never ending vikas

For selection of Adityanath as UP CM, Congratulations to all of us. Modi has once again shown his brilliance in selecting ‘Right persons for Right jobs’ All three Northern State-Haryana, Uttranchal UP will have great CMs.
Centre is already full of Gems. Giriraj must become Defence Minister. Gadkari to be sacked and replaced with Sadanand Gowda   even if he is not in BJP and Smriti should be back in Education.MP CM should also be replaced with Uma Bharti. The rule is not entirely about Hinduism as several elements were missing esp the Hindu rate of growth.
I feel Smriti Irani was as wonderful as Suresh Prabhu with Railways, only our Sexist Media was against her. We all must be aware about brilliant Turnaround of Railways- profit of 15000 CR (dividend+surplus) turned into loss of 15000 cr  (0 dividend); negative growth in freight achieved after 3 decades, 200 percent growth in  deaths due to accidents. Though he should not get all the credit, may be turnaround in profit is due to great performance of Indian Economy and pay commission. Accidents are mostly due to spurt in terrorist activities, is it because of Demonetisation?

Crony Capitalism in India

Look at the Forbes list of 50 richest Indians and ask yourself three questions:

  1. Are they rich because of government connects, concessions in licenses, political/mafia connects?
  2. What is the share of their wealth generated from regulated markets vs competitive markets
  3. Are they rich because they were born rich?
  4. Do they operate/do business from India?
  5. What is their R&D spending, market research (not ad/promotion spending) as a % of revenue.

You will be surprised to find strong parallels between Indian rich & famous and Chaebol of South Korea of robber barons of America. Talk to any Indian businessman, bulk of his time would be in getting the approvals, compliance certificates/NOC, collecting receivables and resolving union, banks, transport & supplier problems. There is little time left for strategy, innovation, consumer research and all the 100 reasons that gets you excited in the first place.

The first thing most business do after they become profitable is to buy the real estate. Which is odd, if someone after years of struggle has found a winning formulae to reap profit, all their focus & attention should be in going all in, expanding & making the most before completion catches up. Rentals are 2-4% annually of the real estate cost, so locking your precious equity capital in there is counter intuitive. However it just proves my hypothesis that even though India is a market of 1.2 billion souls, the small business don’t have what it takes to compete in the big leagues because of the crony capitalism

Paytm & US presidential $1 coin act

US treasury under its presidential $1 coin act – 2005 allowed individuals to buy $1 coins through credit cards. The scheme a federal government measure to increase circulation of small coins with current president’s pictures throughout the nation, but was misused and used to rotate credit card debt. Since there was no postage or handling charge, people raked up huge credit card rewards points through this scheme. This person earned 4 million reward points. Many individuals deposited sealed bags that US treasury had shipped in the banks without even bothering to open them up.

Those who don’t read history are doomed to repeat it. In November 2016, Paytm allowed people to charge their credit card and immediately withdraw the money to their bank accounts. So, if my credit card spend today (first day of billing) will not be due next 45 days (30 day credit free period & 15 days of payment period). Furthermore, I could use the withdrawal to pay off my previous month’s credit card debt allowing me to rotate the debt. In the process the user can rake up a huge rewards (like the $1 coin act) points effectively creating wealth for nothing.

Coupons and promotional schemes often have unintended consequences and it is the job of the strategy & product planning team to borrow a leaf from Nash’s game theory. Rather than blaming the customers and singling out employees of nationalized banks the company should refine its own business model. Chalk out a revenue plan to pay for the services it provides. Almost everybody with a credit card also has a debit card with him or her. If you give someone multiple options, they will use what is most rewarding for them (in terms of convenience, economics, liquidity etc.) Most ecommerce websites allow for multiple payment options, but they always ensure that refunds are processed back to the original payment mode. If you roll out a system which is so flawed that it literally begs everyone to manipulate it, then one should not cry when taken advantage off.

Camping & trekking tips (part 2)

I am planning to revisit Kumar Parvat, the highest peak of south India after 8 years and here is the list I am planning to carry:

  1. Backpack: I have seen people carrying laptop bags, school bags to proper backpacks with aluminum strips for lumber support. Pick whatever you believe will do the trick. A couple of tips:
    • Firstly, it should be strong and study enough. A torn backpack is a hassle that you do not want to witness.
    • Secondly it should have provision to hang things (bottles, shoes, tents, mats, poles etc.)
    • thirdly it should have enough pockets that you can retrieve things easy without having to empty the whole bag just to locate a sun screen
    • Have a separate bag for camera and other sensitive equipment. This will give you freedom to roughly use your main pack
    • Always carry some duct tape, rope or strong plastic string along. There is no limit to the possible uses of this.
    • Have some plastic bags handy for wet-soiled clothes. If you are planning monsoon or riverside trek prepare a dry-sack.
  2. Water: a sipper integrated in your backpack is ideal. Allows you to keep hydrated without having to stop for breaks.
    • Few things to remember is that you would need at least 5 liters of water for a dawn to dusk travel. Also even boiling eggs and rice and consume good 2 liters of water if your account for slow wood fire & open air cooking. If you are going beyond 24 hours, you need to plan for sourcing the water locally. Same if you plan to cook.
    • Typically boiling is ideal but often not practical. Chlorine tablets leave a bad after taste. Therefore, choice is yours, but don’t venture untreated water on your first time.
    • ORS/Gatorade: Walking under the sun can cause fatigue and electrolyte imbalance. So some sugar, salt might be good. However avoid sodas or fruit juices which can become sticky/messy if spilled.
  3. Comfort, warmth & shade
    • A Chunni (summer) & shawl (winters) is ideal. As a bandana it protects against the sun. as a makeshift bag, it can be used for foraging. It doubles up as a bed-sheet & creating a seating space in the group. Ladies can use it as a makeshift-curtain to secure privacy
    • Rather than buying a single extra warm jacket dress in layers. Also it allows you to change the layers that have become damp because of rain or sweat without having to bother for the spares.
    • Tent: Even in the areas without snow, one should be careful about Morning dew, winds & rain. A tree shade can be a poor man’s tent. Otherwise you could use 1-2 space blanket (silver colored lightweight sheets)
    • Only in movies you will see people sleeping on a pile of hay or bushes. I have found them filled with enough bed-bugs to make my skin crawl. Most sleeping bag have a temperature rating to tell you the amount of insulation. On a hot summer evening a simple bed sheet might be ok, but I prefer a sleeping bag as the zip gives safety against bugs & reptiles creeping & crawling during your sleep.
    • Do not forget a quick-dry towel, some extra pair of undergarments & socks.
    • Do carry a simple cap, hat or a bandana.
  4. Food & consumables:
    • Energy foods: Granola, dry fruits, Candies, dates (khajoor) and anything that can allow you to have a quick bite without taking a break is always welcome. When in doubt, go for ones that are heaviest in calories. Treks are great time where you can have indulge without feeling guilty.
    • Apart from Snacking, try to eat food which is similar to ones that you normally eat. Don’t overload your digestive tracks with only meats, fats & sugars (esp. on trips with a lot of hunting & fishing).
    • Even if you detest canned food, have a few pouches of ready to eat food handy for the rainy days
  5. Carry some extra candy bars to give as gift to locals or fellow trekkers. There is no better way to make a few friends along the way.
    • Also keep some cash handy for various permits & payments. However divide it into various pouches to prevent extortion by someone greedy.
    • Also carry a glass jar to bring back souvenirs (could be a wild mushroom, a unique insect or even a flower that you encountered during the way)
  6. Foraging & Cooking: if you plan to spend a month in the wilderness then you do not have a choice. As a rule, don’t eat any fruit/berries unless you are absolutely sure about the local flora & fauna. Also foraging is a bonus but not very reliable. Hence, try to be self-sufficient as far as possible and plan for foraging & cooking only if the conditions are conducive.
    • Even if you don’t plan to cook, do carry some aluminum/silver foil. Just wrap around a few tubers or eggs and bury them below your campfire to get a fresh warm breakfast in the morning.
    • Remember cooking involves gathering firewood, which can be hard after dark or during rains.
    • Pots & pans, which can add to your weight. but you need it if you plan to boil water.
    • While everybody welcomes foraging, people’s opinion differ when it comes to hunting & fishing. So discuss it with your group before you pack your gear. Also keep all the permits & approvals handy before you unpack them.
  7. Shoes: for most purposes a simple running shoe with good grip will suffice. However if you do plan to buy trekking shoes, wear them for a couple of days prior to get used to it.
    • Always carry extra shoe laces. You might need them to prevent against leeches crawling up your pant.
    • Also pack for flip-flops for gathering water from the pool, a walk in the bushes or other evening activities for which you won’t like to burden with the task of wearing a regular heavy shoes.
    • Carry some medicines for foot blisters & corns. Foot injury is the primary reason why your partner might have a great experience but you will be begging to return earlier than planned.
  8. Pole, staff or a walking stick: It is a tool that allows you to carry heavy loads for longer distance on foot. If you buy a telescopic pole, it can also help you cross streams, give your fellow trekkers a hand when they need and knock down a few juicy fruits on the way.
  9. Small stuffs (but don’t ignore its weight when measured collectively)
    • Torch Matches & lighter (I prefer lighter because it is waterproof, buying flint might be overkill). A few bits of paper from an old newspaper are a perfect tinder. Don’t carry lighter fluid unless heavy rains are expected.
    • Duct tape, Rope or strong plastic string, needle and thread (esp. the thick ones) will always make you win friends in the trekking groups.
    • Knife (a simple folding knife is good but a swiss knife is often an overkill). If you have to clear the bushes with make the trail for others, then do carry some gloves & a heavier hunting knife.
    • First aid kit with lots of bandages for scrapes and bruises. Remember to carry all your prescription medication. In addition, it might not be a bad idea to store an extra pouch in your friend’s bag.
    • Extra pair of spectacles might be good if your power is high. Avoid using contact lens. If you are unable to disinfect them properly or get exposed to too much sand, it can damage your cornea.
    • Tissue paper, toiletries, sunscreen, mosquito repellents, moisturizer, your daily necessities. But don’t use too much of perfume or after shave, or things that might attract wild animals.
    • So many people forget hand-sanitizers, soaps and disinfectants that I am writing it as a separate point. Remember you will be in dirt all day and in contact with vegetation that are rotting for weeks.
    • Carry some extra batteries & memory cards. Cellphone reception is almost ubiquitous these days and might be good if you are reachable. But do carry your phone in a simple zip pouch. don’t buy a solar charger esp for the trip. chances are that you will be moving during the day and hence no time to charge.
    • Always have a trail map handy in your front pocket. A printed terrain map is often more useful than electronic maps. Also knowing the expected sunrise & sunset times & weather forecast is always useful for planning for rest spots.
    • A watch & sunlight is often all the compass that I need, but you can carry a compass esp. if trekking in desert without many landmarks. However a pair of binoculars is often handy esp. if there are a lot of birds around.
  10. Music, pack of cards or even a ball makes great recreational tools for the evening. From dawn to dusk you will be busy, but there is nothing to do after sun-set. A pen and a dairy is also quiet useful for the evenings. So plan for something even if it is action under the covers. However try to limit alcohol, cigarettes or weeds as recreational distractions. why would you like to numb your senses during dark, unprotected and in the wild? thats just a disaster waiting to happen irrespective of how large your group is.
  11. Lastly, please bring back all your garbage and take care of mother nature esp. when it comes to unattended fires. Even if it is from a cigarette butt.

You don’t have to  carry everything, talk to your fellow mates if you can save some weight by sharing the stuff. However remember to distribute the important stuff among travelers. You don’t want all your water in one back, food in another and clothes in the third and discover that you are separated from the group.

There is no universal list and the list changes with your physical condition, climate, duration of the trek & the terrain. Hence, please use your judgement.

Camping & trekking tips (part 1)

 “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.” – Native American saying

Camping & trekking is my way to connect with the nature. I am not a survivalist but I would like to teach the kids how to improvise & appreciate the simple things in life.

Rule no 1:

Check the local temperature, and plan accordingly. Dress up in layers and always carry extra pair of under-shirt, boxers & socks. Weigh your back-pack and evaluate the utility of everything you pack. Trek might be a great exercise for you to realize how much clutter you have surrounded yourself with.

Rule 2:

Unless you are going through extreme treks like Himalayas or deserts go for reliable, lightweight items. Do not buy anything expensive or bulky no matter how bad is the temptation. Even if you have a mule with you, it will be better to limit your payload. Try to carry things that are simple, multi-purpose so that you are able to survive with limited weight. Trekking equipment should be cheap, sturdy, waterproof and divisible. In most cases basic items suffice and more the amount of electronics & complex parts are there in the gear, the higher are your chances of a field failure.

Rule 3:

Most people are obsessed with food & water but they under-estimate the exposure to weather & elements. Leaches, mosquito, & reptiles are often more dangerous than wild animals. Use sun block and mosquito repellent liberally and frequently.

Rule 4:

Camping is not essential for a trek. I would prefer a thatched room in a village to camping alone in the wilderness. Also interacting with the locals if often a more fruitful experience than being alone in the wilderness.

Rule 5:

If you are traveling in a group try to distribute the items among everyone. You do not want one person with all the water, one with all the food and the third with only clothes. So that even if we are temporarily separated every person in the camp is self-sufficient to survive until help comes over.

Rule 6:

You camp for the experiences and the chance to spend time together away from distractions. So do not over plan and prepare for every emergency or situation. Just be yourself and enjoy the nature. The nature has its own music, so try to leave your electronics behind.

Rule 7:

Leave the world a better place. Try to bring back all the non-bio-degradable waste rather than littering it over; it will be great if you can bury some of the waste that others have left carelessly behind. Do not leave your camp-fire unattended or carelessly throw your cigarette butts. Try to spend the weekend without any cigarettes, alcohol, drugs or intoxicants.

Food wastage meter

Human beings have a fascination towards numbers. Factories in 80s used to create a small healthy competition between shifts by publishing the production stats on a simple dashboard. Today TCS is creating a similar competition to prevent food wastage.

 

food-wastage

I guess we all want to be part of a success story. Numbers help us visualize and quantify our contribution.

Idea Vodafone merger may not happen

vodafone-idea-merger

If market rumors are believed, this is a wonderful proposal in the otherwise boring telecom space:

  1. Synergy through consolidation of marketing cost, operations & office space.
  2. Unlocking value through sale of excess of excess spectrum. Giving the new company cash to fight Jio aggressive promotions
  3. Idea is the 3rd largest player and might soon turn 4th before fading away as irrelevant. This deal will give the promoters a chance to exchange their equity for a stake in the largest telecom player.
  4. Reverse listing for Vodafone is attractive. It allows them to unlock the value through listing and share the losses with Indian shareholders till the market is back into viability.

Being contrarian by nature, here is why I think it might not happen:

  1. The deal requires either Birla’s to cut their existing holding 42% of Idea to less than 20% of the new company or infuse cash or exit completely.
    • Option A is risky, thanks to Indian promoters love of micro management. If Infosys, & Tata board squabble throws any light Birla’s might not be OK with back-seat.
    • Option B: requires purchase of additional equity in cash to gain back equal voting rights in the board. This is also unlikely as stock price is almost 70-80% higher than what it was before the news making it more pricey for Birla for additional stake. Secondly as a 3rd If the deal was happening, then they would not have allowed Vodafone to spoil the party.
    • If Vodafone had any interest in buying out Birla, then they would have not shared their intentions and allowed the stock price to zoom up.
  2. Jio could offer 90-180 days of free data because it had zero subscribers to begin with. Also they really limited the number of new connections & portability request last year to limit the cash burn rate. The New entity will have a whopping 40%+ market share with wafer thin margins. So no price reduction that they do will be economically viable & Jio can always match is as their subscriber base is still small (so limited cash impact from the scheme)
  3. By same logic, the war-chest from Birla’s cash infusion & spectrum sale to counter Jio’s promotion may not be useful. Idea could gain more new connections at lesser cost as the 3rd largest player rather than the largest player. Therefore, if Birla’s had to infuse cash, they would have purchased additional equity through rights at pre-news levels and not at present levels.
  4. Unlocking value through sale of excess spectrum is also doubtful. The sale will happen at below market price & will only strengthen the spectrum availability for the competition. No businessman likes to idea of selling precious & limited asset at loss to its competition.
  5. Vodafone’s history with Indian government’s regulatory approval cannot be ignored. They badmouth Indian Income tax department on its tinkering with the fine print to bring the Essar-Vodafone transaction into tax ambit. Now this has two repercussions, firstly Vodafone will be once bitten twice shy and extremely cautious of going back to seek approval for deals. Secondly some babu in Indian government might be holding a grudge and really make them hoops. In any case, the deal will add one more layer of bureaucracy from SEBI which unlisted company like Vodafone India is free from adhering to.
  6. Not only Vodafone is bigger entity but it also in the core business of telecom. So effectively, Birla’s would always fear the risk of relinquishing the mgmt. control to Vodafone even after cash infusion to get equal stakes. Remember a listed company means that either player can make an open market purchase and gain the control.

However, one should not ignore that Idea is a sinking ship. As long as Jio is not able to capture enough market share, they will ensure that the tariffs are subdued and the established players bleed. In addition, Idea risks being the fourth player, a position from which it could never recover. Therefore, it is likely that the mgmt. will trade its current equity position to a minority stake in the larger combined entity.

Disclosure: I have a shorted the Idea shares in the F&O market.