Death of investment banking & more... - The 5 Minute WrapUp by Equitymaster
Investing in India - 5 Minute WrapUp by Equitymaster
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Death of investment banking & more... 

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In this issue:
» RIL to help India save billions
» Curtains down on Wall Street
» US battling to save face
» Heights of corruption
» ...and more!!

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00:00 India's oil...
Yesterday, Reliance Industries (RIL) formally announced the commencement of production of oil from its prized D6 block in the Krishna-Godavari (KG) basin on the Indian east coast. While oil production has already begun at a level of 5,000 barrels per day, the production of natural gas will commence in January next year.

The delay in gas production is being attributed to tough weather conditions, but the main concern remains the legal dispute over pricing. The oil produced is of the 'sweet' variety, which means most Indian refineries will be able to process it. The company believes the D6 block has a potential of 2.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe) and aims to produce 550,000 boe in the next eighteen months, thereby contributing 40% of India's domestic oil and gas production.

When fully functional, the facility will save India an annual foreign exchange outflow of US$ 20 bn. RIL is expected to invest US$ 5.2 bn to develop the KG basin.

This development is a major milestone for the Indian oil and gas upstream space, raising hopes for the country's energy security. However, it also indicates that it is high time India moved ahead in terms of enabling infrastructure and market driven prices for oil and gas.

00.42 Curtains down on Wall Street
The Glass-Steagall Act promulgated in the US in 1933 barred merger of banks and securities firms. However, the act is set to be repealed with tight credit markets forcing the conversion of Wall Street's two remaining independent investment banks - Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley - into commercial banks.

The Federal Reserve board has approved the applications of both firms to become bank holding companies. As reported on Bloomberg, this move will allow the two institutions (both will now be regulated by the Fed) to build their deposit base., which will allow them to rely on deposits from retail customers instead of using borrowed money, the leverage that led to the undoing of Bear Stearns and Lehman.

The Fed believes that this move will not only make these banks more financially sound but will also significantly limit their profits (due to the provisioning requirements). More importantly, both Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs will have greater access to the discount window of the Federal Reserve, which banks can use to borrow money from the central bank.

  • Also read - Once in a century crisis

    01.28 Casino capitalism?
    The US$ 700 bn financial rescue plan announced by the US government and central bank last weekend is probably the most extensive intervention in the financial markets since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

    The plan calls for the government to but billions of dollars worth of illiquid mortgage assets held by banks, investment banks and other financial institutions. While this plan will help banks shore up their balance sheets and make them more willing to lend, the problem is that it will not make them automatically profitable.

    The plan's announcement seems to have gone down well with equity markets as seen from their Friday's and today's performance. However there are many who believe that the action is a wrong way to deal with the wrong doers.

    "We're playing a game of casino capitalism, interfering the way the market is working," says Mr. John Bogle, the man who propounded index funds way back in 1976. "The government seems punch drunk. It doesn't seem systematic. Believe me, the value of American business doesn't change that much in a day," he goes on to say.

    Mr. Bogle sums up the entire situation very well - "We're in the most speculative market I've seen. We seem to be in the depths of despair one moment and the heights of optimism the next."

    While experts seem cautiously optimistic that this large government bailout of the US financial sector will solve the credit crisis, questions remain whether it will prevent more failures of banks and Wall Street firms.

    Also the fact that the plan does not in any way mend the real root cause of this crisis - the battered housing market - leaves many a doubts.

  • Also read - You can't cure an addiction

    2:06 Financial crisis - US battling to save face

    Over the years, with banks spreading their tentacles across markets, the distinction especially between the US and European banks has blurred. And it is precisely this fact that led many European banks with considerable operations in the US to seek bailouts from the US akin to their US counterparts.

    While the original plan was to provide access to the tune of US$ 700 bn bailout for any financial institution based in the US, frantic lobbying over the weekend by foreign banks tilted the decision in their favour with the US agreeing to extend these funds to the foreign banks as well. For instance, some of the foreign banks which hold toxic mortgage related assets in the US include Barclays and UBS. At the same time, the US government has urged foreign governments too to provide bailout programmes for banks in their respective countries.

    However, this development has raised a raging debate. While one point that has been raised is that foreign governments should be responsible for bailing out banks in their respective countries, others have contended that not bailing out foreign banks with significant operations in the US would lead to the US' financial system losing credibility and would deter foreign banks to set shop in the country in the future.

    Just goes to show that the US is and will have to pay a heavy price for the bad investments made by the financial sector. Amidst this mess, and despite whatever attempts the US government has been making to salvage the same, what cannot be disputed is the fact that the US financial system certainly lost credibility when the subprime crisis itself was unraveled!

    02:57 In the meanwhile...
    Stocks across Asia (with the exception of India and Singapore), cheered the US government's bailout plan to save the financial system from crashing, as they gained ground in today's trades. The Indian BSE-30 index closed marginally in the negative. China was the biggest gainer today, ending the day up almost 8%. European markets are also trading in the positive currently.

    Gold is trading marginally up in today's trades. The yellow metal is currently at US$ 872.1 an ounce against its last Friday close of US$ 871 an ounce. Oil prices are also on the up today. As reported on Yahoo Finance, light, sweet crude for October delivery in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange is up US$ 1.3 to US $105.9 a barrel.

    And by the way, Lehman Brothers may have filed for bankruptcy but is still calling people to join its ranks. The beleaguered investment bank has posted job requirements for the positions of Investor Accounting Specialist, Foreclosure Specialist and Default Supervisor, among others on its website! Anyone interested?

    03:23 Pressure on dollar of the US bailout plan
    Dark clouds loom large on the US dollar as the US government and Fed act on their mega rescue plan for the financial sector. As reported on Bloomberg, the combination of spending US$ 700 bn on buying illiquid mortgages and providing another US$ 400 bn to guarantee money-market mutual funds will significantly enhance the US government's deficit. This can subsequently have a detrimental effect on the dollar in the short to medium term.

    Some economic experts have even opinionated that the pressure on the greenback from the deteriorating balance sheet of the US government will 'dwarf the short-term gains from solving the banking crisis'.

    Another issue that shall continue to haunt the dollar will be the lower interest rates in the US vis-a-vis its peers in the industrialised nations' group (except Japan), especially the European Union.

    03:51 As corrupt as it can get!
    Imagine getting lured by a credit card company that offers attractive upfront discounts to lock you in for five years but at the same time charges you extra every time you undergo a transaction and that too, without any sort of prior intimation. This is definitely not likely to go down well with you. Now what if we told you that something far bigger than this and potentially much more dangerous has been happening in India for the past decade?

    We are referring to a study conducted by a not-for-profit firm, Centre for Media Studies (CMS) and published in the business daily - Mint, which states that in the last decade, at least 20% of the country's electorate was paid cash for their votes!

    If this isn't one of the biggest blot on our democracy than what is? Little do these people realise that by accepting cash, they end up paying more in the form of bribe over the next five years to avail something that actually belongs to them. And it is no surprising that this trend is more commonplace in rural India, where quite a few people wake up every morning worrying about the source of their daily bread.

    Political parties on their part maintain that while this practice is more widespread in elections, where a few votes could change the final result, this cannot be feasible in large elections such as the parliamentary or state assembly elections. We can do nothing but hope that this is indeed true.

    04:36 3G in India - Catch-22 for MNC aspirants
    International telecom companies eyeing the Indian 3G telecom market might find it a tough nut to crack on the profitability front. This is considering the low call rates that Indian telecom companies earn from their subscribers and the huge upfront costs that these companies would have to bear. A highly competitive market complete with already established players will also make life hard for players like AT&T, Etisalat and NTT Docomo, if they ultimately get away with the 3G licenses.

    04:51 Today's investing mantra
    "Our favourite holding period is forever." - Warren Buffett
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