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Business News/ Weekend / Best of the Week | How best to savour (and save) an election season
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Best of the Week | How best to savour (and save) an election season

Best of the Week March 30: Elections, snacks, and bye bye FY24

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Dear reader,

India's western areas, particularly near Rajasthan's Thar desert and Madhya Pradesh's Malwa plateau, have a notable culinary tradition. These regions are mostly dry, making farming challenging and leading to a reliance on savoury snacks and pickles in local diets.

Last week, I had the chance to visit Jaipur and Indore, two cities central to this culinary culture. Indore is the largest city in my home state, while my trip to Jaipur was more spontaneous.

The walled city of Jaipur has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2019
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The walled city of Jaipur has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2019 (Siddharth Sharma)

Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, has an entire neighbourhood dedicated to savoury snacks called namkeen wali gali, known for its variety of savoury snacks, or namkeen.

A typical namkeen shop in Jaipur's very own snack heaven
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A typical namkeen shop in Jaipur's very own snack heaven (Siddharth Sharma)

The range of snacks in both cities was impressive. From traditional favourites that have stood the test of time to bold, adventurous concoctions like butterscotch and orange-flavoured namkeens (yes, you read that right), the variety was a revelation.

Snacks play a crucial role in gatherings and events, including political rallies, which are especially relevant with the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. India’s fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies are licking their lips at the potential upside in demand that the upcoming hustings bring. Mint’s consumer correspondent Suneera Tandon spoke to several executives from snack companies who talked about elections being a high demand time with people having more disposable income.

As the nation gears up for the elections, it becomes evident that few things have the power to unite India quite like food and politics.

On to Mint’s best journalism from this week:

🌽 Speaking of FMCG companies, the sector saw expanding gross margins. But according to experts the companies are now facing potential setbacks. Recent increases in the prices of key raw materials, including crude oil, palm oil, coffee, and cocoa, are threatening to halt the profitability seen in recent quarters. With rising costs, companies are hesitant to pass these higher prices onto consumers. Suneera highlights concerns for the FMCG sector based on a BNP Paribas report, indicating a possible end to margin expansion and a slowdown in revenue growth. Significant price jumps, such as a 15.3% increase in coffee prices from last year, along with rising costs for maize and wheat due to demand and ethanol production plans, underscore the widespread impact on the sector.

🏦 💸India’s insolvency and bankruptcy code (IBC) seems to be working well. Since 2016 - when the regulation was implemented - it has managed to approve bankruptcy cases for 891 companies. This has resulted in creditors taking home close to 3.2 trillion rupees. So what’s behind this success? Mint’s senior editor Gireesh Chandra Prasad spoke to insiders who credited a more efficient process at the tribunal benches for this boost. Now, the number of rescued businesses under the IBC is expected to jump even further. For this year, it is expected to stand at 275 cases, a 50% leap from the previous year. Policymakers are prioritising the swift turnaround of troubled businesses under the IBC, aiming to clean up corporate and bank financial statements to pave the way for a new wave of private investments. Such a move is essential for boosting economic growth and maintaining its momentum.

🕵️‍♀️ 💪 As election fervour sweeps the nation, a unique voting campaign unfolded not in the political arena, but among the retail shareholders of ICICI Securities. In an extraordinary move, ICICI Bank employeesactively campaigned for shareholder votes in favour of a proposed demerger with ICICI Securities, the financial services company’s broking arm. This followed the June announcement where ICICI Bank and  ICICI Securities agreed on delisting ICICI Securities' equity shares. This aggressive strategy, that involved personal calls and home visits to shareholders sparked concerns over privacy and the inappropriate use of shareholder information. Mint’s banking correspondent Shayan Ghosh and Nehal Chaliawala delved into this unusual approach to shareholder engagement by ICICI, highlighting its potential privacy implications.

⛽ 📊 While the world is gearing up to make the shift towards green energy, India is planning for the future with fossil fuels still relevant and up in the country’s list of priorities. According to insiders , India is planning to come up with a model that will estimate the country’s peak oil consumption. The Petroleum Planning & Analysis Cell (PPAC), affiliated with the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, is expected to conduct the modelling exercise, people with knowledge of the matter told Mint’s energy reporter Rituraj Baruah. This initiative aims to assist the world's third-largest oil consumer in strategising for its future refining capabilities. India, a major refining hub in Asia with a current capacity of 254 million tonnes per year and ranking fourth globally, aims to expand its crude oil refining capacity by 56.6 million tonnes annually by 2030 through both existing and new projects. This modelling exercise will inform policymakers about the peak consumption period expected in India, after which annual consumption will stabilise and eventually decrease. Peak oil consumption in India is expected to be reached about five to six years after the global consumption peak is hit.

🪨 👷‍♂️ Sterlite Copper, a Vedanta group company in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, has seen a rocky 22-year history marked by environmental controversies and shutdowns, culminating in a permanent closure in 2018, a decision later upheld by the Madras High Court in 2020. Despite initial hints from the Supreme Court about a potential reopening due to its key role in India's copper production, the court ultimately reaffirmed the closure in February, prioritising environmental norms over economic benefits. This closure has significantly impacted India's copper sector, turning the country from an exporter to an importer amidst rising demand fueled by infrastructure projects, renewable energy, and the electric vehicle boom. India's core issue lies in its limited copper ore production, which, as per the Ministry of Mines, Government of India, stands at an estimated 4 million tonnes. This figure represents a mere 4% of the nation's refined copper consumption, highlighting a significant gap between domestic production and demand. The reliance on imports and the monopoly of Hindalco Industries in domestic production poses a challenge for India's copper self-sufficiency. The upcoming Adani copper smelter in Gujarat may ease some pressure, but the long-term outlook for India's copper self-sufficiency remains uncertain due to raw material scarcity and global market trends. Mint's N Madhavan explores these challenges as the demand for copper surges, particularly with the electric vehicle revolution on the horizon.

💳💳 Credit card enthusiasts, known for strategising to max out their card benefits,  are upset with Axis Bank's recent decision to devalue its credit card benefits. The move, which diminished the perks associated with the bank's cards, caught many by surprise. Cardholders, who pay annual fees ranging from 2,500 to nearly 60,000, were particularly stunned to find that previously complimentary airport lounge access now requires a minimum spend of 50,000 rupees within three months, in addition to the existing fees. This sudden change has prompted some customers to consider legal action against Axis Bank. Mint Money's Shipra Singh and Shashwat Mohanty delve into the reasons behind Axis Bank's decision to scale back its offerings, shedding light on the discontent among its credit card users.

👨‍💻 👩‍💻 India’s corporate boardrooms are facing a peculiar shortage —  that of independent directors. The Companies Act mandates that at least one-third of a company's board members be independent directors, with a minimum requirement of two per board. These directors are expected to act independently and impartially, making decisions for the future benefit of the company and its shareholders, while holding management accountable and protecting minority shareholder rights. Despite the critical role they play, over 25 prospective independent directors have resigned before their board appointments across 21 major companies since 2021, as reported by Mint. Often citing personal reasons for their departure, the underlying issues appear to be more complex, including potential rejections by shareholders. Mint's Varun Sood explores this trend as he talks to directors, investors, and governance experts, shedding light on the challenges facing India Inc. in maintaining a robust governance framework.

🚘 📉 Failure is inevitable, even for the biggest fish in the pond. Maruti Suzuki learnt that the hard way with Jimny. The compact sports utility vehicle (SUV), launched in June 2023, has only seen 17,000 models being sold since. Maruti Suzuki, which holds 42% of the Indian passenger vehicles market, sold more of the decade-old sedan Ciaz, than Jimny. It has been the lowest selling of the 17 models offered by the company. The off-roader was launched as a direct competitor to Mahindra’s Thar, which, safe to say, is the undisputed leader in its category. When the car was unveiled in February 2020 at the biennial auto Auto Expo in Greater Noida, it created a lot of buzz. However, the company could only sell about 500 units in January and February this year, while more than 6,000 Thars hit the roads in February alone. So what went wrong with Jimny and what will it take for it to climb out from the depth of car sale hells? Mint’s autos correspondent Sumant Banerji examines in this long story

📈📈 In FY24, stock markets in India saw remarkable returns, with the Nifty and Sensex indices climbing by 28% and 25% respectively, marking their best performance in three years. The surge was even more pronounced in smaller stocks, with the Nifty Midcap 100 and Smallcap 250 indices jumping by 64% and 68%. This rapid growth has drawn regulatory and expert scrutiny. The year ended on a high note with a boost from mutual fund purchases and derivatives expiry, leading to gains on the last trading day. However, some profit-booking was observed as fund managers and traders capitalised on the rally. Market analysts attribute the surge to several factors, including portfolio rebalancing by mutual funds, short-covering by traders, and anticipatory buying ahead of a long weekend. Sectors like real estate, public sector banks, and energy saw significant gains, with their indices increasing by 66-133%, while the media sector lagged with only a 6% rise. Mint’s senior correspondent Dipti Sharma takes a look at how markets performed in the outgoing fiscal year in this (financial) year-ender.  

💵💵 Previously, stock market gains took up to two working days to be credited to an investor's account, a timeline that was later shortened to just one day. Now, with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi)'s approval, same-day settlement is being tested, potentially transforming how gains are realised from equity investments. This trial, referred to as the T+X system (where X represents the transaction processing days), introduces the T+0 model, allowing for immediate settlement. Initially, this faster process is available through a select group of brokers for a specific set of 25 stocks. Sebi plans to evaluate the outcomes of this pilot after 3 and 6 months to consider a broader implementation. Dipti Sharma explains the T+0 system's workings and its potential to revolutionise equity investing.

🏨 💸 Marriott International is set to expand in the Middle East with a new 350-room Le Méridien hotel on Al Marjan Island, UAE, by 2026. The hospitality group plans to do Three Musketeers Hospitality, a subsidiary of UAE-based Plus Holding Ltd. This development comes amid a nearly 5% drop in the S&P BSE SmallCap Index since March 1. The Securities and Exchange Board of India has raised concerns over potential bubbles, influenced by obscure offshore investments. Notably, the arrest of Suraj Chokhani over the Mahadev Online betting app scandal and the subsequent asset seizure by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have cast a shadow over several companies with alleged links to dubious offshore funds. Mint's Varoon Sood delves into the complex web of investments and corporate manoeuvres surrounding the founders of Three Musketeers Hospitality and their associates, amidst regulatory warnings and market fluctuations.

That's all for this week, I hope you have a pleasant weekend!

If you have any feedback, want to talk about food, or have anything else to say about our journalism, write to me at siddharth.sharma1@htdigital.in or reply to this mail. You can also write to feedback@livemint.com.

Best,

Siddharth Sharma

Community Editor

Subscriber Experience Team

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Siddharth Sharma
Siddharth works as a Community Editor for Mint. He is a co-writer of Mint's flagship newsletter, Top of the Morning. Siddharth also co-writes the script of the podcast by the same name, and contributes to the Best of the Week newsletter. In his free time, can be found looking for a new street food joint.
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Published: 29 Mar 2024, 11:53 PM IST
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