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April 2003

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  • The Egyptian government has a chequered record in implementing economic reforms. Praise for the success of its major anti-corruption drive and its adoption of a free-floating exchange rate at the end of January has been tempered by the introduction of capital controls only two months later.
  • The strength of Islamists in the ruling AKP lay behind the Turkish legislature’s refusal to bend to US military strategy. The consequences may be dire for the Turkish economy and terminal for the AKP government.
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Roberto Junguito, finance minister of Colombia, had a good Inter-American Development Bank meeting in Milan. He secured hefty funding commitments from the IADB as well as from Andean development bank, Corporación Andina de Fomento. To top it off, he received the Euromoney award for economic achievement in the Andes from the president of CAF, Enrique García who says Hunguito is a determined negotiator. García should know: CAF has just promised Colombia $3.5 billion. Hunguito modestly shared his award with his young team. "When I was minister of finance in the 1980s, I worked with their parents," he joked.
  • With a large trade debt outstanding from Iraq and lucrative oil contracts there hanging fire, Russia’s reluctance to toe the US line is understandable, especially in the context of a broader desire to re-establish regional ties.
  • Turkish banks have become the debt-raising branch of the government. Estimates suggest that between 40% and 50% of the total assets of the banking system are treasury bonds denominated in Turkish lira or Eurobonds. This ratio is in reality larger than it appears because the bulk of banks' assets are not cash but real estate and shares in non-bank affiliates. Loans to businesses constitute no more than 15% to 20% of assets, according to Global, an Istanbul-based securities company.
  • Since taking over from Mahmoud Abdel Salam Omar six months ago, the chairman of the Bank of Alexandria and of Egyptian American Bank (Bank of Alexandria's joint venture with American Express Bank), Mahmoud Abdel Latif, has been busy trying to get the bank in shape.
  • People in finance aren't normally shy about winning prizes. But the inaugural Asian Brokers Awards dinner had many ducking for cover - such was the fear of being nominated for and winning gongs like the "Ted Turner Award for humility" - for the region's most arrogant fund manager - and the "Leaving Las Vegas Award" - for the broker most famed for being slumped over bars nursing double scotches in the name of strengthening client relationships.
  • Hungarian privatization has helped place the economy among the best emerging-market performers of the 1990s. However, questions about the transparency of deals reappeared this year.
  • Many banks are reluctant to spell out how they make money in derivatives but SG's black box is even blacker than most. "It's very difficult for us to understand where it gets its money from," admits Eric Hazart, an analyst at Exane in Paris.
  • Like an old pair of slippers, retail banking is the division Société Générale knows it can rely on for a bit of comfort. When times are bad - as they have been lately - retail revenues, which comprise 60% of the group's total, provide a welcome buffer. "For French banks in general and SocGen in particular, retail banking really is a cash cow," says Guillaume Tiberghien, an analyst at Fox-Pitt, Kelton.
  • With falling GDP per capita and minuscule foreign direct investment, things could be going better in Uzbekistan. One positive development, though, is the corporate bond market.
  • The danger of accounting irregularities creeping up on them is the one gripe that pretty well all credit analysts have about their jobs at the moment. Post Enron, the idea of unwittingly recommending a company that turns out to have cooked its books is enough to bring on a cold sweat. "How do you predict problems such as Ahold's as an analyst? I think it's a ferociously difficult job," says Catherine Gronquist, director of international credit research at Morgan Stanley. "These demands on them have tested all credit analysts on the buy side and the sell side to practically their breaking point in some cases." This nightmare came true once again when multinational retail group Ahold admitted accounting irregularities. Standard&Poor's immediately downgraded Ahold's bonds to junk and they traded as low as 70 straight away. At press time, there was speculation that the bonds might fall even further to trade as distressed credits.
  • Things are so tough in investment banking that major institutions are prepared to let award-winning credit analysts decamp to the buy side. Among them are some high-fliers in Euromoney's latest annual credit research poll. Kathryn Tully reports.
  • French bank Société Générale needs to take over a rival - or be taken over - if it is to fulfil its promise in the nascent pan-European market. Crucially, it also needs to overhaul and redirect its investment banking business.
  • The hope is that the EBRD’s annual meeting in Tashkent in May will give a much-needed lift to Uzbekistan’s ailing economy. But relations with multilaterals have never been worse, and the country’s human rights record raises questions about why the meeting is taking place there at all.
  • When Mexico issued its CAC-laden 12-year bond in February, it didn't offer investors a choice: anybody wanting new Mexican debt couldn't buy a bond without CACs instead. So there's no way of knowing for sure whether or not Mexico paid a premium for including CACs.
  • Equities
  • If there is one thing that emerging-market investors hate as much as SDRM, it is exit consents.
  • The new world order, established after the fall of communism in Russia and eastern Europe, is set to shatter. Global leadership by the US confronting the USSR was succeeded by US leadership flying solo. Now comes fragmentation. The US might be the most powerful nation but over the next few years its role will be contested by China, the EU, South Korea and even Japan. This implies a much higher risk premium for financial assets.
  • Grigori Marchenko, governor of the National Bank of Kazakhstan, talks to Euromoney’s Guy Norton about how the Kazakh banking sector became a model for its neighbours and his plans for the future.
  • Fixed-income investing isn't an area normally associated with soul searching. can still wrongfoot us all, though. The Pimco managing director's March Investment Outlook takes a moment out from analysis of the bond markets to conduct a pensive and very personal meditation on religion, war and the author's mortality, with the help of a few carefully chosen quotations.
  • Norway
  • Commodities are on a roll as equities stumble and bonds reach their peak. But can commodity-based investments offer value for the long term as well as offering temporary relief to embattled portfolios?
  • Is Kenneth Rogoff making an about-turn? The IMF research head's latest paper seems to back the views of fund critics.
  • With foreign companies eager to sew up deals in China’s mega market and Chinese corporates keen to expand abroad, M&A bankers expect growing business in the People’s Republic.
  • The lack of real-time information has always meant that trading CDOs has never been for the faint of heart. Goldman Sachs led the charge to improve the situation last summer by making data on all its deals available to investors on data service provider Intex. Three other underwriters have followed suit.
  • It all sounds worryingly familiar. Mutual funds are experiencing record inflows, issuance is at record highs, prices of the securities concerned seem to be immune to bad news, and the investment banking divisions covering these popular products are going gangbusters.