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Making sense of falling currencies, oil prices and effect of waving-off MAT in India

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By Gaurav Sharma

The world economy is at crossroads. Hit hard by the yuan depreciation and the slowdown of growth in China, the world currencies have pummeled under the fear of currency wars being waged to boost the domestic export market.

Vietnam and Kazakhstan have already loosened the grip on exchange rates. Russian rouble has declined between 4-7 per cent while the Indian rupee has fallen more than 3 per cent in the last two weeks.

Economists’ take on it:

However, economists have warned against such a move while pointing out that the Great Depression of 1930’s, a period during which economies raised import tariffs and cut currency rates through competitive devaluation of currencies further exacerbated the slowdown in growth.

multi-currencyExperts say that such tactics are a zero-sum game, which would lead to a race to the bottom. This is due to the fact that in any market situation, exports must be equal to imports, and therefore, cutting imports and boosting exports would be a futile gambit in the global scenario.

What does this mean in India?

In the Indian context, economists such as C Rangarajan, Prachi Mishra, Jehangir Aziz and Sajjid Chinoy have clarified the fact that the Indian export is not driven by exchange rate but is rather influenced by global growth.

Furthermore, the apparent devaluation of global currencies is more due to the strengthening of the dollar against other currencies rather than a deliberate devaluation by central banks.

Instead of succumbing to such a desperate measure, the country should smoothen out the kinks in its tax structure. But the failure to pass through the much-anticipated Goods and Service Tax (GST) Bill in the Parliament has prevented that eventuality from taking place.

The passage of the bill could have boosted the investor sentiment and would have given a fillip to growth in the country. Moreover, the development would have had the effect of erasing the haunting memory of retrospective tax levied on firms such as Vodafone, an image makeover which would have cemented Narendra Modi led BJP government’s commitment to a stable and fair tax regime.

If GST could not have been passed due to certain contentious clauses in the bill and the blockade by the opposition, another relief has been announced by the finance minister Arun Jaitley in the form of scrapping of the minimum alternate tax (MAT) retrospectively.

currency_83 by priyanka--621x414

Jaitley had earlier exempted capital gains made by FPI’s from the levy of 20 per cent MAT from the current year but not retrospectively.

Foreign companies had come under the MAT bracket when the Authority for Advance Ruling in 2012 stated that the Income Tax law did not make a distinction between Indian and foreign companies and therefore, MAT applied to them as well.

The ruling meant that the tax authorities started chasing foreign investors, demanding taxes on capital gains from the sale of securities.

Mauritius-based Castleton Investment Limited was subsequently asked to pay MAT, a decision whose validity will be tested in the Supreme Court in late September this year.

Is the government doing anything?

Now, with the government likely to accept the AP Shah panel’s recommendations,  the Foreign portfolio investors (FPI) will likely be saved from paying the tax even before April 1, 2015 and not just after the date mentioned in the next budget, by amending the tax law.

“The government should quickly issue a circular stating that MAT should not be applied to FPI’s from the period prior to April 1, 2015 as well”, said Suresh Swamy, partner, PwC while speaking to ET on the need for removing arbitrariness in the tax regime.

124119132Along with the clarity on tax structure which will reduce red-tapism in the country, the fall in global fuel prices will bring much cheer to the Indian economy. New shale gas discoveries in the US, record volume production of oil by OPEC and lifting of sanctions on Iran has meant that Indian oil imports (almost 75 percent of the domestic demand) would be lower in dollar value.

The current account deficit (difference between imports and exports) would fall and therefore, fuel (transport) and other prices would also decline, cooling down rising inflation which has brought much tears to the aam aadmi.

A $1 fall in global crude prices means India’s import bill falls by Rs 6,700 crores. This, coupled with the shift to direct benefit transfer (DBT) of LPG subsidy and deregulation of diesel price would rekindle the fortunes of oil marketing companies (OMC) such as OIL, ONGC, Reliance and Essar by overturning their under-recoveries.

It has been reported that the under-recoveries of OMC’s have been slashed by Rs 139,869 crores in 2013-14 to Rs 72,314 crores last financial year due to the above measures.

So, the big picture is that the Indian economy is on the right track. The hidden problem of burgeoning import dependence can be further ameliorated by removing bottlenecks such as bureaucratic sloth and complex regulatory processes.

Obliterating MAT for foreign portfolio investors is a step in that direction.

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Economic Survey 2016-17 : Arun Jaitley Says Significant Decline in India’s Reliance on Cash

Economic Survey is a snapshot of the state the country is in

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Economic survey presents a state of the country
The Economic Survey 2016-17 was charted by Finance Minister Jaitley on August 11 (representational image) Wikimedia
  • Finance Minister Jaitley tabled the second volume of Economic Survey 2016-17 in both Houses of Parliament
  • Second volume to be presented by Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian and his team

New Delhi, August 12, 2017: The last day of the Monsoon session of the Parliament saw the Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley table the second part of Economic Survey 2016-2017.

The survey revealed that a sharp, however balanced decline has been observed in the use of cash after Prime Minister Narendra Modi heralded the demonetization move in November last year. This trend has been observed both, in levels, and as a share of GDP and money.

Before assessing whether the move was a success or a failure, we must first identify what were the objectives behind stalling Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 notes,

  • Immediate objective – flush out large amounts of black money that were hoarded in cash at the moment
  • Long term objective – transform the cash-based Indian economy into a digital economy

It was assumed that these objectives would make India an efficient economy with higher tax revenues.

Before the introduction of demonetization, India heavily relied on cash, which in turn led to an unhealthy cash-to-GDP ratio (12 percent) – a trend that was only worsening with time.

The finance minister presented the second volume of Economic Survey 2016-17 in both the houses of the Parliament with demonetization being discussed for a significant part. The following has been revealed in an attempt to gauge the outcome of the move,

  • At present, total cash in holding is Rs. 3.5 lakh crore. This figure is 20 percent less than what it would have been had the economy not been demonetized.
  • Cash as a share of GDP has also witnessed a decline by 1.6 percentage points. Previously it was 11.3 percent of GDP and now stands at 9.7 GDP.
  • Cash as a share of M1 which economically represents liquid portions of money supply, has also declined by five percentage points.

To ease understanding of everybody from a non-economic background, these trends indicate a significant reduction in Indian economy’s reliance on cash since November 2016.

Another bonus point is the huge amount of cash that was previously lying dormant with people and has now entered the banking system.

ALSO READ: Indian Government’s Demonetisation measures did not impede Future Black Money Flows: UN report

When talking about the long term objective of the move- digitalization, a significant movement can be observed across all sectors :

  • The affluent segment of the society has increasingly shifted to mobile banking, online transactions, and app-based banking solutions
  • The middle segment are using their debit and credit cards
  • People from the less affluent segment are slowly joining the digital economy with their Jan Dhan accounts and RuPay cards
  • Pensioners who were previously only undertaking transactions in cash are now being encouraged to use card-based techniques.
  • Farmers, who comprise a significant part of the Indian economy, are also being encouraged to issue and use Kisan credit cards.

The Indian banking sector is not only promoting the issuance of debit and credit cards but also their use.

The question that comes to mind here is, was demonetization successful? 

It would be wrong to say that the economy has completely transformed into a digital economy as many people have shifted back to cash. However, digital transactions are higher than pre-demonetization levels, and the overall movement is in the positive direction.

The Indian economy can thus, be rightly considered on the path to a holistic digital economy as the Economic Survey 2016-2017 notes “surge has moderated but the level and pace of digitalization are still substantially greater than before demonetization.”

However, while there is proof that the reliance on cash has declined sharply, it has also been pointed out in the survey that a “definitive judgments can only be passed if current levels of cash relative to GDP persist over time but so far”.


 
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Economy, Culture and Human bonds most important Ties that bind Saudi Arabians and Indians together

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Egypt, Pixabay

May 2, 2017: Economy, culture and human bonds are the most important ties that bind Saudi Arabians and Indians together. Our association is one of the fondest and one of the oldest in the world, going back all the way to the third millennium BC. There had been ancient peaceful contacts and interactions between the two peoples, including immigrations from both sides.

India has for many centuries welcomed Arabs, who have come here to settle, study or for trading. Over the years that I have proudly served as Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the Republic of India, I have come across so many stories of the deep human bonds that exist between the peoples of Saudi Arabia and India. I have heard stories of Arabs who came decades ago to Gujarat, Bombay (now, Mumbai), Delhi and Hyderabad for learning, trade and work. No wonder the name of India, “al-Hind”, is very common in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world. Several Indian goods that entered the Arab world were named after their place of origin. Indian swords, a favourite in the Arab world, were known by names such as Hindi, Hindawani and Muhannad.

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Evidently, Saudi Arabia and India have a shared history of culture and of people’s ties. As recently as the beginning of this century, there were approximately 1.5 million Indians working and living in Saudi Arabia. That number has now risen to over three million people. Doctors, engineers, IT professionals, workers, academicians, scientists and chemists are all part of the Indian community in Saudi Arabia, working hard to establish themselves in almost all economic sectors, given the plethora of opportunities. We look at them as partners. Ravi Pillai is a good example that comes to my mind. Mr. Pillai moved to Saudi Arabia in the late 70s, and since then, he has established himself as one of the most successful businessmen across the region — in construction, hospitality, education and retail. His businesses today employ more than 70,000 people.

Consider this as an example: A billionaire industrialist who owns multiple hospitals in the region, a visionary doctor, a multi-millionaire in retail business, a successful investment banker, all have one thing in common — they all are Indians who have established their fortunes in Saudi Arabia and the region.

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Success stories around Indians are not an exception in Saudi Arabia. They are highly regarded for their educational and technical achievements; for their integrity and sense of discipline; for their honesty and devotion to work. The contribution of Indians in economic development has been acknowledged by our government and we have made significant efforts to make them feel at home. Employees of large companies have access to state-of-the-art housing facilities and their children have access to schools with a board of education of their choice. For instance, the Indian board of education of CBSE following NCERT curriculum is taught in many schools across the country. Be it education or housing, jobs or lifestyle choices, there is access for everyone — natives or expatriates.

We have worked diligently to ensure that the guests of the Kingdom have an accessible redressal system to protect them from any violations. When it comes to the rights of workers, all contracts that each of them gets into with their employers are detailed out addressing every aspect of their work life. Saudi labour law provides to all expatriates full legal protection, which includes a unified labour contract, and provisions that prohibit employing persons in jobs different from the profession stated in the contract or holding their payments. Article 61 of the labour law requires the employer to “treat his workers with due respect and refrain from any action or utterances that may infringe upon their dignity and religion”.

It also lays down guidelines of giving workers the time required to exercise their rights without any deductions from their wages. Further, Article 101 lays down provisions for rest periods wherein “no worker shall work for more than five consecutive hours without a break of no less than thirty minutes each time during the total working hours for rest, prayer and meals”.

In fact, we always aim to ensure best practice. For instance, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development announced on April 23, 2017, that they will open bank accounts for domestic workers in the country. This has been done to ensure that all domestic workers get their wages and entitlements on time and that employers honour their contracts. Job security will also improve through this move, as employers will have to register their contracts electronically.

We also have one of the most progressive corporate policies around employees serving their notice period. In such situations, these employees are entitled to eight fully-paid hours per week or a full day per week to look for alternative employment.

I will re-emphasise that there are provisions and guidelines for any employee in any sector to seek legal redressal in case of dispute or violation of their labour rights. Violators in Saudi Arabia are penalised and punished for violating labour laws.

The Kingdom also has a very strong law prohibiting the trafficking of humans. In 2009, Royal Decree number M/40 dated 21/7/1430H declared that any person who was convicted would be liable to face imprisonment and pay a huge fine. The law was further strengthened last year ahead of the anti-human trafficking day (August 9), reinforcing the commitment of our government against this injustice. The Ministry of Interior also issued an order regarding human trafficking, emphasising the need and the importance for everyone to come and work together, to prevent it.

“Treat people as you would like to be treated” is an Islamic principle. You have a similar saying in the Indian text of Hitopadesha which states that, “one should always treat others as they themselves wish to be treated”. This principle, and the bond of friendship have been brought to life many times. One such instance that immediately comes to mind is that of an Indian guest worker in Saudi Arabia, who was jailed for two months after getting into an altercation with his colleague in a third country. His parents sought help from his Saudi-based employer, who readily made all arrangements to get him out of prison, including physically travelling from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi to secure his release. This is just one of the many examples of friendship and goodwill that exist between the people of the two countries.

A bilateral agreement on labour cooperation for recruitment of General Category Workers was signed during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Saudi Arabia in April 2016. The two countries are constantly working together to improve the situation of workers. An agreement on Labour Cooperation for Domestic Service Workers Recruitment was signed between Saudi Arabia and India in 2014. Additionally, in 2014, the two governments signed a bilateral agreement that allows prisoners to spend their sentenced term in their home country if they wish.

Also, a Joint Working Group on consular issues was established under the umbrella of the India-Saudi Arabia Joint Commission to discuss consular issues on a regular basis.

Recently, while going through news clippings from across the Kingdom, one particular news item caught my attention — a Saudi Arabian employer threw a wedding reception for her help and even paid for her honeymoon. Stories like this are not rare in our country and employers across Saudi Arabia recognise and appreciate the hard work and dedication of those that work for them.

There is always a significant reward for hard work and perseverance, and that is true for most of our Indian guests who have come to Saudi Arabia and have embraced us as their own, collaborating with us in our journey of growth and development.

(Saud M. Al-Sati is Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to India. The views expressed are personal)

(IANS)

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Price rise in the Gold Market due to Shopping of Jewellery in this Wedding Season

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Gold Jewellery in display at a shop, Wikimedia

New Delhi, Feb 8, 2017: Due to increased shopping of jewellery in this wedding season, gold prices soared further by Rs 220 to Rs 29,325 per 10 grams at the bullion market. The rise in the demand for gold is due to the rising wedding season demand despite weakness in global cues. Here is some data related to the price hike:

  • Standard gold (99.5 purity) climbed by Rs 220 to conclude at Rs 29,325 per 10 grams from Monday’s closing level of Rs 29,105.
  • Pure gold (99.9 purity) also jumped by a similar margin to end at Rs 29,475 per 10 grams as against Rs 29,255 earlier.

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  • Silver (.999 fineness) rose by Rs 175 to finish at Rs 42,540 from Rs 42,365 yesterday.
  • Spot gold was down 0.4 percent at USD 1,230.40 per ounce in early trade. In the previous session, the metal touched USD 1,235.73, its highest since November 11.
  • Among other precious metals, silver fell 0.7 percent to USD 17.61. Earlier in the session, it reached USD 17.76, its strongest since November 11.

prepared by Shambhavi Sinha of NewsGram. Twitter:  @shambhavispeaks