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January 2005

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  • Burnt in recent equity market sell-offs, high-net-worth investors are clamouring for investment products that will preserve their capital. But private bank advisers are on the whole unconvinced that structured products, outside of limited use for tactical asset allocations, offer adequate returns or are sufficiently cheap and transparent to recommend to their clients. Helen Avery reports.
  • Revision of Greece's public finance accounts has underlined the need for a big effort to reduce budget deficits. However, the government seems unwilling to tackle crucial areas such as social security reform. Dimitris Kontogiannis reports
  • Many companies still play the game of regularly guiding market expectations for earnings to a level that they then proceed to beat. They should watch their language
  • Research into broker execution quality in the US cash equities market by Celent, a technology research consultancy, has produced some damning results.
  • Hong Kong investors' addiction to the fast buck has often landed them in trouble. The latest preoccupation, the M share, entails feverish punting in listed stocks that are themselves punting on neighbouring territory Macau's gambling industry. As a clever few rapidly enrich themselves at the expense of the gullible masses, the inevitable result looms. Chris Leahy reports.
  • Investors like growth and they like dividends. So why isn't Vodafone on a premium rating?
  • Speculation about Instinet Group's future has heated up again recently. Equities trading has not been an easy business to make money in during the past three years as investors looked for ways to cut their costs. Independent specialist brokers such as Instinet found it particularly tough.
  • The London Stock Exchange might be willing to countenance merger discussions once again with Deutsche Börse, but it is not content to stand idly by while the Swiss Exchange (SWX) tries to poach its lucrative Eurobond business.
  • HSBC is going ?carbon neutral.? It plans to plant trees, buy green electricity and trade emission allowances to abate its contribution to the release of greenhouse gas.
  • Hong Kong's LINK REIT juggernaut rolled into town last month. The $2.7 billion IPO of the local Housing Authority's portfolio of retail outlets and car parks, packaged as a real estate investment trust and lead managed by Goldman Sachs, HSBC and UBS, LINK was the world's largest REIT.
  • Congratulations to Tim Herrington on his appointment as chairman of the UK Financial Services Authority's regulatory decisions committee. As head of the global asset management group at international law firm Clifford Chance, he undoubtedly has the technical expertise needed for his new role.
  • Jacques Chirac, France's president, might have described his country's relationship with Britain as ?l'amour violent? ? a turbulent love affair ? but London is the place to be nowadays if you're French.
  • If you want stock markets to rise, simply supply the City with more booze. Stocks and shares website ADVFN says that in 16 of the last 20 Decembers the FTSE 100 has gone up, and the month has been responsible for 25% of whatever rises there have been in the Dow Jones Industrial Average since 1930.
  • The equity market is dull and M&A patchy but private equity is on fire. Barely a week goes by without a landmark deal. What is especially striking is the amounts private-equity houses have been able to pay for their targets. And that is a function of how much they have been able to borrow.
  • Poland's once-beleaguered banks are posting profit growth for 2004 as high as 400% in some cases. Banks are now hungry to increase market share via acquisitions. But who at the table is prepared to cash in their chips? Julian Evans reports.
  • Austria's economy is in better shape than those of most of the states to its west and its companies already have a solid presence in the new EU states in central and eastern Europe. Now it is reforming its financial markets and encouraging foreign investors in order to take advantage of further gains. Ben Aris reports.
  • Inflation differentials between countries are returning and investment analysts will reinvent the technology for weighing them. First in the balance will be the US whose assets look set to weigh light against those of Europe and Japan
  • The advantages of sharing specialist industry sector information drawn from private companies, plus a desire to provide complementary asset allocation vehicles to end investors, are drawing private-equity firms and hedge funds into alliances. Private equity firms are hoping to capture some of the client money rushing into hedge funds a number of which are now bidding for whole companies. Julie Dalla-Costa reports.
  • In a bold but reckless ploy, for much of last year Russia's president Vladimir Putin sought to curb the appreciation of the rouble against the dollar by intervening in the market. But the strategy, designed to protect domestic producers against growing imports, backfired. Along with inflation, capital outflows revived, sparking off the mini liquidity crisis that hit several banks in the summer. Ben Aris reports.
  • In 2004 equity deals for smaller companies were much more lucrative for investment banks than large block trades, which were often disasters from a profit point of view. Heavy competition for deals, with league table positions strongly in mind, helped kept discounts tight. In volatile markets, banks proved willing to cut their own throats in pursuit of ill-paid privatization transactions. Peter Koh reports
  • After five consecutive 25-basis point interest rate increases by the US Federal Reserve in the second half of 2004 the year might have been expected to end with credit spreads lower, a sell-off in emerging-market debt and a slowdown of real-estate investments.
  • War-torn Colombia has enjoyed a good run in the past two years and given bondholders a lot to cheer about. But now investors are asking if popular president Alvaro Uribe will be able to keep the outlook bright in 2005. Last year Colombian spreads narrowed a sizeable 90 basis points to about 340bp over US treasuries, generating more than 10% in total returns, several notches above the market as a whole. Uribe's success in pushing the country's Marxist guerrillas into retreat after four decades of internal conflict has cut kidnapping and terrorist attacks, boosted business confidence and helped attract investment. Those gains have translated into economic growth of almost 4% in 2003, the highest rate in nearly a decade, and paved the way for a repeat
  • In a move that will significantly enhance the free float in Indian equities available to overseas investors, sponsored American depositary shares (ADS) offerings worth about $2 billion from Indian companies and banks are expected to be in the market in the first half of this year. Top information technology companies such as Infosys and Satyam Computers and privately owned banks HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank have announced plans for their sponsored ADS offerings.
  • Over the past decade and a half, Tunisia has won plaudits for its gradual macroeconomic reforms and stable monetary policy. The IMF recently noted that "Tunisia's economic performance has been one of the strongest in the region" over the past 10 years. It is one of only three African countries carrying an investment-grade rating " BBB with a stable outlook from all leading agencies.
  • Halfway through the first decade of the new millennium, the five-year track records of world stock markets show the leading indices in Europe and America still way down on their highs before the tech bubble burst. Emerging markets, including some of the more obscure, have been the big gainers.
  • As a possible base for eurozone companies eager to expand in the Balkans, Croatia is a favoured candidate, despite its small domestic market. If the government can curb a tendency to build up external debt and is able to sort out lingering human rights problems it should be able to get EU support behind it for the next round of accession. Ben Aris reports.
  • Euronext looks like the underdog in the battle to acquire London Stock Exchange. On every financial measure, Deutsche Börse is between 80% and 100% bigger. The Frankfurt exchange also has cash of about e500 million, versus Euronext's e200 million. If Deutsche Börse offered £1.5 billion ($2.9 billion) in cash for the LSE, 600p a share, could Euronext stay in the game?
  • Deal: Apollo CCO
  • Two recent deals for funding in the public-private partnership market use innovative structures. Banks and construction companies are starting to find funding advantages as the capital markets warm to project finance assets
  • Recent IPOs show that that property investment vehicles known as REITs, popular in western markets, might be gaining a foothold in Asia. If REITs win mainstream acceptance they could change the landscape of Asia's markets, offering extra flexibility to property companies and steady yields to investors. Chris Leahy reports.