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Economy showing signs of getting back to normalcy, but medium term outlook still uncertain: RBI Guv

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India’s economy is showing signs of getting back to normalcy, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das said on Saturday.

Delivering a keynote address at the 7th SBI Banking and Economics Conclave, Das said, “Despite the substantial impact of pandemic in our daily lives, the financial system of the country, including all the payment systems and financial markets, are functioning without any hindrance”.

“The Indian economy has started showing signs of getting back to normalcy in response to the staggered easing of restrictions,” he said.

He added that COVID-19 pandemic perhaps represents so far the biggest test of robustness and resilience of our economic and financial system.

The RBI chief, however, noted that medium term outlook still remains uncertain. He cautioned that it is still uncertain when supply chains will be restored fully, how long will it take for demand conditions to normalise and what kind of durable effects the pandemic will leave behind on India’s potential growth.

“COVID-19 is the worst health and economic crisis in the last 100 years with unprecedented negative consequences for output, jobs and well being. It dented the existing world order, global value chains, labour and capital movements across the globe,” Das noted.

Elaborating on moves taken by the RBI till the pandemic struck, Das said, “From February 2019 onward, on a cumulative basis, we had cut the repo rate by 135 basis points till the onset of COVID-19. That was done mainly to tackle the slowdown in growth which was visible at that time”.

The lagged impact of these measures was about to propel a cyclical turnaround in economic activity, the RBI chief said, when COVID-19 brought with it calamities, miseries, endangering of lives and livelihood of people.

He further elaborated that a multi-pronged approach adopted by the Reserve Bank has provided a cushion from the immediate impact of the pandemic on banks.

“Policy action for the medium-term would require a careful assessment of how the crisis unfolds. Building buffers and raising capital will be crucial not only to ensure credit flow but also to build resilience in the financial system.”

According to Shaktikanta Das, the RBI has asked financial institutions to carry out a COVID stress test to see weaknesses in their balance sheet.

“We have recently advised all banks, non-deposit taking NBFCs and all deposit-taking NBFCs to assess the impact of COVID-19 on their balance sheet, asset quality, liquidity, profitability and capital adequacy for the financial year 2020-21.

“Based on the outcome of such stress testing, banks and non-banking financial companies have been advised to work out possible mitigating measures, including capital planning, capital raising, and contingency liquidity planning, among others. The idea is to ensure continued credit supply to different sectors of the economy and maintain financial stability,” Das said.

Besides, he cited that RBI has strengthened its offsite surveillance mechanism to proactively find weak institutes and to immediately take corrective steps.

“As the lock-down has obstructed our on-site supervisory examination to an extent, we are further enhancing our off-site surveillance mechanism. The objective of the off-site surveillance system would be to ‘smell the distress’, if any, and be able to initiate pre-emptive actions.”

“This requires use of market intelligence inputs and on-going engage ments with financial institutions on potential vulnerabilities. The off-site assessment framework, which takes into account macro and micro variables, i s more analytical and forward looking and aimed at identifying vulnerable se ctors, borrowers as well as supervised entities,” he said.

Furthermore, he said the supervisory approach of the Reserve Bank is to further strengthen its focus on developing financial institutions’ ability to identify, measure, and mitigate the risks.

“The new supervisory approach will be two-pronged – first, strengthening the internal defences of the supervised entities; and second, greater focus on identifying the early warning signals and initiate corrective action,” Das said.

He cited that to strengthen the internal defences, higher emphasis is now be ing given on causes of weaknesses than on symptoms.

“The symptoms of weak banks are usually poor asset quality, lack of profitability, loss of capital, excessive leverage, excessive risk exposure, poor conduct, and liquidity concerns. These different symptoms often emerge together,” he said.

“The causes of weak financial institutions can usually be traced to one or more of the following conditions: inappropriate business model, given the business environment; poor or inappropriate governance and assurance functions; poor decision making by senior management; and misalignment of intern al incentive structures with external stakeholder interests.”

Accordingly, he said RBI is placing special emphasis on the assessment of business model, governance and assurance functions, as these have been the are as of heightened supervisory concern.

“Supervised entities generally tend to focus more on business aspect seven to the detriment of governance aspects and assurance functions. There was also an apparent disconnect between their articulated business strategy and actual business operations. The thrust of the approach, therefore is, to improve the risk, compliance, and governance culture amongst the financial institutions,” he said.

In addition, he said that post the containment of Coronavirus, “a very careful trajectory has to be followed in orderly unwinding of counter-cyclical regulatory measures and the financial sector should return to normal function ing without relying on the regulatory relaxations as the new norm”.

“The Reserve Bank is making continuous assessment of the changing trajectory of financial stability risks and upgrading its own supervisory framework to ensure that financial stability is preserved,” he said.

“Banks and financial intermediaries have to be ever vigilant and substantially upgrade their capabilities with respect to governance, assurance functions and risk culture.”

Meanwhile, in his keynote address, the RBI governor said that the MPC has decided to cumulatively slash the policy repo rate further by 115 basis points.

With this, from February 2019, the total rate cut that the RBI has undertaken would be 250 basis points.

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Zepto, 10-minute grocery delivery app, raises $100 million

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Only five months subsequent to dispatching, 10-minute basic food item conveyance application Zepto on Tuesday reported it has raised $100 million driven by Y Combinator, taking its valuation to $570 million.

Other than the raise money, Zepto has been developing staggeringly rapidly and is significantly increasing its client base consistently.

In the course of recent months, Zepto has extended past Mumbai by dispatching in Bengaluru, Delhi, Gurgaon, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Pune (Kolkata to follow), the organization said in an assertion.

“Financial backers are reliably deciding to back Zepto due to our top tier execution. This is giving us extraordinary energy – we’re developing at an amazing rate, clients are adoring the item experience, our center unit financial matters are solid, and we have one of the most outstanding startup groups in India today,” said Aadit Palicha, Co-Founder and CEO.

The Series C raising money round saw support from new and existing financial backers, including Glade Brook, Nexus, Breyer Capital, Lachy Groom, Global Founders Capital, Contrary Capital, and that’s just the beginning.

The round came 45 days later the organization reported its $60 million raise money in November.

Conveying food in a short time is a game-changing encounter for clients in the nation, and a few players are presently joining the race.

“We are eager to twofold down and lead this round in Zepto. They initially dispatched with an alternate model, quickly turned to speedy trade in August 2021, and are presently adding 100,000 new clients consistently, 60% of the ladies,” said Anu Hariharan from Y Combinator.

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One stuck box of fertilizer shows the global supply chain crisis

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Somewhere in the world’s busiest port of Shanghai, a container of fertilizer sits among tens of thousands of boxes, waiting for a ride to the U.S. It’s been on the dock for months, trapped by typhoons and Covid outbreaks that have worsened major congestion in the global supply-chain network.

While the fertilizer has been stranded there since May, the port is just one stop on the long journey from central China to the U.S. Midwest. Delays have stretched a delivery that ordinarily would take weeks to more than half a year. And that time frame will keep expanding, as the goods have barely started the roughly 15,000 kilometer (9,300 mile) trek.

This is the tale of one humble shipment and its arduous journey across the world. While some of the barriers keeping it from its final destination may be specific to this particular case, the journey is emblematic of the inertia that has gripped global trade during the pandemic.

From the U.S. to Sudan to China, container boxes have been lying at ports, railyards and in warehouses as the pandemic rages on. In an industry with 25 million containers and some 6,000 ships hauling them, it’s easy to see disruptions as one big headache confined to the shipping world. But each container that’s delayed is economic activity that’s restrained, heaping costs one box at a time on consumers and making it more challenging to put corn on consumers’ tables or deliver presents for the holidays.

It’s also a lesson in the ripple effects across global supply chains, showing the limits of diversification as all networks are still closely connected with China.

“All roads lead back to China, and that has a major effect across the entire supply chain,” said Dawn Tiura, head of U.S.-based Sourcing Industry Group. “Congestion at one port or factory has far-reaching implications for neighboring facilities, which trickles out across the world.”

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Bharat Biotech’s BBV154 leads global race for intranasal COVID-19 vaccine

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Bharat Biotech’s nasal COVID-19 vaccine candidate BBV154 has become the front runner globally to likely commercialise an intranasal vaccine, following green signal from the government to conduct a combined Phase II and III final clinical trials in India. At present out of the 110 vaccines under clinical development globally, only eight are intranasal vaccines and three are oral vaccines. So far none of these vaccines have entered the final phase of trials and most are still in the first phase.

BBV154 is an intranasal replication-deficient chimpanzee adenovirus SARS-CoV-2 vectored vaccine, in-licensed from the Washington University in St Louis, USA. Nasal and oral vaccines are expected to be a game-changer second-generation COVID-19 vaccine, as they stimulate a broad immune response and prevent both infection and transmission. The non-invasive, needle-free vaccines do not require trained health care workers to administer the vaccine, have no risks of injuries and infections and is suited for children and adults. Unlike Covaxin, which is difficult to make, manufacturing can be scaled up fast and easily.  Compared to injectable vaccines, nasal and oral vaccines are expected to provide long-lasting protection.

Bharat Biotech is yet to announce its plans and timeline for the nasal vaccine’s future development.

Serum Institute of India and Codagenix have done a 48-subject Phase I clinical trial in the UK for an intranasal COVID-19 vaccine, COVI-VAC. This live attenuated candidate vaccine is expected to have potential to provide a broader immune response, in comparison to most COVID-19 vaccines that target only a portion of the virus. Codagenix has recently completed dosing for its Phase I trials and data is expected to come out in the third quarter of the year.

Nasdaq listed US biopharmaceutical company Altimmune, which was developing a three-dose intranasal vaccine candidate  AdCOVID, discontinued the project on July 29, as its first phase trials did not stimulate an adequate immune response in healthy volunteers. “The top-line Phase 1 clinical data are disappointing given the encouraging preclinical data and our substantial efforts in advancing a differentiated, intranasal vaccine candidate in the fight against COVID-19,” said Vipin K Garg, Altimmune’s India born President and Chief Executive Officer.

The University of Hong Kong, Xiamen University and Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy in China are trying a Phase II clinical trial of a two-dose influenza virus vector COVID-19 vaccine as an intranasal spray (DelNS1-2019-nCoV-RBD-OPT1). Its one year long second phase trial among 240 volunteers is going on and will conclude only by mid-December 2021.

The University of Oxford is conducting a single dose Phase I study of AstraZeneca’s ChAdOx1 nCOV-19 (Covishield in India and manufactured by the Serum Institute) to be administered intranasal among 54 volunteers in three groups. According to the trial design, the study started in April is estimated to complete the first phase only by February 2022.

Cuban government’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, which developed Latin America’s first COVID-19 vaccine Abdala, is undertaking a Phase I/II study of an intra-nasal three dose protein subunit vaccine candidate Mambisa (CIGB-669). According to the research agency, Mambisa is based on the formulation of the RBD (Receptor Binding Domain) protein and an immuno enhancer, Hepatitis B nucleocapsid antigen.

Canadian biotech Symvivo Corporation has ‘bacTRL-Spike’, as an oral capsule DNA vaccine candidate for the prevention of COVID-19, is undergoing Phase I trials in Australia. The trial was started only in November, last year. The global drug major Merck, known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, has taken exclusive license of Symvivo’s bacTRL platform of oral vaccines.  Symvivo has funding of about $4.57 million from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) to develop this vaccine.

US biotech Meissa Vaccines’s MV-014-212, a single dose intranasal recombinant live attenuated COVID-19 vaccine, is undergoing Phase I trials and its interim trial data will come out by the end of this year. Another small US biotech, Vaxform and the US Specialty Formulations LLC (USSF) are developing an oral COVID-19 vaccine, which is also in its first phase. Similarly, another US small biotech CyanVac LLC is also attempting an intranasal parainfluenza virus based COVID-19 vaccine (CVXGA1), now in the first phase and its results are also expected only by the end of the year.

Mexican veterinary pharmaceutical company Laboratorio Avi-Mex is testing a live influenza virus based vaccine, both as an intranasal spray as well as an injection. It is starting Phase I trials and is funded by Mexico’s foreign ministry and the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt). The Mexican authorities hope to commercialise this vaccine by the end of the year.

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