Italy set for ‘zero growth in 2014’; Apple bets on wearable devices; Hundred days of India’s Narendra Modi

1 Italy set for ‘zero growth in 2014’ (BBC) Italy’s Prime Minister has said that Europe’s third largest economy will see growth of only “around zero” this year. Matteo Renzi’s forecast is lower than the government’s previous prediction and comes as the economy tackles its third recession in a decade. Lacklustre growth will do little to help the eurozone’s own economic woes.

The Italian economy’s slowdown over the first half of this year has raised questions over whether Mr Renzi can meet his promise to cut spending, while also boosting growth and halting the rise in unemployment. He came to power in February on a programme of tackling red tape and corruption, and getting a grip on public finances.

Italy’s gross domestic product (GDP), the value of all the country’s goods and services, shrank 0.2% in the second quarter of the year. The surprisingly weak number followed a 0.1% contraction in the first quarter. Economists consider that two quarters of shrinking GDP mean a country is in recession.

Italy’s problems come amid wider concerns in the eurozone. With France’s economy also slowing, and weakness in Germany, the three big eurozone countries can offer little help to the 18-nation bloc. Last week, the European Central Bank the European Central Bank cut interest rates and launched a stimulus programme in a move to kick-start the euro area.

2 Apple bets on wearable devices (San Francisco Chronicle) Apple unveiled its long-anticipated smartwatch Tuesday, introducing a device that transplants the features of an iPhone onto a smaller screen that’s never more than an arm’s length away. Dubbed the Apple Watch, the gadget marks the technology trend-setter’s attempt to usher in an era of wearable computing and lift its sales with another revolutionary product.

The watch’s debut also heralds a turning point in Tim Cook’s three-year reign as Apple CEO. Although the company has thrived under Cook’s leadership, it had only released upgrades to the iPhone, iPad and other products hatched before his predecessor, Steve Jobs, died in October 2011. The lack of totally new devices raised questions about whether Apple had run out of ideas without the visionary Jobs.

Now Apple is betting on a gadget that seems like something James Bond might wear. The Apple Watch’s top-of-the-line edition comes in a casing made of 18-karat gold, with an array of elegant bands available for most models. The watch can serve as a walkie-talkie, a drawing pad, pulse monitor, calorie counter and activity tracker.

Apple is a late arrival to the still-nascent market for wearable technology. Several other companies already sell smartwatches that have been greeted with widespread indifference. But Apple has a reputation for igniting dormant markets. Other music players, smartphones and tablet computers were first to market, but the devices did not enthrall consumers until Apple imbued them with its magic touch.

Investors appeared lukewarm about the unveiling. Apple’s stock dipped 37 cents to close at $97.99, but the shares had been surging for months ahead of Tuesday’s show. The stock has gained 22 percent so far this year and hit an all-time high earlier this month.

3 Hundred days of India’s Narendra Modi (Rahul Singh in Khaleej Times) Narendra Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to an overwhelming victory in the India general election. No doubt about Modi’s seminal role in that victory. He pressed all the right buttons and hit the Congress Party where it hurt most, harping on corruption, mis-governance and an abysmally low economic growth rate. A hapless Congress was reduced to a miserable 44 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, the Lower House of the Indian parliament.

Modi began his tenure as Prime Minister with a masterstroke. For his – and his Cabinet’s – swearing-in ceremony, he invited all the heads of India’s neighbouring SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries. However, the recent abrupt cancellation of foreign secretary-level talks by India and tension on the Indo-Pak border has put a question mark on Modi’s intentions vis-à-vis Pakistan. Will he be a hawk or a dove?

The Saarc initiative was followed up by Modi’s visits to Bhutan, Nepal and Japan (on his agenda, later in the month, is a trip to the USA and a meeting with President Obama). The Japanese visit concluded with Tokyo’s commitment to provide a massive investment of $35 billion for India’s industrial infrastructure.

The initiative towards neighbours apart, Modi’s biggest success in his first 100 days has undoubtedly been the upsurge in the Indian economy. Growth has picked up, foreign investment into India increased and the stock market has been booming. FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) limit has been raised in the Indian defence, railways and insurance sectors. Projects that had been held up for various reasons, like environmental clearances, have been given the green signal.

Indian business is happy. It sees Modi and his Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, as market-oriented men who will bring India back to the annual eight to nine per cent economic growth rate path that it had five years ago. On the domestic front, Modi has stamped his authority by ruthlessly sidelining veteran BJP heavyweights like Lal Krishan Advani, Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha. Modi has also put the bureaucracy on notice. One of his main election slogans was, “Better governance, less government”. Only time will tell if this pledge, too, will be fulfilled.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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