Clubhouse turns farmhouse

Also in today’s edition: Sanjiv Kapoor ditches Jet Airways; Why Twitter alternatives could fly; Another US bank meltdown; Russian hurdle for Indian oil cos

Good morning! US Prez Joe Biden, 80, recently announced that he will contest for re-election in 2024. Biden's opponent, former president Donald Trump, is 76. If you thought age isn't on their side, think again. Club Vita, a human longevity analytics firm (yes, there is such a thing), reckons that Biden will live up to 91, while Trump could touch 90. Club Vita analysed their affluence, access to medical care, marital status, employment, home addresses and body mass index to arrive at the conclusion, per Financial Times. Trump loses out on his physical fitness, while Biden and his aides are increasingly shutting down rumours over his mental well-being. Who will win in 2024? We'll just have to wait this out.

A quick programming note: We are taking Monday off on account of May Day. As a result, there won’t be an edition of The Signal on Tuesday, May 2. The Signal will return on Wednesday, May 3.

🎧 India’s most valuable startup, Byju’s, faces fresh trouble. Also in today's edition: Twitter continues to be chaos central. Listen to The Signal Daily on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Today’s edition also features pieces by Dinesh Narayanan, Srijonee Bhattacharjee, Julie Koshy Sam, and Jaideep Vaidya.

If you enjoy reading us, why not give us a follow at @thesignaldotco on Twitter and Instagram.

The Market Signal*

Stocks & economy: Indian markets are closed for Labour Day on Monday. Equities put up a strong show last week despite global headwinds.

Relatively good valuations and India’s growth outlook encouraged foreign investors to buy Indian shares in March and April. Foreign investors have lowered bets against the Nifty and Nifty Bank futures. Strong earnings from three banks over the weekend would support banking shares.

The Federal Reserve will announce its interest rate policy on Wednesday, a much-awaited event that will set the tone for the next few weeks.

Upbeat earnings in the US (although a fall in Amazon’s outlook pushed a consumer discretionary spend index lower) have evoked hope that growth may not be all that badly hit by rate hikes.

Home Ground: Adani Green Energy, one of the group’s highly leveraged units, publishes earnings on Tuesday and Adani Ports, in the middle of a bonds buyback, on Thursday.


Farmers, Assemble

Clubhouse—and by extension, live audio—may be “dead”, but at least 2,600 people disagree. That’s the number of people in a farmers’ collective, mostly from Maharashtra, that run the Marathi Clubhouse channel Hi Maitri Vichranchi (A Friendship of Opinions). They’re doing what Clubhouse once aspired to, albeit as a very different demographic: using the audio channel as a town square by discussing mandi prices, exchanging notes on better practices, and talking about the impact of climate change on their livelihoods.

Slow decline: Clubhouse’s breakout moment came in 2021 as its user base climbed to a high of three million, and everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Elon Musk made an appearance in its audio rooms during the pandemic. Since then, it’s lost relevance to the point of having to lay off half its workforce just last week.


Will Jet Airways 2.0 Ever Take Off?

Not anytime soon, at least. The grounded carrier’s CEO and industry veteran Sanjiv Kapoor has put in his papers a year after joining. This comes just days after Jet Airways’ accountable manager, PP Singh, also resigned.

What this means: The standoff between the bankrupt airline’s new owners, the Jalan-Kalrock consortium, and its lenders doesn’t seem to be ending. The two sides differ on many matters, primarily whether Jalan-Kalrock need to contribute more towards former employees’ pension funds. Kapoor’s appointment in April 2022 was seen as a significant step in its revival, but it’s back to square one.

Meanwhile: Nusli Wadia, the owner of another beleaguered airline, Go First, reportedly underestimated competitors Air India and Akasa, The Economic Times reports. The airline also negotiated with lessors during Covid-19 to delay lease obligations by nine to 36 months. These payments will now start piling up at a time when half its fleet is grounded because of engine issues.


Money Versus Identity

Twitter, the public square, is becoming Twitter, the walled garden. And in doing so, it’s making a case against itself.

Patrick Traughber, Twitter’s director of product who oversees subscriptions, wants to promote creator subscriptions by previewing their paywalled content in the For You timeline. CEO Elon Musk had earlier said Twitter would share ad revenue with creators who pay $8/month for a Twitter Blue checkmark, but that’s not manifested (probably because of wary advertisers). Twitter will also enable media publishers to charge users per article with a single click. But how many news organisations—who’ve been trash-talked by the man—will care for this?

The developments follow Musk’s calamitous decision to charge $42,000 a month for access to Twitter’s data/API.

The Signal

This runs parallel to the boom in decentralised social media. What was limited to Mastodon has become the beating heart of Bluesky and Nostr—both nurtured to different degrees by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who no longer thinks Musk is right for Twitter.

As Techdirt’s Mike Masnick explains, ad-free Bluesky, already host to some disillusioned Twitter A-listers, is best equipped to go mainstream because it’s most user-friendly. As for media publishers, they already have viable (for now) alternatives in the likes of, T2, and CounterSocial.

Decentralised alternatives are raw today, but interoperable services that offer customisable features could be the future. They will need to monetise someday, but they don’t have a $13 billion sword dangling over their heads like Twitter does right now.

🎧 India’s most valuable startup, Byju’s, faces fresh trouble. Also in today's edition: Twitter continues to be chaos central. Listen to The Signal Daily on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.


Signs Of Panic On Wall Street?

The First Republic Bank crisis is triggering panic buttons in the US. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp has asked banks, including JP Morgan and Bank of America, to hurry up with their final bids. They’re among the 11 banks that had already deposited $30 billion to prevent a First Republic meltdown weeks ago.

Late: Former treasury secretary Larry Summers has, meanwhile, said that banks and regulators were taking too much time, and a resolution should be found in the next 10 days. Summers likened it to forest fires, saying it is better to prevent than try containing one.

Hurdles: It is not easy, though. Banks such as JP Morgan will need a regulatory exception to buy First Republic because it already has more than a 10% share of US bank deposits. Also, in the current high interest rate regime, the low-interest rate portfolio of First Republic is unattractive.


Collateral Damage Hurts India

Western sanctions have cost Indian oil companies ~$400 million in dividends from Russian fields.

Sanctions’ toll: Fuel producers and marketers such as ONGC Videsh, Oil India, and Indian Oil Corporation receive dividends from their ownership in the Siberian fields such as Sakhalin and Vankor. The money got stuck because Russian banks have been shut out of the global interbank messaging system SWIFT by western sanctions.

More of the same: Meanwhile, Indian sailors are suffering, as the US and Iran raise their rivalry up a notch with tit-for-tat seizures of crude carriers. Iran captured a US-bound ship, Advantage Sweet, carrying Kuwaiti oil for Chevron. All 24 members of the crew are Indian. The action followed the US seizing an Iranian tanker Suez Rajan, which was carrying crude oil to China.


See you…: …at the bourses, where Reliance Industries is reportedly planning to list its digital financial services unit, Jio Financial Services. The listing, per Bloomberg, could happen as early as October 2023.

Search party: India’s Enforcement Directorate conducted searches in multiple locations linked to India’s most valuable unicorn, BYJU’S, over alleged violations of foreign exchange rules. The search extended to the residence of founder Byju Raveendran.

Hot chips: SoftBank-owed Arm Ltd has confidentially filed for an IPO to raise $8 billion-$10 billion. The listing, slated as 2023’s largest IPO, is due to take place later this year.

Ka-ching: ChatGPT-maker OpenAI has closed a $300 million funding round at a $27 billion-$29 billion valuation, per TechCrunch. The round saw the participation of leading VC firms such as Tiger Global, Sequoia Capital, and Andreessen Horowitz.

Time, please: Sebi has sought a six-month extension from the Supreme Court to conclude its probe into short-seller Hindenburg Research’s allegations of fraud against the Adani Group.

Done deal: Reliance Consumer Products has teamed up with former Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan's Ceylon Beverage International to co-pack and manufacture Campa Cola's cans. According to the deal, Ceylon could also set up manufacturing units in India.

What’s risk: Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman says financial contagion is not a risk for India but recession in export markets is.


$1 billion

The amount that The Super Mario Bros Movie is expected to collect by Sunday at the global box office. It will be the fifth title to cross the milestone in the post-Covid era, after Spider-Man: No Way Home, Top Gun: Maverick, Jurassic World Dominion, and Avatar: The Way of Water. (Variety)


Hall of shame: The annual “Ugliest Buildings Survey” is a thing in China, a country where people have strong feelings about eyesores. Structures that made it to the list include the egg-shaped National Grand Theater, "Big Pants", and others that resemble a crab and a violin. The trend of OTT buildings began with the Beijing 2008 Olympics, which catalysed a boom to showcase national heritage. Copypastas of international landmarks such as the US Capitol building also sprang up. But even Chinese President Xi Jinping has had enough. In 2022, he called for a ban on structures that are “oversized, xenocentric, [and] odd”.

Cashing in: Move over, Netflix. Luxury fashion, too, is hankering for a chunk of the South Korean market. Louis Vuitton's latest fashion show, only its second after 2019, was a collaboration with Squid Game director Hwang Dong-hyuk and had K-pop stars in attendance. The brand also roped in J-Hope of BTS as its brand ambassador in February, while Chanel, Dior, and Yves Saint Laurent signed on South Korean girl group Blackpink. Gucci will also hold a cruise collection show to mark 25 years in the country. Morgan Stanley says South Koreans love their luxury goods. Well, that checks out.

Cat-walk: As celebs walk the red carpet at the Met Gala to honour the late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, his 11-year-old cat Choupette Lagerfeld could upstage the event. Except, Choupette is not a regular cat. She has her own agent, eats at the table, and has her own Instagram page. Obviously. More recently, she shot with Naomi Campbell for a Vogue cover. Are we ready for this? Hell yes.

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