March 2021 from 4,605 units a year ago.

Last month, housing brokerage firm PropTiger reported a marginal 5 per cent year-on-year decline in housing sales during January-March 2021 across eight big cities.

Property consultant Anarock said sales grew 29 per cent during January-March this year across major cities.

PropEquity, an online real estate data and analytics platform, said it covers over 1,18,010 projects of 34,217 developers across 44 cities.

“The current COVID wave has hit the sector when Indian real estate housing demand was on the growth trajectory in Q1 of 2021,” said Ankush Kaul, President (Sales & Marketing) Ambience Group.

He believes that once the current COVID spread in India stabilises, the demand will again grow.”

2:30 PM

Apollo Hospitals begins administering Sputnik V vaccine in Hyderabad

Apollo Hospitals in Hyderabad has started administering Sputnik V, the Russian vaccine against COVID-19, as part of a limited pilot programme rolled out by Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories.

The vaccination began at the hospital in Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad on May 17 and will be launched at the Apollo Hospitals in Visakhapatnam on May 18. The vaccinations would follow the SOPs as recommended by the government, including registration on CoWIN, a statement said.

Besides Apollo Hospitals, the vaccine is also available in Hyderabad at Continental Hospitals, said Sauri Gudlavalleti, Global Head of Integrated Product Development Organization (IPDO) of Dr. Reddy’s.

Marketing partner for Sputnik V in India, Dr. Reddy’s had on May 14 announced the rollout of the vaccine in the country. It plans to make it available at 35 cities, primarily metros and tier I locations. The maximum retail price per dose, of the two dose, imported Sputnik V, is ₹995, including a 5% GST.

 

2:00 PM

India’s electricity use falls in May due to COVID-19 lockdowns

The shutdown of businesses is having an impact.

Reuters reports: “India’s electricity use fell 6.2% during the first half of May compared with the second half of April, government data showed, as coronavirus lockdowns imposed by states across the country stifled power demand.

Total daily average electricity supply to states fell to 3,666 billion units during the first sixteen days of May, compared with 3,910 billion units during the second half of April, data from federal grid regulator POSOCO showed.

Industries and offices account for half the country’s annual electricity consumption. Power generation in India generally starts rising from April and peaks in May due to a higher air-conditioning load.

Power use in May has been higher than the same time the previous year except in two southern states and two northeastern states, the data showed, indicating curbs have been less strict than last year despite surging deaths due to the pandemic.

India’s federal government – which imposed a stringent national lockdown in April and May 2020 – has resisted imposing country-wide curbs during India’s second wave, but most states have restricted movement.

Senior government officials had cited the recovery in demand for power in late 2020 as a sign the economy was beginning to recover from its worst slump in decades.

Three-fourths of the regions recorded a dip in power use in May compared with the second half of April due to curbs imposed to control the spread of the virus.

Power use rose in the northern states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Delhi – among the regions worst affected by the coronavirus, even as overall power generation fell 6.3% compared with the second half of April.

Power supplied to Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat – India’s richest and most industrial states which together account for nearly a third of the total electricity consumption – fell by over 5% each.”

1:30 PM

Facebook still gives low priority to elections in India and other countries, says whistleblower Sophie Zhang

Sophie Zhang worked as a Facebook data scientist for nearly three years before was she fired in the fall of 2020. On her final day, she posted a 7,800-word memo to the company’s internal forum — such farewell notes, if not the length, are a common practice for departing employees. In the memo, first published by Buzzfeed, she outlined evidence that governments in countries like Azerbaijan and Honduras were using fake accounts to influence the public. Elsewhere, such as India and Ecuador, Zhang found coordinated activity intended to manipulate public opinion, although it wasn’t clear who was behind it. Facebook, she said, didn’t take her findings seriously.

Zhang’s experience led her to a stark conclusion: “I have blood on my hands.”

Facebook has not disputed the facts of Zhang’s story but has sought to diminish the importance of her findings.

 

1:00 PM

Fuel demand in COVID-hit India plunges in May – data

More data on fall in fuel demand.

Reuters reports: “Domestic sales of gasoline and diesel by Indian state refiners plunged by a fifth in the first half of May from a month earlier as lockdowns to curb coronavirus infections hit industrial activities and consumption, preliminary data showed on Monday.

Gasoline and diesel sales over May 1-15 fell by about 20%, while jet fuel consumption slumped by nearly 38%, versus April 1-15 levels, the data compiled by the state refiners showed.

“Trucking activity is almost half of what it used to be in normal times,” SP Singh, senior fellow at Indian Foundation of Transport Research & Training, said.

“Most of the business that they were getting from small and medium business has been hit due to lockdowns,” Singh said, adding only a fraction of 5.5 million trucks is currently running on roads due to lockdowns.

Indian fuel demand had recovered to near pre-COVID levels in March but has been declining since April given restrictions amid a staggering spike in infections to record highs. India on Monday reported 281,386 new coronavirus infections over the last 24 hours, while deaths rose by 4,106. The South Asian nation’s total case load is 24.97 million with the death toll at 274,390, health ministry data showed.

Federal health officials have warned against any complacency over a “plateauing” in the rise of infections and urged states to strengthen their medical insfrastructure and workforce. India’s demand for transportation fuels are expected to witness a sharper slump in May due to more impending restrictions, analysts say. Due to a decline in local fuel sales, Indian refiners have started cutting crude processing and imports.

State companies – Indian Oil Corp, Hindustan Petroleum Corp and Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd – own about 90% of India’s retail fuel outlets. Domestic fuel sales by state retailers over May 1-15, however, were higher versus a year earlier when there was a nation-wide lockdown.”

12:30 PM

WPI soars to 10.5% in April

Inflation in wholesale prices soared to 10.5% in April, from 7.4% in March and 4.8% recorded in February, as per the Wholesale Price Index (WPI).

The high inflation rate for April is “primarily because of rise in prices of crude petroleum, petrol, diesel etc, and manufactured products as compared to the corresponding month of the previous year,” the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade said.

Wholesale food prices also hardened to record 7.6% inflation in April from 3.6% in February and 5.3% in March.

12:00 PM

Microsoft investigated Gates before he left board: report

Board members at Microsoft Corp. made a decision in 2020 that it wasn’t appropriate for its co-founder Bill Gates to continue sitting on its board as they investigated the billionaire’s prior romantic relationship with a female Microsoft employee that was deemed inappropriate, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

Citing unnamed sources, The Journal reported online Sunday that board members looking into the matter hired a law firm in late 2019 to conduct an investigation after a Microsoft engineer alleged in a letter that she had a sexual relationship with Gates over several years.

The Journal reported that Gates resigned before the board’s investigation was finished, citing another person familiar with the matter.

 

11:30 AM

Rupee rises 5 paise to 73.24 against US dollar in early trade

The sentiment in the current market reflects that in stocks.

PTI reports: “The Indian rupee inched higher by 5 paise to 73.24 against the US dollar in early trade on Monday supported by positive domestic equities.

At the interbank foreign exchange, the domestic unit opened on a flat note at 73.24 against the dollar, registering a rise of 5 paise over its previous close.

On Friday, the rupee had closed at 73.29 against the US dollar.

The rupee started this Monday on a flat note against the dollar as the greenback has started on a slightly positive note this week after weakening last week, Reliance Securities said in a research note.

Most of the Asian currencies are trading weaker against the dollar and could cap the appreciation bias, the note added.

Markets could look for cues from WPI inflation data, traders said.

On the domestic equity market front, the 30-share BSE Sensex was trading 418.4 points or 0.86 per cent higher at 49,150.95. Similarly, the broader NSE Nifty advanced 110.25 points or 0.75 per cent to 14,788.05.

The dollar index, which gauges the greenback’s strength against a basket of six currencies, was trading higher by 0.10 per cent at 90.40.

Foreign institutional investors (FIIs) remained net sellers in the capital markets, as they pulled out Rs 2,607.85 crore on Friday, as per provisional data.

Brent crude futures, the global oil benchmark, were trading up 0.06 per cent at USD 68.75 per barrel.

Meanwhile, India’s COVID-19 tally mounted to 2,49,65,463 on Monday with 2,81,386 fresh COVID-19 cases, the lowest in 27 days, while the death toll climbed to 2,74,390 with 4,106 fatalities, according to Union health ministry data.”

11:00 AM

Petrol, diesel price hiked again; petrol price nears ₹99 in Mumbai

Petrol price on May 16 was increased by 24 paise per litre and diesel by 27 paise, pushing rates across the country to record highs and that of petrol in Mumbai to near ₹99 a litre.

The increase led to rates in Delhi climbing to ₹92.58 per litre and diesel to ₹83.22, according to a price notification of State-owned fuel retailers.

Rates had already crossed ₹100-mark in several cities in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and with the latest increase, price in Mumbai too was inching towards that level.

A litre of petrol in Mumbai now comes for ₹98.88 and diesel is priced at ₹90.40 per litre.

Fuel prices differ from State to State depending on the incidence of local taxes such as VAT and freight charges. Rajasthan levies the highest value-added tax (VAT) on petrol in the country, followed by Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

 

10:30 AM

Oil edges lower as COVID-19 restrictions in Asia fuel demand concerns

Demand continues to be a problem for oil.

Reuters reports: “Oil prices edged lower on Monday as the recovery of a major U.S. pipeline network eased concerns over supply and a new wave of COVID-19 restrictions in Asia fuelled fears of lower demand.

Gasoline shortages that have plagued the U.S. East Coast slowly eased on Sunday, with 1,000 more stations receiving supplies as Colonial Pipeline’s 5,500-mile (8,900-km) system recovered from a crippling cyberattack.

Brent crude oil futures were down 8 cents, or 0.1%, at $68.63 a barrel as of 0036 GMT, and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was down 7 cents, or 0.1%, at $65.30.

The two contracts jumped nearly 2.5% on Friday and managed to book a small gain last week, marking a third consecutive weekly increase.

“Oil prices are under pressure as a spike in the COVID-19 pandemic is spreading from India to other parts of Asia, which increased concerns over slower recovery in fuel demand,” said Kazuhiko Saito, chief analyst at commodities broker Fujitomi Co.

“We expect Brent prices to stay in a trading range this week, with support expected at around $63 a barrel,” he said.

Investors remained cautious on worries that the highly transmissible coronavirus variant first detected in India is spreading to other countries.

Some Indian states said on Sunday they would extend COVID-19 lockdowns to help contain the pandemic, which has killed more than 270,000 people in the country. There are fears that the nation’s annual budget may fall flat as it did not account for a crippling second wave of COVID-19 infections.

Singapore will shut most schools from Wednesday after the city-state reported the highest number of COVID-19 infections in months, while Japan has declared a state of emergency in three more prefectures hit hard by the pandemic.

Meanwhile, U.S. energy firms added oil and natural gas rigs for a third week in a row as higher crude prices prompt some drillers to return to the wellpad, energy services firm Baker Hughes Co said on Friday.

In the Middle East, Israel and Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group faced mounting international calls for a ceasefire in hostilities that entered their second week on Monday with no end in sight.

“As long as the fight does not spill over to oil-producing countries in the region, there will be limited impact on the oil market,” Fujitomi’s Saito said.”

10:00 AM

Sensex surges over 300 pts in early trade; Nifty tests 14,750

A good start to the day for stocks.

PTI reports: “Equity benchmark Sensex surged over 300 points in early trade on Monday, tracking gains in index majors HDFC twins, ICICI Bank and Infosys.

The 30-share BSE index was trading 300.45 points or 0.62 per cent higher at 49,033.

Similarly, the broader NSE Nifty rose 75.60 points or 0.52 per cent to 14,753.40.

SBI was the top gainer in the Sensex pack, advancing over 2 per cent, followed by IndusInd Bank, ONGC, Bajaj Finserv, ICICI Bank, HDFC and Infosys.

On the other hand, L&T, Bharti Airtel, Sun Pharma, Titan and Dr Reddy’s were among the laggards.

In the previous session, Sensex ended 41.75 points or 0.09 per cent higher at 48,732.55, while Nifty slipped 18.70 points or 0.13 per cent to 14,677.80.

Foreign institutional investors (FIIs) were net sellers in the capital market as they offloaded shares worth Rs 2,607.85 crore on Friday, as per provisional exchange data.

According to V K Vijayakumar, Chief Investment Strategist at Geojit Financial Services, there are two macro numbers that will exert a big influence on the markets – externally, US inflation numbers; and internally, India’s COVID data.

“The jury is still out on the US inflation with the Fed claiming that the spike in inflation in April is transitory and many economists and market experts believing that inflation will continue to rise to force the Fed to taper earlier than expected. We will have to wait to see how the inflation scenario plays out.

“The other number, India’s COVID data, indicates steady improvement with fresh cases steadily declining and the latest number at 2.81 lakh is indeed very positive. And, the recovery numbers at 3.78 lakh indicate a steady decline in total caseload. This means the present increasing lockdowns will be a temporary phase which is likely to be ignored by the market,” he said.

Elsewhere in Asia, bourses in Shanghai and Hong Kong were trading on a positive note in mid-session deals, while Tokyo and Seoul were in the red.

Meanwhile, international oil benchmark Brent crude was trading 0.19 per cent higher at USD 68.84 per barrel.”

9:30 AM

Airtel offers free recharge pack to low-income customers

Bharti Airtel on Sunday said it would offer a recharge pack of ₹49 for free to about 55 million low-income customers on its network, as a one-time gesture, to help them stay connected during the pandemic.

Additionally, the company added that its prepaid customers buying the ₹79 recharge coupon would get double the benefit.

In a statement, the company said these benefits, worth ₹270 crore, would “help 55 million low income customers to tide over the impact of Covid-19”.

The announcement comes a couple of days after Reliance Jio said it is working with Reliance Foundation to provide 300 free minutes of outgoing calls per month (10 minutes per day) for the entire period of the pandemic to JioPhone users who have not been able to recharge due to the pandemic.

 



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