Saturday, August 30, 2008

Movie Marathon

Yesterday I watched two Bollywood movies back-to-back at one of my favourite cinemas, Regal, Bombay. First it was Rock-On (RO) and then Bachna Ae Haseeno (BAH).

RO is one of the best movies to come out of Bollywood in recent years. A story of a dismantled college rock band - who have since moved on with their lives doing regular chores, jobs and boring family businesses - that come together thanks to an initiative of the wife of one of the group members. Brilliantly directed, well-edited, crisp and cool performances, RO is a winner. Actors are becoming directors (Aamir Khan of Taare Zameen Par) and directors are becoming actors (Farhan Akhtar who earlier directed Dil Chahta Hain is one of the four band members in RO).
Rating: * * * *

BAH was also better than I had expected. A story of a casanova who flirts around with girls, sleeps with them and then dumps them. Till reality hits him when he lands up on the receiving end. The dude repents and decides to make amends by travelling back in time to apologise for his mistakes and attain closure. But getting closure is not an easy task, he realises. Loved Bipasha Basu, Miniisha Lamba is so-so and Deepika Padukone is just about good enough. Ranbir Kapoor is confident, but overacts.
Rating: * * *

Friday, August 29, 2008

ARE FIXED MATURITY PLANS A TICKING TIME-BOMB?

FMPs are walking a tightrope and amassing credit risk

In an urge to attract investors and taking advantage of the rising interest rates, mutual funds (MF) have been launching fixed maturity plans (FMP) almost every week. But in an attempt to earn a higher yield than its competitors, some FMPs are taking on undue risk. Market sources have told Outlook Money that one FMP launched by a large public-sector MF recently got into trouble with one of its underlying instruments. The company in whose debt paper this FMP had invested in, defaulted on the principal payment and the MF’s parent company – itself one of India’s biggest financial houses – had to bail out the MF.

Beware of credit risk
Credit risk denotes the quality of your scheme’s underlying instruments and their ability repay the interest and principal amounts. Whenever your FMP invests its corpus in debt papers of various companies, it hopes that when the tenures ends, it gets the monies back and pays them back to you – the investor.

But what happens if one of the underlying company defaults? There’s a good chance that your FMP might also default in that case and you may not get the yield that was indicated to you at the time of investment. Typically, FMPs roll-over such bad debts into a forthcoming FMP and in the interim, borrow money to repay the existing FMP unitholders.

Here’s how a typical FMP works. Companies borrow money from several sources like banks and financial institutions to meet their day to day needs. They also borrow from MFs and regularly issue debt instruments like certificate of deposits or commercial papers to MFs. These MFs then invest their monies – that they collect through FMPs - in such papers and stay invested in them till maturity. Higher the scrip’s credit rating, lower the yield it fetches the FMP and vice-versa.

When these scrips mature, the companies pay back to the MFs that in-turn redeems the FMPs and pay the money back to unitholders. If, however, a company is unable to repay the loan, this particular scrip is then rolled over to another FMP that the MF would have just launched or will launch soon. In other words, this scrip would then start to appear in the portfolio of the second FMP. The MF, in the interim, borrows the shortfall from the market and ensures that first FMP’s redemption doesn’t take a hit.

A bitter truth
Many FMPs have taken high exposures to the real-estate sector. The slump in this sector has resulted in many companies defaulting and thus landing the latter in a repayment soup. The MF - about whom the market is abuzz with rumours lately –denied the problem. However, the reality is many FMPs, including our protagonist, have taken on additional risks to offer that extra bit of return.

For example, as per the LIC MF’s March 2008-end portfolio that it published in the newspapers, many of its FMPs have exposures to the real-estate and construction sector. LIC MF FMP Series 35 had invested a whopping 86 per cent to just one sector; construction. 24.66 per cent of this FMP’s corpus was invested in assets whose credit rating was below AA – OLM’s threshold of safe investments. This was just one example; there are several FMPs in the market that invest in low-rated scrips and put themselves – and your money – at considerable risk. The problem is compounded as most of these FMPs disclose their portfolios only twice year – the bare minimum required as per the securities and exchange board of India (Sebi)’s mandate.

What should you do?
Don’t get swayed by higher indicative yields. Apart from these being just indicative – and not a guarantee – higher the yield, higher is the amount of risk your FMP could be taking to earn that yield.

Look also at your MF’s pedigree. “It’s always better to sacrifice a little bit of return, if you are offered a good quality portfolio”, says Santosh Kamat, CIO-fixed income, Franklin Templeton MF. FMPs are low-risk instruments and capital protection is important.

It would also bode well if disclosers are enhanced. Presently MFs are made to disclose their portfolios at least twice a year. Although most MFs disclose portfolios of all their other schemes on a monthly basis, they stick to the bare minimum when it comes to FMPs. This is woefully inadequate as MFs have already shown their capability for frequent disclosures. If FMPs disclose their portfolios on a monthly basis, it would give a good idea to the investor about the credit quality that the MF is used to taking. Additionally, FMPs must mention in their offer documents the lowest bar in terms of credit quality they are willing to take on.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What I do not like on TV

Although the good-old television remains one of my favourites means of entertainment, I feel it has been prostitutionalied by pimps like Hindi news channels (India TV, Zee News, to a extent Aaj Tak) and a certain production house that produces rubbish TV serials that all look and sound like stories of extended families; one TV serial per family. These and a few other irritating things I do not like. I am quite fed-up...


...of media's pampering of Bollywood stars. Nobody knows how to lick people's asses and hone egos like the Indian media. So while, without anyone asking them to, the media calls SRK as King Khan and Saif Ali Khan as Prince Khan, Sanjay Dutt is known as Sanju Baba or Munnabhai in the media circles. When Dutt was released from jail, the media happily proclaimed: "Munnabhai is out of jail". Let me put this straight. Just because Sanjay Dutt played the role of an angel in Munnabhai MBBS doesn't make him an angel. He stashed away an AK-47 rifle because of which the law took its own course and sentenced him. If Bollywood 'villains' like Gulshan Grover, Shakti Kapoor or yesteryear's McMohan would have been in Dutt's place, would the media have gone ga-ga over them? I don't think so. For heaven's sake, Sanjay Dutt is NOT munnabhai and SRK is definitely not the King. To me, he's just an ordinary actor.

...of countless reality dance and singing shows/competitions. The biggest problem with all our Hindi general entertainment channels is the lack of creativity. If one channels starts a successful show, all others will follow it. So if Star Plus started off with KBC (Kaun Banega Crorepati), then Zee TV had to bring in Sawaal Das Crore Ka. If Sony brought in Indian Idol, Star had to start to Amul Star Voice of India. Then, there are countless song and dance shows - such as Jhoom India, Nach Baliye, Jhalak Dikhla Ja, etc - where these days actors or actresses from saas-bahu serials pair up and face off one another. They offer nothing new and are a complete waste of time.

...of crying pots on reality shows. This was started by Americans and we Indians embraced this tradition with open arms. They say tears bring in TRPs and so contestants started crying pots as soon as they got eliminated and threw at us their sob stories of how they have endured years of tapasya and rigour to enter and perform at these reality shows. Bull shit! Life goes on, it isn't the end of the world. And now, not only the contestants cry, but the judges too have begun to shed tears. I find this whole charade so appalling and so artificial. When will we ever begin to realise that its a competition and the best man should always win. The loser hopefully learns something too and yearns to better himself/herself in the future.

...of Hindi news channels. I have already said enough about it. But I'll say it again. Hindi news channels like India TV and Zee news are more of general entertainment channels aimed solely at titillation and provocation rather than spreading news of our country and the world. The worst problem is that the editors and owners of these channels actually claim that this is what the viewers want to see. Shamelessness has just got itself a new meaning. No wait, I meant Crap.

...of Rajdeep Sardesai's theatrical enthusiasm. Despite CNN-IBN being my favourite news channel and Rajdeep Sardesai (CNN-IBN'S editor-in-chief) one of my favourite news anchors (although give me Sardesai of ex-The Big Fight fame, anyday), must he always scream while talking on any news item? It's theatrical histrionics at its loudest. The image of Sardesai one always gets to see on TV is one of biting his lips and nodding his head in an animated fashion as if he's the only concerned Indian citizen around. News reading is an art, its a subtle way of story-telling and not yelling and shouting all the time. We are not deaf.

...of sport coverage of news channels. For news channels, even the English ones, sports means only things like cricket and whether or not Sachin Tendulkar will play some upcoming Test or one-day international match. With the way Indians perform in sports, i think we can give substantial value addition to our viewers by telecasting some international sporting events on a regular basis. My fear now is that with Abhinav Bindra winning India's first Olympic gold, the Indian sports media has just got something to talk about for the next 10 years. Move over, Sania Mirza. Indian media has just got its latest sports sensation.

...of saas-bahu serials. The most disgusting thing to have ever happened on TV are these hideous TV serials. Garish background score, flashy costumes, weak plots, repetitive story-lines, pathetic drama, these TV serials have it all what makes them look and sound terrible. Whichever serial you look, they all look, feel and talk the same. Large families, palatial homes, family businesses where the only thing they talk about is (signing) contracts worth crores (lakhs won't do to them), entire families assembling in living rooms to discuss issues as if they have got nothing better to do, evil bahu, saintly bahu, etc.

...of the latest Airtel commercials. That Airtel advertisements always go for emotions is a known fact, but the latest series of commercials featuring Vidya Balan and R. Madhvan have gone a bit too far. Perhaps Airtel hired scriptwriters from the Yash Chopra/Karan Johar camp, because these commercials are extremely sugary-sweet. Infact they are too sweet to be consumed and it makes me puke. I am not interested in knowing whether R. Madhvan has paid his phone bills or sent money to his father-in-law or what they are going to cook for the evening's party or even how quickly can be phone be charged; infact when he doesn't get into that lift whilst leaving his home for out of town despite Balan urging him to, I feel like giving him one tight slap and telling him: "Get lost."

...Trial by media. Okay, maybe the media got it right in the Jessica Lal case. But this doesn't give them the right to now poke their noses in each & every trial that the media chooses to take up. Their act of accusing Aarushi's father of killing her own daughter, just on the basis of what one irresponsible police official attached to this case said, was unacceptable. Not only did the TV channels did something wrong, they even came out with lame excuses despite being proved wrong and justified their irresponsible actions by saying that it was their right to do so, especially after what they did and managed to achieve in the Jessica Lal.

...of endless debates on news channels. Debates are best left for TV chat shows like Oprah Winfrey. But when debates start seeping in news channels and even inside news bulletins, news itself takes a backseat and becomes very boring. These days, whichever TV channel you switch on, especially the English ones, some or the other debate is always going on where people talk endlessly, argue, quarrel and do not allow others to speak. People who participate in debates have nothing better to do, and news channels that hold such debates every now & then lack creativity in programming. This is my understanding.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Taking a walk on the Skywalk


Today, my friend and ex-colleague Rajesh Gajra (the apple of every editor's eye) insisted that we walk over the newly constructed and Bombay's first-ever skywalk at Bandra. I didn't ask him why he was so insistent, but I'm sure if I had, he would have said, "the reader wants to know". I don't know how that is relevant out here, but this is his standard answer. Anyways, that is another story for another day. Today I will talk about Skywalk.

Fed-up with lack of footpaths and lack of space to construct them, the city's Corporation has now taken to build skywalks. These are elevated pavements in the form of long bridges for pedestrians to walk on, seamlessly. Bombay got its first skywalk in Bandra (E). This one starts from Bandra (E) railway station and goes right up to Kalanagar junction, over the Western Express highway. In a crowded city like Bombay where space is the biggest constraint and also given our previous administration's severe lack of foresight to have not built enough pavements, skywalks are the next best solution for pedestrians to walk without the fear of getting knocked down by two, three and four-wheelers.

My first skywalk experience was pretty neat and I came out very impressed. The skywalk is clean - but that's party because its new. Let's hope that our public keeps it that way and does not smear it with paan and tobacoo stains. The skywalk is wide enough, so it doesn't feel crowded even though its very well-patronised. It's airy because its quite open and there are lights inside all along the way to illuminate it after sun set. Also because it's quite open, I feel its safe to walk on it even in night-time, unlike isolated bridges that are covered by bill boards and advertisements. Yes, the skywalk, as yet, does not have any bill boards on either of its side. Let's also hope this too remains the same. It took me around 8-10 minutes to cover the distance between kalanagar and Bandra station what would normally take me more than 20 minutes of meandering through dirt, muck, shit, 1,000 people, 10,000 flies and 20,000 vehicles that can be seen at any time in that small but filthy stretch that leads up to the railway station.

Also, I am glad that the skywalk ends right on top of the railway station bridge, instead of somewhere out that would again entail us to climb the railway station's overbridge. Good foresight here by the contractor who built the skywalk. I still have problems with the aesthetics, especially when looked at it from a great distance. But looks apart, Skywalk is the best thing to have happened to Bandra (E) in a long, long time. Infact, as Gajra says, Skywalk should be built outside all Bombay's suburban stations to lead the public a good km or two away from the station, seamlessly.

There's one thing I did not like. The Bandra skywalk is far too open I feel. It's not safe for children. A short barricade all throughout, on both sides, would be most appropriate as children, if not attended on this Skywalk, can meet disastrous consequences if they venture too close to the edge. Plus, more entry and exit points, especially near Kalanagar end as Gajra pointed out, would bode well. Still, minor glitches aside, I welcome the Skywalk with open arms and wish there are more skywalks built like this across the city. Kudos to BMC who seem have to done something right!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

When will we learn to respect the disabled?

My most startling observation about USA is the respect they have for the disabled. In USA, a disabled can get to just about anywhere any abled person can. Footpaths, buildings, boats, airplanes, buses, cabs, you name it, and disabled people can go anywhere. I was stunned to see so many disabled people on the streets (many of them were in their wheel-chairs) and getting about their business as if nothing has happened to them.

Here, in India, a disabled person is lucky if he / she can get out of his / her building of residence. Forget about a wheel-chair bound person getting into a BEST bus! Even trains are inaccessible to wheel-chair bound people. This is mainly because the height of trains is different from that of platforms. So even if a train stops at a station, we still have to climb the compartment's stairs to get in. Abroad, the height of railway platform and compartments are the same and both are at the same level. Numerous petitions, made to the governments to enforce steps to make our Indian cities more disabled friendly, have fallen on deaf years.

Canadian Rockies: Day 11-13 (Vancouver highlights)

On day #11, I took the ferry and came to Vancouver. Much of Vancouver is filled with Asians. The whole 36 km distance between Tsawwassen Fe...