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April 2005

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  • Henry Blodget ponders what the lessons of the 1990s have taught us and concludes that there's nothing like hindsight to blind us to the truth
  • Paul Wolfowitz's controversial nomination as World Bank president is overshadowing valedictory verdicts on James Wolfensohn's 10 years in the role.
  • Restrictions hindering participation by foreign institutional investors (FIIs) in India's burgeoning equity derivatives market are slowly being lifted. The Indian finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram announced in his budget speech in late February that FIIs can offer stocks instead of cash as collateral to trade in equity derivatives. That permits FIIs to put their holdings of Indian stock, worth over Rs34 billion ($777 million) in total, to use, and allows them to participate in a bigger way in the derivatives market. Putting up stocks instead of cash as collateral will help reduce the cost of arbitrage between the cash and futures markets, an area where foreign institutional investors are particularly active, says Mahesh Bhagwat, vice president at ICICI Securities, a large brokerage. Those opportunities for arbitrage have been profitable over the past year when futures have generally traded at a premium to prices in the cash market, he points out. "Even though prices of stocks FIIs hold have doubled over the last year, putting them in profit in the cash market, they must pay higher cash margins on their positions in the futures market," Bhagwat explains.
  • This is the league table you didn't want to come top of. Euromoney's dedicated team of researchers checks the validity of every vote in our polls. It's what helps make annual fixtures such as the credit research survey the benchmark poll for each industry.
  • The US government should reinstate new issuance of the 30-year bond, and sell up to $20 billion by year end. So says Mustafa Chowdhury, head of US rates strategy for Deutsche Bank. "If they weren't to start until the third or fourth quarter this year, $10 billion would be a decent number," he says. Chowdhury is not alone in wanting to see a return of the 30-year bond, issuance of which was suspended in 2001. Strategists and economists across the US have been arguing in favour of it recently, and whether and when the government might return to the 30-year is a standard question whenever administration officials appear at Bond Market Association events. Joshua Bolten, head of the Office of Management and Budget, was most recently on the receiving end at such an event in February. He sidestepped it, stating it wasn't his department.
  • Modular rather than maintenance seems to be the new buzzword as the key to success in a rapidly changing environment for credit research. But every investment bank seems to have a different view about the implications for analysts. To publish or not to publish? Cross asset or sectoral? Client facing or in house? Whatever the decision, only the best analysts will survive.
  • With some of the largest and most liquid capital markets in Asia Pacific and yield-hungry local asset managers, Australia would seem a natural port of call for Asian companies. Yet until structural reforms are made and local perceptions about Asian risk change, the expectations gap will not be bridged. Australia will end up the loser.
  • Residents and visitors to New York will try to sue the city for just about anything. Civil litigation against the City of New York has increased by 2,500% since 1978 and its tort division handles over 90,000 cases a year. The latest figures, for 2003, show this cost the city's taxpayers $500 million.
  • Remember Paul O'Neill, president George W's first treasury secretary? He's been quiet for the last few months, after the furore died down about his collaboration with journalist and author Ron Suskind for the book The Price of Loyalty.
  • Americans are poor exporters. A falling dollar can't change that. What with globalization, low-cost rivals and the downplaying of the greenback, a collapse rather than an adjustment looks likely.
  • With the Russian state rolling back the liberalization of the economy – notably in its dealings with oil company Yukos – investment banks are faced with a dilemma. They must sometimes decide between defending the rights of private investors and forging and maintaining relations with the Kremlin in the hope of attracting current and future business. It's a tough choice.
  • With lending to small and medium-size enterprises and the provision of retail products the fastest-growing and most lucrative parts of Romania's financial services sector, banks are slogging it out for market share.
  • Oracle is at it again. In early March, just weeks after concluding its takeover of PeopleSoft, one of the most acrimonious, and at times personal, hostile takeovers in years, the enterprise software company jumped back on the hostile acquisition trail.
  • Growing liquidity derived from high oil prices, less restrictive regulation, a drive to privatization and a reduction in investment abroad have driven the Saudi Arabian stock market to new heights
  • Foreign banks are racing to enter the Serbian banking market, one of the few in eastern Europe that still has large assets up for sale and strong potential for growth. Austria's Raiffeisen has stolen a march on its rivals but Italian and Greek banks are eager to build up business.
  • The lure of EU membership is encouraging Romania's recently elected government to tackle corruption and rationalize the currency and taxation regimes. If foreign investment is any indication, the reforms are working.
  • The tussle between liberals and dirigiste conservatives in Russia's ruling circles shows no signs of subsiding. Analysts are uncertain of the meaning of it all. The dismemberment of Yukos was a clear manifestation of the conservative line but there are indications that liberal intransigence is winning back ground
  • Having recorded a loss of €1.5 billion in 2001 and been bought out by Permira in 2003, pay-TV operator Premiere has now completed the most successful IPO of a Germany company since 2000
  • Bob Diamond is on the verge of a sporting hat trick. The Barclays Capital CEO's run of success started last October when the Boston Red Sox beat the infamous Curse of the Bambino to win baseball's World Series. They had last won in 1918.
  • Celebrated as Latin America's success story, Chile has cut a path to prosperity that other impoverished, turbulent nations in the region can only envy. While Argentina recovers painfully from its debt default, the world's biggest, and Mexico and Brazil struggle to reform their economies, Chile looks ever closer to leaving behind its emerging-market status and becoming a developed economy. Its budget surplus hit its highest level in eight years in 2004, rising to 2.2% of GDP, and economic growth was almost 6%, the highest in seven years. At the same time, Chile's trade surplus has widened significantly and its country risk continues to diminish.
  • In global terms, the Nordic region does not register highly in private banking. In fact, industry consultants estimate the size of the whole Nordic private banking market is still smaller than that of Spain. This has discouraged international banks from establishing businesses there, and has left the Nordic banks and their private banking arms to fight it out for the small customer base. But it's a growth market. The number of affluent Nordic individuals is estimated to be set to increase by some 5% by 2007. Banks are trying to develop a pan-Nordic presence to attract as many of these clients as possible. In addition, the Nordic private banks are realizing the importance of pushing out to the rest of Europe and Asia to serve ex-pats and even compete for non-Nordic clients. Euromoney asks the heads of the private banking businesses of SEB and Nordea how they are managing for growth.
  • English is well on its way to becoming the global language. According to one estimate, around 350 million people are native English speakers, with another 400 million speaking English as a second or foreign language.
  • Bank FX traders are up in arms about the plans of EBS, the interdealer FX broker, to allow hedge funds onto the platform. EBS says the pilot phase, which ended last month, was a success. Bank traders say it will create unstable trading conditions, and are beginning to talk about taking their liquidity elsewhere
  • Before 1992, David Gershon didn't know the difference between bonds and equities, so to have set up a company that revolutionized the pricing of currency options less than a decade later is no mean feat. Gershon left school with the dream of becoming a professor of physics and spent most of his twenties gaining a number of impressive academic accolades. His PhD was in superstring theory. "This theory was first developed in 1981. It gained popularity throughout the 1980s as the first theory that could unify all the forces in nature, which is why it is sometimes called the theory of everything," he says. "It's a beautiful idea but unfortunately to me it looked like it was reaching a dead end with its ambitious role to 'replace the need in God'. It had too many unknowns and ambiguities." While writing his thesis, Gershon completed an MBA and began increasingly to think about finance. Eventually, he decided to switch disciplines and joined the graduate programme of finance at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. Very quickly he started to get offers to do consultancy work, one of which took him to the mortgages department of NationsBank. Soon after, he received job offers from Wall Street firms and he moved to New York in 1994. "At the time there was a fair amount of demand for people with experience in mathematics and physics," he says. Gershon then traded FX at Deutsche Bank and Barclays Capital, covering emerging markets. He later transferred to Barclays' head office in London, where he was global head of FX options. In 2000, he left Barclays and set up SuperDerivatives. "SuperDerivatives' initial mission, which remains its aim today, was to help thousands of people already and potentially involved in options to obtain real market prices rather than just theoretical values," he says.
  • A study of CEO pay and skill by professors Robert Daines, Vinay Nair and Lewis Kornhauser, of Stanford University, the Wharton School and New York University, respectively, has found little evidence of high skill among CEOs at big firms. Moreover the research also found evidence that pay and skill are negatively related in the performance of big firms in industries constrained by business environment factors.
  • Kazakhstan's banking system is a success story whose rapid growth brings a need for capital injections, hence growing foreign interest. But while the banks are operationally transparent, ownership is opaque. What's more, a small population might limit foreign participation beyond investment banking.
  • Until the advent of the European IAS39 accounting standard at the beginning of the year Spanish reporting requirements for derivatives were relatively relaxed. Now, though, companies will have to lift the lid on derivative transactions, causing pain for some of them.