Sucheta Dalal :What set top box? (14 September 2003)
Sucheta Dalal

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What set top box? (14 September 2003)  

Sep 15, 2003

What set top box?

Here are some new truths about set top boxes without comment. The Associated Press (,1282,60377,00.html) reported on September 10, 2003 from Washington that: “regulators adopted rules on Wednesday to make cable television and new television sets more compatible, with the goal of promoting the rollout of digital and high-definition televisions. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 5-0 to approve the new technical and labelling standards, which seek to allow digital cable signals to flow seamlessly into TV sets without the need for a set-top box. Companies want high-definition sets with this ‘plug-and-play’ technology available next year”. There is more. Consumer Electronics Association saw the FCC action as an “important tipping point in the US transition to digital television”. It said, “unlike traditional analog television, digital TV signals use the on-and-off language of computers, which allows for sharper pictures and potential features, including Internet access, video games and multiple programs on one channel. Digital signals can be sent with satellites, by cable or as over-the-air broadcasts”. Is this another nail in the coffin of the Conditional Access System? It would be, if the courts also take note of technology developments worldwide.


R-10 and E-10

So far, one believed that the Big Bulls of the present rally were the foreign institutional investors. And they have indeed pumped in a few hundred crore rupees into Indian stock everyday, even when the Sensex has stagnated and did not climb at a clip of 50 points a day. But other than the FIIs, discerning market watchers have begun to discover two relatively smaller bull groups. Each is pushing a set of specific scrips.

Although these stocks don’t carry the glamour of K-10 stocks in their heydays, they still attract good speculator interest. The first is the E-10 list, which comprises mainly auto ancillary scrips and is being pushed by a savvy brokerage firm. They comprise Rico Auto, MRF, Motherson Sumi, Gabriel, Sona Koyo Steering, Bharat Forge, Bharat Electric, Arvind Mills, Zee and Essel Propack. The second is the R-10, or should we make it R&R-10 because it forms the combined effort of a major industry group, notoriously involved with the stock market and a big operator. Their favourites for extracting high speculative returns are mainly pharma scrips. They are deeply into Divi’s Lab, Nicholas Piramal, IPCA Laboratories, Aurobindo Pharma, Lupin, Cadila, Matrix Labs, Jindal Steel & Power and Century Textiles. Interestingly, neither list includes bank or steel scrips. Also, investors better beware, market sources say that unlike Ketan Parekh, both groups have been churning their favourites and are unlikely to hang on to them in a weak or falling market.


Hawking loans

While Indian banks remain averse to lending money to business, especially small enterprises, their effort to dole out what they call personal loans is getting ridiculous. Telemarketing agencies have begun to pester people by offering loans on behalf of banks such as Development Credit Bank (DCB) and Citibank even when they have no accounts with these banks. Public sector banks advertise ‘clean’ loans of up to Rs 25,000 or more, while foreign ones are willing to go up to Rs 4 lakh. But don’t banks require borrowers to be account holders? One agent told me that her target probably had a Standard Chartered credit card or a car loan. So we now know at least one bank whose credit card and borrower list has been hawked. But is that all there is to it? Personal loans were initially offered to account holders with a good track record. Are they now turning into dangerous excess? The Reserve Bank needs to investigate how the banks plan to recover these ‘clean’ loans and if they are entrapping people into unnecessary borrowing.


Chairman for IDBI

There was a time when efforts to grab the top job at the Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) witnessed obscene lobbying by politicians and businessmen. This time, a search committee’s efforts to find a ‘good’ chairman for IDBI has shown how little the post is coveted by those capable of turning around the institution. Those who were sounded for the job but turned it down include, Deepak Satwalekar, Ravi Mohan, C.B. Bhave, Ravi Narain and P. J. Nayak. Many in this group had also refused the chance to be whole time member at the Securities and Exchange Board of India. Those who continue to be wooed are Jaimini Bhagwati, Ajeya Singh and M. Damodaran and two of them aren’t overly enthusiastic. Why is the post unattractive to capable persons? Two reasons: firstly, the fear of constant government interference and secondly, the lack of freedom to restructure the institution and bring in their own trusted team. The message is that the government needs to do a lot more than hike the chairman’s salary to attract genuine talent.


-- Sucheta Dalal