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Subhash Chandra to lose control of Zee Entertainment after stake sale to repay loans

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The Subhash Chandra-led Essel group on Wednesday said that it is planning to sell 16.5 per cent stake in Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL) to financial investors in order to repay loan obligations to certain lenders of the group.

After this transaction, the promoter stake in Zee Entertainment will be reduced to 5 per cent, which means that media baron Subhash Chandra will lose control of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd.

Zee, considered to be the pioneer of television entertainment industry in India, was launched by Subhash Chandra in 1992. Ever since the launch year, the company expanded operations to enter packaging, infrastructure, education, precious metals, finance and technology sectors.

“The Group seeks to sell up to 16.5% stake in ZEEL to financial investors in order to repay loan obligations to certain lenders of the Group for whose benefit such shares are currently encumbered (and who have consented to such share sale by the Group),” the Essel Group said.

Earlier this year, Essel Group sold up to 11 per cent in Zee Entertainment to Invesco Oppenheimer Developing Markets Fund for Rs 4,224 crore.

“Out of the aforesaid, the Group seeks to sell 2.3 per cent stake in ZEEL to OFI Global China Fund, LLC and/or its affiliates. Pursuant to the aforementioned transactions, the post-transaction overall holdings of the Group in ZEEL will be 5%, out of which encumbered holdings of the Group will reduce to 1.1% of ZEEL,” it added.

Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, Subhash Chandra’s Essel Group companies held 22.37 per cent promoter stake in Zee. Of this, 21.48 per cent was pledged as collateral against finances availed by Essel Group firms.

Post the completion of the transaction announced on Wednesday by the company, Oppenheimer Developing Markets Fund and OFI Global China will together hold 18.74 per cent.

ZEEL closed higher by 7.89 per cent at Rs 307.15 apiece on the BSE on Wednesday.

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Reliance outpaces industry in petrol, diesel sales from its outlets

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Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) has outpaced industry in clocking double digit sales growth in petrol and diesel from its nearly 1,400-odd petrol pumps in the third quarter ended December 31, 2019.

In an investor presentation post announcing earnings for October-December 2019, Reliance, operator of the world’s largest oil refining complex, said it registered an 11 per cent growth in diesel sales and 15 per cent growth rate in petrol sales from its 1,394 fuel retail outlets.

This is compared to industry growth rate of 0.2 per cent for diesel and 7.1 per cent for petrol.

Its per outlet throughput at 342 kilolitres per month was also nearly double that of petrol pumps operated by public sector firms such as Indian Oil Corp (IOC) and Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd (BPCL).

“Superior product mix and high asset utilisation underpinned strong earnings,” it said in the presentation adding India’s oil demand grew 3.2 per cent in October-December with petrol demand rising 7.1 per cent and LPG surging by 15 per cent.

“Preference for petrol cars, improving road infrastructure and rural connectivity is driving petrol demand,” it said. A pick up in tourist movement post festive season provided support to ATF demand.

Reliance said there was a strong traction in retail and bulk fuel sales through its network.

“Growth driven by focus on large fleet customers (25 per cent year-on-year growth), fleet aggregators (114 per cent),” it said.

Its ATF sales were driving up via new customer acquisition and higher share from existing customers. “Improved ATF network competitiveness through logistical and supply source optimization,” the presentation said.

LPG sales was up 37 per cent with new customers and increasing penetration in new markets.

Reliance said its petrol retail sales revenues were up 5 per cent at Rs 3,725 crore in the third quarter. As much as 538 million litres of fuel was sold in the three month period.

Of the 1,394 petrol pumps that Reliance operates, 518 are company owned and the remaining dealer operated.

In April last year, Reliance agreed to sell 49 per cent in its petro retail business to UK’s BP plc for Rs 7,000 crore. Reliance-BP joint venture agreed to expand the network to 5,500 in the next five years.

The country currently has 66,817 petrol pumps, with public sector retailers owning 59,716. PSU retailers have plans to double this network and have already starting appointing dealers. Russia’s Rosneft-backed Nayara Energy, formerly Essar Oil, has 5,525 petrol pumps and has plans to scale them up to more than 7,000 in two-three years. Royal Dutch Shell has 169 outlets and is slated to add 150-200 more petrol pumps.

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Amazon’s $1-bn investment not a favour for India: Piyush Goyal

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Commerce minister Piyush Goyal on Thursday said global online retail giant Amazon.com Inc indulged in predatory pricing even as Bharatiya Janata Party leader Vijay Chauthaiwale took a dig at its founder Jeff Bezos for publishing “unduly” critical reports on the Modi government in The Washington Post, which he owns.

A day after Bezos, currently on a visit to India, announced fresh investments of $1 billion in India, Goyal said Amazon was not doing any favours to the country with its investment asked whether the huge losses made by the company were linked to “predatory pricing or some unfair trade practices”.

Goyal acknowledged Amazon’s investments in warehousing but asked whether the money was being brought in “largely to finance losses in an e-commerce market place model.” He added that this raised questions of “where the loss came from”.

There has been considerable pressure on the government from the affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, its ideological parent, and also trader groups to reconsider the policy on FDI in online retail. Traders claim Amazon is taking away their business. Amazon’s position is that it serves as a platform in India and that many of the traders who complain are themselves on the platform.

Ashwani Mahajan of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an affiliate of the RSS, said Goyal’s comments indicate that the Centre may have become “more sensitized to the problems of opening up FDI (in online retail)”.

“There is a fear in every trader’s mind that these global chains will kill their business.”

Meanwhile, reacting to a statement by Bezos where he said the 21st century will be India’s; Chauthaiwale tweeted: “@JeffBezos, please tell this to your employees in Washington DC. Otherwise your charm offensive is likely to be waste of time and money.”

“I am a regular customer of Amazon and not against them. But I am definitely against what Washington Post is writing,” Chautaiwale said.

An Amazon spokesperson did not immediately comment on the matter.

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Dollar starts new year with a hangover as others find cheer

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The dollar started the new year where it left the old one, under pressure as investors wagered US economic outperformance could be coming to an end as optimism on trade brightens the outlook for growth globally.

Signs of progress in the Sino-US trade dispute undermined the dollar for much of December, leaving its index down 1.9% on the month. It was flat on Thursday at 96.440 having touched a six-month trough ahead of the holidays.

The euro edged up to $1.1220, after gaining 1.8% in December to reach its highest since early August. It now looks set to challenge that August peak at $1.1249.

The dollar looked like slipping further on the Chinese yuan after shedding 1% last month to stand at 6.9640. It was also finely poised on the yen at 108.67, just a whisker from the December lows and major support around 108.40.

“A more encouraging global growth outlook and flush dollar liquidity conditions are undermining the USD,” said Elias Haddad, a senior currency strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

“Specifically, global fiscal/monetary policy settings will remain accommodative in 2020 and China’s growth slowdown is stabilising.”

China’s central bank on Wednesday cut the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves, releasing around 800 billion yuan ($114.91 billion) to shore up the economy.

The dollar had benefited from US economic outperformance for much of 2019, but an easing in Sino-US trade concerns has boosted optimism that this year could favour other major nations.

While activity was light on Thursday, traders were on watch for any repeat of last January’s “flash crash” when massive stop-loss selling swept through an illiquid holiday-hit market.

There are fears the same could happen this week with Tokyo off and Japanese retail investors again heavily short of yen and long of risky high-yielding currencies, including the Turkish lira and the South African rand.

For liquidity reasons, these positions are usually “legged” through the US dollar – selling yen for dollars and dollars for lira – so any mass unwinding roils more than just the yen crosses.

Yet, unlike last year, the authorities are on alert with the Financial Futures Association of Japan warning against wild moves.

The Federal Reserve has already averted a squeeze in lending markets as banks took only a small portion of its d $150 billion in year-end funding, leaving repo rates at the lowest since March 2018.

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