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February 2001

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  • It was a volatile year in the capital markets, as the telecoms sector clearly showed but still there were standout deals amid the chaos. Antony Currie, Anja Helk, Peter Lee, Julian Marshall, Jennifer Morris and Felix Salmon look back over 2000.
  • Asia’s clean-up of its banking mess is losing momentum. There is recognition of what needs to be done but getting there is proving difficult. The crisis atmosphere has abated and economic recovery will pull the banks along with it. But failure to deal with bad debts will hold countries back.
  • At worst, running a restructuring operation in Thailand can be a life-threatening métier, but its practitioners face a host of other obstacles, not least getting paid. Paradoxically, Thais are also seen as being too gentle and non-confrontational to buckle down seriously to the business of extracting debt from each other. On the buying side of the business, major players such as Lehman Brothers claim to be making a fair return on the distressed debt they have acquired.
  • Head of media and telecommunications, Société Générale
  • Russia never seems to play by the same rules as the rest of us. Its macroeconomic indicators for 2000 were the country's best in 30 years. The economy grew by somewhere between 7% and 8%; tax reforms - part of a wide-ranging economic reform plan - helped the government record a fiscal surplus of 3% of GDP, after many years of high deficits; the strong oil price helped Russia to rebuild its foreign currency reserves to $28 billion. Leading Russian companies took steps to improve their dismal record of abusing minority shareholder rights, under pressure from a government that understands the urgent need to attract foreign investment. The government itself concluded a renegotiation of commercial debts with the London club of private sector creditors in August 2000.
  • Vietnam’s newly created stock market boasts only five stocks, yet one foreign investor reckons its dematerialized system is far superior to London’s. Strong economic growth rates are attracting direct and portfolio investors. Enthusiasts reckon valuations are at their lowest and likely to rise before long.
  • Three years after the Asian financial crisis confidence has still not returned to the area. Many investors are sceptical that these countries have done enough to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Singapore’s deputy prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, outlines the changes that have been taking place in his country and his vision for the future.
  • Japan's government debt is frighteningly large – larger by far than any other country's has ever been. Some Japanese economists contend that because the overwhelming bulk of it is held domestically there is no fundamental problem. Yet others, and most outside observers, reckon indebtedness cannot be overcome by growth or fiscal means and is a threat to worldwide stability.
  • The world's largest non-sovereign borrowers made further efforts to position their bonds as alternatives to increasingly rare sovereign issues in 2000. Futures on US agency bonds began trading, borrowers stuck to calendars in volatile markets and embraced the internet.
  • Malaysia has emerged from the Asian crisis to find itself occupying a lower place in the regional pecking order. From being one of the must-have equity markets for foreign investors, it has become an also-ran. Domestic equity demand is also depressed and it’s likely that in the near future bond markets will offer more interest.
  • Turks are responding enthusiastically to the high-pressure promotion of internet access. So far, though, there’s not much money to be made from the business. Access providers will soon have to reconsider their cultural aversion to business consolidation, or else think smaller.
  • In a wide-ranging interview, Supachai Panitchpakdi, Thailand's deputy prime minister and director-general-elect of the WTO, talks about the successes and failures of government strategy in bringing Thailand out of the 1997-98 Asian crisis and assesses the prospects for a successful continuation of the work of the WTO
  • As Seoul Bank faces being dragged into the government's financial holding company, CEO Kang Chungwon explains how he plans to get the bank back on track.
  • In spite of the battle in Seattle and the subsequent inertia that has gripped the World Trade Organization, Supachai says he is looking forward to taking over from Michael Moore as WTO director-general. “I want to be totally immersed in this work,” he says.
  • Korean deputy finance minister Lee Kyun Kyong speaks about the barrage of criticism that has hit the government.
  • Calls from securities traders and investors for a more closely integrated system of clearing and settlement in the international securities market are growing louder and more impatient by the day. There were some signs of progress last year in Europe when Euroclear and Sicovam announced their definitive merger agreement and London Clearing House (LCH) and Clearnet said they planned to consolidate their activities. Yet progress in European consolidation has been slow. And even if it gathers momentum, questions remain on how to connect clearing and settlement systems globally.
  • The restructuring of the Paris legal scene took an unexpected turn late last year, when one of the city’s leading French M&A partners finally gave up on his old firm and did what his colleagues had spent the last two years avoiding – he joined an Anglo-Saxon firm.
  • Japan's ruling political party has been hit by a triple whammy of financial scandals just when the economy needs strong leaders.
  • John Chalsty might at first seem a strange choice to be creditex's new adviser to its board. The veteran banker spent most of his career at DLJ, starting in investment research before becoming head of investment banking and then CEO.
  • The senior government official shook his head vigorously in affirmation. "Yes, Japan's budget deficit will grow. Yes, there will be a government bond crisis." Then he said: "The best scenario for Japan would be an earthquake that struck the downtown headquarters of the ruling Liberal Democrats when all its senior politicians were there. Then we might get some of the reform Japan needs."
  • Issuer: Hutchison Whampoa Ltd Amount: $2.5 billion Type of issue: exchangeable bond Date of issue: January 8, 2000 Bookrunners: Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch
  • Thus far, two mergers in Singapore’s financial sector have failed to go through, and several cross-border ventures have gone awry. Find out why.
  • With a first round of bank restructuring that killed off more than half the country’s banks behind it, Korea is now facing up to consolidating what is left, ostensibly to enhance competitiveness and create economies of scale. It’s not clear, though, that the timing is right or that the government’s approach to mergers is appropriate or sufficiently disinterested.
  • Thai Petrochemical Industry is Thailand’s biggest restructuring headache. And if it is going to pull itself out of trouble, its managers claim that it needs access to large amounts of working capital. But that is not forthcoming.
  • The slogan for this year in Seoul is Visit Korea 2001. The government hopes to drag in about six million tourists and earn several million dollars of foreign currency. Clearly it's hoping to attract visitors from further afield than North Korea. Indeed the government has another agenda, beyond managing the current account and strengthening reserves. Its programme also marks a crude attempt to prepare the population for the mass invasion that will soon follow. The football World Cup hits town next year.
  • Babur Ozden discusses prospects for the Turkish Internet sector.
  • Having pursued a dirigiste approach to local non-financial companies in the 1990s, encouraging expansion abroad and regional leadership, the Singapore government has now turned its attention to the banks, urging liberalization, consolidation and outward-looking expansionism. It can't force the banks to do what it wants. But it gets very cross when they don't.
  • he two administrations that succeeded that of Ferdinand Marcos put the Philippines on the road to economic recovery and did their best to wipe out cronyism and corruption. The recently ousted Estrada regime went a long way to reversing their achievements. Maggie Ford reports on the chances of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo restoring reform and removing some of the deep-seated inequalities among Filipinos
  • "The boys have made a mess of it," mused Brian Winterflood, chairman of Winterflood Securities, on hearing the news of the appointment of Clara Furse as the first woman chief executive in the 228-year history of the London Stock Exchange, "so why not let the girls have a go?"
  • Japan’s ministry of finance has lost face in the past decade as an arbiter of business development. The complexities of market growth have overwhelmed it, the collapse of a Liberal Democratic monopoly has removed its political underpinnings and scandalous revelations have been made about its corrupt practices. Now it has lost its traditional name. Despite the rise of rivals such as the Financial Services Agency and attempts by politicians to bypass MoF’s budget functions it’s far from clear who is in charge.