Trump drops pledge to back Republican presidential nominee other than himself

Republican front-runner Donald Trump abandoned a pledge to support a party presidential nominee other than himself, a sign of increasing friction with chief rival Ted Cruz.

“No, I don’t anymore,” Trump replied, when asked at a CNN town hall event whether he still supported a pledge he made last year to support whoever is the Republican nominee for the November 8 election. Trump’s signing of a loyalty pledge last September was important in helping him gain credibility within the Republican National Committee. The pledge was also signed by all his rivals for the presidential nomination.

His aboutface came as he tries to fend off a challenge from Cruz, a US senator from Texas, who is running second to the New York billionaire in the race for the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination.

Trump drops pledge to back Republican presidential nominee other than himself

Prasad not impressed with new TV rating system

One of the milestones achieved by Indian television industry in 2015 was the launch of a new ratings system under the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), an industry body compromising broadcasters (60 per cent), advertisers (20 per cent) and media agencies (20 per cent).

The launch was hailed by many as a turning point in TV audience measurement with a more transparent process and bigger panel/sample size of people-meters in place.

However, Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister of communication and information technology, on Wednesday said the new system was also lacking in some aspects.

Addressing the inaugural session of FICCI-Frames 2016 in Mumbai, Prasad said, “I am not happy with the TV ratings system. I never approved of TAM and I am not very impressed by the new alternative either. How can a few hundred boxes tell me what show is number one? Something should be done to make the television ratings more accurate.”

BARC started releasing data last year. For around eight months, it co-existed with TAM, which had a monopoly on television ratings measurement in India. However, the two combined their resources earlier this year. And from March 1, only BARC releases television viewership data while TAM has exited the business.

The main reasons behind the formation of BARC were that broadcasters were unsatisfied with the TAM sample size (which was around 9,000 people-meters) and it did not cover rural territories.

While the Neilsen-Kantar JV finally ramped up its sample size to 12,000 people-meters last year, it was too little too late. Apart from small sample size, there were allegations regarding irregularities within TAM.

Reacting to Prasad’s observation, Partho Dasgupta, CEO, BARC India said, “We believe the minister expressed a view on improvements and changes in TV audience measurement in India with the launch of BARC India’s services. BARC India strictly follows government guidelines on the matter. We have expanded the coverage — with a doubling of sample homes to 20,000 within the first year of launch, and inclusion of rural India for the first time ever. We have plans for expanding the panel as per government guidelines too.”

“We are a joint industry body and the number of meters is guided by industry’s affordability and statistical needs. The number is as agreed by all stakeholders of the industry. Industry has welcomed and accepted BARC India data’s robustness and fidelity,” he added.

Prasad not impressed with new TV rating system

Reliance Capital completes 23% stake sale in life insurance venture

Reliance Capital part of Anil Ambani-led Reliance Group, on Wednesday announced the completion of an additional 23 per cent stake sale in Reliance Life Insurance (RLI) to Nippon Life Insurance (NLI) for Rs 2,265 crore.

The transaction pegs the valuation of RLI at Rs 10,000 crore.

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NLI now holds 49 per cent stake in RLI. Following the stake sale, RLI will be renamed Reliance Nippon Life Insurance Company.

“We have immensely benefitted from our relationship with Nippon Life over five years and look forward to further consolidate the partnership in India and abroad with their experience,” said Sam Ghosh, executive director and group chief executive officer, Reliance Capital.

RLI is amongst the leading private sector life insurance companies in India, in terms of new business premium. The company recorded a new business premium of Rs 285 crore for the quarter ended December 31, 2015.

Reliance Capital completes 23% stake sale in life insurance venture

Flipkart claims to have over 75 million registered users

Flipkart News : India’s largest e-commerce marketplace Flipkart, says it has crossed the 75 million registered users milestone on its platform, with growth being led by users coming from tier-II and tier-III towns. While this doesn’t necessarily translate into transactions, Flipkart is the first Indian Internet company to tap such a large base of users. The announcement comes hot on the heels of Flipkart becoming the first Indian app to cross the 50 million-download mark on Google’s Android Playstore, signifying that bulk of its new users are on mobile.

With sales of smartphones in the country shooting past the 100 million mark in 2015, India is expected to be the fastest growing ecommerce market for the next three to five years.

US online retailer Amazon and its Chinese rival Alibaba are making significant investments in India to capture the nascent online retail market. India is seen as the last big market opportunity globally, with a big chunk of foreign investments coming into e-commerce in the country being diverted towards e-tailers Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon and Paytm.

Flipkart says over 50 per cent of the traffic on its website and apps come from non-metros and that share is growing quickly. As smartphones and reliable data connectivity penetrate beyond large cities in India, more people are turning to online shopping as products are cheaper and also due to the lack of offline availability in smaller towns.

Morgan Stanley, which has a minor stake in Flipkart, in a February report marked down the value of its share in the company by 27 percent. The move meant the company, which was valued at $15.2 billion was now worth $11 billion. The report however maintained that Flipkart was leading the e-commerce battle in India with 45 per cent market share.

A telecom regulatory authority of India (TRAI) report in March showed that India’s broadband Internet population had grown to 121 million, roughly equating to Flipkart having access to over 60 per cent of all them, the company said in a statement. “Flipkart’s registered customer base stands at over 60% of the entire wireless and wireline broadband connections in India.”

While more and more users are coming onto the Internet and accessing e-commerce services such as Flipkart in India is certainly rising, the number of transacting users online is far less. Accel Partners, one of the most active early-stage venture capital investors in the country, in 2014 had predicted that India will have 40 million transacting users by 2016, however, experts peg that number hasn’t crossed 30 million so far.

India’s largest e-commerce marketplace Flipkart, says it has crossed the 75 million registered users milestone on its platform, with growth being led by users coming from tier-II and tier-III towns. While this doesn’t necessarily translate into transactions, Flipkart is the first Indian Internet company to tap such a large base of users. The announcement comes hot on the heels of Flipkart becoming the first Indian app to cross the 50 million-download mark on Google’s Android Playstore, signifying that bulk of its new users are on mobile.

With sales of smartphones in the country shooting past the 100 million mark in 2015, India is expected to be the fastest growing ecommerce market for the next three to five years.

US online retailer Amazon and its Chinese rival Alibaba are making significant investments in India to capture the nascent online retail market. India is seen as the last big market opportunity globally, with a big chunk of foreign investments coming into e-commerce in the country being diverted towards e-tailers Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon and Paytm.

Flipkart says over 50 per cent of the traffic on its website and apps come from non-metros and that share is growing quickly. As smartphones and reliable data connectivity penetrate beyond large cities in India, more people are turning to online shopping as products are cheaper and also due to the lack of offline availability in smaller towns.

Morgan Stanley, which has a minor stake in Flipkart, in a February report marked down the value of its share in the company by 27 percent. The move meant the company, which was valued at $15.2 billion was now worth $11 billion. The report however maintained that Flipkart was leading the e-commerce battle in India with 45 per cent market share.

A telecom regulatory authority of India (TRAI) report in March showed that India’s broadband Internet population had grown to 121 million, roughly equating to Flipkart having access to over 60 per cent of all them, the company said in a statement. “Flipkart’s registered customer base stands at over 60% of the entire wireless and wireline broadband connections in India.”

While more and more users are coming onto the Internet and accessing e-commerce services such as Flipkart in India is certainly rising, the number of transacting users online is far less. Accel Partners, one of the most active early-stage venture capital investors in the country, in 2014 had predicted that India will have 40 million transacting users by 2016, however, experts peg that number hasn’t crossed 30 million so far.

India’s largest e-commerce marketplace Flipkart, says it has crossed the 75 million registered users milestone on its platform, with growth being led by users coming from tier-II and tier-III towns. While this doesn’t necessarily translate into transactions, Flipkart is the first Indian Internet company to tap such a large base of users. The announcement comes hot on the heels of Flipkart becoming the first Indian app to cross the 50 million-download mark on Google’s Android Playstore, signifying that bulk of its new users are on mobile.

With sales of smartphones in the country shooting past the 100 million mark in 2015, India is expected to be the fastest growing ecommerce market for the next three to five years.

US online retailer Amazon and its Chinese rival Alibaba are making significant investments in India to capture the nascent online retail market. India is seen as the last big market opportunity globally, with a big chunk of foreign investments coming into e-commerce in the country being diverted towards e-tailers Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon and Paytm.

Flipkart says over 50 per cent of the traffic on its website and apps come from non-metros and that share is growing quickly. As smartphones and reliable data connectivity penetrate beyond large cities in India, more people are turning to online shopping as products are cheaper and also due to the lack of offline availability in smaller towns.

Morgan Stanley, which has a minor stake in Flipkart, in a February report marked down the value of its share in the company by 27 percent. The move meant the company, which was valued at $15.2 billion was now worth $11 billion. The report however maintained that Flipkart was leading the e-commerce battle in India with 45 per cent market share.

A telecom regulatory authority of India (TRAI) report in March showed that India’s broadband Internet population had grown to 121 million, roughly equating to Flipkart having access to over 60 per cent of all them, the company said in a statement. “Flipkart’s registered customer base stands at over 60% of the entire wireless and wireline broadband connections in India.”

While more and more users are coming onto the Internet and accessing e-commerce services such as Flipkart in India is certainly rising, the number of transacting users online is far less. Accel Partners, one of the most active early-stage venture capital investors in the country, in 2014 had predicted that India will have 40 million transacting users by 2016, however, experts peg that number hasn’t crossed 30 million so far.

Flipkart claims to have over 75 million registered users

STAR India to take Hotstar global

STAR India will be taking its video streaming platform – Hotstar, global this year. Speaking at the annual FICCI Frames media and entertainment conference in Mumbai, STAR India chief Uday Shankar revealed plans to export the one-year-old product to overseas territories.

“Even for a mass sport like cricket, in the larger cities, Hotstar’s watch time is now starting to reach 50 per cent of television. This infant service is already becoming a product of habit in India and now this year, we have set our sight on creating the first global media and entertainment product born out of India, when we take Hotstar to the rest of the world in a few months,” he said.

“The south Asian diaspora, which for the longest time has been frustrated by the lack of access to its favourite content, will be able to watch cricket, movies and drama through Hotstar. While I am indeed happy for hotstar to be a pioneer, we are very aware that this is a trend that will get replicated again and again, very quickly.”

Hotstar comes under Novi Digital, a step-down subsidiary of STAR India formed in late 2014. The platform itself was launched in February last year, coinciding with the ICC Cricket World Cup. Since then it has seen healthy growth in viewership driven by streaming of live sports.

The service is available free to consumers and operates on an advertising-fuelled model. It currently streams archived content from the STAR network. Movies that the network has digital rights to and live sports including cricket, football, tennis, badminton, kabaddi and hockey.

In fact, thanks to STAR India’s thrust on growing its sports portfolio, a lot of the consumption on the platform has come from different sports. For example, more people view the English Premier League on Hotstar as compared to television.

Similarly, the platform has seen viewership of flagship cricket tournaments like the Vivo Indian Premier League grow on digital since it started streaming such content.

This is the second year when hotstar will be airing the annual T-20 extravaganza and the third year for the Star India network. In 2014, the network shared the online streaming rights with Times Internet Limited and in 2015, it won the digital rights for the tournament for three years. As a result, in 2014, the league was available on starsports.com and since 2015, it has been available on hotstar as well.

“Over the past couple of years, we have seen a consistent increase in the reach of the tournament on digital. The IPL reached around 28 million in 2014 on starsports.com. This increased to approximately 41 million in 2015 and this year, we are hopeful of reaching 100 million viewers on the digital platform,” said Ajit Mohan, president and head, hotstar in an interaction with Business Standard earlier. Before 2014, the digital reach of the tournament was in the range of 16-18 million, according to media planners.

While it is still unclear whether Star will change its revenue and content strategy for the international market, it is clear through the growth of international box office collection of Indian films that content from the country is being lapped up by the diaspora and non-diaspora audiences. An overseas expansion may also give the network a chance to put its content behind a paywall since the pricing dynamics on content platforms are very different abroad.

STAR India to take Hotstar global

Banks may not buy Mallya’s settlement offer by September

Liquor baron Vijay Mallya on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that he would pay Rs 4,000 crore by September as settlement for a default on loans to banks.

Lenders, however, are taking the offer with a pinch of salt. They claim the submission of a plan to repay six months later is hardly satisfactory.

The promoter of the defunct Kingfisher Airlines would have to show specific assets and money for repayment. “The banks want to see the money,” said one of them.

ALSO READ: Should banks accept Mallya’s Rs 4,000-cr offer?

A senior advocate appearing for the consortium of banks, which has taken Mallya to court for default, said the proposal was submitted in a sealed envelope by the Kingfisher Airlines (KFA), United Breweries and Kingfisher Finvest, along with their promoters. Mallya owes the consortium, led by the State Bank of India, Rs 6,903 crore.

He left India on March 2 and his exact whereabouts are not known. A Bench comprising Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice R F Nariman allowed the consortium of banks a week’s time to respond to the proposal and posted the matter for hearing on April 7.

ALSO READ: 5 questions that Vijay Mallya settlement offer raises

A public sector bank official said: “It is not a normal bank-borrower issue and also can’t been seen as routine settlement case. Banks are conscious of fact that it (plan) comes with much delay and after filing of suits against KFA and Mallya in various legal forums for recovering dues.”

Banks have not had satisfactory experience in recovering money by selling assets. The auction for Kingfisher House, KFA’s headquarter in Mumbai, failed to get even a single bid. They have also put the trademark and brands of KFA on the block to get money.
ALSO READ: Vijay Mallya submits Rs 4,000-crore settlement plan to Supreme Court

A Bank of Baroda executive said: “The money (lent to Mallya and his companies) is public money. Any step to write-off any part will certainly create uproar.”

Banks may not buy Mallya’s settlement offer by September A State Bank of India (SBI) executive said: “Assessments indicate there are assets worth over Rs 8,000 crore, which either belong to him or have his imprint. These could be used for recovery.”

“This is a case of willful default so we will have to drive a hard bargain,” agreed two other public sector lenders.

SBI and Punjab National Bank have already declared Mallya and KFA as wilful defaulters — borrowers who fail to pay dues despite having the assets to do so.

A senior public sector banker said while there was no direct participation or involvement, the Prime Minister’s Office was closely monitoring the Mallya case.

UB Group stocks, led by United Breweries, soared by up to 12.2 per cent on Wednesday. Shares of United Breweries (Holdings) zoomed 12.20 per cent to settle at Rs 20.70 on the BSE. During the day, it jumped 15.71 per cent to Rs 21.35.

McDowell Holdings rose 4.36 per cent, Mangalore Chemicals & Fertilizers was up 1.82 per cent and United Breweries 0.21 per cent.

A lawyer for Mallya also told the Supreme Court that Kingfisher could pay another Rs 2,000 crore to banks if it wins a lawsuit seeking damages from a plane engine maker. The lawyer did not give a time frame for that payment.

Mallya’s UB Group did not reply to a request for comment on the repayment offer.

Kingfisher, once India’s second-biggest airline, ceased operations more than three years ago after a stretch of losses, leaving creditors, suppliers and employees with unpaid dues.

Once known as the “King of Good Times” for his extravagant lifestyle, Mallya has denied that he had fled India and said he would comply with laws. Media reports have traced him to the Hertfordshire village of Tewin, north of London, where he owns a house.

Senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan, appearing for Kingfisher and Mallya, confirmed that he was in UK, from where he had a video conference with his counsel on Tuesday.

“Where are you? Are you back in India?” the judges asked the counsel. “The Media has vitiated the atmosphere,” Vaidyanathan said.

The Bench said “media ultimately stands for the public interest. They just want the money taken from the banks to be brought back.”

Banks may not buy Mallya’s settlement offer by September

Indian Hotels reboots by going asset-light

Last month, Tata Sons-promoted Indian Hotels Company, or IHCL, announced its exit from a property in Jaisalmer, the Gateway, which it had managed for the last several years. This was the hotel chain’s third exit in four months after it ended management contracts for Gateway properties in Ahmedabad and Jodhpur. The company, which operates hotels under the Taj, Vivanta by Taj and Gateway brands, has also checked out of three Taj properties in the last two years.

While IHCL has been adding new properties every year, this attrition has not escaped the attention of analysts and rivals. IHCL did not provide reasons for moving out of the Jaisalmer, Ahmedabad and Jodhpur properties, but speculation is rife that it could be an effort to shore up the company’s bottom-line.

With stuck investments, churn in senior management, no profits since 2011-12 (annual and consolidated), and a huge debt burden of over Rs 5,000 crore on its books, the 114-year-old IHCL needs to do all it can to bounce back at a time when competition is increasing by the day – the Marriott-Starwood combine is set to add over 70 new hotels across segments in the next five years in the country.

Hotel chains like IHCL make real money at the top end of the market with their luxury properties. However, Taj, the country’s oldest and amongst the most popular luxury hospitality brands, seems to have slackened its pace of expansion. Only one new property under the Taj banner (Taj Santacruz, Mumbai, which opened last year) was added in nearly five years (the Falaknuma Palace, which opened in 2010, was the previous opening).

While IHCL has said it will add seven new properties (excluding Roots Corporation which runs Ginger) in 2016-17, these will all be under the Vivanta by Taj and Gateway brands only – no new Taj hotel is expected to open during the year.

The reason is not hard to find: a luxury hotel can cost upwards of Rs 1 crore a room, which can strain IHCL’s balance sheet further. Abroad too, the luxury plans of IHCL seem to be on hold.

Stuck in China
A strong footprint in China, the world’s largest luxury market, was one of IHCL’s ambitious projects. In 2008, it became the first Indian hospitality company to forge a partnership in China for setting up luxury properties there.

A management contract was signed by an IHCL subsidiary, Taj International Hong Kong, to run the Temple of Heaven Park property in Beijing. In close proximity to the Temple of Heaven, constructed in 1420 and used by Emperors of the Ming dynasty, it was to be a 46-room luxury hotel.

A further three hotels were also planned in China including a 500-key luxury resort with 40 villas on the Hunan Island. However, for unspecified reasons, none of these properties has been inaugurated till date. An IHCL spokesperson did not answer questions on the China projects.

Meanwhile, having waited for several years, IHCL was forced to abort its plans to take over Bermuda-based Orient Express Hotels (now Belmond), thanks to the lack of interest from the target company. Last month, it started liquidating six- to eight-year-old shares in Belmond at a price which is bound to raise eyebrows.

At an average selling price of $9.4 a share, IHCL took a massive haircut compared to the average purchase price of $35 a share. The sale price was also lower than the $12.63 a share offered by it to buy Belmond in 2012. IHCL had collectively paid around Rs 1,200 crore for the Belmond shares.

The share sale was to release money locked in an unproductive investment. IHCL needs money urgently to cut its debt which jumped to Rs 5,337 crore by the end of December from Rs 4,075 crore on March 31, 2015, at the gross consolidated level. The company did not disclose details of debt repayment coming up in 2016-17 when contacted through email.

Another such investment is the Rs 680 crore IHCL paid to acquire Sea Rock Hotel in Bandra, Mumbai, in 2009: redevelopment plans have been stalled for six years following some public interest litigation. IHCL had planned to combine the existing Land’s End Hotel with Sea Rock to form the largest hotel in the city.

In an interview in April, IHCL Managing Director & Chief Executive Rakesh Sarna had said that investments such as Sea Rock cannot be allowed to remain non-performing and a decision will be taken on it. “We are committed to take that piece of land and either have a performing asset or not. We are really hopeful of bringing this to some sort of a conclusion,” he said.

Losses abound
IHCL has been under financial duress for the past three years. High finance cost has eroded its margins, even as the company stares at possibly its fourth consecutive yearly loss at the consolidated level when it closes its books on March 31. Sarna had indicated that profits would be two years away.

Then there are the external factors. The mega merger of Starwood and Marriott announced in November will hurt Indian hotel companies, especially IHCL, believe market experts. With a combined inventory of 18,000 rooms in India, Starwood-Marriot is way ahead of IHCL which has just under 14,500 rooms.

“Starwood and Marriott have properties in important cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, which are the main revenue drivers. With their huge base of loyalty memberships, these will become benchmark properties in the coming period,” says a Mumbai-based analyst. Marriott and Starwood have a combined membership of 75 million, which will help them market their inventory aggressively.

In a recent interview to Business Standard, Starwood Hotels and Resorts President (Asia Pacific) Stephen Ho said: “India has some great local brands like Taj, Leela and Oberoi, but their presence is largely in India. Outside the country their presence is not significant. Our global loyalty programmes and marketing strength will help us drive our India business.”

Meanwhile, the IHCL stock has been range-bound over the past year, trading between Rs 115 and Rs 90. The appointment of Sarna, who is rated highly in the industry, as managing director in 2014 and the shake up in the organisational structure in order to give more powers to general managers have added stability to the stock.

An added silver lining is that the business environment is picking up. Foreign tourist arrivals are hitting new highs every quarter. In the October-December quarter, arrivals stood at more than 2.4 million, the highest for any quarter, according to the Union ministry of tourism. With the global economy on the mend, arrivals are expected to continue their upward march in the coming quarters.

To seize the opportunity, IHCL will look to add new resorts and hotels at popular tourist spots. “The group will expand its portfolio to include four new hotels in four new destinations with over 300 rooms by December 2016. These will be Meghauli Serai, a Taj Safaris lodge in Chitwan, Nepal; Vivanta by Taj Amritsar; The Gateway Resort Ajmer and The Gateway Resort Corbett,” said a recent statement from IHCL.

New properties will be opened through management contracts rather than through ownerships, which has been the traditional route for the company. IHCL is going asset-light to expand without increasing its debt burden.

Indian Hotels reboots by going asset-light