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April 2001

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  • Understanding sovereign risk is the key to investing in central Europe, where foreign investors have an important role to play, says Ashmore Investment Management’s Jerome Booth
  • A cooling in relations between Sergei Dubinin, former governor of the Russian central bank and now deputy chairman of Gazprom, and the EBRD lies behind the very public dispute between the bank and the management of Russia’s largest company.
  • Credit default swaps have proved a popular derivatives instrument with banks and other credit investors, but one possible trigger for default – the restructuring of a bond or loan – has cast uncertainty over the market. It is possible that liquidity might be damaged by the proliferation of different classes of instruments.
  • The huge growth in the number of European corporates of varying credit quality tapping the capital markets has led to massive demand for ratings. The ratings agencies are staffing up to meet this challenge. But there remains a question mark over the value of the service they provide, especially in high yield, the most credit-intensive area of all.
  • Turkey’s idiosyncratic form of financial engineering involved the creation of a web of corruption linking the governing elite, through the state banks, to its cronies. The private banks fed well off the massive government debt this generated. Then, in February, they hit the wall in a liquidity crisis that lopped more than 30% off the value of the Turkish lira.
  • The senior Botswanan banker who told Euromoney last year that he didn't care what rating Botswana got, as long as it was better than South Africa's, has finally got his wish.
  • Romania is not planning to over-compensate for scarcity by issuing heavily. But it is clearly keen to establish itself in the international debt markets.
  • Ruben Vardanian, president of Russia’s leading broker Troika Dialog, talks about the changing structure and behaviour of Russia’s companies and investment opportunities in them.
  • David Komansky has found an innovative new way of getting analysts on his side - he insults them. The Merrill Lynch chief executive was taking questions from the floor after delivering his speech at the firm's second annual investor day conference in New York last month.
  • Jean Lemierre, president of the EBRD, discusses the bank's role in central and eastern Europe, where it is still struggling to define its place.
  • Economic and competitive pressures facing telecoms operators in Europe and internationally could, in turn, expose the equipment suppliers to heightened credit and legal risk.
  • A little more than three months after Greece's entry into Emu, the country finds out that eurozone membership does not guarantee immunity from financial and other crises raging in neighbouring countries, such as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey. However, membership has helped reduce, if not eliminate, the sensitivity of its bond and equity markets to events in nearby emerging markets.
  • HypoVereinsbank’s decision to combine its mortgage banks under one roof has revived the long-running debate about the validity of the specialist bank principle - the foundation of Germany’s system of mortgage banks.
  • Amid the extreme volatility in financial markets around the world so far this year, one of the biggest surprises has been the strength of the US debt markets. It has been a roaring start to the year. In January over $70 billion of high-grade corporate paper of between two and 30 years' maturity was issued. Short-term interest rate cuts helped create a steeper yield curve, which historically has been good for corporate bonds.
  • As the European credit market has grown in the past two years, banks have struggled to position themselves to capitalize on the opportunity. In a bid to win much more lucrative underwriting business than high-grade, frequent issuers ever offered, they have poured money into credit research, importing staff from the US, where credit analysis is a long-familiar concept, and plundering the rating agencies for talent. But the response from investors has been mixed. While sell-side credit analysts may offer a convenient shortcut to essential facts and figures about a company, fund managers are quick to highlight their lack of independence. In a volatile credit market, buyers of credit bonds are doing more of their own analysis in-house. Still, brokers insist that this doesn’t mean their role is under threat.
  • A small Andean nation proves that it is possible to successfully restructure a bond issue. And to a great extent, the success of the Ecuador exchange offer was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Last month's announcement of a merger between DG Bank and GZ Bank was a long awaited step in the consolidation of the top level of Germany's cooperative banking sector.
  • In the first quarter of this year, the US Federal Reserve has cut interest rates by 150 basis points. But Nasdaq is down 25%, most European equity markets have fallen 15% to 20% and even the Dow, which had been flat for two years, is now off 14% for the year.
  • Whatever Russia's government is or is not doing, Russian companies have found their own reasons for making improvements in corporate governance and boosting shareholder value. At least one market player dubs this consolidation process reprivatization. However there is still much to be done to restore the brittle confidence of local investors and only after this has happened will foreign funds consider returning to a market which knows how to burn them. Ben Aris reports from Moscow
  • Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, America's two largest agency debt issuers, have now implemented the latest steps in their voluntary six-point programme agreed with Congress last year to reassure clients and the public of their safety and soundness.
  • Those central and eastern European countries that have pushed furthest and fastest with privatization have benefited from healthy government finances, restructuring and modernization of key industries and enhanced economic growth. That’s undeniable. But privatization remains ever politically contentious. Selling their banking systems to foreigners was hard to stomach, and now these countries are selling even more essential services, their energy generators and power distributors. If they can maintain the political will, at least governments will find buyers in these sectors, unlike in telecommunications.
  • On February 28, Indian finance minister Yashwant Sinha announced an annual budget that should have given a strong push to economic growth. Tax cuts, a sharp cut in interest rates and a raising of the ceiling on foreign portfolio investment in Indian companies should have given the stock markets the boost they badly needed.
  • For all the talk of US slowdowns, Argentine crises and prudent spending-policies, there was little evidence of belt-tightening at the annual meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Santiago in March.
  • Indonesia is still trying to get back on its feet after a crippling economic downturn. As if that is not hard enough, the country is also looking to make the transition from a dictatorship to a democracy. The currency weakened again last month and the ratings agencies are nervous. Against the odds, Indonesia’s crisis management skills are improving.
  • The international strategic investor has become, and will continue to be, the key figure in eastern European privatization. The most effective sales seem to be those that have involved transferring a substantial equity stake to a foreign company.
  • Just after the piece of masonry connected with the side of the mongrel's head, a showdown ensued outside Banca Agricola's administrative headquarters. The pack of dogs, which seconds earlier had been snarling at pedestrians and leaving their own special deposits on the bank's doorstep, stared at their attacker. The man who threw the missile glared back.
  • With south-east Asian economies recovering, governments are making cautious moves to restructure and expand their power industries to meet increased demand. None wants a California-style crisis. However, foreign investor interest is likely to be limited and financing must be provided by local debt and equity markets.
  • How times have changed. Only three years ago, any foreign investor planning to come to Indonesia would have been delighted to receive an appointment list featuring the following names: Bob Hasan, minister of trade and industry, Ginandjar Kartasasmita, co-ordinating minister for economics and finance, and Ali Wardhana, economic adviser to then president Suharto. If he also managed to see Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, the president's daughter, he would probably have been immediately ready to sign on the dotted line.
  • Egypt has weathered the economic storms of the past two years and looks set for steady growth over the next decade. But tough decisions must be taken on the exchange rate and privatization if the country is to achieve its long-term potential.
  • The internet age is challenging one of the great modern myths of Hong Kong - that betting is not permitted in the territory. Indeed, something of a crisis is occurring because of the explosive growth of betting on the internet by Hong Kong residents. The government coffers are suffering, one of the oldest and most powerful groups in the city complains that it is losing up to $7 billion a year in revenues and cries of foul can be heard as far away as the local legislative council.
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