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December 2001

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  • Ingeniously structured from a legal point of view, Argentina's debt restructuring begins with what is effectively a domestic bond swap. If you are a bondholder, though, the pricing doesn't look as clever as the structure. And looming on the horizon is the threat of exit consents and the worry that Argentina will not countenance an abandonment of the fixed peso-dollar exchange rate.
  • In this period of shock ratings downgrades, weaker company balance sheets, increasing discrimination among credit investors and caution from lending banks, corporates are facing a liquidity crunch. One minute, banks are handing out revolving credit facilities without batting an eyelid and money-market investors are habitually turning over commercial paper, the next, relationship banks aren't quite so friendly any more. So what do corporates do when they are shoved out of selected CP markets and left scraping around to find short-term cash?
  • It's not the easiest of times for Mexican president Vicente Fox, whose country is suffering from the double whammy of a falling oil price and the knock-on effects of the US recession. But even if the stresses of his job are keeping him awake at night, they haven't done anything to dull his good looks.
  • In recent years many leading banks have appointed specialist portfolio managers to take responsibility for their whole loan books. If these have done a good job of reducing concentrations of exposure and hedging doubtful assets, banks won’t suffer too much in the credit downturn. The worry is that secondary credit markets have not developed enough for them to reshape their portfolios. And surprisingly it’s a new discipline. Many banks have still not embraced it and even those that have may not have given portfolio managers enough power to do the job properly.
  • Credit derivatives are the hottest area in the global fixed-income market. They promise to transform the entire credit world, by bringing greater liquidity and transparency. But the dramatic worsening in credit, exemplified by Enron's collapse, will severely test the market. Some fear the explosive growth has stored up unseen problems. Regulators fret that risks may have been transferred out of banking and into less sophisticated institutions.
  • The stunning collapse of the once high-flying US energy group Enron is hardly a laughing matter. And hindsight, as we all know, can be a wonderful thing. But it is still hard to resist a cynical chuckle at the promotional blurb used on the website for Enron Credit - the company's credit trading unit.
  • Speaking to Euromoney in April 1993, Lazard chairman Michel David-Weill expressed a fear of "mercenaries - the people who would come to the firm to make money". His appointment of Bruce Wasserstein as Lazard's chief executive suggests that he has either overcome his distaste for money-grubbers or that the firm is doing so badly that its very survival depends on having a few more of them on board.
  • Three years after European monetary union, euro notes and coins enter circulation next month. Some observers predict a mild boost for the currency. But will fresh impetus also be lent to Brussels’ initiative to build a single European market in financial services to complete the picture? This project has been caught up in a constitutional trial of strength as the Strasbourg-based parliament asserts itself. Alexandre Lamfalussy, an architect of the project, hopes the euro’s arrival will focus attention on resolving the dispute about who should agree the principles and who the detail.
  • Merrill Lynch HSBC, the online share dealing and research platform for high-net-worth individuals, has fallen on hard times, with disappointing trading volumes. The banks involved will no doubt live to fight another day, but spare a thought for the 150 employees that the venture has made redundant. Not only have they lost their jobs, an attempt to give them career advice has added insult to injury.
  • Every indicator we look at shows that the world is in recession. That's the reality. It's always easier to drown if everyone else in the pool is drowning too. So who will be the lifeguard?
  • Philippines
  • News of the merger between National Bank of Greece and Alpha Bank boosted the Greek stock market. But the fact that NBG will remain part state-owned underlines the centre-left government’s lukewarm commitment to privatization. So despite an upgrade from emerging-market status and full entry into euroland, Greece still hasn’t quickened the pulse of investors.
  • Telecoms companies mired in debt are a salutary example of what can happen when steady unexciting service providers try to take on more dynamic roles. European utilities would be hard-pressed to spend anything like as much on expansion as telecoms did on G3 mobile licences, yet some of their plans are sending jitters through the markets.
  • Sectors such as tourism have been mauled in the wake of September 11 events. Yet the broader regional economy is coming through that crisis and the global downturn in far better shape than during the Gulf War. Low oil prices are a concern. But, with confidence intact, capital is returning to local markets as a result of poor returns elsewhere and major project finance deals are under way.
  • It’s not all bad. The world of international finance works in mysterious ways, and right now it looks as though central America is actually a beneficiary of Argentina’s default and the US recession.
  • After September 11, many market watchers reckoned that higher US public expenditure meant that reports of the demise of the 30-year treasury were exaggerated. Then, at the end of October, came the news of a suspension of long-bond issues. Opinions are divided on the wisdom and likely results of the surprise move and on when the 30-year bond will wake up from its big sleep.
  • If anyone thought that some debtor countries take their responsibilities to the multilaterals less than seriously, they won't be encouraged by the arrival of a new board game - Deuda Eterna.
  • Argentina's de facto default on $130 billion in face value of debt - investors who've seen the price of their bonds more than halve to 35 cents on the dollar in four months are in no doubt that this is a default-like loss, if not yet a legal default - and the tortuous progress of its supposedly voluntary and orderly debt restructuring, which shows no sign of being either, have drawn renewed and urgent calls for a better approach to sovereign debt work-outs.
  • The growing internationalization of investment and involvement of a wider range of investors has complicated the task of insolvency lawyers.
  • Head of global debt markets group, Merrill Lynch
  • The economies of Latin America have for differing reasons been severely affected by global economic slowdown. Argentina has to face mounting debt tangles as well as crippling deflation and Brazil faces similar problems. Mexico’s success story looks as if it will pick up again but for the moment has been interrupted by the US slowdown. Remarkably, though, the region’s equity markets have so far ridden out the crisis.
  • In little more than a decade, Islamic banking has grown into a $200 billion a year industry. With top global banks entering the market, it is deepening its professionalism and broadening out with sophisticated and ingenious new products, including private equity, mortgages and even some securitization. Regulators are striving to impose stricter regimes. But individual Sharia courts can still be at odds over what is deemed compliant with Islamic law.