China factory output shrinks; UK Royal Mail faces Amazon threat; Why Indians flock to gurus

1 China factory output shrinks (Straits Times) Growth in China’s immense factory sector stalled in November, with output contracting for the first time in six months, a private survey has shown, adding to signs that the world’s second-largest economy may still be losing traction.

The flash HSBC/Markit manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) fell to a six-month low of 50.0 from a final reading of 50.4 in October and well below the 50.3 reading forecast by analysts.

A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while one below 50 points to contraction on a monthly basis. The factory output sub-index fell to 49.5, the first contraction since May.

2 UK Royal Mail faces Amazon threat (Julia Kollewe & Graeme Wearden in The Guardian) Royal Mail has warned that growing competition from Amazon will hit its UK parcels business, as it reported a 21% fall in first-half profits.

The 500-year-old postal service, which was privatised last October, said operating profits before transformation costs fell to £279m in the six months to 28 September. The figure was at the top end of analysts’ forecasts. Revenues rose 2% to £4.5bn.

While the results were not as weak as feared, the outlook for the parcel market is worse and took the City by surprise. The group said Amazon’s own delivery service would cut the annual rate of growth in the UK parcels market to 1-2% for the next two years. This is half the 4% growth expected for this year. Last month, Amazon launched a same-day delivery service which allows customers to collect items from local newsagents and high street shops, through a tie-up with the distribution group Smiths News.

Jefferies analyst David Kerstens said: “This implies parcel revenues would remain at best stable, which compares to our assumption of 2% parcel revenue growth and compared to double-digit parcel revenue growth historically.”

The parcels business is Royal Mail’s main area of growth as online shopping makes up for the decline in letters due to the shift to email and social media. Currently 10% of UK retail sales happen online, which is set to rise to 13% by 2017.

3 Why Indians flock to gurus (Soutik Biswas on BBC) I don’t think many people were aware of the controversial Hindu guru Rampal before Tuesday’s violent clashes between his supporters and the police. But then India is a country of more than a billion people and tens of thousands of gurus.

There are gurus for rich and poor. Many of them command huge followings at home and overseas counting politicians, film and cricket stars, bureaucrats and ordinary people among their devotees. The world’s best known cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, is a follower of Sai Baba, whose mystique and influence lasted long after his death in 2011. Gurus also peddle influence as politicians run to them for advice. Proximity to a guru legitimises a politician and adds to his power, says sociologist Shiv Visvanathan. Many of the gurus are also successful entrepreneurs and run massive business empires, selling traditional medicines, health products, yoga classes and spiritual therapies.

A guru from Punjab, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who heads a popular religious sect, even performs at rock concerts and acts in films. The gurus also believe in what big companies call “corporate social responsibility”, or investing in communities and caring for the environment. So they supply drinking water to parched villages, run rehab programmes for prisoners and drug addicts, organise blood donation camps and open schools for poor children.

So what accounts for India’s enduring relationship with gurus? For one, in a fast-urbanising country bristling with ambition, frustration and confusion, gurus are like placebos for the uncertain masses. People flock to them, thinking that they can help give them the next big break in their lives.

Also, most Indians believe in magic, miracle and faith healing. Sociologist Dipankar Gupta says Hinduism depends on magic more than other religions as “Hinduism does not have a single book and communion”. “If you are in a communion, you pray together, you have other kinds of solace,” he says. So many Indians depend on gurus to produce miracles and improve their lives.

“Gurus are essentially seen as magicians who promise miracles. You go to a guru hoping he will deliver things to you. Religion, as we know it, is just a gloss and doesn’t draw Indians to gurus in the first place,” says Dr Gupta. As long as belief in magic and miracle survives and times remain uncertain, India’s gurus are assured a place in the sun.

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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