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December 2002

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  • Traditionally Bahrain dominated finance in the Gulf but initiatives elsewhere in the region, particularly Dubai, have undermined its lead. Now Bahrain's central bank is making up lost ground.
  • Markets have crushed banks this year but now some see a profit to be made in arbitraging debt against equity. It's a smart trick. Turning it into a sustainable business will be even smarter.
  • Chief executive officer, HSBC Amanah Finance
  • With Brazil and Argentina hors de combat and Mexico replete, bankers are busy looking for smaller Latin deals, including escape routes for burnt foreign investors.
  • The leveraged buy-out market in Europe is booming as shareholders press European companies to focus on core businesses and indebted firms shed assets. Even after private equity firms’ write-downs of portfolio companies, there’s lots of capital chasing bargains.
  • Fund managers are losing $6 billion every year because they are not reclaiming the withholding tax that they are entitled to, according to a new report. Investors and custody banks have been aware of the problem for years, but this is the first time that anyone has measured how much the fund managers are owed.
  • High-grade credit
  • Extensive revisions to capital requirements under Basle II will force structural changes in the financial services industry, offering advantages to some institutions and hindering others.
  • Good old-fashioned dividends are coming back into vogue. Nearly three years after previously soaring stocks came crashing down, investors are starting to show more interest in getting a steady income stream from equity investments.
  • Since the end of October, following the Bali nightclub bombing, Indonesia has found itself in a group of countries that even Afghanistan doesn't quite belong to. Although the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office seems to think that parts of Kabul are safe to visit, it advises against all travel to Indonesia. And that slaps the same warning sticker on Indonesia as on Burundi (civil war) Liberia (civil war) Somalia (anarchy and kidnappings) and Iraq (self-explanatory). The pleadings of Indonesian politicians that their country is not a terrorist-infested, extremist Muslim state have so far fallen on deaf ears.
  • Greece, like other smaller eurozone members, is not facing such severe economic problems as Germany and France. Nevertheless Eurostat revisions of its public debt figures will prompt accelerated privatization and reform of public finances.
  • Recent proposals from the Basle Committee on Banking Supervision have dismayed securitization bankers. They believe regulators are taking an unjustifiably punitive approach to the industry.
  • We are in what amounts to a bear market rally. Many analysts and investors don't see it that way and complacency is back. US corporate earnings in the third quarter of 2002 were up 9%, ahead of analysts' downward-revised 6% expectations. The Republicans have taken full political control and will cement existing tax cuts and make new ones. And now the Federal Reserve has surprised the market with a big interest rate cut.
  • In early November credit protection on building materials group Hanson was trading at 95bp while some traders' debt equity models said the correct valuation was 160bp. Its shares held steady. That was the trigger that capital structure arbitrageurs were waiting for.
  • Bankers and investors putting on debt versus equity trades are drawing on the idea first expounded by Nobel economics laureate Robert Merton that equity can be thought of as a call option on the assets of a firm. If the share price dips below a certain level - implying a lower value on the firm's assets and cashflows relative to its liabilities - default will follow. Bondholders, meanwhile, have sold an equity put option to the issuer and the spread on a corporate bond is the premium for taking that position.
  • With the public corporate bond markets volatile and unreliable, companies need to take advantage of MTN opportunities. Debt capital market bankers have the time to present them with imaginative proposals. But some of these, such as private-to-public deals, are not without their perils.
  • Issuer: Core Investment Grade Bond TrustAmount: $2.025 billionLaunched: November 15 2002Bookrunners: Bank of America, JPMorgan
  • A desire to use clever words to avoid the horrible truth of a bad situation is natural. And as they struggle to explain the environment they are working in, investment bankers are keen to excel at the linguistic skill of euphemisms.
  • Russia
  • Securities firms are still debating a global settlement over equity research with New York state attorney general Eliot Spitzer, the SEC and other US prosecutors seeking to avenge investors' losses. All the parties, though, seem to have lost sight of their true purpose. The changes proposed so far will neither restore faith in the system nor prevent future abuses. They are unworkable and thus irrelevant. Proposed reforms are targeted at the wrong level: at the institution not the individual.
  • New York state attorney general Eliot Spitzer braved the wrath of sell-side analysts in person at Institutional Investor's equity research awards dinner last month. The self-appointed protector of retail investors was the guest speaker. He didn't pull his punches. He was glad to have been invited, he said, because "I really wanted to put faces to emails".
  • It's all about location. Or when dealing with Chinese clients it had better be from now on. Investment bankers can no longer ride roughshod over their sensitivities about feng shui and karma. It would appear that Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley made exactly this mistake while China Telecom was trying to list in November - much to their cost.
  • Household's spreads had widened to 800 basis points over Libor in the five-year bond and 1,000bp in the three-year in October, while its share price rose $6 to $26.
  • No bank has won this award before. Frankly, no bank has ever deserved it. Over the past three years, Euromoney has seen banks that are good at online fixed income, some that are good at forex, others that are good at equity or derivatives and so on. Most banks had some good sites and some mediocre ones. No firm has been able to boast of high-quality offerings in all areas.
  • France
  • With equity markets still moving sideways and no sign of a revival in corporate profitability, the creation of structured credit products to meet specialized investor needs is one of the few business lines still booming at investment banks. JPMorgan's structured credit business has been taking full advantage of that in recent months.
  • If a bank does not win a particular award, it does not mean that its website is bad. Almost without exception the websites Euromoney saw in 2002 were well thought out. They now generally do what clients want them to do, not just what clever bankers and developers have realized they are capable of doing. And most firms undertake strict approval processes before they turn a good idea into a website. So it is little wonder that the overall quality has improved markedly over the past year.
  • In Asian markets in 2002 some leading corporate and sovereign issuers got bloody noses. But smaller deals just kept on coming. Overall volumes were lower, but not disastrously so, and there were impressive increases in some domestic markets.