Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cricinfo is Taken over by ESPN

These days every week one hears about an Indian firm taking over a foreign firm. Each time I hear about it my heart swells with pride. But yesterday when I heard, that an Indian firm (well origanally Indian) was acquired by an American Firm (ESPN) from a British firm (Wisden) I am all the more overjoyed. Not so much rueing that an Indian firm is bought out by foreigners, but an Indian company is so successful, that even an American firm buys the website when few Americans play cricket (apart from the South Asian Immigrants)

I am sure all you cricket fans out there know what is Cricinfo. By far the number one website for cricket, especially if you are an indian fan and are working on weekdays, there is nothing better than cricinfo which gives ball by ball commentary.

I have been following Cricinfo some time since 2000 (about the time I had a PC at home) and the cable wallah blocked ESPN Star for all those pay channel issues.

The website is absolutely amazing, not only for indepth coverage of each game, but also with stats and all that cricket trivia which comes along with that.
The commentary is ideal for a person while working in office to have a look at frequently and be well updated about the match in progress.
Agreed the commentary has a huge amount of India bias at times (especially earlier whn the entire team was Indian and the matches held in India)

The story about cricinfo is also fantastic. It was put together by a bunch of semi amateurs in 1993 and then in 1999 Sify funded them. (about then the PC penetration went up in India, and also Infy TCS and Wipro started hiring loads of software engineers who had to warm the bench for a few months at a time. what better method to spend the day than reading the commentary on cricinfo)

In 2003 the website was acquired by Wisden (the one with the Cricketers Almanack) and thus there was more international coverage (including domestic cricket not only in India and England but all around the world) . By today it has over 7 million hits every day, and is the number one cricket website all over the world. The reason that ESPN has acquired the site is that it is the number one sports website visited by a huge Indian population (yes all our H1-B visa holding software engineers, all the students in graduate school) and thus made a good investment.
ESPN with its asian partner Starsports already was a major broadcaster for cricket in the Indian Subcontinent (till BCCI and all other problems started) Thus this is one more arrow in their quiver.

The website is growing so fast that it has been acquired thrice in 8 years, and I am sure one day we might see it as a separately listed firm. Also this is a signal for all those tech start ups, to believe in what they do, and then sky is the limit for growth. More over unlike my mum telling me that watching cricket does no one any good apart from the rich over paid cricketers themselves, some cricket geeks did manage to eke out a living by simply watching the game, and writing about it.

The Site not only had the stats about each and every player, but also special columnists
Like Steve Lynch's Ask Steven answering all your doubts about rare incidents and trivia
S Rajesh's Numbers Game comparing the latest statistics and the players current form
Todays Yesterdays saying what all happened on the same day in previous years in cricketing history and many more

Another unique feature that not only I have noticed but discussed this with friends is the nature of the commentary. It is much more light hearted and fun ot read rather than hear ex-cricketers drone about on Doordarshan.
this coupled with the reader feedback (due to the internet it becomes an interactive system) the system makes me feel some times its better to follow the match on cricinfo rather than watch live on TV.

And after living in London for over a year now, when I dont have a TV at home there has been little other choice (apart from going to a pub and watching it there)

All I hope is even with the new owners (especially Americans who do not play or follow the game ) the website retains its character, its colourful commentary and the trivia databases.

I would like to end this with a few bits of hilarious commentary from cricinfo (though i am sure its a lot more funny when read in context)

Bravo runs faster than he bowls. His last delivery was so slow, , the non striker nearly over took the ball before it reached the batsman.

(Harmison gets a wicket after a really torrid over) ... Harmison to Ganga, OUT. Come one it is tough for any one to face Harmison. Will the next ball be a wide, a no ball, or both? Should I go forward or stay on back foot, or simply watch the ball sail over my head to the fine leg boundary?

I would like it if you readers could post some commentary which you find really funny as well

Monday, June 04, 2007

Mumbai as an International Financial Center

Recently (yes I am always late in such posts) there was a Percy Mistry Committee on how to create Mumbai as an International Financial Center.

Ajay Shah has given the most comprehensive coverage here (His blog is one of the best on the Indian Financial Sector at the moment)

Though the intentions are good, and required urgently as well, especially since Indian firms are in a takeover spree this year, and a well developed financial center would enable them to raise more money for such take overs, (Like Tata Steel buying Corus, or Suzlon acquiring Repower, or even UB Group buying Whyte and Mackay ... this list can go on for ever ...)

There are a couple of hurdles for the same, (as per my view)

  1. For any place to be an International Center for any thing (not just financial center) the location has to be welcoming to the most talented foreigners. I am not just talking about the US or Europe. One can see London is the financial center for all of europe, while Frankfurt is not. The city of London has 1 in 3 who is born outside of the UK. Same thing can be said about New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. (Atleast with respect to nationalities working in the Investment Banks)
  2. To attract such talent just money is not an issue, but also one needs to have world class infrastructure that can attract people to migrate to such a place. Though India has a lot of talented people, I belive in the value of diversity as well as the "Wisdom of Crowds"
  3. The local political parties should also be welcoming enough, and not demand for job quotas, either for the backward classes, or for the local communities (i.e. sons of the soil) Right now Maharashtrians are rioting when Biharis come to give the Railways exams, I doubt people would be so welcoming to Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Lebanese, apart from the Americans and Europeans who run the financial industry world wide
  4. Most importantly, in any place there needs to be some kind of certainty in the working days. Mumbai has 2 days lost due water logging during the monsoons, and has another day possibly lost due to a strike or a bandh. This would lead to uncertainties in settlements of trades.
  5. Most important is a captive market. Though there is a market right now for M&A advisory, and for raising Equity Capital, there is not an active Debt Capital Market, also on the asset side there is not active investor base who would be buying complex financial securites. (though we have had an informal derivatives market such as Badla, and there is a huge betting market on the monsoons)
  6. Another aspect of the local market is that we need to have foreign firms wanting to list their stocks on the Indian Exchanges. Indian Currency and Stocks and bonds should be traded else where. Indian Mortgages should be securitised and sold all over the world from Tokyo to Sao Paulo.
  7. All apart one thing which can be easily addressed is the regulatory aspect, and I hope this step is quickly corrected by the government. India surely has the manpower from the best institutions who can run such a business

Thus in my opinion, though Mumbai will definitely be a Regional Financial Center, providing the financing needs for Indian as well as neighbouring South Asian countries.

More over Mumbai has stiff competition from established centers such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and now even Shanghai.

But frankly speaking, I hope I am proved wrong, and Mumbai does become "The Global Financial Center"

Sunday, June 03, 2007

India and China Boom or Bust

In the last few days the Chinese Stock Market has risen exponentially, and is prone to high volatility. Though on a smaller scale the same thing is true about the Indian Sensex and Nifty Indices.

Some people (Bulls) might say that this is due to deep structural changes due to higher profitability of these firms, some may say it is due to the Yuan being undervalued, some may say due to the growth of exports and the resilience of the US economy and the American consumers still consuming has led to this growth.

Where as on the other end the skeptics remind us that these are all the signs of a bubble. Remember the Nikkei Crash in 1989. (the Japanese Stock Index Nikkei 225 was nearly 39,000 then and it crashed to reach 15,000 thus losing 60% of its value) This crash has been followed by 15 years or recession or depression. (I am not qualified enough to use the correct terms)

Similarly the South East Asian crisis in 1997, left South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia scarred.
The currency plunged, and stock markets crashed. The companies went belly up.

Its 10 years since that crisis. And we can see similar signs of exponential growth.
An article in Livemint , by Subramanian Swamy looks at the possibility of India and China facing a slow down or a bubble burst, in case proper financial reforms are not made in the two fastest growing countries.

Also will populist politics in India pull all this growth down?
The Honourable Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has considered liberalization with a human face, while his leftist coaliation partners from CPM, have totally denounced liberlisation, and are asking for further control of the economy.
I remember May 2004 when the Stock market tanked on comments made by the Left.

Will that happen again?

Only time will tell. Right now let us all make hay while the Sun shines.

Haaaphoos ....

Yes, I am talking about the very Alphonso Mangoes. If Mango is the King of Fruits, then Alphonso variety is definitely the Shah-en-Shah (king of kings)
Alphonso Mangoes (or Haphoos, as locally called in Mumbai by the Maharashtrians and the Gujaratis) are favourites in Mumbai.
Infact these mangoes were so popular that they nearly cost their weight in gold. In the middle class suburban Mumbai, an indication of your wealth was when could you afford a basket of mangoes for yourself.
Though the first bunch of fruit would reach the markets in March, my family would be able to afford the fruit only when it would reach an affordable amount (Rs 100 a dozen or so I remember) and thus we would have these mangoes only for 3 weeks from Mid May to first week of June. Though my dad would keep buying the other variety of mangoes (dasseri, langda, kesar, pairi) I would like nothing else apart from the original Ratnagiri Haphoos.
I do remember in the late eighties and the early nineties, the curt remarks from relatives, neighbours and other family friends (well I dont think consider them friends) about how they would have mangoes right from March to October, how my Dad's school friend had a double door refridgerator (it was a novelty in India pre-liberlization) and how he would store mangoes in the deep freezer so he could enjoy them all year.
I also remember the times when I asked my parents when I saw mangoes on the streets with vendors early in the summer (though at prohibitive costs) and my parents would brush me off, saying these were lower quality and the best ones arrived only later on the year. Once I actually saw through this white lie, I stopped asking, since I know my parents themselves winced a bit while brushing me off.
As I grew older, ever wanting to be the contrarian, I started acting as if I disliked mangoes (just like saying though I cant have it, its just cause I dont like them much)
Now that I am living in London, my mom asked me a month ago, if she should courier a dozen alphonso mangoes to me this year. Not wanting to be another mango snob like the people whom i despised as a kid, I flatly refused saying it didnt matter to me, and was not worth all the hassle for them.
But finally I found some Alphonso Mangoes in London at East Ham (nice place for South Indian food, and yes as near the West Ham soccer club for all you premiership fans). These were imported from Ratnagiri, in Maharashtra.
These were exported from India, and though they did cost quite a bit, but definitely worth it all. Brought back all the memories of having the first mangoes of the season.
I guess their scarcity makes them all the more delicious, and for those who have them 6 months in a year, sure miss out on this part of the taste. Meanwhile let me have the one I just cut, in the extreme desi fashion, using my hands, and scraping the fruit from the skins.

How Rich are YOU?

I got this link from India Uncut, and seems interesting.

I dont know how effective it is, and apart from having the USD and GBP exchange rate a bit wrong (I think they still value the USD much stronger) it also I think gives a bit of a rosy picture, (I guess to motivate you to donate a bit more)

Try it out (How Rich are You?)

Do you think it is real?
Were you surprised (i.e. your rank in the world is higher or lower than you had expected?

Please do let me know by posting in the comments section.
For me, I was positively surprised, as for some one sharing an apartment, having bicycle as sole mode of transport and not having a television at home to save money, the site surely puts me way above what I would think my true networth is.

I would like to distinguish between wealth and income. Wealth is total assets that one has, and Income is what is earned in a year.
Though I think my income is high, my expenditure is higher, and my past being as modest as it was, surely in the wealth list I would be way way down in the order.

Also the interesting part is, once you put in a lot of numbers, to look at the wealth index, it shows a non linear distribution.

For example a Medical Intern in India (earning paltry Rs. 1700 a month or USD 500 per annum is ranked in top 80%ile of the world), a lecturer in a Mumbai college with income of USD 2400 per annum is ranked 14.95%ile of the world

Any one earning more than half a million dollars is in top 0.001% of the world.

Below is the table

Profession -------------------USD -------------% of people above you
Below Poverty line------------365-------------------- 91%

MBBS Intern in India --------500-------------------- 80%

Call Center Employee -------5,000-------------------14.39%

H1-B Software

Programmer in US ----------50,000-------------------0.98%

Avg salary in US B-school ---100,000------------------0.66%

CEOs of India Inc------------200,000------------------0.01%

Movie Stars, Sports Stars,
Politicians, CEOs in US,------500,000-----------------0.001%

Where do you stand?

(P.S. Sorry for the sad formatting, wasnt able to get it in line in any other way)