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Today's top business news: Govt announces Rs 1.7 lakh crore economic rescue package, stocks extend recovery, 3 billion people under lockdown, and more

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addresses the media via video conferencing, in New Delhi onTuesday. PTI
The Hindu Net Desk 26 March 2020 09:13 IST
Updated: 26 March 2020 16:36 IST

Updates from the world of economy, markets, and finance

The government is expected to announce a fiscal stimulus package anytime this week to help out the economy that has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

News has also been coming in from across the country that the delivery of essential goods has been affected by police action against retail delivery agents.

Meanwhile, stocks are off to a strong start this morning and the rupee has made some gains against the US dollar.

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

4:30 PM

Britannia MD warns of risk to supply chain

The recent bottlenecks in the supply-chain system, due to harassment by police and local authorities enforcing the lockdown, can lead to a larger food crisis, warns Britannia's MD Varun Berry.

PTI reports: "According to Berry, the food industry supply chain is disaggregated and dependent on inter-state movement of goods. Due to the nature of the materials, inventories across the chain are low .

If even one link in the supply chain is broken, the country could run out of stocks of packaged food in the next 7-10 days, he said.

He further said that it would also ensure that essential food commodities throughout the country, as reiterated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure that people don’t indulge in panic buying.

Thus, it is imperative that the supply chain for food products be restored in entirety and allowed to function with adequate safety measures and police protection, Berry added."

4:00 PM

Relief package for India Inc. on the cards?

After today's economic rescue package that was targeted at helping the poor from the unorganized sector, it is expected that the government might next focus on relief measures for large and small businesses.

IANS reports: "Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, here on Thursday, indicated that concerns of India Inc, small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) segments and other segments hit by the lockdown might be looked at and the government could announce a plan later.

India Inc has been waiting for a package to resolve immediate problems and provide relief to lockdown-hit sectors. The India Inc’s suggestions include withdrawal of LTCG temporarily, removal of buyback tax and deferment of payment of corporate tax.

The industry has also suggested that timelines for qualifying delays in loan repayment as NPAs should be extended."

3:45 PM

Sensex, Nifty extend recovery

The benchmark indices continued their recovery today, with the Sensex up almost 5%

The 30-share Sensex rallied over 1,400 points to settle just below the 30,000 mark. The Nifty meanwhile gained over 300 points, to settle below the 8,700 mark.

3:30 PM

Oil industry hit by simultaneous demand and supply shocks

Reuters elaborates on ten signs that portend trouble for the oil industry.

 

2:45 PM

Fresh produce in Europe set to be more scarce as coronavirus strikes

Just how will the nation-wide lockdown imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic affect the availability of essential goods over the coming weeks?

Europe's lockdown experience offers some insight.

Reuters reports: "Fresh fruit and vegetables will become increasingly scarce in Europe, suppliers warn, as the coronavirus pandemic hampers the global movement of produce and of the people needed to gather crops.

While Europe's supermarkets say they are still getting most produce, supply pressures are building at source, including in Africa, a key provider of fresh goods, and within Europe.

Stores that are already dealing with hoarding by customers may struggle to keep shelves stocked.

In Kenya, a major supplier of green beans and peas to Europe, half of the workers in the sector have been sent home on mandatory leave because of the industry's inability to ship orders, even as demand from European retailers surge."

1:30 PM

Finance Minister announces economic rescue package

Highlights from Finance Minister's ongoing press conference:

* Economic stimulus finalised to deal with impact of corona lockdown

* Rs 1.70 lakh crore Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan scheme to help the needy

* Will ensure cash is given to poor people

* Rs 50 lakh per person insurance cover for doctors, paramedic, healthcare workers dealing with coronavirus outbreak

* 80 crore poor people will get 5 kg wheat or rice and 1 kg of preferred pulses for free every month for the next three months

* Govt to front-load Rs 2,000 paid to farmers in first week of April under existing PM Kishan Yojana to benefit 8.69 crore farmers

* Increase in MNREGA wage to Rs 202 a day from Rs 182 to benefit 5 crore families

* 20 crore women Jan Dhan Account holders to get Rs 500 per month for next three months to help them run their households

* Ex-gratia of Rs 1,000 to 3 crore poor senior citizen, poor widows and poor disabled

* Ujjwala beneficiaries to get free cooking gas (LPG) cylinders in next three months; this will benefit 8.3 crore BPL families

* Collateral-free loan doubled to Rs 20 lakh to 63 lakh women self-help groups; to impact 7 crore households

*  Govt to pay employee, employer contribution to PF for 3 months for establishment with 90 pc of staff with Rs 15,000 wage

* Workers to be allowed to draw non-refundable advance of 75 pc from credit in PF a/c or 3 months salary, whichever is lower

* Rs 1.7 lakh crore economic package will be implemented with immediate effect; cash doles from April 1

* We are conscious of the impact this will have on banks, as people will need to access their cash transfers.

* Banks and bank branches, ATMs, banking correspondents are all essential services and will continue to work during the lockdown

1:15 PM

Three billion under lockdown as UN warns virus threatens humanity

Almost half the world's population is under lockdown at the moment, according to the UN. Apart from the human cost of the pandemic which has already claimed thousands of lives, the eventual economic cost may well turn out to be unprecedented.

AFP reports: "More than three billion people are living under lockdown measures as soaring death tolls in Europe and the US on Wednesday underlined a United Nations warning that the coronavirus pandemic threatens all of humanity.

“COVID-19 is threatening the whole of humanity -- and the whole of humanity must fight back,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, launching an appeal for $2 billion to help the world's poor.

India's stay-at-home order for its 1.3 billion people is now the biggest, taking the total number of people facing restrictions on their daily lives to more than three billion."

12:30 PM

RBI considers shutting down most bank branches across country

To prevent the further spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the Reserve Bank of India and major banks in the country are said to be considering a large scale shutdown of bank branches.

Reuters reports: "India's central bank and major lenders are considering shutting down most branches across the country to prevent tens of thousands of employees from getting infected with the coronavirus, four sources familiar with the plan told Reuters.

Under the plan, in major cities there would likely be only one bank open every five kilometres, the sources said, declining to be identified as it has not yet been publicly disclosed.

In the countryside, where 70% of people live and often rely only on cash, banks will likely operate on alternate days and redeploy staff to only allow disbursal of welfare cash to the poor, one of the sources said."

 

12:00 PM

Finance Minister to hold a press conference at 1 PM

Reuters has just reported that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will hold a press conference at 1:00 PM today.

The news come in the midst of expectations that the FM will announce a rescue package for the economy. Stay tuned for more updates.

11:45 AM

Indian Bank to give COVID-19 loans

Public sector lender Indian Bank has announced special emergency loans for various categories of customers such as individuals, corporates, MSMEs and self-help groups (SHGs), retail borrowers and pensioners.

Ind-Covid emergency credit line will provide additional funding of up to 10% of the working capital limits (fund-based and non fund-based) with a maximum limit of ₹100 crore.

Large corporates and medium enterprises that are in the standard category would be eligible for this loan. The loan tenor will be 36 months with an initial moratorium of up to six months and would carry a fixed interest rate of one-year MCLR. All other charges are waived.

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11:15 AM

WTO sees sharp fall in global trade, calls for solutions

As economies shut down their borders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandeimc, here's a warning coming from the World Trade Organization on the likely impact on trade and solutions.

IANS reports: "Seeing a very sharp decline in global trade, Roberto Azevedo, director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), has said a global solution is needed to address the global challenge brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He warned that economists would inevitably foresee “a very sharp decline in trade”.

“Trade is what allows for the efficient production and supply of basic goods and services, medical supplies and equipment, food and energy that we all need”, he continued, “keeping trade open and investments flowing will be critical to keep shelves plentiful and prices affordable.”

He underlined that a global response is needed to tackle a global challenge of this pandemic, saying “no country is self-sufficient, no matter how powerful or advanced, it may be.”"

 

11:00 AM

Stocks retreat but hold most gains

Ashish Rukhaiyar reports:

Equity indices continued their upward momentum on Thursday as banking majors gained strong ground in the first hour of the trading session.

At 10:55am, the 30-share Sensex was trading at 29,714.69, up 1,178.91 points or 4.13% with stocks like IndusInd Bank, Axis Bank, ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, HDFC and Bajaj Finance among the top gainers. The Nifty was trading at 8,612.15, up 294.30 or 3.54

The India VIX index was trading around 6% lower. Elsewhere in Asia, most equity benchmarks were trading higher though Nikkei and Hang Seng were in the red.

10:45 AM

Release of economic data to be delayed by lockdown

Bloomberg reports that logistical issues owing to the lockdown have affected the ability of India's statistical bodies to collect economic data. The economic data for March and April might thus turn out to be shaky.

 

10:15 AM

FinMin writes to RBI for relaxing farm loan NPA norms

The Finance Ministry has asked the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to relax asset classification norms for farm loans extended by banks following the stress faced by the agriculture sector.

In a letter addressed to RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das, the Ministry said, “it is requested to consider making appropriate relaxation in asset classification norms in respect of short-term agricultural crop loans for a period up to 30th June 2020.”

The letter, reviewed by The Hindu, cited a communication from the Agriculture Ministry which is considering an extension of the interest subvention scheme for the farm sector which, in turn, would require relaxation of NPA norms. As per the RBI’s asset classification norms, a loan is classified as non-performing by banks if repayment is due for more than 90 days.

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10:00 AM

Stocks open on a strong note, rupee gains

Stocks have had a strong open this morning, up over 3%, with investors keen on knowing how the government plans to revive the sagging economy.

The Sensex has gained over 900 points this morning while the Nifty is trading close to 8,600. Meanwhile, the positive sentiment in the equities market has helped stabilize the rupee too.

PTI reports: "The Indian rupee appreciated by 13 paise to 75.81 against the US dollar on Thursday tracking positive opening in domestic equities as assurance of a stimulus to fight the coronavirus pandemic supported investor sentiment.

At the interbank foreign exchange the rupee opened at 75.90, then gained further ground and touched a high of 75.81 against the US dollar, registering a rise of 13 paise over its previous close."

 

9:30 AM

Government likely to go in for a $18 billion recovery package

As analysts keep a close eye on the economy, here's some insight into what's likely to feature in the Central government's economic aid package that may be announced anytime soon.

IANS reports: "India is said to be preparing a more than $18 billion recovery and sustainability package for its industries and large workforce in the unorganised sector, industry sources in the know said on Wednesday.

Not just putting direct cash in the ‘Jan Dhan’ accounts of millions, the government is likely to reduce GST on essential items including hand sanitisers and also allow companies the benefit of deferred corporate taxes in lieu of employment retainment.

The fiscal package may also cover the market that has seen a bloodbath for past couple of weeks. The centre and capital markets regulator Sebi are considering temporary removal of tax on share buybacks and on long—term capital gains (LTCG).

Furthermore, the Centre’s financial arsenal is likely to be supplemented by easy cash availability for the middle class segment to give an initial boost to consumption. This segment may also be given relief on EMI repayments as its payment may be deferred by a few months."

 

9:15 AM

Delivery issues add to woes for homebound

Many e-commerce firms were forced to suspend deliveries to their customers in major cities across the country on Wednesday with local authorities unable to ensure the safety of delivery persons on the first day of the 21-day nationwide lockdown imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Angry customers vented their anger on social media even as police services scrambled to put in place a system where delivery persons for online vendors were able to go about their jobs unmolested.

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