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Cabinet approves Collaboration Agreement to support the Belmont Forum Secretariat
Apr 06,2017

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has given its approval for signing of the Collaborative Agreement with French National Research Agency (ANR), France for supporting the Belmont Forum Secretariat from January, 2015 to December, 2017 at a total estimated expenditure of Euro 40,000. The Cabinet also approved continued financial support to Belmont Forum Secretariat beyond 2017.

The Belmont Forum, created in 2009, is a high level group of the worlds major and emerging funders of global environmental change research and international science councils. It provides an opportunity to identify study and deliver international environmental research priorities, for the society, in an accelerated way through transn++national research collaboration between natural and social scientists and alignment of international resources.

India is a member of Belmont Forum, besides Australia, Brazil, Canada, European Commission, France, Germany, Japan, Netherland, South Africa, UK and USA etc. Ministry of Earth Science (MoES), represents India in the Belmont Forum since 2012.

In order to coordinate the activities of the Belmont, a Secretariat is hosted by one of the Belmont forum member on rotational basis. ANR, France is hosting the Secretariat from January, 2015 to December, 2017. Expenditure for hosting the Secretariat will be borne by Belmont Forum member countries in kind or cash contribution.

Impact:

The Agreement will help to maintain a certain degree of continuity in the operations of the Forum and also help in smooth coordination of the activities of Belmont Forum. As India is already participating in 4 Collaborative Research Actions (CRAs) and Secretariat will be coordinating the activities of Belmont Forum, Indian scientific community will ultimately benefit from this agreement.

Background:

Since the inception of Belmont Forum in 2009, its operations were being handled by a part-time secretariat associated with the respective Chairs of the Belmont Forum. As the Co-chairs are rotational, the Secretariat also rotates and some time co-chairs are from different Continents with different time zone. In order to maintain a certain degree of continuity in the operations of the Forum, establishment of a Full-time Secretariat was agreed upon by Belmont Forum members, on rotational basis. ANR, France has agreed to host the Secretariat from January, 2015 to December, 2017.

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Cabinet apprised of the MoU with Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane S.P.A. of Italy on Technical Cooperation in the Rail Sector
Apr 06,2017

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has been apprised of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane S.P.A. of the Republic of Italy on 31st January, 2017 on technical cooperation in railway sector.

The MoU will provide a platform to Indian Railways to interact and share the latest developments and knowledge in the railway sector to promote safety, efficiency and sustainability. The MoU will also facilitate exchange of information, experts meetings, seminars, technical visits and implementation of jointly agreed cooperation, projects.

The objective of this MoU is to develop technical cooperation activities in the railway sector to promote safety, efficiency and sustainability, to their mutual benefit. It will enable technical cooperation in the following areas:-

a. Safety audit of Indian Railways and measures required for enhancing safety in train operation;

b. Assessment and certification of advanced technology based safety products and systems to Safety Integrity Level 4 (SIL4);

c. Training and competency development with focus on safety including in areas of advanced signaling and train control systems;

d. Modern trends in Maintenance and diagnostic;

e. Any other area jointly identified by the participants.

Background:

The Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane Group (FS Group) is an industrial holding managing the Italian Railways sector through its companies focused on railway related businesses, the main ones are: Trenitalia - rail transport Rete Ferroviaria Italiana - railway infrastructure manager, Italferr - engineering company, Italcerifer - notified body certifying railway systems and components. The FS group is fully owned by Government and is under Ministry of Treasury, Italy.

Ministry of Railways have signed MQUs for technical cooperation with the Rail sector with various foreign Governments and National Railways. The identified areas of cooperation include high speed corridors, speed raising of existing routes, development of world class stations, heavy haul operations and modernization of rail infrastructure, etc. The cooperation is achieved through exchange of Information on developments in areas of railways, technology & operations, knowledge sharing, technical visits, training & seminars and workshops in areas of mutual interest.

The MoUs provide a platform for Indian Railways to interact and share the latest developments and knowledge in the railway sector. The MoUs facilitate exchange of technical experts, reports and technical documents, training and seminars/workshops focusing on specific technology areas and other interactions for knowledge sharing.

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Cabinet approves closure of Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Suraksha Yojana
Apr 06,2017

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved closure of the Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Suraksha Yojana (MGPSY) which was set up in 2012 to address the social security-related issues of the Emigration Check Required (ECR)-category workers going abroad for employment to ECR countries.

The subscription under the MGPSY was very low and no new subscription was received for more than a year. Closure of the scheme will, therefore, obviate the avoidable recurring administrative and record-keeping expenditure.

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Cabinet approves MoU between India and Bangladesh for fairway development
Apr 06,2017

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved MoU between India and Bangladesh for fairway development of Ashuganj-Zakiganj stretch of Kushiyara river and Sirajganj-Daikhawa stretch of Jamuna river in the Indo-Bangladesh protocol route by undertaking necessary dredging jointly by the two countries.

The MoU will considerably reduce the logistics cost of cargo movement to North Eastern India. It will also reduce the congestion through the Siliguri Chickens Neck corridor.

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Cabinet approves MoU between India and France on Technical Cooperation in Civil Aviation
Apr 06,2017

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has given its approval to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and its French counterpart, Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC), France to implement Technical Cooperation Program in civil aviation sector.

The Technical Cooperation Program will be beneficial for enhancement of skills and expertise of AAIs officers. This MoU is also beneficial for imparting training of engineers, technicians, managers etc.

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Cabinet approves signing of MoU between India and Bangladesh in the field of judicial sector cooperation
Apr 06,2017

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved signing of MoU between India and Bangladesh in the field of judicial sector cooperation. It is aimed at developing, promoting and strengthening mutual cooperation between the judiciaries of the two countries.

The MoU provides for promoting mutual interaction among judges and officials at various levels of the judiciary through exchange visits, training and academic programmes. It will also encourage mutual exchange of information on latest developments in the field of law and justice. It will enable exchange of knowledge in infrastructure and information technology in this field.

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Cabinet approves MoU on passenger cruise services on the coastal and protocol routes between India and Bangladesh
Apr 06,2017

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved MoU on passenger cruise services on the coastal and protocol routes between India and Bangladesh for starting regular movement of passengers and tourists in water crafts between the two countries.

The operationalization of this MoU will promote people to people contact and cooperation between the two countries in respect of economic, social and cultural advancement. It will also generate employment opportunities for the people of India and Bangladesh.

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Cabinet approves MoU on Cooperation in the field of Mass Media between India and Bangladesh
Apr 06,2017

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved the MoU on Cooperation in the field of Mass Media between India and Bangladesh.

Salient features of the MoU

The main areas of cooperation are:

i. Both the countries to facilitate training/study tour of personnel in the field of mass media and public relations.

ii. Encouraging the exchange of experts in the field of Mass Media

iii. Encourage cooperation between educational, training and research institutions in the field of Mass Media & Communication. Also facilitating exchange of publications generated by these institutions.

iv. Co-operation and Sharing experiences in the field of regulations of the Mass Media activities and statistical data relating to the Mass Media.

v. Facilitating accredited mass media representatives to set up offices in the creation of conditions necessary for performance of professional duties on the basis of reciprocity.

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Cabinet approves agreement on Audio Visual Co-Production between India and Bangladesh
Apr 06,2017

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved the agreement on Audio Visual Co-Production India and Bangladesh.

Salient features of the Agreement

n++ The Agreement would cover co-production of films, documentaries, and animations films.

n++ An audio-visual co-production made in accordance with the proposed Agreement shall be entitled to all the benefits which may be accorded to any national audio-visual work by both countries in accordance with their respective laws and regulations.

n++ It will lead to exchange of art and culture among the two countries and create goodwill and better understanding among the peoples of both the countries.

n++ Co-productions provide an opportunity to create and showcase our soft power.

n++ It leads to generation of employment among artistic, technical as well as non-technical personnel engaged in the arena of Audio-Visual Co- production including post-production and its marketing, thus adding to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of both the countries.

n++ The utilization of Indian locales for shooting raises the visibility / prospect of India as a preferred film shooting destination across the globe.

India has so far entered into audio-visual co-production agreements with Italy, United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, France, New Zealand, Poland, Spain, Canada, China and the Republic of Korea.

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Cabinet approves MoU between India and Australia on cooperation in the field of Health and Medicine
Apr 06,2017

The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved the MoU between India and Australia on cooperation in the field of Health and Medicine.

The main areas of cooperation include the following:

1. Communicable diseases such as Malaria and TB;

2. Mental Health and Non-Communicable Diseases;

3. Anti-Microbial Resistance and responding to public health emergencies;

4. Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, vaccines and medical devices;

5. Digital Health;

6. Tobacco Control; and

7. Any other area of cooperation decided mutually between the two countries.

The MoU will involve cooperation through joint initiatives in the Health Sector and strengthen bilateral ties between India and Australia.

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Air cargo demand continues upward trajectory in February 2017: IATA
Apr 05,2017

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released demand growth results for global air freight markets for February 2017 showing an 8.4% increase in demand measured in freight tonne kilometers (FTKs) compared to the same period last year. After adjusting for the impact of the leap year in 2016, demand increased by 12% -- almost four times better than the five-year average rate of 3.0%.

Freight capacity, measured in available freight tonne kilometers (AFTKs), shrank by 0.4% in February 2017.

The continued growth of air freight demand in 2017 is consistent with an uptick in world trade which corresponds with new global export orders remaining at elevated levels in March. Of particular note is the expanded volume of semi-conductor materials typically used in high-value consumer electronics.

February further added to the cautious optimism building in air cargo markets. Demand grew by 12% in Februaryn++about four times the five-year average rate. With demand growing faster than capacity, yields got a boost. While there are signs of stronger world trade, concerns over the current protectionist rhetoric are still very real, said Alexandre de Juniac, IATAs Director General and CEO.

The rapid growth of niche markets such as cross-border e-commerce and time and temperature sensitive pharmaceutical are showing robust growth as noted at the World Air Cargo Symposium held in Abu Dhabi last month. Any optimistic look at the future sees growing demand for specialized value added services. Shippers are telling us that the key to turning the current uptick in the cargo industrys fortunes into longer-term growth is modernizing our antiquated processes. We must use the current momentum to push ahead with the elements of the e-cargo visionn++including the e-air waybill which is nearing 50% market penetration, said de Juniac.

Regional Performance

All regions, with the exception of Latin America, reported an increase in demand in February 2017.

Asia-Pacific airlines posted the largest year-on-year demand increase among regions in February 2017 with freight volumes growing 11.8% (more than 15% adjusting for the leap year). Capacity increased by 2.0% over the same time. The increase in demand is captured in the positive outlook from business surveys in the region and is reflected in the increase in trade across Asia-Pacifics main freight lanes to, from, and within the region, which have strengthened considerably over the past six months. Seasonally-adjusted volumes dipped slightly in February but remained up considerably since early 2016 and are now back to the levels reached in 2010 during the post-global financial crisis bounce-back.

North American airlines freight volumes expanded 5.8% (or more than 9% adjusting for the leap year) in February 2017 compared to the same period a year earlier, and capacity decreased by 3.1%. This was driven in part by the strength of freight traffic to and from Asia which increased by 5.7% year-on-year in January. The further strengthening of the US dollar continues to boost the inbound freight market but is keeping the export market under pressure.

European airlines posted a 10.5% (or around 14% adjusting for the leap year) increase in freight volumes in February 2017 and a capacity increase of 1.4%. The ongoing weakness of the Euro continues to boost the performance of the European freight market which has benefitted from strong export orders, particularly in Germany, over the last few months.

Middle Eastern carriers year-on-year freight volumes increased 3.4% (or approximately 7% adjusting for the leap year) in February 2017 and capacity decreased 1.7%. Seasonally adjusted freight volumes continue to trend upwards and demand remains strong between the Middle East and Europe. Despite this, growth has eased from the double-digit rates which were the norm over the past ten years. This corresponds with a slowdown in network expansion by the regions major carriers.

Latin American airlines experienced a contraction in demand of 4.9% (or around 1% adjusting for the leap year) in February 2017 compared to the same period in 2016 and a decrease in capacity of 7.2%. Recovery in seasonally-adjusted volumes also stalled with demand 14% lower than at the peak in 2014. And freight volumes have now been in contractionary territory in 25 out of the last 27 months. The regions carriers have managed to adjust capacity, which has limited the negative impact on the load factor. Latin America continues to be blighted by weak economic and political conditions.

African carriers saw freight demand increase by 10.6% (or more than 14% adjusting for the leap year) in February 2017 compared to the same month last year and capacity increase by 1.0%. Year-to-date demand has increased by 16.2%, helped by very strong growth on the trade lanes to and from Asia. The increase in demand has helped the regions seasonally-adjusted load factor rise by 2.8 percentage points so far in 2017.

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MGNREGS - Governance transformation and water conservation thrust areas in 2016-17
Apr 05,2017

The financial year 2016-17 witnessed an unprecedented governance transformation in MGNREGS with a sustained thrust on water conservation. With over 82% active workers (9.1 crore) with Aadhaar seeding in NREGA Soft, 4.6 crore workers on Aadhaar Based Payment Bridge, electronic payment of 96% wages through Bank/Post Office accounts, more than 89 lakh assets geo tagged so far, 93 lakh job cards deleted so far through proper verification, large scale drought proofing water conservation works in rainfall deficient regions, MGNREGS established itself as a well governed programme creating durable assets for livelihood security in poor regions, while providing employment on demand.

For the first time, deprivation levels of States were taken into account while approving Labour Budget. The April to July period in the financial year2016-17 witnessed an unprecedented demand for work on account of the continued drought. Thereafter, on account of a good monsoon in over 75% districts, the demand remained concentrated in drought affected regions like Karnataka. December onwards, as happens every year, demand for work again rose. MGNREGS achieved 230 crore person days which is higher than the revised labour budget. The total provisional expenditure of Rs. 58,056Crore (Central plus State) is the highest ever in MGNREGS in any year. 56% women in the wage employment generated is also the highest ever.

The pace for water conservation was set by the Prime Ministers meetings on water conservation with the Chief Ministers of the drought affected States. States undertook their region specific unique water conservation initiatives using MGNREGS resources. MukhyaMantri Jal Swalamban Yojana to drought proof 3200 villages with 92000 water conservation structures in Rajasthan, Dobhas or farm ponds in clusters in every revenue villages of Jharkhand, NeeruChettu in Andhra Pradesh with thrust on farm ponds, Mission Kakatiya in Telengana, Kapildhara dug wells in Madhya Pradesh, Jal YuktaShivar and other water conservation measures in Maharashtra, all used MGNREGS as a resource for drought proofing for livelihood security. 15.47 lakh water related works were completed in FY 2016-17 including 5.66 lakh farm ponds. Nearly 90 lakh hectares of irrigation potential has been created through MGNREGS in FY 2015-16 and FY 2016-17, as revealed by the new practice of preparing Annual Performance Outcome Report of MGNREGS. An independent, multi- institution, multi disciplinary evaluation of all the water conservation works taken up in FY 2015-17 period under MGNREGS is being undertaken to ascertain the impact. The Report will be ready by 30 September 2017.

MGNREGS promoted large scale individual beneficiary schemes (over 14.61 lakh beneficiaries) for livelihood security like construction of poultry, goat breeding and dairy sheds; farm ponds and dug wells; support for housing and individual household latrines (IHHLs) in FY 2016-17. It also undertook innovative convergence initiatives for solid waste management in 11000 villages of Tamil Nadu and constructed over 4 lakh magic pits for liquid waste management inTelengana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and many other States. To move unskilled MGNREGS workers up the skilling ladder, 29704 were trained for self-employment at Rural Self Employment Training Centres, 3812 were trained to become Barefoot Technicians, besides placement based wage employment to over 3000 workers under DDUGKY and training of Rural Masons under PMAY (Gramin).

In FY 2016-17 there was considerable emphasis on completion of incomplete works. More than 56 lakh works have been completed during the year which is the highest since the inception of the programme. Nearly 68% of the expenditure was on agriculture and allied activities and 62% of the expenditure was on Natural Resource Management works (NRM). In collaboration with the Ministry of Water Resources, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare and Department of Land Resources, Mission Water Conservation guidelines were issued. 22 States held State level workshop on Mission Water Conservation with representatives from all relevant departments including Central Water Ground Board (CGWB) and State Remote Sensing Centre. States have been advised to ensure that not less than 65% of the expenditure in 2264 identified water stressed blocks will be pertaining to water conservation and water management in FY 2017-18.

Reduction in the delay in payment of wages will be a major thrust area for the Ministry in FY 2017-18. While States like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Kerala are ensuring timely payment in 75% or more number of transactions, other States are lagging behind. The Ministry will be focusing on handholding other States and monitoring this item of work very closely so as to ensure timely payments of wages. Besides, social audits based on notified auditing standards, with the help of women SHG members as village resource persons will be another key area of work in the FY 2017-18.The Department shall release funds to States in early April to enable full scale water conservation works during the period of need.

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Ind-Ra: Cement Volumes Crack; Credit Profile of Cement Manufacturers Intact
Apr 05,2017

The lagged impact of the cash crunch and electoral polls will take a toll on cement production in Q4FY17, latest data shows cement volumes in February 2017 declined the most in over a decade by 15.8% yoy, says India Ratings and Research (India Ratings). Volumes have declined by 5% mom. India Ratings notes that the decline in cement growth is also on account of a high base last year; during January-March 2016 cement production grew by 9.2%, 13.5% and 11.9% yoy respectively. India Ratings estimates cement production to be muted in 4QFY17.

On the prices front, the wholesale price index of grey cement and slag cement has shown a softening trend through November 2016-Janaury 2017. Cement players got some respite on the cost front, with pet-coke and coal prices showing moderation in January and February 2017, after pet-coke prices almost doubled since March 2016.

Volumes of pan India cement players in 3QFY17 contracted by 5% yoy; while for central and north based players fell by 3% and 6% respectively. The southern region in contrast showed strong volume growth of 21%. Growth in the southern region is led by an increased in government expenditure in the state of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

India Ratings analysis of the financials of cement companies in 3QFY17 showed, pan-India players median EBITDA per tonne declined marginally in 3QFY17 compared to 2QFY17; though remained comfortable at around INR975 per tonne; while median power and fuel and freight cost per tonne in 3QFY17 increased from 2QFY17 levels to INR977 and INR1,217 respectively. While the rest of Indias players median EBITDA per tonne declined QoQ in 3QFY17 to INR878; while power and fuel and freight cost per tonne in 3QFY17 declined marginally to INR771 and INR867 respectively. India Ratings expects pan-India players EBITDA per tonne to remain comfortable at around INR975-INR1,000; while players with a presence in rest of Indias EBITDA per tonne to be around INR850-875 in FY18.

The credit profile, in terms of EBITDA interest coverage for pan-India players declined marginally in 3QFY17; however remained comfortable at around 11x; though rest of India cement players EBITDA interest coverage ratio was stable at around 2x at the end of 3QFY17.

On the policy front, due to the recent measures announced by the Ministry of Railways that require long term agreements/contracts for industries like cement, steel and fertilisers cement companies may see improvement in demand. As per the policy, the Ministry of Railways will provide a minimum guaranteed volume linked discount, on the basis of incremental growth in gross freight revenue, in return for a commitment to provide a minimum guaranteed quantity of traffic. The discounts will range from 1.5% to 35%, as per the incremental growth in gross freight revenue. India Ratings believes that these initiatives will increase the transport of cement through rail and cement manufacturers will be able to control freight cost more effectively. However, Ind-Ra notes that rake availability during peak season and railway network are likely to act as constraint to this policy.

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India and the UK announce joint UK-India Fund, namely a Green Growth Equity Fund
Apr 05,2017

India and the UK announced the launch of an Early Market Engagement for the joint UK-India Fund, namely a Green Growth Equity Fund which aims to leverage private sector investment from the City of London to invest in green infrastructure projects in India.

Both governments reaffirmed their commitment to anchor invest up to n++120 million each (i.e. totally n++ 240 million) in the joint fund which will be established under the NIIF framework. To begin with, the fund aims to raise around n++500 million, with the potential to unlock much more in future. This was announced at the bilateral meeting between Shri Arun Jaitley, the Honble Minister of Finance, Defence and Corporate Affairs, Government of India, and Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Government of UK in Delhi yesterday. The two Finance Ministers announced that initial investments will focus on Indias rapidly growing green energy and renewable market and that a Fund Manager is expected to be selected in the next few months. Progress will be accelerated through early market engagement via the publication of a blueprint, with the aim to identify additional and complementary sectors for fund investments.

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Ind-Ra: Bond Issuances Gain Traction; Market Conditions a Key to Sustenance
Apr 05,2017

A sharp drop in interest rate coupled with favourable demand-supply dynamics has led to a pick-up in bond issuances during September-February 2017, says India Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra). The pick-up in primary bond market was also associated with low bank credit growth due to widening interest rate differential to bond.

Ind-Ra presents its third edition of Indian Corporate Bond Market Tracker with an aim to present a complete picture of developments in the domestic primary bond market in terms of sectoral composition, rating mix and commercial paper (CP) issuance trends. The study pertains to the private placement of bonds for September 2016 to February 2017.

Ind-Ra believes the sustainability of this trend will be dependent on market conditions in the coming days, due to an absence of any meaningful pick up in the overall demand for credit. As the trend suggests, overall issuances plunged following a rise in yield in February 2017.

Ind-Ra expects large borrower framework to affect conventional bank credit growth in a meaningful way only beyond FY18 owing to muted demand activities in the credit market. Moreover, subsequent to FY18, a larger number of corporates will need to tap bond markets for incremental capex-led growth aspirations as the threshold under the framework will be lowered to INR150 billion.

CP Issuances Remained Stable Bucking the Overall Trends: As opposed to the rise in bond issuances, short-term CP issuances remained sticky. The agency believes that the Reserve Bank of Indias decision on the current liquidity management is likely to realign overnight rate close to repo rate in the near future, which could determine the trajectory of short-term rates. The agency believes, new framework for raising fund through CP is pragmatic, but unlikely to impact overall activities in a meaningful way.

Ind-Ra believes that in an absence of any significant improvement in domestic economic activity, the overall domestic corporate bond issuances is likely to remain slow moving. The agency expects appetite for corporate bonds to remain in place owing to: (1) muted supply; (2) stable economic condition and attractive yields, which could draw higher investor preference, particularly foreign portfolio investors; and (3) an incremental demand from commercial banks in an absence of demand for credit.

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