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Gadkari axes tender for $1.5 billion tunnel after opposition criticism

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NEW DELHI Transport minister Nitin Gadkari has cancelled a contract to build a $1.5 billion tunnel in the Himalayas, after opposition politicians alleged irregularities in the bidding for India’s most expensive road project.

IRB Infrastructure Developers Ltd won the right to build the Zojila Pass tunnel in Jammu & Kashmir in January after it emerged as the sole bidder. It said Gadkari’s ministry had cancelled the award without giving a reason.

“We have no clue as to why,” Virendra Mhaiskar, IRB’s managing director, told Reuters on Wednesday.

Shares in IRB fell more than 4 percent on the cancellation of a deal worth three-fifths of its entire order book. They later rebounded to trade 1 percent up.

Congress Party had seized on the winning bid for the 100.5 billion rupees ($1.49 billion) project, accusing Gadkari of violating India’s anti-corruption rules – a charge the ministry rejected.

Gadkari, a leading figure in Modi’s nationalist government, is leading a drive to upgrade country’s infrastructure. This week’s annual budget hiked annual spending on roads and railways by 22.5 percent to $33 billion.

As state transport minister in Maharashtra in the 1990s, Gadkari championed the construction of India’s first major express highway. That toll road, from Mumbai to Pune, is one of around 20 road concessions now run by IRB.

IRB has acknowledged having invested in a company owned by Gadkari in the early 2000s, when the latter did not hold public office. Both Mhaiskar and Gadkari have denied any wrongdoing.

Digvijaya Singh, Congress general secretary, has said that these past links between Gadkari and Mhaiskar should have been disclosed in relation to the tunnel tender.

CLEAN IMAGE

Modi is sensitive to charges his government cosies up to big business rather than working for everyday Indians, and is desperate to avoid the corruption allegations that dogged his precedessor.

A senior transport ministry official said the decision to cancel the tender was taken at “the highest level” but declined further comment beyond saying the project would be retendered this month.

A call to Gadkari’s spokesman went unanswered.

The roads ministry said on Jan. 12 that it had followed due process and maintained complete transparency in the Zojila tender, and that IRB won only after it was extended several times in the absence of other participants.

Mhaiskar said he did not think the cancellation had anything to do with the alleged irregularities. IRB would await the revised terms of the new tender before deciding whether to bid again.

“The allegations have no base,” Mhaiskar said of the rebuttal by the transport ministry after the tender was awarded in January. “The matter was rubbished by the ministry there and then.”

One analyst said that IRB still had good chances of winning the order. “They are the only company in the country who can take on this type of project,” said Vibhor Singhal at Phillip Capital in Mumbai.

The 14 km (9 mile) tunnel would open up a strategic highway running east from Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar that now only opens in the summer months. Its completion would strengthen New Delhi’s grip on the disputed region, over which India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars.

($1 = 67.7250 Indian rupees)

(Editing by Douglas Busvine and Simon Cameron-Moore)


Source: R-Business

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Corrected: Sub-zero central banks may just chase inflation expectations lower

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LONDON Hyperactive central banks warn of ‘unmoored’ inflation expectations but may well be weighing the anchor themselves.

Skewed by the oil price collapse of the past 20 months, headline inflation rates across Europe and Japan are currently near zero or even falling. Some economists now expect euro zone inflation for 2016 as a whole to be in the red and no longer dismiss the development as temporary monthly blips.

Fearful these low inflation rates might distort consumer and business behaviour into putting off consumption today and wait for cheaper goods in future, central banks are scrambling to steer expectations back to inflation targets of about 2 percent.

And the only way they seem to be able to achieve that is by being as aggressive as possible in easing monetary policy to try and convince everyone they will eventually succeed in their goals.

The European Central Bank and its peers in Japan, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark have all pushed their interest rates into negative territory and insist they will go further if needed. The ECB, for one, is widely expected to cut its minus 0.3 percent deposit rate next week by at least 10 basis points.

But if future inflation expectations are what policymakers are trying to buoy, it’s not working and there’s a growing chorus of concerns that negative interest rates may actually be feeding the problem.

By undermining banks’ profitability – hence their balance sheets and willingness to lend – or even encouraging hoarding of physical cash to avoid deposit fees, financial markets at least have become unnerved about sub-zero interest rates and their unintended consequences.

“The road to Hell is paved with good intentions,” said Pictet Wealth Management’s head of asset allocation, Christophe Donay. “The implementation of negative interest rates by the BoJ and the ECB had quite the opposite result, rekindling deflationary fears through a shock to banks’ profitability.”

But there may also be a more mechanical distortion that adds fog to the horizon, reduces visibility and raises fears of a policy accident. It’s possible that as interest rates and bond yields go negative, they start to drag down gauges of inflation expectations, too and policy then just ends up chasing its tail.

Part of the problem is how central banks read the imprecise world of inflation expectations and whether their usual monitoring through the prism of government bond markets is still adequate in a climate of negative nominal yields.

So-called inflation ‘breakevens’ deduce a market view of future inflation by comparing nominal bond yields with those on inflation-protected bonds that promise a return regardless of inflation.

The measure previously favoured by the ECB – the five-year, five-year breakeven forward rate, designed to measure average inflation between 2020 and 2025 – paints a truly alarming picture of faith in the ECB’s ability to rekindle inflation back to its target at any stage over the coming decade.

CHALLENGING THE ECB

Since the ECB last cut its already negative deposit rate in December, this inflation gauge has spiralled about 45 basis points lower to as low as 1.36 percent this week. It’s shown no sign of turning despite a recovery in world oil prices last month and growing expectations of deeper ECB deposit rate cuts and more stimulus.

“The market is really challenging the ability of the ECB to create inflation at any point in the future,” said Semin Soher, senior portfolio manager at Pioneer Investments. Difficulty getting the euro lower and perceptions the ECB had not been aggressive enough, early enough were possible reasons, she said.

But Scott Mather, a chief investment officer at the global bond fund PIMCO, reckons there may be a distortion in inflation-linked bond markets when nominal cash yields are dragged toward or below zero and both the inflation components as well as the residual real yields are then both pulled lower.

“They would like to believe they would only pull down the real component and leave the inflation component unchanged, but it doesn’t work that way,” he said, adding there is a limit to how long investors will lend at such negative real yields. “By continuously forcing down nominal yields you are forcing down what is embedded for inflation expectations in the market.”

This depression of all components of what’s contained in bond yields can create spiral with over-mechanistic central banks, he said.

“If real economy actors didn’t have the bond market to look at, it is very likely that their inflation expectations would not be falling,” said Mather. “But they are constantly reminded of what the bond market is pricing because the central banks themselves are obsessed with it.”

Although there is no agreed gauge of household inflation expectations in the euro zone, surveys elsewhere do show them tallying broadly with the market-based readings – slightly higher in the United States, slightly lower in Britain.

And yet for all the head-scratching, some analysts feel market-based inflation expectations may simply be undermined by lack of demand for inflation-protected products in such a low deflationary environment. As a result, pricing is just working off the prevailing monthly inflation rate.

“Over the last five years, spot inflation has been the best predictor of inflation breakevens,” said Dariush Mirfendereski, global head of inflation trading at HSBC.

“This seems odd because it is backward looking and not forward looking, but it is to do with market psychology, because the greatest demand for inflation products comes when realised inflation prints high,” he said. That is one reason the ECB may well just turn a blind eye and wait for its policies to filter through to real prices instead.

(Graphic by Nigel Stephenson, editing by Larry King)


Source: R-Business

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Indian sugar mills close operations early – trade body

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MUMBAI Cane scarcity has forced Indian sugar mills to close operations ahead of normal schedule and more than 100 factories have stopped crushing, a trade body said on Wednesday.

In the 2015/16 marketing year, 513 sugar mills had started operations, but 107 mills stopped crushing by February end.

Only 13 mills had stopped crushing by February end last year, the Indian Sugar Mills Association said in a statement.

Indian sugar mills produced 19.95 million tonnes between Oct. 1 and Feb. 29, slightly higher than last year’s 19.56 million tonnes in the same period as crushing started a few weeks in advance this year.

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Anupama Dwivedi)


Source: R-Business

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