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Top stories this week…

Mar 31, 2001

Reckitt increases margins…
Reckitt Benckiser India has reported a 51 percent jump in net profits to Rs 216 million (US$ 5 million) for the year ended 31st December 2000. Sales also grew by a healthy 16 percent to Rs 5.8 billion (US$ 107 million) from Rs 5 billion (US$ 106 million) last year. The company has managed to prune its expenditure, thus enabling it to increase operating margins by 80 basis points to 3.6 percent. (Mar 26) Consolidation continues…
Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited has plans to buy-out the Aditya Birla Group’s stake in Mangalore Petroleum Corporation Limited (MRPL). The decision to acquire the stake has been approved by the ministry. One of the primary reasons cited by the Birla Group for the stake sale has been the mounting loss of the company. MRPL has reported a net loss of Rs 2.1 billion (US$ 45 million) for the first nine months of the current year. (Mar 27)

Production edges up…
India’s finished steel production for the first ten months of the current year (April 2000 to February 2001) rose by 7.8 percent to 26 million tonnes from 24.5 million tonnes a year ago. However, production of pig iron during the same period declined by 1.4 percent to 2.9 million. Exports of finished steel and semis were up marginally by 0.8 percent. (Mar 27)

Moving up the chain…
India has achieved yet another milestone. The aggregate Indian population has crossed 1.02 billion mark taking India's share to 16.7 percent. However, the consolation is that the growth rate has declined to 2.52 percent coupled with an improvement in the sex ratio as well as literacy rate. Literacy rates for those aged seven or more stood at 65.4 percent. (Mar 28)

Licensing raj…
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has issued letter of intent (LoI) to Reliance, HFCL and Tata’s for basic telecom licenses. The three companies together have received 40 licenses. The total license fee accruing to the government from these companies is expected to be around Rs 12 billion (US$ 255 million). DoT, earlier, had received 147 applications from various companies like MTNL, VSNL and Bharti. (Mar 28)

Solomon sells stake…
Ambit Corporate Finance, the Ashok Wadhwa promoted company, has picked up a 26 percent stake in Solomon Smith Barney India. This is expected to consolidate the respective investment-banking arms of both the companies. However, the consideration at which the deal was signed is not known. (Mar 29)

HLL restructures…
Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL) has decided to split its speciality chemicals division and hive-off the fragrance and flavours business into a separate joint venture with ICI India, the Indian arm of the ICI Plc. ICI and HLL are expected to hold 51 percent and 49 percent respectively in the joint venture. The 51 percent stake in this arm is valued at Rs 1.5 billion (US$ 32 million). (Mar 29)

Lowering deficit…
India had some encouraging news on the external sector front this week. The Current Account Deficit (CAD) has narrowed substantially and is one of the lowest in recent years. The CAD in the third quarter of the current year amounted to US$ 469 million against US$ 4,434 million in the second quarter of the current year. But that was primarily because imports have slowed down considerably in the third quarter of the current year. (Mar 30)

The biscuit king expands…
Britannia Industries Limited, the Indian biscuits major, has acquired trademark the ‘Kwality’ from Kwality Biscuits for a consideration of Rs 300 million (US$ 6.3 million). The company has also agreed to acquire 49 percent stake in the company and the transaction is expected to be complete by the next fiscal year. (Mar 30)

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