The third wave of the pandemic in India has spread rapidly and the Omicron outbreak could peak in large cities soon, according to experts
Every Monday, Mint’s Plain Facts section features five key data releases and events to watch out for during the coming week. The third wave of the pandemic in India has spread rapidly and the Omicron outbreak could peak in large cities soon, according to experts. Earnings for the December-ended quarter are due from Bajaj Auto and ICICI Bank. Tennis fans will be glued to the Australian Open starting Monday. The things to look out for are:
India marked one year of its massive vaccination drive against covid-19 on Sunday. However, it is in the grip of a strong third wave of infections fuelled by the Omicron variant. The country now has more than 1.5 million active cases, the highest since early June 2021, and nearly 13% of the samples being tested for the virus are turning positive.
But good signs are emerging. There are early indications that the wave may have peaked in Mumbai and is plateauing in Delhi. Projection models show the coming two weeks may bring a peak at the national level, too, even as infections begin to surge in some rural parts as well.
However, some states such as West Bengal, Delhi, Maharashtra and poll-bound Goa still have a positivity rate of more than 20%. Daily new cases are inching towards 300,000, and could this week cross the last peak hit in May before it descends again.
Bajaj Auto Earnings
The domestic automobile industry bore the greatest brunt of the global chip shortage in the December quarter. Weaker festival sales also hurt volumes. Sharp rise in commodity prices may also hit operating margins.
Two-wheeler major Bajaj Auto, which declares its quarterly results on Wednesday, may also feel the pinch. The company has reported a 3.2% quarter-on-quarter growth in sales volumes, with improving three-wheeler share in the overall mix. It has raised prices and cut cost. A Reliance Securities report also expects a decent bottom line despite higher commodity costs, due to better exports at a favourable exchange rate and lower tax rates.
Yet, analysts see margins falling sequentially by about 200 basis points due to continuing raw material supply problems. The sector faces near-term challenges with the onset of the third wave of the pandemic and the supply constraints.
ICICI Bank Earnings
ICICI Bank will announce its December-quarter earnings on Saturday. Most large lenders are expected to show improved business performance during the quarter, pumped up by better asset quality trends. For ICICI Bank, both net interest margins and loan growth could stay stable with steady contribution from the small business and retail borrowers.
Analysts at Kotak Institutional Equities have forecast slippages of around 2% but expect asset quality stress to remain lower on improving business performance.
The bank is better placed than its peers on pre-provision operating profit growth, which also appears to be driving its stock prices. ICICI Bank shares gained nearly 6% in the December quarter, against a 5.4% fall in the sectoral benchmark, the BSE Bankex.
However, investors will watch out for the business risks arising from the third wave of the pandemic.
China’s economy had a strong run in the first half of 2021, owing to the low-base effect and strong exports. But the economy then began to slow down, getting embroiled in a property crisis sparked by financial troubles at Evergrande Group. Slowing industrial output and supply disruptions also acted as headwinds, as did the country’s strict zero-covid strategy. As such, the gross domestic product growth could slow down to slightly above 3% in the December quarter from 4.9%, multiple analysts said. The data is due on Monday.
Even with the slowdown, the full-year growth could still be above 8%. The real worry is for 2022 as the unresolved power and property crisis could drag growth further down to around 5%. The impact of interest rate cuts by the People’s Bank of China in December could take time to kick in. Strong measures to keep the pandemic at bay ahead of the Winter Olympics will also pose a risk to economic growth.
The first Grand Slam of 2022 begins today in Melbourne. A 10-day dramatic run-up ended on Sunday in a court clearing the deportation of men’s No. 1 Novak Djokovic from Australia. The Serb’s contempt for covid-19 vaccines has cost him a shot at a possible 10th Australian Open title and 21st Grand Slam—both of which would have been records.
The exit of the most dominant player of the past decade opens up the singles contest to other favourites, led by Spaniard Rafael Nadal and Russian Daniil Medvedev.
In the women’s contest, too, the player with the most wins in the past decade, Serena Williams, is not playing. A victory for No. 1 Ashleigh Barty would make her the first Australian to win the tournament in 44 years. But women’s singles hasn’t quite matched the dominance of Nadal and Djokovic in recent years. The Australian Open will set the tone for the rest of 2022: will we get more consistent winners this year?