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December 2007

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  • What does it take to be a pioneer in Corporate Social Responsibility?
  • Japan’s Nomura booked a ¥73 billion ($621 million) loss from its residential mortgage-backed securities unit as the company announced its exit from the US RMBS market. The bank described the move as part of a general reduction in its US activities that will cut the number of employees by 400 to 900. Although the loss is small in comparison with the billion-dollar losses at some American banks, it is the largest yet reported by a major Japanese institution as a result of the sub-prime problem. In a statement, Nomura president and CEO Nobuyuki Koga acknowledged "disappointing results" in the US RMBS market but said that the bank had "moved decisively to deal with the issue and had avoided further and protracted losses by taking firm and immediate action".
  • Foreign exchange history is littered with the corpses of institutions that have looked at the industry and then decided to enter the market and become significant players. Now the perceived wisdom is that it is harder than ever for someone new to break into even the top 20, let alone the top five.
  • Spotted in India: Goldman Sachs’s chairman and CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, enjoying the festivities at a party in New Delhi hosted by Azim Premji, the silver-haired chief of one of the subcontinent’s biggest IT firms, Wipro.
  • Goldman Sachs has appointed Beatrice Sánchez as regional manager for its private wealth management business in Latin America. She will join the US bank next spring from HSBC Private Bank. Sánchez will be based in Miami.
  • Plus Markets, a London exchange group, has launched a new trading platform and expanded the list of stocks it trades. The new system, provided by OMX, will offer cheap quote-driven trading in 7,500 securities including the stocks of all the companies listed on the London Stock Exchange, 70 AIM-listed companies and several of the most liquid continental stocks. This is in addition to the more than 200 stocks listed on Plus itself. The move has come as a surprise to some market observers, who thought that Plus’s ambitions were confined to small-cap and micro-cap stocks and who believed that Plus was positioning itself as an alternative to AIM.
  • The Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES), is fishing for extra funds after recalculating its plans and projecting that it will lend as much as 15% more than expected for the 2008-11 period, as it seeks to step up its investments in infrastructure. BNDES president Luciano Coutinho has been talking about growth of 10% in lending for infrastructure projects, focused on energy, communications, railways, ports, and water and sanitation. The bank has already announced that it needs an extra R$25 billion ($14 billion) for next year, prompting speculation about how the money will be found.
  • Citi has merged its equity capital markets and fixed-income capital markets divisions.
  • A stream of new CLOs is hitting the market – but it is far from business as usual.
  • The closing months of 2007 are proving to be full of intrigue for watchers of the Japanese banking industry, with the year’s two biggest M&A deals experiencing setbacks while smaller banks look to forge new alliances.
  • Rami Hayek has left his post as global head of equity and fixed-income investments at Deutsche Bank’s private wealth management group to join Credit Suisse. Hayek joins Omar Cordes in the role of co-head of Asia Pacific distribution for asset management, and will be based in Hong Kong.
  • Latin American banks are well positioned to endure the credit crunch and a potential global economic slowdown, according to regional specialists. So far, the banking system has weathered the storm and analysts expect it to continue to do so.
  • The Spanish savings bank sector’s days of annual loan growth of more than 20% are over as construction wobbles and cédulas are tarnished by the international credit crunch. Cajas need to re-examine their funding strategies and business plans, writes Peter Koh.
  • The sub-prime mortgage market crisis in the US and the associated credit crunch has grabbed most of the headlines in the financial press in recent weeks but Investec Asset Management believes that the much less widely followed economic upturn in Africa merits greater attention in the light of recent global market volatility. Chris Derksen and Roelof Horne, managers of the Africa Funds at IAM and co-authors of a recent report – Why invest in Africa? – highlight the fact that Africa, far from being the investment basket case it was in the 1980s and 1990s, has experienced strong positive trends this decade, with GDP rising faster than the global average and growing free-market economic success.
  • Concern is growing in Israel over the US MBS portfolio of what until recently was the country’s biggest bank by market capitalization, Hapoalim.
  • The scramble for Africa just became institutionalized. Anyone who thought that the latest round of deals in Africa – led mainly by the Chinese – would be limited to the commodity sector had better revise their views. Two developments in the past month show that the Chinese are willing, even desperate, to take stakes in financial institutions on the continent. All indications suggest that direct investment inflows into Africa, some $39 billion in 2006, according to Unctad, the UN trade and development agency, are likely to be much higher for 2007. Some analysts expect the figure to hit $100 billion by 2010. The first deal, announced on October 31, is a partnership between Nigeria’s United Bank of Africa and China Development Bank. Details on the level of credit available to UBA are not being disclosed but it is understood to be significant. UBA feels it has stolen a march on its rivals and done the region a favour as well. "This partnership will contribute to strengthening of the economic cooperation between China and Nigeria and indeed the sub-region," says Tony Elumelu, chief executive of UBA. "The long-term funding gap in Africa is the highest in the world and this partnership will seek to close that gap."
  • The Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile, on November 10 ended on a heated note after the Spanish king told Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, to "shut up".
  • After a pause prompted by US-inspired volatility in the global equity markets, Russian companies have resumed new-issue activity, helped by the belief that the strong economic environment in the country will help insulate it from the effects of the fallout from the US.
  • DIC Asset Management – a wholly owned subsidiary of Dubai International Capital, the international investment arm of Dubai Holding; HSBC Bank Middle East; and Oasis International Leasing – has concluded the first close of its MENA Infrastructure Fund with commitments totalling $300 million.
  • Mid Europa Partners, the leading independent private equity firm focused on central and eastern Europe, has established a notable benchmark for the industry in the region, raising €1.5 billion in commitments for its latest fund, Mid Europa Fund III.
  • Rob Walker has become head of Africa debt capital markets at Standard Bank, South Africa’s biggest banking group. Head of DCM Africa is a newly created position, reflecting the bank’s decision to centralize its Africa DCM coverage in London. "The region deserves a focused approach," says Florian von Hartig, managing director and global DCM head at Standard Bank. Rob Walker moved to London from Gaborone, Botswana, where he led the DCM efforts of Stanbic, as Standard Bank’s branch network in Africa excluding South Africa is known. Also joining Standard Bank’s new London-based Africa DCM team are Gaelle Biteghe, previously a relationship manager at Citi’s corporate and investment banking arm, and Kojo Amoo-Gottfried, an analyst previously at RBS.
  • Two of Kazakhstan’s leading companies are poised to fully test investor sentiment towards the central Asian state in the coming weeks, with big transactions in the debt and equity markets.
  • US buyout firm Carlyle Group has expanded its Warsaw-based central and eastern European team with the appointment of three professionals. Janusz Guy has been named a managing director, and Aleksander Kacprzyk and Piotr Nocen come in as directors. They join the team established and led by managing director Ryszard Wojtkowski.
  • The big banks’ Mlec fund might well unblock the present credit log jam. But there’s no escaping the fact that global liquidity has contracted and capital is being repriced upwards.
  • Many investors had been positioning themselves for an inevitable downturn in the leveraged finance market long before this summer’s dislocation. But, ironically, the underwriting abuses of the past few years mean that they could still face a long wait before any meaningful opportunities arise. Louise Bowman reports.
  • The monolines should survive this crisis, but only because the prospect of them being downgraded is an outcome too far for the battered credit market.
  • The strong run of emerging markets equities looks set to continue.
  • Global problems require global answers.
  • The hoarding of cash by banks is understandable but dangerous.
  • Whether it’s Louis Hagen donning pom-poms and leading a Pfandbrief cheer or a University Challenge-style quiz during the lunch break, every conference needs its memorable moments.