Monday, 29 October 2012

Kingfisher’s Wings Grounded



On October 6, the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in India asked Kingfisher Airlines Ltd. to stop selling tickets. The airline hasn’t paid its employees since March, leading its pilots, technicians and engineers to go on strike as of October 1st. The strike compromised the safety of the airline’s flights since the engineers are responsible for certifying the aircrafts before flight, warranting the DGCA to suspend the airline’s license.

Kingfisher and its employees were able to reach a compromise on October 25 regarding wage payment. Kingfisher agreed to pay four month’s wages by the end of the year, and the remaining three month’s wages by March 2013. The airline also announced that it would be fully operational within a month’s time, and its employees could resume work then. Sanjay Aggarwal, the airline’s CEO has said, “We expect to be in the sky soon and put forth our case to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. We have addressed all the concerns of the employees. We are all together in this.”

Aggarwal may be a bit too optimistic. Since its launch in 2003, Kingfisher Airlines has never made a profit and currently finds itself strapped with a $2.5 billion debt according to the consultancy Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation. The airline had 66 planes operational at this time last year, and now only has 10. The airline’s owner, the liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya blames the government for his company’s woes, "Very high fuel costs, obscenely high taxation, lack of foreign investment permission, until literally six weeks ago - so many different factors which make the Indian aviation space actually somewhat unattractive other than the potential growth going forward," he explained. "The government needs to look at taxation very seriously. You can't have a 25 percent average sales tax on fuel when crude oil prices that used to hover around $60 or $70 a barrel are now well in excess of $100 a barrel."

Kingfisher has planned to meet with the 17 banks that have exposure in the airline in the coming days. The consortium is looking at a 1.1 billion dollar writeoff on Kingfisher’s loans—the biggest in Indian corporate history. State Bank of India, the leader of the consortium, has over 278 million dollars of exposure in the airline.

Kingfisher will have to regain its license from the DGCA in order to start flying again. It should proceed cautiously.  A delay in paying its workers’ wages could lead to another strike, and another license suspension. The DGCA will be less willing to reinstate the airline’s license a second time. Kingfisher should also tread carefully with its investors. With a plummeting stock, and no eager lenders on the horizon, the airline will have to be willing to work with the 17-bank consortium to get its wings confidently in flight.

Written by: Lynn Bernabei

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Cell Phone Deal-Making Frenzy Pushes Consumers Aside

MEHYAR AFKARI




Maneuvers by American cell phone companies to acquire one another are threatening to erupt into all-out war. Not only am I wondering which will survive, but also whether the survivors will be destroyed by the prey they're rushing to eat up. The war began in 2011, when AT&T made a bid to acquire T-Mobile U.S.A., the American subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, which had been looking to sell it for some time. Considering the well-known antitrust concerns, AT&T’s move was quite brave.
It was a terrible move for AT&T. Regulators blocked the deal, and the provider walked away with a $6 billion loss: the $4 billion required to pay over the failed acquisition, combined with the estimated value of the broadband licenses it was required to grant T-Mobile.
With recent M&A news in the cell phone space again, we are heading in the direction where three big wireless companies will dominate the US market, and not many more. The big will continue to get bigger as they scoop up telecommunications companies with access to excess broadband spectrum.
I wonder whether the wireless industry will be in danger from its own deal-making frenzy, similar to what occurred during the dot-com bubble. When faced with an uncertain competitive landscape that changes as quick as this one has, executives spend billions because they believe they have no other choice. The cost to the company, shareholders, and consumers can be immense. Is excessive executive confidence and the need to be the biggest on the block clouding reason?
SoftBank’s chief, Masayoshi Son, told Jim Cramer on CNBC after the announcement of his company’s investment in Sprint: “I am a man, and every man wants to be No. 1, not No. 2 or No. 3.” The deal would make SoftBank only the third-largest global wireless carrier.
The rush to complete deals is an investment banker’s dream, but the hunt may lead these companies to not only overpay, but to acquire companies that are underperforming or otherwise don’t fit well with the acquirer's core business. Finding a way to sustain their profitability can be a major task in the future.
For consumers, there will probably be less choice as wireless carriers disappear. Does this mean improved service? I doubt it. The government, meanwhile, is likely to stand aside from smaller deals, instead arguing that AT&T and Verizon need a bigger third competitor. Albeit we have yet to see if that will hold indefinitely true, cell phone executives believe there is no choice but to race to acquire one another. In this war, it's all about making a deal. Consumer interests come after.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Good Men Who Do Bad Things







            Rajat Gupta, former Goldman Sachs Group director, was convicted of insider trading and sentenced to two years in prison. Usually, a case convicting someone of leaking corporate secrets and gaining an illegal, unfair advantage, would be one of triumph. However, in the case of Mr. Gupta, it was an unfortunate reality.
            Mr. Gupta’s rise to success from modest beginnings in India had been an example of unrelenting hard-work and fierce determination. When he was a teenager, he lost both his parents- his father, a follower of Gandhi, was jailed in the fight for independence from the British and died in prison of tuberculosis; his mother, a schoolteacher, died two year after[1].Despite this tragedy, Gupta continued his schoolwork, was accepted to and excelled in India’s most prestigious school - Indian Institute of Technology. From there, he rejected what was then considered a highly respected position from Indian Tobacco Company and, instead, decided to attend Harvard Business School. His intelligence was soon recognized within and around the school, and Gupta was able to secure a job with McKinsey. Even there, he rose through the ranks quickly and became (at the age of 45) the first Indian-born chief of a U.S. international corporation. He continued the good-will and spirit of his parents by working to create leadership roles at the Indian American Foundation, and by serving as the chairman of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and many other charitable organizations.
            In fact, Judge Rakoff, who delivered Gupta's sentencing, had received hundreds of letters from people such as Bill Gates, Deepak Chopra and former U.N. leader Kofi Annan, speaking of his immense contribution to philanthropic causes and stating that he deserved leniency. Acknowledging these appeals, Judge Rakoff stated, "But the history of this country and the world, I'm afraid, is full of examples of good men who do bad things"[2].
So why did Gupta, despite having a prosperous, highly-respected life and career, commit such an act? Many claim it was due to the influence of former Galleon Group chief Raj Rajaratnam and the Wall Street Journal reasoned that it might be because Mr. Gupta was just looking for an exciting, challenging opportunity to head the Galleon Group. Whatever the case might be, Mr. Gupta’s conviction was definitely seen as “a fall from grace of Greek tragedy proportions” [3].

Written by Ritika Gawande 

           Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajat_Gupta






[1] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203400604578075291193560764.html
[2] http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/10/24/rajat-gupta-gets-2-years-in-prison/ 
[3] http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/10/24/rajat-gupta-gets-2-years-in-prison/


Thursday, 11 October 2012

Manipulation: China's currency or American voters?


Recently, the Romney campaign issued a statement pledging to label China as a “currency manipulator”, claiming China is cheating. First off, to understand what he means by that on a broad level, he means that China is intentionally undervaluing its currency – because it is able to as a socialist market economy – and this undervaluing in turn hurts the US economy. This artificially low Chinese currency impacts the American economy by making Chinese goods comparatively cheaper in the US and US goods far too expensive for China. A further implication is that due to this price disparity, Chinese laborers are cheaper to hire and manufacturing factories are cheaper to export to China.
So given his plan, what does this mean for both economies? Well mainly, the US will have to set tariffs or other trade barriers in order to allow the dollar to fall relative to the yuan (because right now, its relative price is very high due to this “currency manipulation”). But then what about the long-term repercussions? China won’t be too happy, for obvious reasons, so trade will definitely slow between the two countries. But beyond that, as much as we import from China, China is also still a developing (and quickly, at that) market. So long term, this trade standstill might reduce the global market for the new US exports, since China will become a big part of it.
Now, will Romney actually follow through with his bold trade proclamation? In accordance with the very nature of political success, Romney is a master of telling people – in this case Americans – what they want to hear. Of course Americans would love the assurance that not every manufacturing job will be outsourced to China, thus costing the US manufacturing industry jobs and money. But assuming he does follow through; will it make us better off?
Well, according to basic international economic theory, both countries are better off and have the potential to grow more if they specialize in their respective comparative advantages. Let’s say China has cheap less-skilled labor, and the US has high-skilled labor (to simplify), and we specialize in each. But this is assuming competitive markets and pure free trade! China, as we know, doesn't fall into this category. At the same time, import barriers could also hurt Americans by reducing American price competition among producers – thereby raising US prices – and alongside, the US would then be allocating resources to things that are not necessarily our comparative advantage. Yet, the current solution is technically costing the American manufacturing industry and particularly, workers – so that’s not optimal either. Thus, as with most political issues, the real question is preference. Do we want to hurt the US producers or consumers more in the long-term?

By: Nona Makaveeva

THE MISSING COMPONENT


College education has numerous critics these days.   I believe the recent fascination with MOOCs comes – at least in part – from dissatisfaction with the perceived quality of the current educational experience.   We promise development of critical thinking skills in our students but often appear to deliver little more than well-rehearsed memorization.    The argument then follows that we don’t need small classes and individual attention simply to teach memorization.   Massive online courses can achieve that goal with much less cost.

In my spare time, I often ponder how modern college education can become better.   For example, is the education that a college student gets today really superior in any way to the norm 40 years ago?   Cars get more miles per gallon of gas than they did back then.   Computers run thousands of times faster.   But, has college education gotten better during that same period?   We are certainly able to teach more students but has the average education actually improved in any significant way? 

About 20 years ago, I read an article that I remember well to this day.    The article argued that society’s best teacher was the drill sergeant in charge of new Marine recruits during their stay in basic training.    This officer gets paid a relatively small amount but will work 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, for weeks on end to make sure the new recruits are properly trained.   The drill sergeant will push, cajole, and drive each person toward success.   At the end of that time, the recruit will be basically a new person – gone are laziness and bad habits.  The person is now a well-trained soldier.  
 
Why does the drill sergeant work so hard without much real compensation?   According to the article, the sergeant is training each new recruit on how to stay alive during combat and other dangerous situations.   For the drill sergeant, the very life of the recruit is on the line.   A properly trained soldier stays alive whereas a poorly trained one might not.   Failure to teach the young soldier well can possibly lead to an avoidable death.   It is the urgency of the education that pushes the drill sergeant to go all out, night and day, to train the recruit.   The recruit might actually hate the sergeant but also might owe his life to that teacher.  

I was reminded of this article recently.   My wife and our daughters occasionally watch a television show called “The Biggest Loser.”   I have never seen a complete episode but I will sometimes watch a few minutes as I pass through the room.   As you might know, a group of very heavy contestants are chosen.   These folks typically weigh between 280 to 500 pounds and their lives are in jeopardy simply because of their extreme heaviness. 

Over a period of weeks, these contestants eat less and exercise so much that they often lose hundreds of pounds.  They become new people ready to resume more active rolls in society.

My favorite characters on this show are the trainers who work with each of the contestants.   I know that one of them is named Jillian.   Jillian will get in the contestant’s faces and push them unmercifully to do their exercises.   She will beg them; she will yell at them; she will use whatever trick it takes to get them to work harder and harder so that the excess weight is lost.  From what I have seen, no one does more than Jillian to get the results she wants.   I often wonder what college would be like if we had a few people like Jillian on our faculty.

By the end of the television season, these folks have had their lives completely turned around.   They might have weighed 390 pounds at the start of the competition but be down to 180 by the end.   

Clearly, they do not like the amount of pushing that Jillian does.   The work can be incredibly hard.   They are used to being lazy; she wants them to do real work.   They have always made excuses; she won’t let them make any excuses.    I am always expecting one of the contestants to pick Jillian up one day and throw her out the window.   However, at the last week of each show, almost every contestant will hug Jillian and tell her thanks.  Thanks for not giving up on them.   Thanks for continuing to push them to get better and stronger.   Thanks for guiding them to lose so much weight.   She is not their best buddy and doesn't want to be but she has helped them to change their lives for the better.

Why does Jillian push these people so hard?   Well, like the drill sergeant, there is a real urgency present.   Improvement is needed and improvement is needed immediately.   These people are so heavy that they will likely die before their time if they don’t make a change right now.   Today.   Each contestant is hundreds of pounds overweight and could have a heart attack at any moment.  

This is what I call “educational urgency.”   The teacher imparts an urgency that requires serious work and lots of it and all of it right now.   No procrastination.   No laziness.   No excuses.   There is work to be done and it needs to be done now.  

How many teachers have you ever had that seemed to indicate that there was any urgency at all in the learning of class material?   I have had dozens of teachers and I don't remember ever having any urgency.   I meandered forward at my own leisure.

Students are human beings (believe it or not).   Ask yourself this question:   How much real work will they do without a sense of urgency?

Most teachers want their students to learn and most do become annoyed if the students don’t learn.   But, is there ever any real urgency?   And, if there is not, why would in teacher expect a college student to do the work or even care about the class?

I believe that one of the reasons college teaching is under attack is that our classes often don’t ring with any urgency at all.   If the student learns the material, that is great but, if not, it is really no big deal.   In the end, it really doesn’t make much difference.   That's an attitude that can lead to general dissatisfaction.

Whether you teach Shakespeare or philosophy or political science or, even, accounting, is there any urgency at all to the learning process?   If there is no urgency, why should your students really do anything for you?   Of course, there are always a few great students who love the material and do the work because of that interest.   Trust me, they are not the problem.   It is the other students we need to reach and spur on to better habits and deeper thinking.

In my classes, I give out questions every day for the next class.   At that subsequent class, I call on every student to explain these questions and provide potential solutions.   I argue with them if I don’t like their answers.   I do worse if I don’t feel they are prepared.   I am trying to create a sense of urgency because I want them to do well and do well every day.  I am not trying to scare them.   I just want them to view every day as essential.   I want my students to feel a need to prepare so that they can be ready to be engaged in our class discussion.

Does it work?   Sometimes yes and sometimes no.   No system is perfect.   But, if you are not satisfied with what your students are learning, it may well be that they feel no urgency to do any better.
 
Add a little urgency to the mixture.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Blasting Off Into the Private Sector

The United States has achieved some pretty amazing feats in space exploration. When Neil Armstrong first landed on the moon, it not only showed America's technological abilities, but also unified the nation as a whole. Since then, America has continued to expand its knowledge of outer space, completing more and more missions. However, as the costs of space research piled on, the US government pulled back funding for NASA and significantly limited its space travel programs. What does this mean for the future of space travel? Will America no longer shine as the leader in this effort?

Have no fear, SpaceX is here. Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), a privately-held space transport company represents privatization at its best. Tonight, it successfully completed another cargo launch sending vital supplies to the Space Station. SpaceX became the first private company to get a commercial space craft to the Space Station last May and has since been gaining momentum. It has secured numerous contracts with the United States government, and is undoubtedly pushing a new frontier in space exploration, one led by private business.

SpaceX did not start out this way. In fact, it faced many struggles just as most businesses do when they start off. Between 2006 and 2008, SpaceX faced public failures as its missions failed. Founder Elon Musk even considered ending the company. However, after 2008, the company launched it first craft into orbit, and a later mission finally reached the Space Station. What started out as an uncertain venture has now seen great success. Founder Elon Musk estimates that he will have his first manned mission in 3 years, and have his first man on Mars within 10 years.

Imagine that. In 10 years, a corporation will be representing America as we send our first man to Mars. The proud legacy that began with government sponsored missions will live on through the efforts of the private sector. In light of recent events highlighting corporate greed and bad business practices, it is amazing to think that private business may be what propels America forward to achieve its greatest feats yet.

-Smit Purohit

Friday, 5 October 2012

"Big Bang Reform"





India recently enacted policies to allow overseas investors to hold a larger stake in companies in various industries including airlines, insurance, retail and consumer. This news caused the rupee to cross a five-month high and the benchmark Sensex to rise 1%, as markets received a glimpse of the policy reform they have been seeking. The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) stated that India received FDI of approximately US$1.33 billion this May. This makes the cumulative FDI inflows for the months April-May 2012 US$ 3.18 billion. Keeping with its reformatory trend, the government stated that it would sell 10% of its stake in Oil India, 12.5% of its stake in Nalco, an aluminum maker. This push towards privatization will likely be seen as a positive one by foreign institutional investors.  
The services industry received the majority of the April-May inflows followed by the pharmaceutical, metallurgical, construction, housing and power industries. The retail and consumer industries, however, have been the ones subject to the most controversy in the midst of the inflows. This is because India’s economy constitutes millions of small shopkeepers and farmers, and most neighborhoods are used to local “sabzi-walas” (vegetable sellers) and retailers of such sort. A decision to allow huge retailers such as Wal-Mart and IKEA threatens the livelihoods of these small businesses and could cause drastic changes to India’s economy. Although the Prime minister, Manmohan Singh, says its time for “big bang reform,” the policies have so far caused a big backlash from local politicians who believe the entrance of these giants will hurt India’s economy. Mr. Balpit Punj, spokesman for the Bharatiya Janata Party (one of India’s two major political parties) stated the party is completely against the changes and will do everything in their power to stop them. However, others including Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya, have been pushing the government to attract greater foreign direct investment. The influx of foreign capital could directly benefit Mr. Mallya’s airline Kingfisher, which has been the subject of mass strikes, negative income and is in desperate need of capital injection.
In my opinion, attracting foreign direct investment is a necessary step for India’s future economic development. Hopefully, the influx of capital through industry will have a positive impact on India’s infrastructure and contribute to its future development.

Written by Ritika Gawande 
Photo Credit: www.ibnlive.in.com

Obama v Romney: The Economy



President Barack Obama and his challenger Governor Mitt Romney recently participated in the first of three presidential debates. The two debated a variety of issues, but one topic that came up more than any other was our economy.  Romney called out Obama for essentially dropping the ball in his first term as President, citing increasing unemployment and a stagnant economy.  Obama spent nearly $800 billion dollars in stimulus programs but still failed to keep the unemployment rate below 10 percent.  Furthermore, Romney discussed how Obama’s 4 years as president consisted of multi trillion dollar deficits and projects to borrow nearly a trillion dollars next year.  Governor Romney, for the first time since he received the nomination, seemed strong.  He persuaded Americans that his solution to revitalize the economy, focusing on energy independence, fiscal consolidation, and lowering tax rates will decrease our national debt and consequently stimulate our economy.  Pointing to the fact that Obama has added $5 trillion to our national debt in the past 4 years, Romney assured American’s that because he comes from a business background he will not let this happen.

Obama, for the first time since the race started, seemed weak.  Unable to defend his actions during his first term, he simply repeated the fact that he “wished” to create jobs and cut the government deficit.  The simple fact is that we all know what needs to be done.  The main thing we as voters need to understand from these debates is the differences in policies between the two candidates and the reasoning behind them.  Romney did his job, Obama didn’t.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m in no way supporting Romney in this post.  I’m simply stating the facts – Romney came prepared and articulated what he needed to. In the next debate, we all need Obama to do the same.

- Vivek Shah