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January 2002

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  • Argentina was brought down, ultimately, by the miscalculations of its own leaders. But others must share the blame, including the IMF. The international financial community, especially the large sell-side banks, do not come out of the debacle smelling of roses either.
  • Introduction of euro notes and coins involves complex decisions on the part of bankers on how to deal with legacy currencies in contracts.
  • Back in January 1999 the euro was heralded as a strong currency that would soon outshine the dollar. Europe had a surplus on its external balance of payments and tight fiscal policies. The US had a huge current account deficit, net external liabilities and budget deficits. The dollar was bound to dive. How wrong the dollar bears have been.
  • Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are among 10 states, mostly central and eastern European, that Brussels is vowing to admit as soon as 2004. Only Bulgaria and Romania would be kept waiting. But this idea doesn’t please some existing EU members – and a radical view is emerging that what matters is market reform, not EU membership.
  • Argentine
  • For much of last year US equity issues were hard to get away and for a few weeks September 11 closed off IPOs altogether. Now a revival is apparent, though one characterized by caution. It should persist, if optimism about recovery from recession is not unfounded.
  • The focus of interest in central Asia is returning to strategic and newly oil-rich Kazakhstan where tycoons and reform politicians are vowing to shake up the longest-lasting regime in the post-Soviet constellation. With growth in double figures, foreign investors are watching too.
  • Walking around mid-town New York in December is always a chore. And the 15-block section of Fifth Avenue south of Central Park is the worst of the lot. Last year was no exception. Despite the creeping economic gloom of the past 15 months, despite the huge personal and economic costs to New York of the attacks on the World Trade Centre in September, there were still hordes of Christmas shoppers crowding the streets.
  • In Bucharest, the government of former communists has made remarkable strides in pushing through economic reforms including privatization of Banca Agricola and ailing steel company Sidex. It has even made some progress on banking regulation. If sustained, this should help the country catch up with neighbours in attracting foreign direct investment and bring it closer to eventual EU accession.
  • Unrest in Argentina lent a new urgency to preventing disruptive sovereign debt work-outs. But few experts yet accept IMF first deputy managing director Anne Krueger’s idea for legal protection for sovereign debtors.
  • Latin America
  • An overpromoted investment banker who should never have been doing the job in the first place? Or a gifted and articulate, internationally minded manager leading the drive for transparency and shareholder value?
  • There were celebrations at the Spanish treasury last month. Two days after secretary of state for the economy José Folgado presented Spain's debt issuance plans for 2002 to investors in Madrid, Moody's upgraded it.
  • Convertibles
  • Telecoms service providers are still struggling to rebuild their balance sheets and avoid the worst consequences of overpaying for 3G licences but Finland's Nokia, which is hugely exposed to the mobile sector as a builder of mobile networks and seller of mobile phones, seems to be in robust good health.
  • Collateral
  • Adrian Nastase, the prime minister of Romania and Social Democratic Party leader, has been described as “a proactive politician”. During a recent trip to the UK, he explained that positive action is his priority.
  • Despite jitters after the September 11 attacks, tier-one bank capital issues offering better returns than government bonds have continued to remain popular with investors, boosted by attractive new structures.
  • Oilmen reckon great discoveries are never easy or geographically convenient. The Kashagan oil field offshore Atyrau in the Kazakh waters of the Caspian, arguably the most important find since World War II, certainly fits that bill.
  • Citibank/SSSB and Deutsche are neck and neck in our annual poll of polls compilation of survey results. Deutsche tops the underwriting table again and jumps ahead of both Goldman and Citibank/SSSB to win the advisory section. Citibank/SSSB wins our new internet and transactions processing tables and beats Deutsche into second place in the trading section. Goldman scores strongly in all categories save transactions processing, and JPMorgan Chase is in the top four in all categories except underwriting.
  • The insurance industry is at a turning point. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, capacity shrank, rates rocketed, and losses mounted. Some cover is still hard to come by. Yet a dramatic resurgence is under way as new capital floods in and as insurers adopt alternative risk transfer, dubbed insurance-based investment banking. It's now evident that the terrorist crisis has not simply served to highlight the notoriously cyclical nature of the industry but has greatly accelerated long-term changes in the sector. So what role will the capital markets play in providing capacity? And how will the latest and largest calamity hasten the convergence between the distinct cultures of insurance and banking?
  • Barclays - The Business of Banking 1690-1996 may not be everyone's idea of a page-turner. On the surface it looks as if it might appeal to the select few for whom interim company reports are favoured leisure reading.
  • International regulators are stepping up their oversight of the insurance industry for a multitude of reasons. The fear that life insurers are taking increasingly risky bets with long-term retail savings is high on the list. And so is the concern that the increasing convergence and risk transfer between the insurance and banking sectors may be creating unseen - and unforeseen - risks.
  • The departure of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria's co-chairman Emilio Ybarra was half expected. But the resignation of CEO and vice-chairman Pedro Luis Uriarte, announced on the same day, shocked the market.
  • The happy solution to volatile equity markets or an accident waiting to happen? Hedge funds, long the darlings of super-wealthy individuals, are now attracting attention from institutions and even retail investors. Funds are pouring into the sector faster than ever. But though the salesmen say there is plenty more room for investors to fill their boots, some people fear that they could be the next investment bubble after dot coms and private equity.
  • The past 12 months have been tough for online wholesale finance. Banks are ditching their e-commerce divisions, having finally realized that keeping them separate from the business lines is ridiculous. Some multibank sites have closed. But online analytics have come into their own, transparency is improving and banks generally have a better idea of what the internet can and cannot do. Even so the web is still not fulfilling its potential. Despite all the talk about the net making the markets more open, politics and secrecy are damaging web-based trading. Banks know that they have not found the perfect way to trade online but some of their individual products excel.
  • Worldwide, investment banks that grew bloated in the bull run have been shedding staff and pulling in their horns in recent months. But something more fundamental is happening in Asia. The days of having an equity and corporate finance operation in every country in the region are coming to an end and many banks are becoming more centralized, while shifting their focus to the markets of north-east Asia, particularly China.
  • The economy is booming, but Russia’s stellar growth rates of the past three years are already starting to slow. The impact of the cheap rouble and high international oil prices are beginning to wear off. President Putin must embark on painstaking structural reforms or the boom could peter out. But that means taking on powerful entrenched interests.
  • There may only be two surviving Beatles, following the death of George Harrison, but their influence continues to stretch throughout the world, even into financial services.